Dysfunction Junction

Denial is a fairly common human condition, but normally it involves interpersonal relationships and fact isn’t always that easy to ascertain. It is also quite common in politics where one’s emotional beliefs and prejudices are set against somebody else’s. And then there’s the case when bald facts are staring you in the face and you just can’t allow the cold truth to intrude upon your fantasy.

Nowhere is the latter situation better seen than in the City of Fullerton’s attitude and actions involving the “downtown” area.

Business is booming…

It’s not real complicated. The City has known for almost two decades that downtown Fullerton was a money loser. A big money loser. And yet nary a word of complaint or criticism of the booze culture of downtown Fullerton has been uttered by the bureaucrats and politicians.

The most recent analysis was essayed 7 years ago. Here’s the money shot:

In 2017, the taxpayers of Fullerton were subsidizing the bar owners to the tune of almost $15,000 per liquor joint, each and every year. Three quarters of a million a year. Of course this was just for “public safety” as noted:

We focused on the public-safety facets of this study alone, and did not include the development and maintenance services costs Fullerton audited. We illustrate below Fullerton taxpayers were effectively subsidizing bar and restaurant establishments – to the tune of about $15,000 per establishment – all to cover the costs of police, fire and rescue services provided to the establishments and their patrons.

We know that maintenance and code enforcement and the legal services of Dick Jones and his I Can’t Believe It’s a Law Firm jack up the cost to well over a million bucks – $1.4 million being the overall cost previously discovered. And there are now over 50 bars.

Another award!

Think of it. During hard times and good, the taxpayers of Fullerton subsidize the likes of the Florentine family and the Marovic mob and the Poozhikala posse, while they make a fortune peddling fish bowls of booze to out-of-control miscreants and ignoring the law.

And still City staff insists on describing downtown Fullerton a glowing success story, a triumph to be built on; of course they aided and abetted in the charade by city councils that are marked by political cupidity, stupidity and a desire to look like they have accomplished something. Anything. For decades these people have crowed about their achievements in DTF, even as they desperately crammed more and denser housing blocks in and around main streets – hoping a captive audience would somehow help. It didn’t, and by the early 2000s the City decided an open air saloon was just the thing. And then the restaurants morphed into bars and then the bars morphed, illegally at first, into nightclubs.

I can keep this up all night…

As things got more lawless, and even some like Dick Jones lamented the “monster” he had created, the only thing that happened was that things got worse. Blasting noise, random violence, sexual assaults, human waste, mayhem, shootings, sadistic and pervy cops – you name it – caused no retrospection in City Hall about what had, and what was happening. It was all a big victory, and you don’t second guess a victory.

Well, things are looking glum fiscally for Fullerton according to last years budget projections and we will be told Ahmad Zahra and Shana Charles that we must bear the burden of a new sales tax jack-up in order to keep the creaky old jalopy going.

I say fix the financial sinkhole that is downtown Fullerton before you stick your hands in our pockets.

Council Ponders Parking Puzzle Pilot Program

Lots of people have lots of cars. And the on-site parking plans of the 50s, 60, and 70s multi-family housing just don’t work anymore. We all know that. Even single-family neighborhoods suffer from the same issue – adults’ cars, their kids’ cars, and a garage full of crap.

In 2023 the Fullerton City Council directed staff to consider the issue of early morning parking prohibition, a device to keep people from parking on the streets overnight. The current situation is that certain streets with multi-family housing or old, pre-1940 houses have been granted a waiver. An applicant’s address could also get a one-year “hardship” permit with an extensive review process and a $250 permit fee.

After an 11 month gestation period, staff labored hard and gave birth to a “pilot plan” proposal that would keep existing street and individual waivers/permits, but that would make it easier, supposedly, to get a one year permit – with four one-year options.

The issue is Item #7 on the 3/19/24 Agenda consent calendar.

The staff report provides the usual entertaining history of a Fullerton topic, like downtown nuisance noise, that never seems to get fixed.

As usual there are options presented that are really just non-starters to make the desired option look better. Option 1 is to do away with overnight parking altogether – a surefire recipe for political disaster. Option 2 is to get rid of street/block waivers and also hardship permits, and let anybody apply for an overnight permit – another sure loser.

And so Option 3 (as described above) gets the brass ring, with the proviso that it be a 2-year pilot program to see what happens. As noted, staff is proposing a streamlined process, online portal, etc., etc., with one goal being to help disadvantaged neighborhoods (of course “disadvantaged,” like “underserved” is code in City Hall for Latino, so that’s an interesting use of the word). This option begs the question: if the permit process could be streamlined why wasn’t it – a long time ago? There is no mention of the new permit fee amount.

The staff report contains a long list of possible additions that could be made, presumably to help a City Council that can’t be trusted to come up with its own.

What I think is really interesting is that there is no option for doing nothing. Not every snake or green-glowing rock needs to picked up and examined, and I get the impression that there is a political undercurrent here. Commonsense suggests that adopting a revision for the purpose of allowing more cars to park overnight will still annoy some residents who may not like others parking in front of their house all night – especially in the vicinity of under-parked, older apartments.

Cops Croak Combative Chemise-less Chap

The following is a Fullerton Police Department issuance:

Fullerton Police Officers responded to a restaurant located in the 1300 block of S. Brookhurst Rd on March 6 at 3:01 am regarding two males that were standing at the front of the doors, possibly under the influence of drugs. The reporting party, who was the manager of the business, was concerned for the employees’ safety as they began to arrive for work. 

Officers arrived on the scene and contacted one shirtless male adult, who was uncooperative with Officers’ commands. The male began swinging a belt at officers as they attempted to contact him. Additional officers were requested, and once they arrived, they utilized a taser to attempt to subdue the suspect, which was ineffective.

The suspect continued to act erratically and was uncooperative as he refused to comply with officers’ commands. Officers then utilized a less lethal kinetic energy projectile and struck the suspect, allowing officers to take him into custody. At this time in the investigation, it is believed the suspect sustained a significant injury to the chest area as a result of the use of the less lethal kinetic energy projectile. 

Officers began life-saving measures while paramedics responded. The suspect was transported to a local trauma center, where he was later pronounced deceased. 

As is standard practice in Orange County, the Orange County District Attorney’s Office will conduct an independent in-custody death investigation. 

The Orange County Coroner will release the deceased suspect’s identity. 

It would be nice to take FPDs statement at face value, but given both the history of the department, it’s unreformed record, and the nature of police reports in general, it would be unwise to do so. I won’t comment on the propriety of this episode other than to point a out a few of the typical bias issues with the report that are clearly intended to sway public opinion in the police direction, regardless of the central facts of the actual encounter. We’ve seen it lots of times before in Fullerton.

It’s 3 o’clock in the morning at a restaurant, most likely the McDonald’s store, which is in the 1300 block of South Brookhurst. Two dudes are hanging out in front of the doors, as reported by the store manager, who is apparently concerned for the safety of his incoming employees, and who has called for the police. So far so good.

Except that the two are reported as being possibly under the influence of drugs. It’s also possible that they are not under the influence of drugs. And here’s where the narrative gets loosey goosey because we don’t know, and won’t know until the Coroner is done with the corpus delecti, oops, the body.

We learn from the report that the cops on the scene encounter “one male,” shirtless; male #2 presumably has decamped. The fact that the man is inexplicably not wearing a shirt at 3am is further non-evidence in the effort to direct us to the inevitable exculpation of the police.

We are informed that the man was uncooperative with commands. Not knowing what the commands were, we are left to assume they were legal commands. Mr. Shirtless, removes his belt and swings it at the cops as they try to “contact” him. Contact? Verbally? Physically? What for? Has he even broken any laws at this point? Your guess is as good as mine. Fearing for their safety (no doubt) the cops on the scene request back-up, which arrives. Is Shirtless still swinging the belt? Don’t know. But rather than physically restrain Shirtless, somebody decides he needs a Tasing as a form of attitude adjustment. Which, of course fails.

Now there are multiple officers on hand and Shirtless still remains uncooperative to commands and erratic, another subjective and loaded term. Is he still swinging the belt after the failed Tasing? Don’t know. Still no mention of an attempt at physical restraint by any of the multiple, presumably fit officers. At this juncture somebody decides to hit the man with a “less lethal kinetic energy projectile” which hits him in the chest. I don’t know what a less lethal kinetic energy projectile is, but I guess if you hit somebody in the wrong place (and I don’t mean the 1300 Block of South Brookhurst), you can kill him. In this case, the technique wasn’t less lethal.

The police offer “life-saving measures” that don’t work, either, and the man is hauled of to a trauma center where he is “later” pronounced deceased, although the wording implies that the death, not the announcement came later. We don’t actually know when the man died.

There are lots of specific questions about this encounter, such as several failed tactics and the possibility of escalation, none of which is offered in the press release. Will we find out? The DA won’t help with transparency and neither will the FPD. But, surely Mr. Shirtless has relatives, and the relatives will have lawyers.

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.

A Couple of Old Friends

I noticed two items that popped up on the Fullerton City Council’s December 19th, 2023 Closed Session Agenda, two things that remind us that in our town bad news never seems to go away, if it ever needed to happen in the first place.

One item had to do with Jacob Poozhikala, the slimy SOB who owned JP23 on the southwest corner of Harbor and Commonwealth.

Poozhikala is a poster child for the miscreant club owners in DTF who slithered in as our city government kept bending over backward to accommodate them. Pooz’s place of hospitality was probably the worst offender of them all – quite a feat. A shooting, alleged drug rape, overcrowding, operating without permits, etc.

Oh, I’ma hit that!

There wasn’t a legal barrier Pooz chose not to ignore. In the end he tried to shift the stalled permit process to a new owner – his nephew. That didn’t work. There’s a new establishment there now, but evidently Pooz isn’t through with us. I Can’t believe It’s a Law Firm to the rescue!

The other item involves our old friends from Air Combat.

In case you forgot, Air Combat, a lessee out at the airport, sued the City for violating its lease agreement, an incompetent ploy by our wonderful Airport Director, Brendan O’Riley to push out Air Combat and install a new tenant whose use was illegal.

Gravity asserts itself…

Ultimately a jury found the City at fault and awarded the aggrieved party $1.2 million. Of course nobody suffered any consequences, although the man in charge, City Manager Ken Domer eventually was fired and is now plying his dubious abilities in Laguna Beach.

Domer-Decorations
Hitching to Willow Springs…

I don’t know what is still being litigated here, but it’s nice to see familiar faces, isn’t it? Jones and Mayer presided over this fiasco, too, but unfortunately for us taxpayers, Dick Jones ran up against Sheppard, Mullin, Richter, a real law firm.

The Sound of Music

Business is booming…

Over the past two decades FFFF has documented the mess our City government has made of the financial sinkhole know as Downtown Fullerton; how laws and rules have been ignored to help the myriad bar owners, and how what is undoubtedly a fiscal municipal liability continues to be characterized as some sort of wonderful accomplishment.

Matt Foulkes. The spin out left casualties…

Planning Directors and Redevelopment Drones came and went: Dudley, Zur Schmied, Zelenka, Haluza, White, Foulkes, each one as useless as the one that came before, and each willing to put the scofflaws’ interest ahead of the citizens.’ To be fair, the political interference was there, too, nowhere better exemplified than in the case of our now-departed Mayor-for-Hire, Jennifer Fitzgerald, who had a for sale sign on her back. And of course City Attorney Dick Jones was there every step of the way to add obfuscating smoke into the downtown atmosphere.

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

Nowhere is the Fullerton downtown dysfunction better seen than in the complete hash the bureaucrats in City Hall have made of the noise situation. At first, the noise ordinance was simply ignored by the cops and by code enforcement. And for the past 15 years the City has made a concerted effort to allow amplified outdoor music downtown, to delay action (we’re still studying it), and to water down whatever official rules were on the books.

For the past four years nothing has happened and of course the nightclub operators have continued to take advantage of Fullerton’s de facto unwillingness to enforce anything.

And now the issue has finally resurfaced yet again, and once again the effort is likely not to work for us, but essentially, to admit defeat and allow the raucous free-for all to become official.

In December a new stab at a noise ordinance addressing outdoor music was placed on the table in front of the City Council.

Evidently the proposed ordinance was so bad that the our otherwise malleable City Council turned it back for rework. I don’t know what was in it because the City Clerk’s webpage doesn’t work. But supposedly the thing will be coming back on Tuesday the 29th and hopefully we will be able to see what sort of surrender our staff is coming up with.

Suffering The Stolen Sidewalk Saga

Gone, but not quite forgotten…

Two months ago I reminded the Friends that the never-ending story of the stolen Commonwealth public sidewalk was alive and well. The provocation was a closed session agenda item listed as “significant exposure to litigation” between the City of Fullerton and Mr. Mario Marovic, the owner of the building at the northeast corner of Harbor and Commonwealth. Marovic had submitted some sort of claim against the good folk of Fullerton, often an aggressive gambit to stall and temporize.

Meet the new proprietor, same as the old proprietor…

A quick rehash of the facts: Marovic took over the space from the decamped Florentine crime family and immediately gained access to the “bump out” on the sidewalk; and he then began remodeling it along with the rest of the first floor space for his new bars. He had no authority to do so because, of course, the City acquired responsibility to dispose of the building add-on after the Florentine’s bugged out on their lease with the City. In his application for CUPs for the new bars Marovic even included the City owned space as his own.

In the late summer of 2022 Marovic was well-along with his remodel even though his CUP hadn’t been approved, but the issue of the egregious bump out resurfaced, thanks to FFFF. In September, 2022 the City and Marovic reached an agreement that was signed by Eric Leavitt, our esteemed City Manager, and not the Mayor at the time, Fred Jung.

The terms of the agreement were simple enough, and FFFF has shared them before. The thrust of the deal was that Marovic could open his new bars (including the bump out) and he would then undertake to remove the bump out and restore the public sidewalk. Here is the actual clause describing terms and deadlines of the deal:

As you can see, demolition was to have begun at the end of March, 2023 – almost ten months ago – and be the rework complete by July, 2023 – five months ago. Marovic opened his businesses, alright, but never started demolition, and probably didn’t meet any of the other deadlines, either.

A little late, Kimberly…

So when is an agreement not an agreement? Apparently, when it’s written and approved as to form and content by Kimberly Hall Barlow, the obnoxious member of Dick Joneses “I Can’t Believe It’s A Law Firm” crew.

I almost know what I’m doing…

It’s interesting to note that Barlow didn’t approve the six month old agreement until March, 2023 – 4 days before demolition was to supposed to have started.

Of course Dick Jones and his fine stable of attorneys have been bungling the case of the stolen sidewalk from the very beginning, including personal conflict of interest, embracing ludicrous legal rationale at the behest of the Florentines, and even countenancing forgery on an official City document by Joe Florentine.

Still, one has to wonder what our elected officials themselves have done about this. Clearly the unwillingness of the City to enforce a legal agreement, signed by Marovic stems from fear of legal action. But Marovic is undeniably in breach of the contract he voluntarily signed, even though there is zero evidence that it was signed in good faith.

The City can and should begin the process of revoking Marovic’s CUP, the permit that has allowed him to make a lot of money over the last 10 months while failing to live up to his side of the bargain. As owner of the bump out the City has every right, at least, to revoke the CUP that covers its own property, as gotten fraudulently.

The City can also notify Marovic that it intends to remove the building addition itself, since he won’t do it, and bill the scofflaw for the cost.

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

Of course neither of these remedies will take place, because this is Fullerton, where the elected officials are feckless and beholden to the Downtown Liquor Cartel; and because they insist on, decade after decade, following the dismal advice of Dick Jones.

Who Was Emmanuel Perez?

While I was strolling along the ill-fated Trail to Nowhere the other day, I came across a small shrine-like set-up just where the UP right-of way starts its parallel run with the BNSF mainline.

This is what I saw.

This small memorial is dedicated to somebody called Emmanuel Perez who died at 28 years of age, six years ago. I did some quick searching and found no news references to anybody dying here, whether by foul play or by train accident. But Fullerton has a history of keeping bad news out of the news.

Naturally, Voice of OC “photojournalist” Julie Leopo failed to publish this image after she took her guided tour of the area, helpfully provided by “journalist” Skaskia Kennedy. That would not have been good for the pre-arranged narrative.

Death on the Trail to Nowhere is not new, but this is one I hadn’t heard of. If anybody can shed some light on the life and death of Emmanuel Perez, let FFFF know.

The Trail to Nowhere Grant Application

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

Curious Friends have been asking about the grant application the City of Fullerton submitted to the State of California Natural Resources Agency to build the now infamous “Trail to Nowhere.” Why? Because the plan, as conceived by parks employees as a make-work project, was so obviously useless, flawed and ill-considered. Reflect on these facts:

  1. Nobody ever used the allegedly successful “Phase I” except drug addicts and the homeless.
  2. The City has been unable or unwilling to maintain Phase I which is a trash-strewn, urine soaked disgrace, making the question of maintenance (below) perfectly reasonable.
  3. Phase I doesn’t even line up with the proposed “Phase II.”
  4. The scheme was going to cost Fullerton $300,000 to build; nobody would say what the running costs would be.
  5. The proposed “trail” was to run though an unsafe area of heavy industry, junk yards, a plating facility, an asphalt plant, parking lots and myriad used tire and auto repair places. It would have run parallel to the BNSF mainline track with no buffer for a third of its length.
  6. Carncinogenic trichlorethylene (TCE) had been identified years ago on an adjacent property by the EPA/Department of Toxic Substances Control that described an underground “plume” moving south across the path of the “trail.”
  7. Two requests for information regarding environmental investigation on the “trail” site, via the Public Records Act have been obviously stonewalled by the City of Fullerton.
  8. “Trail” advocates have been disseminating false information about connectivity to the Transportation Center and Downtown Fullerton, and positing future connections to the west that are completely implausible.
  9. And probably most importantly, no one could describe a potential “trail” user except by using generic data irrelevant to the actual site. The users would be the “community”

The grant application itself isn’t to be found in any City Council documentation, because they never approved the actual application, only allowed the application to be made behind the scenes on their behalf. But it turns out that copies of the document are available, possibly leaked by City Hall employees appalled at the whole mess.

Well FFFF has it.

The Strange Tale of Johnny Lu’s Grant Deeds

Enhanced with genuine brick veneer!

By now Fullerton City Hall is aware that their partner in a boutique hotel/apartment high-rise on Santa Fe Avenue, TA Westpark LLC, is in trouble. TA Westpark Fullerton., AKA Johnny Lu has defaulted on a massive loan, previously borrowed to complete projects in Irvine.

Why is Johnny smiling?

The fallout from this embarrassment remains unknown, although there are plenty of questions that need to be answered, and sooner rather than later.

One of the questions involves the transfer of the public property ownership at the site to TA Westpark Fullerton, LLC before proper project approval, a desperate, and of course, totally unnecessary act. And the actual documents supporting ownership of the land in question need to be examined, too.

On December 22, 2022 the City sold the land at a huge discount to Lu. Check out the grant deed:

By now Craig Hostert, whose brain-child the boutique hotel was, is scratched out and TA Westpark Fullerton, LLC, a Delaware corporation, is the proud owner of the land and the transfer is signed by a “managing partner” of a whole other entity – “TA Partners.” Looks like Hosteret was bought out or walked away, abandoning his baby.

But, as they say in the infomercial, wait, there’s more. A quick check of the State of Delaware’s corporations roster doesn’t turn up any results for TA Westpark Fullerton, LLC. Hmm.

No responsive records…

And here’s something else. A few months later a new grant deed was promulgated and recorded at the County of Orange. Here, the hard to find Delaware corporation deeds the land in question over to TA Westpark Fullerton, LLC, a California corporation.

Something is odd here, and it’s not just the amateur hour handwritten changes on the original deed. Did the City sell this property to a non-existent corporate entity? If so, hasn’t some sort of fraud occurred? Why the shell game here, and could the original deed be considered invalid in retrospect?

No, I wasn’t asleep. I was praying…

We could ask these question of Dick Jones of the “I Can’t Believe It’s a Law Firm” law firm, because I doubt the City Council will make inquiries of their ace lawyer. Getting an honest answer from ol’ marble mouth? A rare and precious jewel.

Some might think this entire fiasco is going to get worse before it gets better. I’m not sure how that’s possible.