Preservation Attempt in South Fullerton

I checked out the upcoming Fullerton City Council agenda and noticed an appeal of a Planning Commission decision to approve a new, 185,000 square foot warehouse project at 801 S. Acacia Avenue.

The appeal is being made by Fullerton Heritage who believe that the PC failed to receive enough relevant information about the existing building’s historical significance.

Apparently the structure was designed by noted SoCal architects A. Quincy Jones and Frederick Emmons. It’s front elevation sports a mid-century modern aspect.

The back doesn’t seem very distinguished – metal buildings and canopies. According to FH they used to make sliding doors here including those requested by well-known architects.

Well, good luck to Fullerton Heritage, say I. The City government has almost always turned a blind eye to historic preservation, pretending otherwise, of course. And in the old days “historical” meant old and cutesie – in City Hall it probably still does, and it’s not hard to see staff blow past something like this.

Of course Historic Preservation is generally a more “liberal” idea and in this case the property in question is standing in the way of “economic development” a concept so near and dear to every politician’s self-promotion. It should be fun to observe District 5 Councilman Ahmad Zahra navigate his way between some of his natural constituents and his proclaimed dedication to the hustle of economic development.

The Trail to Nowhere Complaint

It’s a total waste of money, but it sure is short…

As has been predicted, a concerned Fullerton Friend has decided that the dismal Trail to Nowhere was such an insult to California’s taxpayers and to any commonsensical Fullerton resident that he was going to do something about it.

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So he wrote a letter to the State of California Natural Resources Agency and addressed it to the Agency’s boss, Mr. Wade Crowfoot. I understand that the letter was sent by registered mail so it may be hard for Mr. Crowfoot to claim he didn’t get it.

Well, well, well…

Cynics will say that the California bureaucrats at these agencies don’t care how their grants are spent, or in this case, misspent. Their jobs are to dole out the dough without a backward glance. In this case there was no real forward glance either; judging by the initial approval, they swallowed Fullerton’s tale by the proverbial hook, line, and sinker.

Anyway, it’s a good synopsis of the various inaccuracies and falsehoods in Fullerton’s grant application. Here is the text of the letter, forwarded to us by its author:

Mr. Wade Crowfoot
Secretary for Natural Resources
California Natural Resources Agency
715 P. Street, 20th Floor
Sacramento, CA 95814

Dear Mr. Crowfoot,
I am writing to you as a concerned citizen of the City of Fullerton, to inform you of irregularities in a
Grant Application made by the City of Fullerton to your agency which resulted in the award of a Urban
Greening Grant to build a recreational trail on an abandoned section of the Union Pacific Railroad right-of-way.
This is a 2022 grant for $1,777,200.00, under Grant Agreement U29194-0 which itself was authorized by
Senate Bill 859.
The irregularities in the Grant Application falls into two categories: first, omission of pertinent
information required by the application; second, outright falsehoods about the projected positive
aspects of the project.
The application failed to alert the State that one of the adjacent properties to the proposed trail is
contaminated by trichloroethylene (TCE), a known carcinogen. The property (311 South Highland
Avenue) is identified by the EPA and the State of California Department of Toxic Substances Control
(DTSC). Reports have indicated a TCE plume emanating from 311 South Highland in a southerly direction, precisely under the proposed trail site. There are currently 10 Monitoring test wells along the proposed trail site and several others in adjacent properties.
The proposed project budget does not include any cost for additional testing, remediation, and/or
export. There is no inclusion of the need to rework or replace the existing test wells.
Beyond the unmitigated environmental concerns, the City of Fullerton Grant Application asserts
“connectivity” as a positive feature of the proposed trail. These assertions are demonstrably false. The
proposed trail does not connect to any businesses; it does not connect to Downtown Fullerton; it does
not create connections between parks and schools; it does not connect different parts of the City and is
actually contained within the same compact area. In fact, the proposal for Phase II does not even
connect to its predecessor, Phase I, which itself was a selling point in the Grant Application.
In truth, the proposed trail is a disembodied half-mile length of property that starts and stops without
reference to any other transportation corridors.
To the West, Phase II terminates with the Burlington Northern Santa Fe right-of-way at the back corner
of Independence Park, a park so poorly maintained that the playground, courts, and gymnasium have
been closed off to the public for several years. On the East, Phase II abruptly ends at a sidewalk adjacent to Highland Avenue, a North-South thoroughfare serving approximately 11,500 vehicles daily, per the City’s own traffic study in 2019.
Even if Phase II connected to Phase I, which it does not, Phase I itself stops at the back of the abandoned
Union Pacific Park which was closed due to contamination 15 years ago. There is no practical extension
in either direction.
Despite these facts, the City of Fullerton’s Grant Application included a projected 105,000 annual users, a number that is simply preposterous on its face.
The proposed trail does not pass through a residential neighborhood, but rather a blighted industrial
strip situated between two dilapidated, neglected, and run-down parks. In short, it doesn’t go where
anyone with common sense would want to go.
The existing abandoned right-of way has provided plenty of evidence of being unsafe. There is rampant
drug use, homeless encampments and two violent deaths over just the past few years.
The City of Fullerton cannot afford to maintain the proposed facility, as is clearly witnessed in the
condition of the trash strewn, dilapidated, weed-infested Phase I, a condition deliberately omitted from
the grant application. The idea that this area has been so poorly maintained but somehow the City will
be able to be good stewards of the area only AFTER the State grants it nearly $2 million more, is
insulting.

The $1.77 million grant represents resources that could, and should, be used elsewhere.
Fullerton’s Application was disingenuous, at best. At worst it included falsehoods dressed up in words
echoed back from the stated objectives of the Application Form in order to defraud the State.
In writing this I am hoping that your Agency will reevaluate this project, rescind the funding, and find a
better use of this valuable Grant money.
Thank you for consideration of this matter.

The Abdication

Lots of Indians, but no chiefs…

I’ve been watching Fullerton politics and governance for for a long time – since 2008 or 2009, in fact. One thing that has consistently struck me is the way in which Fullerton’s elected officials have completely and almost happily abdicated their responsibility to determine the direction of policy.

It has always been the goal, in principle if not in practice in modern representative democracy, that policy would be established by electeds, and administrated through a protected civil service bureaucracy.

Determining policy – the philosophical direction you want the town to take – isn’t easy in the “City Manager” form of government, a form deliberately created to remove any sort of executive authority from elected representatives. But with that set-up came something else, too: the difficulty of people’s representatives in establishing policy direction, and doing it without violating the Brown Act strictures on open meetings.

Nevertheless, the responsibility is still there, even if it easier to have photo ops, and ribbon cuttings and the like. Sadly our electeds have failed; failed with remarkable banality and complacency. Former Councilman and Fullerton Police Chief Pat McKinley once illustrated the point when challenged for his “failure to lead.” He exclaimed that councilmen weren’t there to lead – that was the City Manager’s job.

Lately the policy role abdication has been seen with the regurgitated, spit out, re-consumed and regurgitated again noise ordinance, an ongoing embarrassment that has plagued honest citizens for over fifteen years. I read the staff report on the recent noise effort, a report that justifies a decision to actually increase acceptable levels, protect offenders by including an ambient noise mask, and locates the noise metering away from the source whence it can be muddled by an equally noisy neighbor.

The staff report is nothing but a list of events that have occurred since 2009 when the City Council last expressed a coherent position. Nowhere in the staff report is there any discussion on the policy decisions behind any of the activities. Why not? Because there weren’t any. In the same way that the incredibly costly, drunken binge known as Downtown Fullerton has escaped any intelligent policy conversation, the noise nuisance issue, a subset of the former, has evaded policy discussion as City staff – behind the scenes – has diligently avoided doing anything to enforce existing code, and worked very hard to reduce the requirements.

So what has happened is a vacuum in which each new action seems disembodied from policy conversation; that’s because it is. And our council steadfastly refused to have an open and honest conversation of what it wants, abdicating its responsibilities.

One size fits all…

There is a long list of issues that our elected representatives should be addressing from an overarching policy level and aren’t. This sort of thing takes thought; and some hard work in ascertaining whether your city employees are really doing the thing you want; or not, as in the case of the Trail to Nowhere. It’s easier just to ram through the Consent Calendar on the nod, rubberstamp the ridiculous, clean your plate like good kids, and move on to the photo ops and the trophy ceremonies.

Trail to Nowhere Gets Use

The other day FFFF noticed a gentleman who was actually an active bicycle user of the City’s much-vaunted recreation trail through the industrial wasteland of central Fullerton. In fact, this fellow has two bikes!

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This poor chap seems harmless enough, but guy’s presence once again raises the several issues regarding the proposed $2,000,000 trail, mostly about safety and maintenance, but also about the homeless problem that has plagued the City’s Union Pacific right-of-way for two decades and actually helped close the dead Union Pacific Park years, and years ago. Potential users, even if there were any identified beyond the insane projection of 105,000 per year, would surely think twice about the neighborhood and the company they would be keeping whilst recreating on the Trail to Nowhere.

No one in City Hall, not staff, and not the incurious City Council who unanimously approved this waste of money, explained why the fate of the UP Park won’t also be visited upon the Trail to Nowhere. The physical conditions still appertain and the existence of the homeless and the Fullerton Toker’s Town gang is as prevalent as ever.

You would think that no one would want their fingerprints on this new disaster-in-waiting, but there seems to be the understanding that in Fullerton all you have to do is wait for a year or two and all past sins will be forgotten if not forgiven. This is called no-fault government, and man, we got it bad.

I Think I’ve Seen This Movie

It’s real expensive, but it sure is short…

When thinking about the Trail to Nowhere it seemed to me that I had seen this same sort of thing before. Then it struck me. Of course.

An expensive and unnecessary project that dragged out for years, and that was supposed to be paid for with other people’s money, “free money” as it is known in City Hall, I recalled.

It may have been expensive, but it sure was unnecessary…

I remembered because I wrote about it, here. The second elevator towers at the Fullerton train station, a project so ridiculously over-engineered, so expensive, so reliant on phony ridership projections and so expensive and mismanaged that it ended up raiding Fullerton’s own Capital Budget to the tune of $600,000. In the end no one knows how much was actually spent on that boondoggle when everything was said and done. But one good thing that came out of it was teaching me to appreciate how things are done in Fullerton, and how there isn’t one cent’s worth of accountability on the part of anybody.

If the Trail to Nowhere actually ever gets built but is way over budget, unused, unmaintained and falls into decrepitude, who will stand up to take responsibility? Not the City Council who approved it without question. Not City staff – the chief architects of this disaster in-waiting are already gone – nor will the City Manager, who will be gone as soon as his pension formula tops him out. None of the people stirred up to insult and harangue the City Council will be in evidence and the proprietors of the Fullerton Observer, if they are still around annoying people, will not be searching for those accountable. No one else will be, either.

Maybe the less said, the better…

Remember the multi-million dollar Poison Park intergenerational fiasco? Has anybody ever taken responsibility for that poster child of bureaucratic incompetence and political indifference? Of course not. That would be a horrible precedent. Fullerton.

The Compartmentalization Effect. Or Worse.

It’s a total waste of money, but it sure is short…

Now that the Council majority of Dunlap, Whitaker and Jung have done a 180 flip-flop and accepted the so-called Trail to Nowhere grant, it seems like a good idea to remind Fullerton about some things that the City still doesn’t want us to know.

Well, well, well…

About eight weeks ago – several weeks before the Council flip-flop – I wrote a post about the presence of test wells on the Trail to Nowhere. These wells were installed to test the levels of trichlorethylene (TCE). Not only were the wells situated on the trail but also farther south, in the middle of the street in the 300 block of West Truslow Avenue.

I offered the fact that no one can do this sort of thing on public property without permits from the City of Fullerton and that surely the Engineering Department or Development Services Departments has records of those encroachments. The scope of the actual TCE contamination has been known for 20 years or more, and the State of California and the Environmental Protection Agency have known all about it. So has City Hall, since groundwater contamination in north Orange County was the subject of a massive lawsuit involving the Orange County Water District. Plus, someone was installing test wells on City property.

I asked how was this contamination could be omitted from the City’s grant application to the State Natural Resources Agency.

The grant has finally been accepted by the City, but the problem remains. Two problems, in fact. The contamination is still there, of course, and so are the test wells – an issue not addressed in the project budget. But an even bigger question remains. Was the omission due to a management problem – complete compartmentalization of City departments? Or, worse was the problem deliberately ignored?

In either case Fullerton has a fundamental problem the cause of which is clear: complete lack of accountability that appears cultural. City Manager Eric Levitt was preceded by a long leadership vacuum in which City Managers like Joe Felz and Ken Domer were simply along for the ride – chosen, apparently for their elastic sense of responsibility. Yet, Levitt has been around for two years and seems to show the same flexible attitude.

If departments are sequestered behind opaque compartment walls, there is a failure of corporate leadership, and an inevitable decentralization that was, and is, a recipe for costly failure. That’s on Mr. Levitt. If City employees knew about the contamination issue and either said nothing or deliberately lied to the State, that’s a problem of employees who feel utterly secure in their behavior, knowing that consequences for bad actions is not a problem; this is on Levitt, too.

In the specific case of the Trail to Nowhere, the three councilmembers who flipped their votes have some explaining to do, and not just about a matter of opinion, good idea/bad idea. They need to explain how and why the City application for the grant omitted mention of a real and present issue, and also what their City Manager (who just got an 8% raise) is going to do about it. If they don’t they’re part of the accountability problem.

The Sound and the Fury

A couple weeks back I posted that once again the issue of nuisance noise was coming to the City Council for yet another stab at, well, just another stab.

Just kidding…

In December the proposed ordinance was deemed lacking by Mayor Dunlap who asked that it come back in February; what that delay was supposed to accomplish is unclear, but return the item did. It resurfaced on Tuesday, and once again was half-heartedly examined and pushed away by the Council. This time they sent the matter back to the Planning Commission, that had already approved the existing proposal in November, 2023. This stall seems even more pointless than the last one. Fullerton.

The staff report was virtually unintelligible. It was nothing but a disjointed litany of actions taken (or, to be more precise, not taken) over the past 15 years to avoid doing anything and letting the scofflaw bar owners continue to scoff at the law. It didn’t say that, of course, but such was the unmistakable implication. A common thread seemed to be the difficultly in enforcing anything, which was just an excuse for not trying.

More Orwellian language…

The thrust of the revised ordinance is to raise the legal noise threshold in Downtown Fullerton. In fact the only thing the Council was considering, according to the oral staff presentation was this commercial aspect, although you’d have a hard time knowing that fact based on the material presented to the public.

The ordinance itself has baked-in failure written between every line, most notably in the increase in decibel level at 50 feet from the sources, combined with the issue of “ambient noise,” a loophole our fine Downtown club operators would be sure to drive a diesel semi through.

Joshua Ferguson made an appearance to show the nonsense of the 50 ft from property line part and noted, correctly that the the thresholds could actually create OSHA violating conditions within buildings themselves. He succinctly pointed out that the City (despite the self-congratulatory recitation of its recent enforcement efforts) wasn’t really enforcing anything at all, and showed that scofflaws were rarely even punished per the Municipal Code.

dick-jones
Staying awake long enough to break the law…

The proposed ordinance language seems to have been written by a staff member. But nowhere can one find evidence that any of this was approved as to form by Dick Jones, Esq. of The I Can’t believe It’s A Law Firm. What’s the point of having a lawyer if their job doesn’t include reviewing a potential law before it’s passed?

Mr. Average Gets A Raise

What do you do when your City Manager is spectacularly unspectacular? If it’s Fullerton you give him a raise.

I’ll drink to that!

See, in Fullerton if you’re a City Manager who avoids getting drunk and driving over a tree before trying to evade the law, you’re doing pretty darn good.

Don’t let the amorphous shape fool you. Oh, wait…

And so Mr. Eric Levitt, who has been City Manager for less than 2 years is getting an 8% raise from $250,000 to $270,000. This gentleman is hardly any different than the two temps who preceded him and gives precisely the same deference to an incompetent collection of underlings. In the past 20 months he hasn’t shown any interests in establishing a corps of excellence – just the opposite in fact, and this must be cause for comfort for a City Council that thrives in a culture of not bad is outstanding – just try not to let us make ourselves look too bad.

Last year, the City Manager predicted dire economic issues ahead for Fullerton, massive deficits, of course; and by the end of 2023 Levitt had already started paving his own path of least resistance by hiring a public opinion pollster to drum up support for a general sales tax. This year’s mission will be to revive the ill-fated Measure S, give it a new letter from the alphabet, and let the cops and emergency medics pitch it to the public.

What a performance.

The Process & The Consultant

A few weeks ago I published a post on the extremely dubious efforts of a paid consultant to begin a renewed effort to raise a new sales tax in Fullerton. The consultant is an operation called FM3.

We’ve seen this movie before. Many times.

In an effort to build momentum toward justifying a new tax a consultant is tasked with cooking up a poll, a survey that is worded in such a way as to make the question of a new tax sound not only plausible but even desirable.

The information that is collected is meant to probe the electorate’s weak spots, just like an army might send out reconnaissance to figure out where to attack.

Another benefit is to begin the process of developing ballot statement language that will push and persuade voters to the correct decision – a decision that will always be to vote for the tax. The reasons will be a short recital of the usual, low-hanging fruit, public safety being at the top of the list, but with no explanation that our public safety corps – emergency medical personnel (formerly known as :firefighters) and cops already suck up the majority of Fullerton’s General Fund. Mention of parks, quality of life, libraries and now “homeless” will be thrown in to the pot; and infrastructure maintenance will be included, disingenuously, to get support of the more hard-headed voter, just like last time.

Measure S Covid Lie
Let me count the ways…

And of course this language will be also be used by the inevitable political action committee formed to wage the propaganda war.

Make no mistake about it. The consultant hired to undertake this effort will know at the outset what his mission is. He knows who hired him and he knows what his employer wants.

Here’s a fun little Aussie video that spells out the process succinctly:

And so it goes. The start of a charade in which the taxpayers foot the bill to be “educated” into supporting a pre-determined outcome. The line between education (legal) and propaganda (illegal) is not bright, as asserted by Councilmember Bruce Whitaker. The fuzzy demarcation is exploited all the time by government agencies – always based on information collected in the original poll.

No On S
Don’t Reward the City’s Stupidity

The hopeful part of this is that the electorate is not always as easily persuaded as is supposed by the would be taxers. This was demonstrated in Fullerton in 2020 when voters rejected the ill-considered Measure S, and property tax-based bond floats by Fullerton’s two school districts.

In the end the Council (Jung, Zahra and Charles) voted, vaguely, 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.

Where Are They?

The trail wasn’t useful, but it sure was short…

On FFFF’s last post we got some comments from a frequent FFFF critic who was trying desperately to justify the idiotic Trail to Nowhere, the disembodied, half-mile, $2,000,000 taxpayer funded boondoggle that serves no apparent useful purpose. One sentence in the one of this person’s comments is worth posting about because it so clearly points to a complete failure of the Trail to Nowhere to be a facility that anybody would use.

The inability of its advocates to describe real persons, any real persons who might want to use this trail has been one of FFFF’s most frequent criticisms of it. Instead we have been presented with the same generalities and clichés over and over and over and over again. Trails good. Healthy children good. Poor need services. Trees good. Fresh air. Blue sky. Cars bad. Bikes good. Good things for south Fullerton. Right-of-way conversion good.

But back to our visitor. Here’s the quotation:

So say you lived in a home near UP Park and wanted to ride a bicycle to the DMV.

In and of itself this comment is just an absurd disconnect from reality in so many ways; but it points to the inability of Trail to Nowhere boosters to describe real users of the proposed project that could justify its cost; and it’s the reason they stick to useless generalities.

Over there is run and play and enjoy… (Photo by Julie Leopo/Voice of OC)

The grant application for the Trail to Nowhere is full of useless general statistics of an area with absolutely no connection to the specific land use of the immediately surrounding area – present or future. From these general numbers (half of which are north of the BNSF tracks and not even germane) our City staff educed all sorts of things that aren’t remotely true. Things like connectivity to businesses, to Downtown Fullerton; connectivity between east and west Fullerton, and between schools, etc. In one of the most breathtaking of outright lies, the creators of the application claim to the State of California that they project annual users at 105,000.

Suddenly, users appeared out of the cornfield…

Others, like our visitor, have even relied on the dearest hope of all bureaucrats looking for make-work stuff they can’t justify: if you build it “they” (somebody, somehow, somewhere) will come. Of course there is no accountability when something fails. Suddenly, no one is around anymore to take the rap, even if government culture had a rear view mirror (it doesn’t).

Hugo and Alice. The radioactivity was undeniable…

The Trail to Nowhere is the brain child of the long gone, $100,000 per-year pensioner, Susan Hunt. More recently it was shepherded along by Hugo Curiel and the egregious Alice Loya; the former was fired and the latter just retired. Six City Managers have presided over this incompetence from soup to nuts, and the latest can blame the other five if he needs to.

Only in this environment of unaccountability could anybody propose a project without being able to give a specific and credible analysis of who would actually use the facility.