Speaking of Fires…

On August 29th, 2010 at 4:28 am a three-alarm fire was reported in a building structure with six businesses at 306 N. Raymond Ave. About 80 firefighters from the Fullerton Fire Department, Brea Fire Department, Anaheim Fire Department and the Orange County Fire Authority were dispatched to bring the fire under control.

Fullerton Fire Marshal Julie Kunze told the Register “The structure itself is a total loss. We’re estimating the structure itself at probably $2.2 million with unknown content.”

The fire department has taped off portions of the parking lot, as charred debris covered the ground around the badly burned building. The roof had completely collapsed.

That was six months ago. Today the charred building is still charred and the site is now a real eyesore. How long should it take for the city to issue a notice to abate the public nuisance?

If this mess were in Sunny Hills, would it be any different?

Big Things May Be Coming. Or Not.

This corner is where it all got started in Fullerton almost 125 years ago.

Now that Tiger Yang’s safely down the road, the building at the northwest corner of Harbor and Commonwealth is being remodeled, or as is more likely, given Fullerton’s history of downtown Redevelopment and design foilbles, remuddled.

Still, it’s hard to imagine anything worse than the aesthetic horror that’s there now – pure 1970s schlock.

The Wishing Well, Once A Mayor’s Crib; Now A Bottomless Money Hole

The Wishing Well Apartments. Someone's wish just came true.

For those interested in obscure Fullerton history, Louis Valasquez lived in the Wishing Well apartments at 466 West Valencia Dr. while serving as the Mayor of Fullerton in 1979.

Those more curious about modern-day Redevelopment Agency boondoggles, may be interested to learn that this past week the Fullerton City Council voted to sell the Agency owned Wishing Well Apartments to an out of town “developer” for $100.

The Fullerton Redevelopment Agency purchased the ol’ Wishing Well for $1,993,433 and paid an additional $60,930 to kick out (relocate) all the tenants that resided in the 16 unit building. On top of that the Agency is going to give the out-of-towners an additional $184,347 to “rehab” the apartments, provided the developer rents the apartments to low income tenants. Here in Orange County “low income” is 50% of the median income – which for a family of 3 is $70,890. This means that people that make around $35,445 will be living in the Brand Spanking New Wishing Well. I’ll bet ya the previous tenants made less than $35,445 per year. So in reality the city kicked out the poor folks in order to replace them with richer poor folks.

Now that’s not very good is it?

And if the units were so dilapidated, why didn’t City Code Enforcement simply cite the landlord and require the units to be standard units?

I think I’ll do a follow-up post and focus on code enforcement failures under Don Bankhead’s and Dick Jones’s years of “leadership.”

“Would you support our efforts to make our neighborhood historic?”

I received this post from a Friend who wishes to remain anonymous for reasons that you may understand after you read this post.

Think historic neighborhoods. Immediately, one’s mind goes to such places such as Bungalow Heaven in Pasadena, Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia and others where houses, landscape, and layout reflect a distinct architectural coherence.

What we don’t think of is the hodgepodge of homes built over a span of more than fifty years within the boundaries of Skyline, Frances, Luanne, Canon and Lemon here in Fullerton. True, the neighborhood has a sort of charm. But this four block area (oddly denuded of trees) doesn’t fit the definition as historic.

Yet, for over twenty years, this neighborhood has been besieged by a small but persistent group to designate itself as such. The original movement came about when a neighbor (who has since moved away) decided the mix of 60’s ranch homes, 30’s Spanish Mediterranean  and 80’s boxes needed to be protected.

Why? Because the empty lot behind her house, which she had enjoyed as her own personal open space, was going to have a house built upon it.  This led to a movement asking for historical designation, with one very vociferous neighbor putting out a letter decrying such crimes as pink flamingos in yards. It ended when a flock of roving pink flamingos went from yard to yard, to rebuke this snobbishness. It was clear then, as it is now, that the historic designation is more to control everything from the color of homes, the installation of skylights, solar panels, to pink flamingos in yards.

In more recent years, the issue was raised again when a member of the Fullerton Heritage group moved into the neighborhood.  This woman could often be seen taking photographs of her neighbor’s homes. She personally crossed the boundaries of neighborliness by posting a photo of one on their website as an example of “muddled and conflicted” architecture. Battle axes were raised when during a neighborhood meeting, an argument ensued. This busybody sat in the back, mute –rendering herself all but invisible. At no point did she offer any explanation why this issue meant so much to her that she was willing to pit neighbor against neighbor.

The reasons for not wanting this ridiculous designation are simple.

1.     There’s no consistent architectural coherence in the boundaries of Lemon, Skyline, Frances, Luanne and Canon. While there are individual examples of historically significant architectural styles, as a neighborhood – it lacks consistency and coherence.

2. It would give Fullerton Heritage – and the City Planning Department far too much power over our neighborhood. Note, they already have ultimate veto power over designs submitted to the city for everything from new development to remodeling in other neighborhoods designated as a historical zone. In one neighborhood, they vetoed the homeowner’s request to install a skylight. Such oversight is petty, and subject to the changing whims of the board.

3. This will lead to more “fake old” McSpanish architecture. Another uninformed member of the Fullerton Heritage group noted at a meeting at Hillcrest Park that she thought the predominant style in the neighborhood should be “Spanish Mediterranean,” whatever that means.

4.     The $1000 fee for the designation doesn’t even begin to cover the costs of actual staff time. In addition, this doesn’t cover the costs of ordered revisions by the owner’s architects or engineers. Fees like this are never gotten rid of, rather, the fee could be raised and the neighborhood would have no control over the amount they have to pay.

5.     The city of Fullerton has a permit process already in place. This is an added layer of bureaucracy with not only more additional staff time needed, but oversight from an outside organization (Fullerton Heritage).

6.     A small cadre of neighbors has already been vociferous to the point of rudeness about things they don’t like: the color of a neighbor’s home, plantings, flamingos, and more. Worse, their gossip has hit people in ways that have become personal. While we realize they are voicing their opinion, we’d hate to give them permission to authorize or disapprove on any official level.

At some point one must work with and trust the neighbors.  Most of the neighbors who support this notion have lived in the area for 40 years without the intervention of the city. Why they think they should leave future generations with a law to be enforced long after they have enjoyed their own latitude –is for reasons of ego.  While the notion of a historic neighborhood seems appealing, in reality it is cumbersome, vague and will leave future homeowner’s with no choice but to deal with more government and bureaucracy. It was clear twenty years ago as it is now:  these people need to get a life.

All we can do is work with one another, and be neighborly but not meddlesome.

When is An Historic Resource Not An Historic Resource?

As quickly as you can, Grasshopper, snatch the park from its owners...

When it’s Fullerton’s Hillcrest Park, of course. Then it’s a resource of a different kind: an opportunity for City Staff to play upon the sentimentality of Fullerton’s park and history lovers to destroy the very resource that is ostensibly being saved.

They did it 15 years ago and they are doing it again.

I went to Saturday’s latest public meeting to “save the park” and witnessed something quite remarkable. Just like last time the City staff has employed a consultant to remake the park in its own desired form, replete with new facilities it can market or operate, while ignoring the true needs of the old girl.

But this time the ludicrousness of the whole operation became apparent immediately. A representative of the landscape architect hired to foist the exploitative plan informed us all what was wrong with Hillcrest Park. It has bad chi. And all these years we just thought it was neglect by the parks and police departments. Chi. Hmm.

So what’s the solution to clean up the chi and get things all aligned, nice and proper?

A restaurant, for one thing, down by the duck pond; and a new park entrance; new retaining walls along the Brea Creek and an abandonment of the interior roadways might just get that troublesome chi back in balance, we were informed.

Ye Gods! Chi. What’s next, park feng shui?

Use the Force, Luke...

I don’t know how much we’re paying these yahoos to further destroy our park, but I’ll bet it’s a lot. And I’ll also bet that Redevelopment money is picking up at least part of the tab. And ultimately the only way to pay to comprehensively destroy this historic resouce is to use big piles of Redevelopment money to do it. Redevelopment destroying historic resources. That’s not a new theme.

Hillcrest Park is on the National Register of Historic places but nobody seems to treat it like it were. Only last year the City embarked on massive alterations to the north slope of the park without review by the Landmarks Commission.

Well, good luck Hillcrest. And in the meantime may the chi be with you.

Look Up In The Sky! It’s a Bird! It’s a Plane! No It’s a Pringle!

The boondoggle takes to the air

Don’t feel so bad. The consultants, lobbyists, con men,  and other assorted rip-off artists are pushing the multi-billion high speed rail in other places, too.  Here’s an article from the Fresno Bee that tells all about how the local gentry are trying to grab their share of the HSR gravy that they think will be a big deal for the raisin capital of the state.

You are becoming very sleepy...

The common denominator, of course, is Anaheim’s termed-out Mayor-For-Hire, the irrepressible Curt Pringle who figures to make big bucks as a “consultant” for this boondoggle when his days as a conflicted politician are over. The Fresno crowd wined and dined hizzoner and he was clearly impressed with the show of unanimity – much more than he’s getting down south these days. He even promised them a 2012 start for the project.

Come December Pringle will be out of office, and will no longer be able to pull the strings at OCTA either, although it sure looks like he’s getting his ducks in a row, puppet-wise there and at Anaheim’s City Hall.

The Questionable Promise of Technology

See? We told you it would work...
See? We told you it would work...

Using computers to arrange and sort data is useful for all sorts of things – especially when in comes to creating three dimensional imagery. Nobody can deny the impact of presenting scanned data for medical diagnostic purposes; or the use of scaled multi-disciplinary construction models that can simulate a 3D environment: very useful for ascertaining “clashes” between different trades as well as presenting the architect and client with views of his proposed effort.

But despite the technology drum beater’s boosterism (think laptops for kids, FSD style) there reaches a point in every computer application where the information is either too dense or voluminous to be assimilated or analyzed by those looking at it; or is just plain non-effective compared to traditional approaches; or worst, lends itself to misinterpretation or deliberate misrepresentation. This point of diminishing returns is reached quickest when the recipients of data just don’t know what to do with it. When that occurs they’re bound to do something bad with it.

Such may very well be the case with a City of Fullerton program that promises to create a three dimensional model of downtown Fullerton. We received an e-mail the other day from Al Zelinka, who works for the Planning Department. We point out that Mr. Zelinka is very careful to explain that the pilot program is being paid for by SCAG, not the City (where SCAG got the money is obviously not a point of interest for Mr. Zelinka, or, presumably, us).

First, we are inevitably forced to ask why. Who will benefit from the necessary resources plowed into such a program? It’s hard to answer.  And who will be able to use the information? We can envisage all sorts of staff (and consultant)  time going into creating maintaining and manipulating such data; and then the inevitable jargon and rhetoric tossed back to the public to foist staff driven projects onto the public. The Council: aha! See? The 3D model supports (fill in the name of the Redevelopment Agency’s favored project).

Perhaps the most important question is whether, once the model is done, it needs to be tended and updated by the City. If not, the effort going into seems to be something of a waste.

In any case the public are invited to a meeting on December 16th @ 6 PM in the Council Chambers to see the wonders of 3D modeling. No doubt all of our questions will be answered with sparkling clarity.

At the bottom of his e-mail Mr. Zelinka (AICP) includes a quotation that ought to give pause to even the biggest Planning Department cheerleader:

“Dedicated to Making a Difference.”

“Make no little plans. They have no magic to stir [women’s and] men’s blood….” – Daniel Burnham

Ay, ay, ay!

Ground Zero of Fullerton Redevelopment Failure

For dyed-in-the-wool government apologists like Dick Jones, Jan Flory, Dick Ackerman, Sharon Kennedy, Don Bankhead, et al., Redevelopment blunders are conveniently overlooked, when possible; when not possible, some lame defense is mounted, such as: mistakes were made (passive voice obligatory) but we learned and moved on; hindsight is 20/20 (Molly McClanahan’s motto vivendi); the problem was not too much Redevelopment, but too little!

But when any reasonable person contemplates the collection of Redevelopment disasters along Harbor Blvd. between Valencia Drive and the old Union Pacific overpass, the only conclusion he or she could draw is that the Fullerton Redevelopment Agency should have been shuttered years ago, and the perpetrators of the manifest failures crowded onto a small raft and set adrift with the Japanese Current.

We have already described in nauseating detail the “Paseo Park” debacle; and the Allen Hotel fiasco; we haven’t yet had time to talk about the “El Sombrero” pocket park give away (we will).

But instead of wasting too many perfectly good words, we will share with you Friends a Redevelopment pictorial essay with just a little piquant commentary.

First there’s the strip center known as Gregg’s Plaza. Brick veneer, of course. Even the veneer is so disgusted it’s trying to jump off the building.

The standards of the RDRC were established early.
The standards of the RDRC were established early.
Pop goes the brick veneer...
Pop goes the brick veneer...

Across the street is the Allen Furniture Store. When they got their rehab loan somebody forgot to tell them that a storefront is a storefront – not a jailhouse. So why are there bars on the dinky little windows? And pink stucco?

Stone walls do not a prison make; nor iron bars a cage...
Stone walls do not a prison make; nor iron bars a cage...

Jumping back across the street we re-introduce ourselves to the egregious Allen Hotel, perhaps the biggest Redevelopment boondoggle of all, a mess that we have already admirably documented, here. As we noted then, the add-on was unspeakably awful (and expensive). The front is, well, pretty awful, too.

The once and present tenement...
The once and present tenement...
It could have been worse. Well, no, it couldn't...
It could have been worse. Well, no, it couldn't...

What was sold, in part, as an “historic preservation” project ended up violating just about every standard in the book. The original windows were ripped out and replaced with vinyl sashes; the transoms were destroyed and replaced with sheets of plastic and surface applied strips supposed to simulate leaded glass.

Just say something. They'll believe anything...
Just say something. They'll believe anything...

Across Harbor we discover the “El Sombrero Plaza,” another sock in the face to any Fullerton windshield tourist. Forget the stupidity of the sideways orientation and the Mission Revival On Acid stylings (which attain a kind of crazy Mariachi deliciousness); this development included the give away of part the adjacent public green space so they have parking for a restaurant. The owner never did develop a restaurant, of course (more on that story later).

Ay, caramba!
Ay, caramba!
The extra parking that was supposed to be for a restaurant is now used for a storage container!
The extra parking that was supposed to be for a restaurant is now used for a storage container!

And finally we come to exhausted collapse at another one of the Fullerton Redevelopment Agency’s low points. And by low point we mean the complete, unmitigated disaster of the Union Pacific Park, ably chronicled here; and in a whole series here, here, and here.

Maybe the less said, the better...
Maybe the less said, the better...

The poisoned park: dead as a doornail. An aesthetic, pratical, and policy disaster. And no one has ever stood up to take responsibility for the total waste of millions of dollars.

Embarrassing from the beginning. How many $100,000 pensioneers had their fingers in this pie?
Embarrassing from the beginning. How many $100,000 pensioners had their fingers in this pie?

Well, there you have it, Friends. Redevelopment in action; Redevelopment creating blight, not eradicating it. No accountability. None. Zero. Zilch. And some people wonder why FFFF has sued to keep Redevelopment from expanding.

Silk Floss Trees on Harbor Boulevard Symbolize Downtown Redevelopment

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Why did I (and many others) advocate the removal of the Silk Floss trees in downtown Fullerton? Damaged and dangerous sidewalks for one thing. And slimy-skinned, scrotum-shaped pod bombs, giant wafting cotton swabs, and naked spike armored monstrosities, depending on the season, for another. And let’s not forget the blocked architectural elevations, signage, etc.

About ten years ago the City started removing a few of the worst offending silk flossers and replacing them with some other brand of tree. Of course they plopped the new ones right back in the same holes as before – rather than plant them at property lines where they wouldn’t block architectural elevations and business signs so badly.

And of course it never occurred to the clever folks in Redevelopment that these trees, wedged into the narrow sidewalk space would never develop proper crowns and generally look like wretched half-trees.

Now that the big Harbor Boulevard redesign (you know the one that killed on-street parking, created a traffic tunnel, and doomed regularly functioning storefronts) is nearing its 30th birthday it seems like a good time to readdress the mess that Redevelopment has caused on Harbor and talk about a different model.

A picture, as they say, is worth a 1,000 words.