Slimy politicians trying to buy votes is nothing new. It should be illegal. Hell, it probably is. Orange County Supervisors do it out of their offices all the time and always have. But this effort from the rodent-like Doug Chaffee, our man in Santa Ana takes the proverbial cake.
I have no idea how many of his constituents would want to do anything with Chaffee, but I bet there aren’t many. But Chaffee’s unpopularity isn’t the point. The point is people working out of a public facility doing campaign work is illegal. And that’s exactly what this.
So I’m watching the council meeting on Tuesday and at one point listened in disbelief as Ahmad Zahra lectured his colleagues about their unethical activity. I don’t know what he thought he could get people to believe was unethical, but that’s not the point.
The point is that this petulant, preening, prissy popinjay would have the nerve to refer to somebody elseas unethical, is quite remarkable.
We have been following the career of Mr. Zahra on this blog and the only thing he seems to be any good at is self-promotion to the gullible – in the same sort of way Pam Keller used to before being exposed by FFFF in 2010
Well, okay, being a prima donna and a camera hound isn’t exactly unethical – just annoying. But then there was the instance we caught him publishing under his own name water articles in the incurious Fullerton Observer that were actually written by some Water District staffer. He even got former Councilwoman Jan Flory to promote his bona fides as a water expert (or something) under the cover of that lie. Zahra may think this plagiarism and prevarication are just the prerogative of an elected, but boy is he wrong.
Let’s not forget his convenient claim that he was a “fan” of settling the City’s vindictive, expensive and humiliating lawsuit against FFFF & Co. No, that’s a lie, too. Along with Quirk-Silva he dug in his heels because he wanted to avoid personal humiliation by Joshua Ferguson and FFFF. What the Hell. It wasn’t his money that was wasted in the huge settlement.
And then there’s the case of the Disappearing Battery and Vandalism Case, in which Zahra was tuned up by his own cops and charged by the District Attorney. The case vanished and Zahra made a public declamation of his alleged “exoneration.” But word soon leaked out that he wasn’t exonerated at all; but, rather that he pled guilty, did some sort of community service, and had his record expunged. What’s the truth? I’m not sure, but I know one thing: if the case against Zahra were truly dropped he would have shared some evidence of that.
No, Ahmad Zahra is not one to cast stones of aspersion about unethical behavior at anybody. His glass house won’t stand it. Spouting liberal clichés and pretending to care about anything except yourself will only work for so long. 2022 is an election year for Zahra. And if he thinks pouting and pontificating and drumming up Astroturf support at council meetings by women pretending they can’t speak English will keep him on the city council, he has another think coming.
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.
Most government projects have three things in common: they are bad ideas promoted by bureaucrats, they are obscenely expensive, and there is no accountability attached to them.
In Fullerton we have lots of examples over the years that touch all three bases. But if ever one needed a veritable poster child for government fiascoes, the ill-conceived “Downtown Core and Corridors” Specific Plan would be it.
Back in 2010, the City of Fullerton put in an application for a “project” to Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s “Strategic Growth Council” an assemblage of bureaucrats and political appointees selected by the governor to promote sustainability and responsibility in urban (and suburban planning). On the face of it, the idea was to promote development that would be eco-friendly – somehow, someway. Lo and Behold! Fullerton received a $1,000,000 grant to create the Downtown Core and Corridors Specific Plan, a massive overlay zone. In 2013 a committee was appointed to make this look like a community driven enterprise, but as so often happens the committee was led along by the consultants and staff who were being paid, and paid well, out of the grant money. Some members of this committee only went to one meeting, the last one, in May 2014, a meeting consumed by passing out certificates of participation to committee members for all their hard work.
In the meantime, the intent of the creators of the specific plan became crystal clear: opportunity for massive new housing projects along Fullerton’s busiest streets, development that would not even have to undergo the scrutiny facing normal projects so long as the permissive guidelines of the specific plan were met. Naturally, lots of people objected to the continued over-development of Fullerton, and the utter disconnect with what the Strategic Growth Council was ostensibly promoting. Perhaps the most obnoxious thing about the specific plan proposal was the way it was being used, unapproved by any policy maker, to promote other massive apartment projects already in the entitlement process.
And then a funny thing happened. The Downtown Core and Corridors Specific Plan vanished into thin air. Although recommended by the Planning Commission in August of 2014, the plan and its Environmental Impact Report never went to the city council for approval. 2015 passed; and so did 2016 without the plan being approved. Even modifications rumored to have been proposed by the now-departed Planning Director Karen Haluza never materialized for council review or approval.
Some cynical people believe the plan was postponed in 2014 because of the council election, an election that returned development uber alles councilmembers Greg Sebourn and Bud Chaffee. And they believe that the subsequent attempt to erase the plan from the municipal memory was perpetrated by none other than the hapless city manager, Joe Felz and lobbyist councilperson Jennifer Fitzgerald, (so the story goes) two individuals who had every incentive to shake down potential developers one by one, rather than granting a broad entitlement for new and gargantuan development. Felz had a massive budget deficit to fill, and Fitzgerald had massive lobbying opportunities from potential Pringle and Associate clients.
What is undeniable is that three long years have passed and no action has been taken to either approve or deny the specific plan. The grant money approved by the State has been a complete waste – a travesty so embarrassing to everybody concerned that no one seems to want to demand an explanation for this fiasco. Neither the city bureaucrats or council, nor the State has any incentive to advertise this disaster, and you can bet there never will be an accounting.
Yesterday a strange creature crawled out of the ooze – a fellow named “Roy” (fake name), who claimed to be the jury foreman in the 2013 Kelly Thomas murder trial.
This pathetic SOB sent in a request for a hearing on the John and Ken radio show to set the record straight about the verdict. Why now? Apparently he and his fellow pumpkins on the jury have been subjected to all sorts of mean social media ridicule and threats (he says), even after three years. It didn’t take John and Ken long to get sick of this whiner’s attempt to dodge, deflect and then diminish what the cops did to a skinny, sick, homeless guy.
You know “Roy” is soon to get his ass handed to him when he describes, Lou Ponsi-like, the brutal assault as a “scuffle,”
“Roy” doesn’t recognize Ramos trying to intimidate Kelly, and it doesn’t bother him a bit that Wolfe actually struck the blow that caused Kelly to run – a perfectly natural move for someone who has been threatened and hit with a cop club. Those provocations were really at the heart of the episode: the entire drama was caused, deliberately, by Ramos and Wolfe.
It is particularly nauseating to listen to this moron explain away Cicinelli pulverizing Kelly’s face as a necessary tactic against the struggling homeless man; and then declaring that Kelly died not of facial injury anyhow, but by “chest compression” whatever the Hell this dimwit thinks that means. The fact is that the blood inhaled from Kelly’s severe facial injuries caused asphyxiation at the same time the cops sat on his chest.
And of course this human vegetable ignores the aftermath – the Fullerton cops willfully ignored the unconscious guy who was dying in the gutter – as they got their little scrapes band-aided by paramedics.
File this one under “better to keep your mouth shut asshole, and just go away.”
The Fullerton Police Department has also been a collaborator in the craziness “working with” the dysfunctional culture, following political orders and smelling lots of overtime, no doubt, and maybe even relishing the opportunity to crack a few 909 noggins once in a while.
And of course, the media has been utterly silent on the $1.5 million abuse of the City budget, the drunken violence, the sexual assaults, the broken laws, the mega bonanza for the subsidized, out-of-control bar owners.
UPDATE: a keen-eyed friend wrote in to inform us of a couple interesting facts about the City’s “Back the badge” documents. First, the original contract and the first purchase order don’t agree. The PO describes a one-year term while the contract is for only six months. Second there is no PO that covers the period from May to November 2014. The City’s controller should not have been able to write checks without a PO to write checks against, so something is fishy there.
FFFF has already shared with the Friends here some of the more ludicrous aspects of “Back the Badge” a PR outlet for cop departments and unions that we pay for.
The whole shabby deception is so bad we decided to dig a little deeper to see just how the Fullerton taxpayers got hooked into paying for the cops to peddle their propaganda – to us.
The documents we received indicate a completely non-transparent, slipshod City-vendor relationship in which deliverables are sketchy, and grossly overvalued.
First, it’s important to point out that this relationship was approved in secret by former City Manager Joe Felz in spring 2013, presumably under his spending authority. The City Council may have been informed, but the public most assuredly was not. Even Felz must have been aware of the possible public blowback against this nonsense. And he undoubtedly had the support of council persons Flory, Chaffee and Fitzgerald in trying to keep this gross squandering of public funds out of the public eye.
It is critical to recognize the contract for what it is: a fixed fee arrangement in which the vendor gets his contracted monthly amount regardless of what he actually accomplishes. These sorts of contracts are comparatively rare in government precisely because they are not tied to specific scopes of work. In essence there is no real oversight at all, even if anybody felt like doing it – which they didn’t.
If you peruse the invoices you will find all sorts of weird “deliverables” of intangible sort like “PR services,” “OC Register columns,” and “Fullerton News Tribune” just the sorts of things that are impossible to value and make you wonder if the real media was in collusion with Back the Badge. FFFF has already noted how the Yellowing Fullerton Observer has published an article, verbatim, from Back the Badge, here.
Of course some of the contractual items like “traffic/performance reports” yielded no responsive documents in our public records request. Anyway, as I noted it above it hardly matters.
One extra-contractual proposal sent to former Chief Danny “Galahad” Hughes offers 40,000 print copies of “Behind the badge Fullerton magazine” for a mere twenty grand. Who approved that, and where did these print copies go? That we shall likely never know, as the police PR mechanisms are obviously none of our damn business, even though we are bankroller and target audience.
My favorite item in the proposals from Back the Badge is something called “crisis counseling.” This must be a service that is called upon when something really bad occurs and the cops need to polish up that road apple, and quick! So did Back the Badge spring into crisis counseling mode the night their benefactor, Joe Felz, smelling of liquor, drove off Glenwood Avenue, and was given a free pass and a ride home by the Fullerton Police Department?
On December 17, 2016, the City issued a new Purchase Order for more of those valuable Back the Badge services. The invoice cites the brand-new interim Chief but there is no reference to the Acting City Manager since by this time Joe Felz was long gone, the victim of his own reckless behavior. So who authorized the issuance of this new PO? The police chief, whoever he is, has no such spending authority. It seems as if the Culture of Opacity and Unaccountability is humming along on auto pilot.
Well, this is Fullerton and if you want to find out what is going on – well, good luck with that.
Well, the short answer is that if they don’t get a call from the Chief of Police telling you to drive the dude home, they’ve got their man. And if they’re lucky they get to keep his impounded his car.
Seriously, though, the virtually useless OC Register ran another one of its slanted, pro cop pieces yesterday about the evils of mary-j-wanna, and I wouldn’t even bother posting about it except that it featured the images and words of Fullerton’s expert dope detecting cops.
The extreme irony of Fullerton cops being set up as exemplars in the detection of impaired drivers seems to have escaped the writers and editors at the Register, given the department’s behavior in the case of the Missing Maniacal Motorist, former City Manager, Joe Felz, who was apprehended after jumping a Glenwood Avenue curb, uprooting a tree, and trying to drive off. Despite emitting an odor of alcohol strong enough to be detected by a cop on the scene, the boyz in blue gave Joe a pass and a ride home. I’m not sure, but he may have been tucked into bed, and gotten a glass of warm milk and a cookie, too.
The year is almost over and I would be remiss if i didn’t briefly recount one of the most memorable events of 2016 – the carpetbagging candidacy for State Senate of Sukhee Kang, the former dismal Irvine councilman who, uninvited, declared his candidacy THEN moved to Fullerton to make it legit. He bought a mini-mansion on a golf course. He had an Irvine flunky named Dan Chemilewski try to make the thing appear normal and kosher, but that failed.
In the end, Sukhee spent a ton of money, almost all of it his own. The more he spent, the worse it got. And on election day he lost to a guy named Josh Newman by three points – a remarkable disaster that left almost every Democrat in Orange County – and the state – quickly looking for the exit.
Last week the ever helpful Fullerton City Hall scribe Lou Ponsi scribbled a story about how Fullerton needs a transit dedicated line from the CSUF area to the Fullerton “metro center.”
No, I am not kidding. “Senior” Planner Jay Eastman believes Fullerton has a metro center.
A cynic might conclude that the sole purpose of this venture is to more efficiently direct college kids into the open air saloon that downtown Fullerton has become.
Trolley? Bus? Light rail(!)? The world is Jay Eastman’s oyster, just so long as somebody else is picking up the tab. In this case the OCTA is going to pay 90% of the cost of a “study” to determine just what Fullerton needs: $270,000 worth, with us paying the other $30,000.
All of which goes to show that OCTA has an awful lot more money than they know what to do with.