Fullerton City Hall watchers know one thing for certain. If the bureaucrats want something, it will never die. The issue may be voted down by a majority of the City Council, but rest assured, the item will sooner or later be back. The history of this sad fact is undeniable and goes back decades and decades.
And so the ridiculous Trail to Nowhere has been agendized for reconsideration on Tuesday almost four months after it was sensibly rejected way back in August.
Because this is Fullerton, how this idiocy became officially resurrected will probably never be known. What hasn’t changed are the excellent reasons to reject the State grant. Again.
Here is a list, thoughtfully provided by the diligent FFFF research team:
Not safe – look at “Phase 1” Gangs and drugs
No identified users
No environmental testing done
Adjacent contaminated property – TCE
Numerous possible polluters up and down trail
Application contains false information about environmental testing
Doesn’t line up with “Phase 1”
No budget to modify “Phase 1”
“Phase 1” is deficient – 90 degree angles
“Phase 1” HAS NOT BEEN MAINTAINED. Maintenance is an issue
No connectivity to the east – blocked by SoCo Walk
Does NOT go to the Transportation Center
No connectivity to the West – BNSF ownership; possible High Speed Rail in right of way
We’ve had some fun here making fun of the complete waste of $3,000,000 on the Trail to Nowhere, but there is something else going on here – the reintroduction of something already decided. The issue should be dead and arguments about it, moot. But this is Fullerton, and it’s never over until City staff say it’s over.
Although its advocates keep whacking it like the proverbial dead horse, the near-disaster known as the Trail to Nowhere isn’t happening. We can thank Fullerton City Council members Dunlap, Jung, and Whitaker for pulling the plug on “Phase II” of the so-called Union Pacific Trail back in August. The proposal made no sense: it had few, if any potential users, ran through an area of heavy industry, was and would never be connected to anything else, cost nobody knew how much to maintain, didn’t even line up with its alleged Phase I, and cost $2,000,000 to build (if you can trust a City budget).
Perhaps most importantly, the council majority had previously requested that various trail options be considered in the context of a wider area plan. City staff essentially ignored that request and began a behind the scenes effort to drum up support for the original plan – an act of insubordination, really.
At the time no one told the three councilmembers that there was adjacent property with trichlorethylene contamination in the 300 block of Highland Avenue and plumes had drifted south, even though this information had been in the City’s possession for decades. Fortunately, Messrs. Dunlap, Whitaker and Jung had plenty of other excellent reasons to deny the grant funding for its intended purpose.
Another thing the City Council didn’t know was that if the grant application contained “false representations” – either intentionally, or through lack of reasonable effort – the grant could be rescinded and the State could demand whatever of its money had been spent. Here’s the relevant paragraph in the grant acceptance agreement:
In other words, had contaminated soils been detected on the “trail” the State may well have been inclined to demand whatever had been spent, particularly in light of the fact that the grant application falsely stated that environmental testing had been performed in 1998 and was not an issue.
We know this isn’t true because in the early 2000s the UP Park (after construction) was found to be contaminated, requiring mitigation; there is no way that the “trail” was somehow tested, but not the park site. We also know that very recent PRA requests identifying this specific issue returned no relevant documents.
Of course the State could have revoked the grant on the basis of the fraudulent application alone, had they discovered the misinformation, a municipal embarrassment, to be sure.
Fortunately, for the City employees who manufactured the grant application and snuck it past an incurious City manager, there will be no repercussion, not even a mild “talking to.” And fortunately for the rest of us, the City won’t be saddled with a stupid white elephant of Phase II that would have ended up looking an awful lot like Phase I.
A guy named Mike Ritto writes a periodic column for our Friends at the Fullerton Observer called The DOWNTOWN Report that ostensibly deals with happenings in our economic sinkhole known as Downtown Fullerton, or DTF, for short.
In his latest piece Mr. Ritto promises A Brief History of Union Pacific Park. Hmm. This might be interesting, I thought. And so it is, but not for what it says, but for what it intentionally leaves out. It begins talking about the Union Pacific RR, the Santa Fe and even the Pacific Electric. Ritto eventually gets around to the park itself:
“…remnants of that UP line are the fenced-off, such as Union Pacific Park just to the West of the former station, where the tracks used to run.
That neighborhood needs a park, and as the residents look through the chain links and see, finally, grading and other preliminary work that is taking place right now, they know it is on the way. Approval of the park revitalization was covered in our August 7 issue. In addition, we are following developments in the proposed Union Pacific Trail, which would be an open space trail between this new park and Independence Park to the West.”
Somehow the UP Park history has become no history at all, just a mysterious space with a fence around it.
Of course Ritto omits mention that the UP Park was a park on which the City spent several million dollars in land acquisition and construction, and that the City closed down first because of toxic contamination, and then because of abundant crime. This latter fact gets no mention because Ritto is insistent that “the neighborhood needs a park” and remembering that the last effort failed would be extremely awkward – so let’s just forget it. Like his Observer pals he repeats the nonsense that the Trail to Nowhere is still a real thing.
Fullerton Observer readers are often told that the effort is an all-volunteer affair, as a sort of apology for bad reporting, opinion masquerading as news, factual misrepresentation and basic spelling mistakes. The Kennedy clan has been doing this for forty years or more and there’s no likelihood that this will change.
A few years ago during the depths of the COVID pandemic, the Fullerton City Council voted to put a sales tax measure on the ballot. Since things were looking grim and with revenue falling off, the best course of action in City Hall seemed to be to lay it on to taxpayers. It was necessary to protect Fullerton’s quality of life, you see; or, to be more precise, to protect the pay and pensions of City employees, particularly the cops and “fire fighters” who suck up the majority of the municipal budget.
Well, the names have mostly changed, except for Ahmad Zahra, but the playbook remains the same.
At their November 7th meeting the City Council heard a report from a company called FM3 that had been tasked with producing a survey of resident concerns, and, significantly, to poll them about how to raise revenue. And lots of it.
Who actually hired FM3 in the first place is a mystery, but it must have been our illustrious City Manager, Eric Levitt, since no record of the Council approving a contract is found in the City Clerk’s database. So far they have been paid $49,000 – most likely sneaking under their City Manager’s spending authorization.
Before delving into the presentation, it’s important to note that FM3 is a consulting operation deeply involved in promoting government tax and bond efforts, and has been supporting liberal Democrat politicians for decades. One of the clients listed on their website is Carter/Mondale! On their splash page we find the slogan: Synthesizing Public Opinion To Help Achieve Your Goals, which is code for push polling that promotes your client’s goal of raising taxes.
The company conducted its polling of likely voters last spring, The “results” were presented to the Council on the 7th.
The concerns of the citizenry polled emphasized Fullerton’s rotten roads and included a bunch of stuff that the City has no control over and is merely being used as data filler. The options were presented by the pollsters.
Notice the inclusion of budget shortfalls on the list. According to FM3, 45% of those surveyed believe budget shortfalls are a extremely/very serious problem. Really? Then the other shoe begins to drop.
First, it’s curious that somehow data relating to 2019 and 2020 are shared. Where did that data come from? And what happened to 2021 and 2022? This presentation is just nonsense.
The bland term “additional funding” to the initiated means more taxes, but probably not to those polled. Not yet anyway, for the respondents are being artfully massaged by people whose job it is to push and pass tax proposals for their governmental “clients.” The bit about providing “the level of services Fullerton residents need and want” is telling, and so is the language. How does one’s “personal opinion” qualify one to opine on all Fullerton residents? The purpose is to loosen the respondents mind into the miasma of the common good, as defined by the principle beneficiaries – City employees. Then the other shoe hit the ground.
It didn’t take very long for FM3 to roll out a couple of “hypothetical” sales tax raising ballot measures, one a general purpose tax and the other more narrowly directed to infrastructure, although including the ambiguous phrase “to maintain rapid police, fire and 911 response.” The general purpose tax only requires 50%+1 ballot majority; the special purpose tax requires a 67% majority. The latter is an almost impossible threshold to get over.
Then FM3 rolls out some interesting language in their push for a general sales tax. Notice how these alleged concerns of the surveyed mimic the language of the typical “push poll.” FM3 is using language that will elicit super-high positive responses and suggestthat others are already on board. The tiny text at the bottom of the slide tells all. But is all this dire language persuasive when it actually comes to voting?
Finally, FM3 sums it up by saying that a general sales tax is winnable. But is it? Somebody said the same thing about the City’s Measure S back in 2020 and it failed.
In the end the Council (Jung, Zahra and Charles) voted to keep the “education” process going, a process that we know is nothing other than political propaganda aimed at persuading a majority of voters and coordinating with a special political action committee set up to scare, cajole, and bamboozle the voters.
As Bruce Whitaker pointed out on the 7th, there is supposed to be a “bright line” that separates government information from government propaganda. But this line only in the abstract law. In practice the line dissolves almost completely.
Back in August when they voted against accepting State grant money to build the now infamous “Trail to Nowhere,” Fullerton City Councilmen Jung, Whitaker and Dunlap voted to take down the barrier around the fenced-off Union Pacific Park. I thought that was a pretty good idea for a trial run.
But wait! Was there a tacit decision to redesign and reconstruct a new park? Must have been, although there is no funding to do it. Not yet, anyway, although at the last meeting City Manager Eric Leavitt said he was meeting with the State Natural Resources Agency to see if the “greening” grant money that was supposed to go to the trail could be diverted toward building a new park where the old UP Park is located. The proposed park looks a lot like the old one – without toilets or shade structure to accommodate the borrachos.
This would be a political victory for Jung, Dunlap, and Whitaker who have been defending themselves with the argument that the grant funds might be repositioned. But this is really irrelevant if spending the money ends in failure. The trouble with reopening the park, if it happens, is that Fullerton, sadly, would likely only be repeating the failure of the past. And an expensive failure it was. A complete waste of several million dollars back in the early 2000s.
When the original UP Park was built it had no community support. It was the brainchild of the Parks Department Director, Susan Hunt, and funded with Redevelopment and Park Dwelling Fee play money. After it was opened it was found to be contaminated; and after the contamination was cleaned up, the park was soon closed. It seems that it had become infested with drug addicts, homeless, and gang members. And there it has languished for the better part of twenty years.
So what has changed to make this a workable idea now? There are more homeless than ever and Fullerton Tokers Town hasn’t gone anywhere, either. Will anybody be responsible when this new facility follows the trajectory of the old one? Nobody was ever held accountable for the failure of UP Park #1, so that seems pretty unlikely.
This scheme has been drawn up and is going to the Parks Commission tomorrow night, to be rubber stamped and passed to the City Council for their November 21 agenda. There seems to be a big rush to get this going, and I certainly hope someone on the City Council raises the same pertinent questions that they raised when they axed the Trail to Nowhere. Here are some ideas:
How much is it going to cost to maintain?
Why has there been little to no maintenance of the adjacent “Phase I” of the trail?
Who will be responsible for the success/failure of the reopening plan?
Who, exactly, do they think will be using this facility?
How will the UP Park be any different this time around?
What will the neighbors on Truslow Avenue think about reopening the park?
It will also be fun to see how the Zahra Parade will react, especially if the trail money is used. All the same silly arguments and generalities used to support the trail could be used to defend the UP Park reopening: trees, green grass, fresh, air, playground for the ninos, etc. And ironically, just a couple years ago Zahra tried to privatize the park into an events center, proving that he is not the least bit interested in the healthy community script he has bamboozled his followers into reading.
As you might expect, the application form is boilerplate and gives the applicant the opportunity to pick questions that put its proposal in the best light. Reading it gives one the impression that the State doesn’t do a lot of particular investigation; takes applications at face value, assuming applicant to be honest; and doesn’t condescend to concern itself with real field investigations.
The application is replete with traffic and demographic data of the most useless sort. This tripe can be dismissed as bureaucratic string tying and gobbledegooking. The literary answers in it sounds like somebody describing the Yellow Brick Road leading to the fabulous Emerald City.
But there are specific questions on the application that are germane to effective spending of public money, and the answers elicited shed light into the mindset of our Parks Department personnel.
Let’s look at Lie Collection #1. The City is asked to describe boonful economic impacts of the Trail to Nowhere:
Visit local businesses? What the Hell? Like the back of industrial buildings and junk yards? Countless opportunities for economic renewal and growth? Name just one along this dismal “trail.” We now know the proposed “trail” doesn’t even line up with Phase I, a fact omitted in the project budget and description. We also know it doesn’t go east past the abandoned park and doesn’t reach the Transportation Center. An affordable way to travel? For whom, for God’s sake? And how much does it cost to walk to Independence Park, using safe streets? That’s right, nothing. The “trail” links no disadvantaged community with schools (there aren’t any), or local businesses, and of course the “trail” doesn’t get to the Transportation Center. It stops at Harbor Boulevard.
Here’s another packet of misinformation, Lie Collection #2. Get a load of this.
Somehow the author of this application “anticipates” 105,000users annually,an astonishing 288 users each and every day – 24 every daytime hour. In order to get where? Why to the back parking lot in the northeast corner of Independence Park, that’s where. The statistics thrown into the mush to support this nonsense are of the most generic kind, and .prove nothing. Of course we already know that there is no physical linkage to the half-circle north of the tracks. Calling this strip an “active transportation corridor” is hysterically funny to anyone who has walked the abandoned right-of-way.
I included the paragraph above the c.2 in the snippet just to show the repetition of the lies and the nonsense that this “trail” would be used, miraculously, by bus and train riders. There are no points of connection from the “trail” to either service. And notice that the application includes the names of all sorts of disembodied parks that are nowhere near the “trail” and that are not remotely accessible to it.
Now we arrive at Lie Collection #3. This is more of the same rubbish.
This block of lies is nothing but a bureaucratic word salad of nonsense and misinformation. It’s comical that the described location of Independence Park is actually where the large DMV facility is located. You’d think the Parks Department would know where their parks are, but this geographical illiteracy may explain how the “trail” proposal was cooked up in the first place. And we know the “trail” provides no access to Richman Park, and of course the Big Lie about connectivity to Downtown Fullerton, the High School and Fullerton College must be repeated, and repeated and repeated – ad nauseam.
Lie Collection #4 is crucial to understanding how this grant was approved, rather than booted out the door with guffaws of laughter.
Whether this hot mess was really “shovel ready” as confidently asserted here is a matter of conjecture, based on the presence of carcinogenic toxins adjacent and below a significant part of the “trail.” But observe in the red box how the application writer avers that some sort of “Environmental Review process” was completed in 1998, and how no elements of the “trail” were found to require mitigation. There’s a body buried here and it’s toxic, too. We know this claim is a lie because the UP Park was acquired at the same time as the linear right-of-way, and was found to be contaminated much later – in the 2000s, demanding that we accept the idiocy that the “trail” was tested in 1998, but the park site was not. It’s an inescapable conclusion that no environmental “process” was undertaken by the City in 1998 at all. Furthermore, we know that two recent Public Records Act requests for specific information about testing on the “trail” returned no relevant documents. This means that if any documents for Environmental Phase I and Phase II research and testing were performed in 1998, the City is withholding that documentation. Or, alternatively, no documentation exists, meaning that the claim in the application couldn’t have been verified.
Finally, the application conveniently omits any mention of TCE contamination along part of it, and under it, a fact well-known in City Hall and by the State of California for decades.
And that leads to a significant question: would the State ever have approved a grant based on this dodge about environmental assessment? I seriously doubt it.
Fortunately the question is moot so far as the future of the infamous Trail to Nowhere is concerned. That proverbial train pulled out of the station with the wise vote by Dunlap, Jung and Whitaker. That’s not what these series of posts have been about. They are about what goes on in City Hall, how decisions are made, or, as the case may be, not made; how there seems to be be little or no accountability for things that are done poorly, illegally, illogically, and untruthfully.
Curious Friends have been asking about the grant application the City of Fullerton submitted to the State of California Natural Resources Agency to build the now infamous “Trail to Nowhere.” Why? Because the plan, as conceived by parks employees as a make-work project, was so obviously useless, flawed and ill-considered. Reflect on these facts:
Nobody ever used the allegedly successful “Phase I” except drug addicts and the homeless.
The City has been unable or unwilling to maintain Phase I which is a trash-strewn, urine soaked disgrace, making the question of maintenance (below) perfectly reasonable.
Phase I doesn’t even line up with the proposed “Phase II.”
The scheme was going to cost Fullerton $300,000 to build; nobody would say what the running costs would be.
The proposed “trail” was to run though an unsafe area of heavy industry, junk yards, a plating facility, an asphalt plant, parking lots and myriad used tire and auto repair places. It would have run parallel to the BNSF mainline track with no buffer for a third of its length.
Carncinogenic trichlorethylene (TCE) had been identified years ago on an adjacent property by the EPA/Department of Toxic Substances Control that described an underground “plume” moving south across the path of the “trail.”
Two requests for information regarding environmental investigation on the “trail” site, via the Public Records Act have been obviously stonewalled by the City of Fullerton.
“Trail” advocates have been disseminating false information about connectivity to the Transportation Center and Downtown Fullerton, and positing future connections to the west that are completely implausible.
And probably most importantly, no one could describe a potential “trail” user except by using generic data irrelevant to the actual site. The users would be the “community”
The grant application itself isn’t to be found in any City Council documentation, because they never approved the actual application, only allowed the application to be made behind the scenes on their behalf. But it turns out that copies of the document are available, possibly leaked by City Hall employees appalled at the whole mess.
This item popped up on tonight’s City Council Closed Session Calendar.
Could this relate to the northwest corner of Commonwealth and Harbor? If so we are dealing with one Mr. Mario Marovic, who opened two bars on this property that he owns at this corner. Why anticipated litigation? What claim did he make against the City? Let’s review a bit of history, shall we?
By now the Friends are well-familiar with the Saga of the Florentine Stolen Sidewalk, one of Fullerton City Hall’s more egregious and embarrassing fuck-ups, a high bar to clamber over, indeed.
Back in 2003 the Florentines purloined the public sidewalk on Commonwealth Avenue by putting a permanent structure on it without permission. The whitewash was that the City would now lease the land under the building addition to the Florentines. And the Florentines owned the addition, not the owner of the adjacent building to which the addition was attached! In the lease the Florentines were held responsible for removing the addition at the City’s discretion.
But the underlying problem of who owned what and who was responsible for what, never went away.
The comic opera took a new turn in 2020 when the Florentine Mob bugged out, abandoning their addition and their responsibilities for their sidewalk leasehold. Who owned the “bump out” as the encroachment was now charmingly referred to? Why, the people of Fullerton, of course. We assumed ownership, and responsibility. But this didn’t stop the owner of the attached building, Mario Marovic, from trespassing into the bump out and from beginning to modify it as he was remodeling the rest of the old Florentine establishments for his new bars.
What a mess, all predictable and all avoidable had the City staff and the City Council done the right thing back in 2003. Well, if the Queen had…never mind.
The most recent twist became public last fall when, behind the scenes, our feckless City Council made deal with Marovic. He could assume the Florentine ground lease, and open his new establishments; in return, he would be responsible for removing the encroaching structure from the City sidewalk, and all would be well with minor embarrassment to the City. Marovic’s deadline to start demolition was the last week of March 2023, to be complete by July.
Well, March came and went. So did April, May, June, July, August, September, and now October; and nothing has started. Nada. Marovic has been in breach of the agreement for seven months, reaping revenue from his saloons and from our property, too.
I really hope this item about a claim made by Marovic because it will inevitably raise the issue of his delinquency, although if it is, and this being Fullerton after all, I suppose the Council will end up letting the scofflaw keep renting our bump out on our sidewalk and maybe even pay him for the honor. It would be yet another effort to keep the City from more institutional embarrassment. Can’t have that, can we?
Here’s what should happen since the City has inexplicably decided not to go after the Florentine Mob for damages. The City should suck it up: cancel the existing ground lease with Marovic, demolish the bump out once and for all, and replace the open wall with whatever was there before this whole damn thing started.
A few weeks ago I published a post detailing how someone had requested on October 12th, through a Public Records Act Request, information on environmental testing along the abandoned Union Pacific right-of-way; and how the City on October 23, in response, replied with six document files they called a “full release” and that had nothing to do with any sort of testing at all.
Well, they’ve done it again.
Also on October 12th, the same person made a related request, specifically asking for a Phase 1 environmental report of the right-of-way. A Phase 1 environmental report surveys a property and its neighbors for historical usage in an attempt to identify potential environmental issues. On October 28th the City responded with the identical unresponsive documents as before, apparently digging a deeper hole for itself.
Whether this is sheer incompetence or just bullheaded arrogance, or a lot of both, remains to be seen.
As before, the proper response is not to share completely irrelevant and non-responsive documents, but, rather to simply state that there are no responsive documents.
Why the City refuses to obey the law suggests several things. First, as mentioned above, stupid incompetence and/or arrogance. Or maybe somebody down there thinks they can stonewall a possible, even likely truth – that there never was any environmental testing done along the right-of-way, a path that lies adjacent and likely right on top of toxic contamination and on which the City tried to build a recreation trail for $2,000,000.
By now Fullerton City Hall is aware that their partner in a boutique hotel/apartment high-rise on Santa Fe Avenue, TA Westpark LLC, is in trouble. TA Westpark Fullerton., AKA Johnny Lu has defaulted on a massive loan, previously borrowed to complete projects in Irvine.
The fallout from this embarrassment remains unknown, although there are plenty of questions that need to be answered, and sooner rather than later.
One of the questions involves the transfer of the public property ownership at the site to TA Westpark Fullerton, LLC before proper project approval, a desperate, and of course, totally unnecessary act. And the actual documents supporting ownership of the land in question need to be examined, too.
On December 22, 2022 the City sold the land at a huge discount to Lu. Check out the grant deed:
By now Craig Hostert, whose brain-child the boutique hotel was, is scratched out and TA Westpark Fullerton, LLC, a Delaware corporation, is the proud owner of the land and the transfer is signed by a “managing partner” of a whole other entity – “TA Partners.” Looks like Hosteret was bought out or walked away, abandoning his baby.
But, as they say in the infomercial, wait, there’s more. A quick check of the State of Delaware’s corporations roster doesn’t turn up any results for TA Westpark Fullerton, LLC. Hmm.
And here’s something else. A few months later a new grant deed was promulgated and recorded at the County of Orange. Here, the hard to find Delaware corporation deeds the land in question over to TA Westpark Fullerton, LLC, a California corporation.
Something is odd here, and it’s not just the amateur hour handwritten changes on the original deed. Did the City sell this property to a non-existent corporate entity? If so, hasn’t some sort of fraud occurred? Why the shell game here, and could the original deed be considered invalid in retrospect?
We could ask these question of Dick Jones of the “I Can’t Believe It’s a Law Firm” law firm, because I doubt the City Council will make inquiries of their ace lawyer. Getting an honest answer from ol’ marble mouth? A rare and precious jewel.
Some might think this entire fiasco is going to get worse before it gets better. I’m not sure how that’s possible.