Sometimes it’s hard to tell if government bureaucracies do the things they do because of incompetence, venality, or favoritism. In the never-ending story of Fullerton’s noise regulation all three seem to be uniquely intertwined.
What is inescapable is that the City of Fullerton has striven mightily to separate the issue of nuisance noise emanating from downtown outdoor areas from both enforcement and illegality.
In 2011 the ridiculous Transportation Center Specific Plan finally made it legal to propagate amplified outdoor music, thus making Jeremey Popoff’s Slidebar appear honest, although he still didn’t have a legal Conditional Use Permit. But the new regulations for noise had no more effect than Popoff’s missing CUP because the City – cops and code enforcement – refused to enforce the regulations.
What to do? Hmm. What about throwing the issue into a miasma of bureaucratic paper shuffling so that nobody would notice what you were doing, and downtown scofflaws could actually be absolved, de jure as well as de facto?
In August, 2014 the City tried this pitch with the idea that the Noise ordinance would be updated along with great swaths of the existing land use law to make thing, you know, easier to figure out. But downtown noise played a prominent part in the discussion, if not really in the staff report. The council approved noise studies as a mechanism, a cynic might say, to avoid cracking down on Popoff, Jack Franklin’s Roscoe’s, and their ilk, because that is exactly what happened.
2015 rolled around and the Community Development “professionals,” led by newly minted Director Karen Haluza, were again yakking it up about revising the Code. Well, these things take time, you know, and in the late summer of 2016 the City Council finally got around to passing Ordinance 3232, a revised Code, still, with intent of instilling commonsense and clarity. The definition of amplified music was scratched out pending future action.
But whatever the motivation, the ever-shifting sands of sound gave the bureaucrats, aided and abetted by the perpetual dishonesty of City Attorney Dick Jones, the pretext they needed to bat away complaints about the illegal noise – because the issues was under study and consideration!
The vicious circle took yet another revolution in June of 2018 when the Council was persuaded by yet another new planning director, Ted White, to pass a Resolution of Intent to once again revise the land use codes in the interests of commonsense and clarity. Of course the Noise Ordinance and downtown noise was actually a key driver in this conversation, too. Mr. White took it upon himself to introduce a new downtown noise map where any outdoor sound would be permitted; but, the standards – 70 decibels outside and 65 decibels inside – were not to be applied to the source, but to the sensitive receptor, and the burden of proof was clearly laid at the feet of the victim, not the perpetrator of the nuisance. The bureaucracy seemed oblivious to the Armageddon of Noise they were trying to create or the sensibilities of residents adjacent to the riot zone.
The Planning Commission was finally scheduled to review the latest iteration of musical chairs in November, 2018; but the discussion was mysteriously continued for three months until February, 2019 by which time two opponents of amplified music, Nick Dunlap and Ryan Cantor had been removed from the Commission. A coincidence? Who knows? Stay tuned…
Okay. What have we learned so far about Fullerton’s long and corrupt attempt to avoid addressing the problem of amplified outdoor music?
First we have learned that Fullerton’s “experts” in the Planning and Code Enforcement divisions have been serially uninterested in enforcing their own laws in an effort to appease and placate scofflaw bars in the financial sinkhole known as downtown Fullerton.
Second we have learned that you can’t make government bureaucrats do their jobs if they don’t want to do them.
Way back in 2009 City Hall knew it had a problem on its hands as the metastasizing and illegal clubs began sharing their good times with everybody else. A “consultant” called Bon Terra was engaged to to a noise study and the City Council, at the time, voted to maintain the existing code that prohibited outdoor music.
But saying something and doing something about it reflects a mammoth void in Fullerton, and the bureaucrats in City Hall don’t give up on an issue until one way or another, they get what they want.
And in 2012 they got a friend, Jennifer Fitzgerald, who was more than happy to run interference for people who had no qualms about violating the noise and land-use law.
And so, over the next seven years, the Noise Nuisance continued, most notably at The Slidebar, a club that was illegally operating without a CUP. And even as the nuisance continued, the City embarked on a campaign to eliminate any restrictions at all. Complaints were invariably batted away by Planning Directors Karen Haluza, Ted White, and Matt Foulkes who, along with our egregious City Attorney, Dick Jones kept citing studies and new plans, and whatever else they could use as a pretext for doing nothing.
Finally by 2019, it became apparent that the goal was to permit an acoustic free-for-all in downtown Fullerton.
FFFF has published lots of posts about the way in which our highly paid “experts” in City Hall have made it their business to run interference for the numerous scofflaw bar and “club” owners downtown when it comes to ignoring annoyances like Conditions of Approval and the municipal code’s Noise Ordinance.
Both topics have been addressed in the same way: if they can, they simply ignore the situation. The blind eye approach has worked most of time. When it hasn’t, Step 2 is invoked. Step 2 is to diligently pursue making the laws laxer, so lax in fact, that the lawbreaking is no longer lawbreaking. This bureaucratic gambit is really nice because the Planning Department Staff can always claim that something is in the works that will address the situation. Of course that’s a lie. What’s really happening is that the department is trying really hard to come up with a legal absolution so low even the lowest douchebag can slither over it.
At every step of the way, the scofflaws – Jeremy Popoff of Slidebar fame and the Florentine Mob spring most readily to mind – lubricate the gears of Fullerton’s small town political machine who have seemed ever-ready to support the law breaking.
While we here at FFFF have extensively covered the abuse of CUPs and other land use issues, the history of the ongoing issue of nuisance noise traces a perfect trajectory of incompetence or casual corruption, or most likely, of both.
The story spans three city managers, four planning directors and a whole slew of elected ciphers who would rather defend purveyors of nuisance over the right of their constituents to quiet enjoyment of their property.
Anaheim bankruptcy lawyer and District 1 council candidate, Andrew Cho has sent out a mail piece with the usual dreary pictures of his incredibly happy home life, his conservative Republicanism, and the empty promises of accountability, public safety and miraculous economic superpowers.
Too bad we then see his endorsers – a gaggle of liars, grifters, thieves, and idiots you wouldn’t trust to walk your Pomeranian. He shares his bold pledge to support Prop 13, as if that had any bearing in Fullerton. More on the subject of taxes in a bit.
The bottom portion of the flyer is dedicated to attacking his one and only opponent, Fred Jung, as a radical leftist.
But notice what’s missing? That’s right. No mention at all of his position on Measure S, the 17% sales tax that is the brain child of his sleazy string-puller, Mayor-for-Hire Jennifer Fitzgerald; a tax increase that is approved by liberal Democrat councilcreatures, Flory, Quirk-Silva and Zahra.
Well, that’s not very good, is it District 1 Republicans. Poor “Andrew” is in a big bind. The Republican registration is a dwindling minority in D1, and if Cho is trying to shore up the die-hards at this point in a non-partisan election he’s in deep republicrap.
Word has seeped out from the once hermetically sealed walls of City Hall that we may not have Richard “Dick” Jones, Esq. to kick around much longer. It would seem, if the rumors are true, that Good Ol’ Dick has had enough of screwing the taxpayers of Fullerton with his pettifogging, self-serving legal advice and is “retiring” with all of his ill-gotten spoils.
Well, possibly not all his spoils, because he must believe his “I Can’t Believe Its A Law Firm” will have some residual value after Mudslide oozes off.
Now I don’t know about you, Friends, but a collection of lawyers that includes Kimberly Barlow and Gregory Roosevelt Palmer doesn’t seem like it could be worth very much to me; but Jones is supposedly pitching the continued services of his collection of miscreants, so he must plan on keeping his name on the letterhead and probably receiving revenue thereby.
Will our city councilcreatures keep this gang on retainer? After the abysmal performance of Jones in the pas it’s hard to imagine anybody wanting them around, at all. Of course this is the same gaggle that has kept Jones, et al., on the clock for over twenty years – and that’s a lot of bungling and cover-ups.
If someone takes the time to review the history of Fullerton over the past forty years, one thing becomes shockingly clear: when it comes to building things, maintaining things and planning for things, the City government just can’t do much of anything right. And yet over this long history, the City and the public seem to have the shortest of memories.
For the denizens of City Hall, the fact that the jalopy has no rear view mirror makes perfect sense. After all, if you’re pulling down well over a hundred Gs, with a trampoline retirement coming your way, why spoil things with strange notions like accountability and responsibility? It’s so much easier to pretend nothing bad has happened.
The people who live here on the other hand, have no such incentive; quite the reverse, in fact. So how come constant repetition of the disastrous lessons from the past are tolerated? Is it easier to just ignore the millions upon millions wasted in foolish vanity projects, make-work comedies, and deteriorating infrastructure? Maybe.
But I hope that by continuing the drumbeat started on this brave blog 11 years ago, sooner or later the populace will wake up to the ineptitude and dissimulation by its highly paid, and so far untouchable masters of disaster.
And so join me Friends as I take you on trip down memory lane, Fullerton style.
Today almost nobody remembers the comical City endeavor to transform Harbor Boulevard in the early 80s by removing on-street parking, adding medians, spike-laden, pod-dropping floss silk trees, and bizarre concrete peristyles along the sidewalks. Comical, did I say? It would have been funny except that it doomed the businesses along Harbor to slow entropy. The ridiculous peristyles were soon removed but the rest of the mess lasted for decades and many of the hideous trees and broken sidewalks are still there as a reminder that the City is perfectly willing to waste millions on hare-brained, concept-of-the-day tomfoolery that gives them something to do.
The Allen Hotel, was Fullerton’s first foray into “affordable” housing back in the late 80s. It was a slum, alright and thirty years after the City’s bungling acquisition, the site is just begging for more “redevelopment.” Will it get it?
The CSUF Stadium & Fundraising Fiasco of 1990 ought to give plenty of pause to those contemplating Big Projects with public money. The brainchild of slimy City Councilman and later slimy State Senator, Dick Ackerman, the idea was to build a permanent home for the CSUF football team. Only trouble was that the $15,000,000 stadium was completed the same year the plug was pulled on a dismal gridiron program. In typical fashion, the City invested in a fundraising plan in which a company was hired at a cost of several hundred thou to raise money, and didn’t. Oops!
The horror story “Knowlwood Corner” is a veritable textbook case of government bureaucratic misfeasance, from start to finish. The story started in the early 90s and dragged on for years and years; when the signature building was finally built, the missing second floor became a perfect symbol for this misadventure. From stupid economic micromanagement to horrible architecture, this one touched all the bases – and it took seven years to do so.
The Bank of Italy Building was another disaster from the early 90s, but one that actually gutted an historic building. Millions in public money were wasted to pay for something that never should have been undertaken in the first place.
The North Platform remodel of 1992-93 proved that no matter how bungled things were in Fullerton, it could always get worse. A landscape architect was hired to place as many impediments between passengers and trains as was humanly possible. Some of the citizens got wise, and half the crap was ripped out. Heads rolled in City Hall. Oh, wait, no they didn’t.
Few folks now remember the Fairway Toyota dealership expansion fiasco from the mid-90s that required threatening an old lady with eminent domain and then closing off Elm Avenue forever. The City’s investment disappeared like an early summer morning’s dew when the dealership took off for Anaheim a few years later. After years of housing a used car dealership, the City permitted the development of another massive cliff dwelling along Harbor Boulevard. The losses were never accounted for but at least the neighbors got a nice view and early shade.
Fullerton’s Corporate Yard expansion was a mid-nineties project that left the City gasping for air. Despite hiring an outside construction manager and paying him a couple hundred grand, the project dissolved into a litigation mess that only escaped public embarrassment because nobody on the City Council gave a damn. Settlement details vanished into the haze.
The so-called Poison Park on Truslow Avenue may set the standard for Fullerton incompetence, although admittedly, the competition is fierce. In the late 90s, the City had Redevelopment money to burn and just couldn’t wait to do so. So they bought a piece of industrial property and built a park that nobody outside City Hall wanted. Cost? $3,000,000. Of course the site attracted gang members and drug dealers as predicted. Worse still, the land was contaminated and the “park” fenced off. It’s been like that for almost 15 years. And Counting.
No story of Fullerton calamities would be complete without once again sharing the tale of the Florentine Sidewalk Hijacking, in which a permit for “outside dining” was transformed one day by the Florentine Mob into a permanent building blocking half a public sidewalk. The Big City Planner, Paul Dudley, said everything was peachy. He was lying, of course, but did anybody really care?
Some people might conclude that the majority of Fullerton’s disasters can be laid at the feet of the Redevelopment Agency (really just the City Council) and well-pensioned, inept managers like Terry Galvin and Gary Chaplusky. When they weren’t slapping brick veneer on anything that didn’t move, they were screwing everything else up, too. But when we regard the history of Laguna Lake we enter into the realm of Fullerton’s Parks and Engineering mamalukes. After spending a small fortune on renovating the lake, the thing leaked like a sieve. Hundreds of millions of premium MWD gallons were pumped into the thing to keep it full. The public and council were left in the dark, even as citizens were told to conserve water in their homes. Did anyone in charge give a damn? Did anyone ask how much money and water were squandered over the years? Of course not. This is Fullerton. We could ask Engineering Director Don Hoppe for details, except that he is now comfortably retired and pulling down a massive pension.
Our professional planners, have been knee deep in Fullerton’s morass. Over-development (see example, above) has been fostered and nowhere was this better seen than in the Core and Corridors Specific Plan. This idiotic plan wasted a million bucks of State money without a backward glance after the whole thing was finally dumped on the QT – too stupid even for Fullerton. Did anybody ask for their money back? Nope. And yet a link to a blank web page titled Core and Corridors still exists! Hope springs eternal.
The 2000s proved that nobody in City Hall or out, was learning anything, even after the expensive failures of the 90s. The “West Harbor Improvement” project in 2009, was an endeavor so unnecessary that it could only be proposed in Fullerton, where government “place making” has never succeeded. The alley is a barf zone behind a bunch of bars that only needs hosing down every Sunday morning.
This litany of disasters, follies and debacles brings us to the Pinewood Stairs at Hillcrest Park which put on display the incompetence of the designer, the city staff, the construction manager, and a contractor who couldn’t build a sand box to code. Wasting $1.6 million is bad enough; permitting the code violations and construction deficiencies go unfixed is even worse. Barely two years old, the ramshackle structure moves more than the Tacoma Narrows Bridge.
And over all these years Fullerton’s “leaders have neglected our aging infrastructure and permitted zone changes allowing for massive new development that has lined the pockets of developers and political campaign coffers, and left the rest of us with even more traffic and more burden on our roads and pipes.
And so we ventured out on a proactive foot patrol to see what effect the intervening eighteen months may have had on this dismal boondoggle. What we found was not shocking, for our sense of shock at the ineptitude of our City’s park and engineering departments dissipated years ago.
The structure is noticeably creaking, treads are wobbly and handrails are coming loose. This barely two-year old ramshackle pile of lumber is showing unmistakable signs of decrepitude and neglect. Its creators have moved on to new ventures.
What did we find?
Uncorrected code violations like tread width? Check.
Failed irrigation? Check.
Uncontrolled erosion? Check.
Risk management potential? Check.
No correction of substandard design and construction? Check.
I noticed two things in the Fullerton Observer the other day that on the surface are pretty innocuous but that upon a little reflection seem to be symbolic of the way our city government has operated over the years.
The first is the City’s proclamation of Arab American Month, a first, and no doubt conceived by new councilmember Ahmad Zahra who is himself an Arab American. Here is Zahra:
“As an Arab-American myself, I’m very proud of this moment, and I’m proud of our city for being such a wonderful, diverse place where everybody can celebrate who they are but work together for what is best for our community.”
Diversity and celebration. Hmm. Well, okay, a little color toner and some quality legal-sized paper, a few minutes of everybody’s time and you’ve got your proclamation. Go in peace.
The second item is about the rainbow flag flapping on the pole in front of City Hall. The City Council in March approved flying the banner that symbolizes LGBTQ rights, etc for LGBTQ Month. Mr. Zahra is also gay and this may account for the fact that Fullerton has finally got around to this pressing issue. This is a bit more problematic because here we have an official endorsement by the City. Personally, I’m all for equal rights for everybody – including marriage, and I couldn’t care less if Jennifer Fitzgerald orders that a Goofy flag fly over the City Hall. Still, it gives one pause to consider the priorities of our esteemed leaders – nobody’s rights are threatened by not flying the flag; meaning, of course, that the whole thing is an empty gesture.
And this brings me, finally, to the point of this post. We have a city council that has spent us to brink of fiscal disaster with no accountability, no responsibility and no concern at all for the taxpayers and citizens of Fullerton. They have squandered millions on vanity construction projects that were mismanaged, unnecessary, or downright dangerous. They have let the streets of Fullerton become the joke of Orange County. They have turned over downtown Fullerton to a gang of scofflaw saloon owners. They have nurtured a deadly Culture of Corruption in the police department, an infection that reaches from top to bottom. Meantime they are determined to ignore any of the calls for a correction to the course they have navigated.
Ask yourselves this question: Are any of the real municipal problems of Fullerton ever addressed? The answer, sadly, has been no. Meanwhile, empty symbolism and diversion are the order of the day. It’s easy pandering, and to the uninitiated might even look like something is being accomplished.
The question whether hollow gestures are better than none at all, especially when promoted by incompetent or corrupt officials, may remain academic. What is a practical reality is that in a month or so Fullerton will begin its Annual Can Kick – known as the budget approval. But the can is getting more obdurate every year and the lies coming from Fitzgerald and Flory ever more outrageous. Soon we will be able to see what sort of new flags from Mr. Zahra and his colleagues will be run up the flagpole. Will anybody salute?
Two years ago FFFF ran a series of posts based on the observations of “Fullerton Engineer” about the ludicrous elevators addition to the existing bridge at the Depot. Nobody wanted this project except for city staff and only because the dime was somebody else’s. And so a strange bureaucratic odyssey began with fits and starts of activity to waste $4,000,000 of transit money doled out by distant agencies. Then in 2017 the monster was shocked back to life with an infusion of $600,000 of Fullerton’s own cash. Ouch. Let’s let our Friend, Fullerton Engineer take it from here:
It appears as if the depot elevator project is grinding to a conclusion: the elevator foundations and steel are finally done and the traction elevators are almost complete. Are congratulations in order? Not quite, although I suspect there will be a victory celebration and ribbon cutting and back-pats all around when the City Council takes its first expensive elevator ride.
A construction sequence that should have taken perhaps seven months has dragged on for two years.That’s right – two years. No one in charge seems to have offered any explanation, probably because no one in authority has ever asked for any. As I noted in the spring of 2017, the request for more money was shrouded in double talk and obscurantism. Somebody was hiding something.
Over the past two years as I have driven by the site it was more likely that I saw no one working as when I did. So what were all those people who were being paid, and well paid, to oversee this fiasco doing? Who knows? Have delay claim change orders ever been processed? Have they been rejected? Is a lawsuit coming or is it just going to end in a feeding frenzy on a complicit public agency? PRA requests may shed light on this disaster, if in fact they are not ignored by the city’s lawyer.
Don Hoppe, our former City Engineer has disappeared into a well-pensioned retirement. His replacement, a professionally unqualified bureaucrat will take no heat for this embarrassment. It’s no-fault government where the taxpayer foots the bill.
I really don’t have much to say that I haven’t said at this dais before, or which hasn’t been reported by local media such as the Voice of OC.
It’s my opinion that this whole process has been riddled with malfeasance and corruption since the get-go. Yes Councilmember Zahra, there is plenty of blame to go around and money is an issue but that doesn’t excuse the way the city has handled this issue including changing our municipal code on election day.
Tonight’s issue has been so mired in the muck that even after you directed staff to reach out to the Neighbors United for Fullerton to have them change their meeting agenda and NUFF was gracious enough to accommodate your last minute favor – two of you snubbed them, disrespected the citizens, abdicated your moral authority on even the pretense of openness and transparency and you insulted all of the people who put themselves up for consideration.
I know about the lobbying by power brokers and the behind the scenes closed door meetings on both sides of the aisle as you preen and haggle to get your anointed pick onto the dais.
It was obvious a month ago who was the favorite before we the people even knew how the process would play out legally. That’s how baked into the cake the corruption and dishonesty is in Fullerton.
But I’m here to dare you to be better than you think you can be and better than you have been in the past. I’m here to dare you to be open and honest and to give the people a chance to vote for their own representation with a special election.
Regarding cost, It may have been hard to look at a struggling mother and explain where this $400,000 might be spent but as a struggling father of 3 I ask if you looked her in the face and explained why 70+% of our general fund goes to salaries and pensions to support people to do jobs we then don’t have the funds to complete – such as our aging infrastructure including that dark park?
If the cost is truly too much to bear then I can offer you a compromise. Everybody who tunes into these meetings knows that Whitaker doesn’t like me because I ran in the Newman recall instead of supporting him. Silva doesn’t like me for calling him out both here and on the FFFF blog time and again. Fitzgerald – well that list to too long to recount here but suffice it to say she and I won’t be getting tea anytime soon. And Zahra – he’ll learn if he hasn’t already.
I’m the one guy none of you wants up on that dais. I’m a “chronic malcontent”, I pick on everybody in power, I don’t smile enough and I have this beard. I have it on good authority that this beard alone disqualifies me with half of the city.
And all of that means that I can’t win reelection. I obviously won’t be tightly allied with any of you so you’ll have to compromise and work together to find solutions that aren’t one-sided nonsense and best of all my blogging by virtue of the brown act will all but need to cease and who of you wouldn’t see that as a bonus?
You know I’ve read the budget, you know I’m well versed in city issues and oh who are we kidding here – even if I was the best candidate this was done before it started. I didn’t throw my name in because I wanted the position – I put my name in to highlight the corruption and ridiculousness of this travesty of a process. The process ended up being worse than I anticipated so my goals were on point.
In summation I dare you to be better than yourselves. To actually embrace openness and transparency and to give the people the voice that you’ve been trying so hard to deny them.