Bungled Boutique Hotel May Be In Big Trouble

Friends probably remember that FFFF has been relentlessly critical of the dubious scheme approved by our City Council to underwrite a downtown boutique hotel and uber-dense apartment project on a parking lot owned by the City and used by Metrolink commuters.

Here’s a reminder: three councilmembers Bruce Whitaker, Shana Charles and Ahmad Zahra voted to sell this property to a developer for a mere $1.4 million (less site material removal) while simultaneously time jacking up the value of the land by approving density 2.5 times the limit specified in the Transportation Center Specific Plan. It was a gift of public funds at least ten million dollars.

Here’s the fun part. The original and completely unqualified baby daddy of the project, Craig Hostert, didn’t have the wherewithal to make the deal. After years of failing to perform on his Exclusive Negotiating Agreement and numerous extensions, Hostert’s West Park Investments, LLC joined its non-existent forces with TA Partners Development of Irvine, Johnny Lu, proprietor.

Mr. Lu, the new face of the project, appeared at council meetings to seal the deal with a ration of gobbledygook bullshit.

Now it appears that Mr. Lu may not have been the best choice of partner according to the Real Deal Real Estate News.

Why is Johnny smiling?

It seems that Johnny has gotten himself in over his head on two projects in Irvine, including second bridge loans that he has now defaulted on. And of course Sunayana Thomas, Fullerton’s crack “business development” director seemingly failed to inform the City Council of Mr. Lu’s impending financial embarrassment, something that should have been revealed in even a cursory perusal of TA Partners’ asset to debt ratio and its balance sheet.

And then, of course there is the problem with the completely incompetent concept of rushing the approval to transfer of title to the land, before the deal had received final approval.

By now the Council has possibly, though not necessarily been informed by the Fullerton City Manager, Eric Leavitt, of the problem, but where does the deal stand? Title to the property has been transferred from the City to and through Lu’s companies*, presumably for the original sale amount. But if TA Partners can’t perform, will the City get its now very valuable property back, or will it be encumbered by bankruptcy receivers? Will the City, in order to save face as it always has, permit Mr. Lu to assign his rights and interests to another party as a face-saving strategy? If that happens, will the original bad idea still go forward, or will the Council approve something even worse as a sop to a new developer so to avoid admitting their horrible mistake in the first place?

You can try asking Whitaker, Charles, or Zahra, the architects of this inexcusable and completely avoidable mess, but don’t hold your breath waiting for a response.

* Topic of future post

The Trail to Nowhere Phase I Scam

You know, the more I have looked into the ill-fated “rec trail” that would have wasted $2,000,000 in public funds, the more I notice a trend of ignorant misstatements and misdirection; outright prevarication and a lot of hopeless wishful thinking.

Since it’s so hopeless, I can dispense with the wishful thinking (for now). The deliberate lies will be the theme of another post. This post will deal with the misstatements concerning the so-called “Phase I” of the Trail to Nowhere that City staff and trail supporters keep talking about as some sort of achievement. I really wonder if any of them have ever actually seen what they are talking about. I went there today, and I’m here to help.

First, here is a satellite image of “Phase I” that was put in place at the same time the Union Pacific Park was built. The black line is superimposed over the “trail” – a sidewalk running next to a decomposed granite path along which an horse railing was thoughtfully added, presumably for the equestrian enthusiasts in the barrio.

The trail, such as it is, doesn’t even start at the UP Park. It starts just west of it. It runs a few hundred feet and makes an abrupt 90 degree turn, crosses the paved alley about 50′ and then it makes another 90 turn to the left and eventually follows the descending grade of Highland Avenue where it stops at Walnut Avenue at the bottom of the railroad underpass.

Phase I’s inauspicious beginning. It gets worse.
90 degree turns ahead…
Down she goes…no Phase II in sight.

Does any of this “trail” meet any sort of basic requirements? It sure looks like a design mess to me. And of course this “facility” has been completely neglected by City maintenance and is covered in weeds, broken railings and strewn with trash and vandalized by graffiti.

It’s perfectly obvious to anybody with a modicum of commonsense that this effort has no broader connectivity at the east end. It has no connection to the Transportation Center, Downtown Fullerton or parts east, as continuously claimed by promoters of the “Phase II” extension. It has no connection to anything except the fenced off UP Park. In fact, the thing is so obviously useless for its intended purpose that the City used the adjacent parking stalls for homeless car campers. Who would care? The route behind the Elephant Packing building smells like it’s been used for public urination. A lot of it.

The sad fact is that of course nobody uses this trail for recreation purposes, and for obvious reasons. It’s useless and it’s often dangerous.

Local youths recreating on Phase I…

The answer? Phase II of course! The problem with this little useless zig-zag is to connect it to Independence Park with a two million dollar extension, and the problem is solved.

Here’s the City’s plan:

But how is that supposed to work, exactly? If you look at the City’s proposal image above you can easily see that the Phase I part doesn’t even line up with the would-be Phase II to the west, indicated above by the arrow. But the asphalt alleyway does.

Uh, oh. It’s Fullerton, Jake…

This would have meant that Phase I isn’t even finished and would require further modification, a scope of work not discussed by anybody, not shown on the plan above, not budgeted, and one that would mean the horror of a bike trail running alongside the existing paved road to get to Highland Avenue. And then of course there’s the problem of actually getting across Highland and traffic line of sight safety – another impediment to recreational fun.

While the questions of Phase I’s utility and connectivity to Phase II are now, fortunately, moot, it’s instructive to observe the design failure and the real truth: this would never have been a connection to any other part of eastern Fullerton or linkage to any regional trail plan as relentlessly cited by staff. The only way Phase I was useful was its availability to justify an extension. Unless you were to look at an actual map.

The Scarcity of Public Information

The trail didn’t go anywhere, but it sure was short…

As might have been predicted, someone made a Public Records Act request on October 12th for information regarding soils and environmental testing on the abandoned Union Pacific right-of-way, purchased by the City of Fullerton in the 1990s.

Why is this request germane to FFFF? Because the blog has speculated about contamination along the UP right-of-way, in view of previously discovered toxicity that closed the UP Park and because it is known by the EPA, the Orange County Water District, and the City of Fullerton’s Engineering Department that the carcinogenic chemical trichloroethylene was discovered at 311 S. Highland Avenue, a heavy industrial property that lies along the proposed recreation trail on the UP right-of-way. It is also known that contamination is moving south and east from the aforementioned property.

Is it safe? Is it clean?

Needless to say, none of this information was given to the Fullerton City Council when they considered approving the State Natural Resources grant that would have paid for most of the trail construction.

Here is the request:

Well, that’s a pretty simple request. And, as you can see, the City claims that it has complied by issuing a “full release” of documents. Here’s what they released:

Enjoy yourself reviewing these documents on the City Clerk’s website page. It won’t take you long. Of the 6 files listed none has anything to do with soils or environmental testing. From this response, such as it is, we may reasonably infer that no testing was done, or if it was, the documentation is lost. In either case the proper response should have been “no relevant documents exist.” Instead City staff posted completely irrelevant and non-responsive documents onto their website. Was it just an effort to look responsive, somehow? Did they even care?

Don’t know, don’t care… (Photo by Julie Leopo/Voice of OC)

If we grant that the City’s functionaries are somewhat honest as they go about their business then we have no choice but to conclude that no soils or environmental testing have ever been preformed by the City or its agents along the right-of-way and that this has led to an egregious omission of information to a City Council being asked to spend $2,000,000 building a trail and no one knows how much securing and maintaining it.

Part II: Is the “Trail to Nowhere” Poisoned?

It could be. Last post I described how the the UP Park was contaminated and shut down for remediation just after $2 million were sunk into building a park. Nobody in the City bothered to do an Environmental Analysis.

I asked, rhetorically, whether the rest of the long UP right-of-way had been subsequently tested for toxins in light of the fact that trichloroethylene (TCE) had been detected on the property at 311 South Highland Avenue, a property adjacent to the proposed Trail to Nowhere. It seems that some years ago the Hughes Corporation used the solvent to clean up the circuit boards they made at this location, and the EPA still regards it as an active site.

A trail runs through it…

A little digging uncovered the fact that ground zero seems to be the west end of the property where testing has been periodically done in the area of a likely dump site for the nasty TCE toxin. Apparently there are several monitoring wells located in the yellow areas circled in red in the image below.

Please note the proximity to the Trail to Nowhere of the wells in the lower left. 15 feet? 10 feet? 5ft? Surely somebody in the Parks or Engineering Departments gave thought to this when the Trail to Nowhere concept was developed; when the grant application was made; even when the proposed project budget was laid out. No? If not, why not? How could they not have known? The EPA has recognized this as a site of TCE ground water contamination where a toxic plume is heading southward – under the proposed trail.

At this point questions are starting to pile up. Questions that may have uncomfortable answers.

We are fortunate that Messrs. Dunlap, Jung and Whitaker have put the kibosh on the silly and wasteful Trail to Nowhere proposal for other common sensical reasons. And yet there remains the problem about lack of disclosure to our elected officials in their decision making process, and perhaps even in the grant application itself.

The Poison Trail to Nowhere?

Is it safe? Is it clean?

Is the ground under the now deceased Trail To Nowhere polluted with a toxin that nobody bothered to tell our City Council about?

I don’t know. But I do know that the question came up the other day and has the ring of truth to it.

In the last FFFF post about a bike trail that runs parallel to the now dead Trail to Nowhere, one of our Friends by the name of Observer pointed out the existence of trichloroethylene contamination at 311 South Highland Avenue and provided a handy link to a government website that indicates polluted sites.

Sure enough, 311 S. Highland Avenue is indicated on the map, and this address runs adjacent to the proposed trail west of Highland Avenue. The blue square represents an active contaminated address.

A trail runs through it…

Trichloroethylene (TCE) is used as a solvent for degreasing metal parts during the manufacture of a variety of products. This is really nasty stuff, and was used by manufacturers of circuit boards to clean stray solder and other unwanted material off the boards. Guess what? Hughes used to make circuit boards on this property several decades ago.

Did our crack city staff know about this situation? If they did, they sure weren’t talking. We know that 20 years ago the same folks bought the former UP property without doing any due diligence – which is why the UP Park had to be closed right after construction for remediation of toxins and gained the moniker “Poisoned Park.” Did anybody in City Hall learn anything from that previous disaster?

The test of that question is whether anyone commissioned a so-called Phase I Environmental Study, used to assess potential environmental issues on a given property, in this case, the long, skinny trail site. If they had they surely would have discovered the history of 311 S. Highland, and that it was long ago identified by the Environmental Protection Agency as contaminated. At that point a Phase II study should have been conducted to determine if indeed, the long UP right-of-way was contaminated like the eastern end of the UP property was.

Of course, none of this was discussed at the City Council meetings pertaining to the State grant or the trail design; fortunately Dunlap, Whitaker and Jung made the right decision without knowing any of the back story about the proposed trail’s neighbors.

Tanned, rested, and ready.

There is more to be learned about what happened, or, to be more precise, what didn’t happen in this process. Rest assured, our crack team of investigators will be pursuing this issue, and as we learn more we’ll be reporting what we know with the Friends.

What They Didn’t Tell Anybody

The City of Fullerton Parks Department wanted a bike trail from The abandoned UP Park to Independence Park – a mere three quarters of a mile a way. They had an ally in D5 councilmember Ahmad Zahra who was desperate to be seen giving something to his “poor,” Latino constituents; whether they wanted it or not was irrelevant. And of course we now know that the Fullerton Observer, an operation that pretends to be a news outlet was (and still is) busy stirring up support for the silly and expensive idea, even after the council majority voted it down.

All of these bad actors had reasons for wasting $2,000,000, and none of them were good.

Nobody noticed…

Thanks to good Friend D. Johnson, we also now know something else: that none of these self-interested people – disingenuous or just plain ignorant – told anybody is that there already is a designated bicycle route from the south side of the Santa Fe railroad tracks at the Depot that follows Walnut Avenue and turns south on Richman to Valencia Avenue, and that this bike route, should anybody want to use it, goes to the front of Independence park, not the hidden back corner.

What is that strange, totemic symbol on the asphalt?

Hard to believe that the existence of this bike route was never mentioned by anybody, but we’re talking about the Fullerton Parks Department that has a long history of deliberately omitting facts, misleading the council and the public, and has resorted to outright peddling of lies to get what it wants from our feckless councils. It was this department (in conjunction with the Planning Department) that ignored the council’s request for a broader vision for the land adjacent to the UP right-of-way.

More bike…

It would be more than a bit embarrassing to acknowledge an existing bike route just 200 feet or so from their proposal and running parallel to it! So of course they didn’t.

Connectivity. For free!

And the existing route – with a little paint striping – can be easily upgraded and the people of California will be $1,780,000 better off; and the people of Fullerton will be $300,000 better off in capital costs plus who knows how much in maintenance and water costs. And any and all bike riders who wish to make the tour through this industrial neighborhood can do so at their convenience and leisure.

Which brings me to the conclusion of this story by noting that people who work along the Walnut/Richman route inform me me that they don’t recall seeing a lot, if any bicyclists along this route. And this may very well be because nobody wants to go that way – despite its connectivity to the bike route on Valencia. There is a mind-set among top-down liberal circles that if you build something for the underserved, people will, must use it, despite decades of evidence to the contrary. The idea that demand might well encourage supply is a completely alien notion to them.

Fullerton’s Observers Still Up In Arms

The trail didn’t go anywhere, but it sure was short…

The intelligent decision by Fullerton City Councilmembers Whitaker, Dunlap and Jung not to waste public money on the abysmal “Trail to Nowhere” has resulted in high dudgeon and angst among Fullerton’s unthinking Observers. They have stirred up uniformed kids (interns they call ’em) to include it in a video about Fullerton’s crumbling infrastructure – missing the rich irony of a city unable to take care of the infrastructure it already has. They have instigated other kids to create a group calling itself “People Above Things” who will bring protest to the City Council meeting because somehow a useless trail is people and not a useless thing.

Here’s a fun anonymous essay that appeared in the latest paper version of the Fullerton Observer full of sturm und drang, confusion and all het up emotion:

What a silly mish-mash of unintelligible nonsense. I notice the reference to “Jane” by which I believe the author refers to a Jane Rands, who stood up and gave a very commonsensical address to the Council, but commonsense is not a highly respected commodity among Observers. What is “Hart?” Who is “Tony?” What on earth is the connection with Associated Road on the other side of town?

I can’t blame the author of this illiterate screed for wanting to remain anonymous, but she didn’t remain anonymous for long. On the Observer blog the author revealed herself: Sharon Kennedy, the long-time proprietess for the Observer whose “news” efforts never failed to read as confused editorial gobbledygook.

It’s clear that the Observers, Yellowing and Pink, will cling to this issue and try to nurture it despite the fact that it’s over and done with and the public at large, if properly informed of all the facts, would overwhelmingly applaud the wise decision of the Council. Facts are the perpetual bogeyman of the Fullerton Observers who peddle emotion, not reason, and promote waste, just so long as the goal satisfies their drive to support patronizing the lower classes, whom they believe depend upon their philanthropic gestures with everybody else’s money.

The Curse of Other People’s Money

It’s a sad fact that local politicians usually have no qualms about spending money from off-budget sources – like State and Federal grants to do this or that uber-important thing. And these things don’t really undergo much scrutiny at all because the money the locality gets, if it finds itself awarded such a grant, isn’t competing with other municipal needs. And, better still, the awarding agency very often has no interest in seeing how successful the grant actually was. See, this requires a rear-view mirror, which the government go-carts just don’t have.

It might work…

This topic came to light during discussion of the ill-fated “Trail to Nowhere” that was going to built with almost $2,000,000 bucks raised from some State of California bond rip-off or other. We heard from the drummed up “community” that the money had been awarded, so better take it; these people being not at all concerned that just maybe the money could be better spent on a project elsewhere. And let’s not worry about the fact that nobody will be responsible for the failure of the scheme.

Phase 1 was a complete failure so Phase 2 is bound to work!

Which brings me to Fullerton’s history of grant money, utterly wasted, and with absolutely no accountability. Specifically I am referring to the long-lost Core and Corridors Specific Plan. I wrote about it seven years ago, here.

I’ll drink to that!

Back in 2013 or so, the City of Fullerton received a million dollars from Jerry Brown’s half-baked Strategic Growth Council to develop a specific plan that would sprawl over a lot of Fullerton, offering by-right development for high-density housing along Fullerton’s main streets – a social engineering plan that would have drastically changed the character of the city. The reasons for the entire project’s eventual disappearance off the face of the Earth are not really important anymore. What is important is that the grant money – coming from Proposition 84 (a water-related referendum!) was completely and utterly wasted.

A page on the City’s website dedicated to the Core and Corridors Specific Plan had quietly vanished by 2017, never to be heard of again.

It doesn’t matter how it turns out. It’s the gesture that counts.

The lesson, of course is that Other People’s Money causes public officials – the elected and the bureaucratic – to take a whole other attitude toward spending on stuff than it does if the proposed projects were competing with General Fund-related costs – like the all-important salaries and benefits; or competing for Capital Improvement Fund projects that people actually expect a city to pursue. And it’s very rare indeed for a city council, like ours, to realize that grant money can be misused and actually wasted.

And so I salute Messrs. Dunlap, Whitaker and Jung for voting to return the Trail to Nowhere grant money – an act of true fiscal and moral responsibility.

Weeds, Weeds and More Weeds

A Friend sent in a copy of a letter from Daniel S. Franco of the City of Fullerton, requesting/demanding weed abatement per the Municipal Code. Supposedly the letter was instigated by a complaint. That may be a true story; or not. Here’s the letter:

Now, this isn’t all that unusual except that the irony of the City making a private citizen do what it will not is pretty rich. What am I referring to? Why, the Trail to Nowhere, of course, the City-owned former UP right-of-way where lately a handful of people, offensively masquerading as “the community” demanded a recreation trial. A quick look at the current situation along the abandoned strip reveals the City in severe breach of the rules it feels compelled to apply to the populace.

Oops.

Oops, again.

It’s pretty apparent that the City of Fullerton can’t take care of its own property. Or maybe by neglecting this property the City is offering up a big FU to the “community” it pretends to care so much about.

In any case the question of our town’s ability to maintain its property brings into focus the question of maintenance costs for new facilities – like the sad proposal of the Trail to Nowhere.

Another Tough Trail Truth

During the recent Trail to Nowhere kerfuffle one of the big problems the limo liberals had was bending their brains around the possibility of a multi-modal facility that might improve circulation and offer development flexibility, particularly in light of the massive development the City staff is going to try to cram into the 30 acres adjacent to the UP right-of-way.

Bikes and traffic don’t mix, came the anguished cry of people like Egleth Nucci and Shana Charles who would have never ridden a bike, or even ambled a long the Trail to Nowhere, and ignoring a world full of urban examples where bicycles and cars get along just fine.

These same self-appointed “experts” seemed unconcerned that their beloved trail would have to negotiate intersections at both Highland and Richman Avenues.

To find and example of a space shared by trail and car lane, all these Option 1/trail-only people had to do was look across Highland to their much bragged about “Phase I.” Here’s a satellite image:

Please note that the Phase I portion accommodates both a roadway and a recreation trail! Land o’ Goshen! Is it really possible? Well, of course it is. The trails cult has already built, and often described this existing configuration between the closed UP Park and Highland Avenue as the inevitable prelude to Phase II; but now for some reason, a paved portion west of Highland is verboten.

Oh, well, one thing we can expect in Fullerton, and that is a complete lack of reason and intelligence when it comes to this sort of thing. It’s more important that the so-called professionals do what they want, and there will always be enough dopes in the City to go along and to even be a called a “community.” And then there are those politicians like Ahmad Zahra who decide to score cheap points patronizing their constituents by giving them “nice things” that aren’t nice at all.