Stupid Observer

A guy named Mike Ritto writes a periodic column for our Friends at the Fullerton Observer called The DOWNTOWN Report that ostensibly deals with happenings in our economic sinkhole known as Downtown Fullerton, or DTF, for short.

The story no one wanted to talk about.

In his latest piece Mr. Ritto promises A Brief History of Union Pacific Park. Hmm. This might be interesting, I thought. And so it is, but not for what it says, but for what it intentionally leaves out. It begins talking about the Union Pacific RR, the Santa Fe and even the Pacific Electric. Ritto eventually gets around to the park itself:

“…remnants of that UP line are the fenced-off, such as Union Pacific Park just to the West of the former station, where the tracks used to run.

That neighborhood needs a park, and as the residents look through the chain links and see, finally, grading and other preliminary work that is taking place right now, they know it is on the way. Approval of the park revitalization was covered in our August 7 issue. In addition, we are following developments in the proposed Union Pacific Trail, which would be an open space trail between this new park and Independence Park to the West.”

Somehow the UP Park history has become no history at all, just a mysterious space with a fence around it.

Children at play…

Of course Ritto omits mention that the UP Park was a park on which the City spent several million dollars in land acquisition and construction, and that the City closed down first because of toxic contamination, and then because of abundant crime. This latter fact gets no mention because Ritto is insistent that “the neighborhood needs a park” and remembering that the last effort failed would be extremely awkward – so let’s just forget it. Like his Observer pals he repeats the nonsense that the Trail to Nowhere is still a real thing.

To perpetuate the propensity for misinformation of which the Observer is (in)famous, Ritto remarks that approval of park revitalization has occurred, as reported in the Observer on August 7th. What really happened was the Parks Commission voted to recommend the the Trail to Nowhere to the City Council. The article itself, despite the erroneous headline, is really just a propaganda piece for the now dead Trail to Nowhere and has nothing to do with the UP Park site.

Fullerton Observer readers are often told that the effort is an all-volunteer affair, as a sort of apology for bad reporting, opinion masquerading as news, factual misrepresentation and basic spelling mistakes. The Kennedy clan has been doing this for forty years or more and there’s no likelihood that this will change.

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 Scarcity of Public Information, Part 2

A few weeks ago I published a post detailing how someone had requested on October 12th, through a Public Records Act Request, information on environmental testing along the abandoned Union Pacific right-of-way; and how the City on October 23, in response, replied with six document files they called a “full release” and that had nothing to do with any sort of testing at all.

Well, they’ve done it again.

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

Also on October 12th, the same person made a related request, specifically asking for a Phase 1 environmental report of the right-of-way. A Phase 1 environmental report surveys a property and its neighbors for historical usage in an attempt to identify potential environmental issues. On October 28th the City responded with the identical unresponsive documents as before, apparently digging a deeper hole for itself.

Whether this is sheer incompetence or just bullheaded arrogance, or a lot of both, remains to be seen.

As before, the proper response is not to share completely irrelevant and non-responsive documents, but, rather to simply state that there are no responsive documents.

The blue square ain’t good. Welcome to Trichlorethylene Alley. Please keep moving…

Why the City refuses to obey the law suggests several things. First, as mentioned above, stupid incompetence and/or arrogance. Or maybe somebody down there thinks they can stonewall a possible, even likely truth – that there never was any environmental testing done along the right-of-way, a path that lies adjacent and likely right on top of toxic contamination and on which the City tried to build a recreation trail for $2,000,000.

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.

The Scam

Disillusioned Ex-Hippy has just written a nice piece about how the Voice of OC got conned into publishing a completely one-sided story on the defeated Trail to Nowhere, replete with the same falsehoods being printed by Saskia Kennedy and her mother, Sharon, who are responsible for the editorials of the Fullerton Observer.

The narrative is simple: poor, underserved Latinos are fighting City Hall to get “nice things.” Of course it was lapped up by Voice reporter Hosam Elattar who took the bait and the hook along with it. The whole thing is a genuine and popular uprising of hard working folk taking time away from their jobs, etc., etc.

But there’s a problem with this story, one that we already know about. And that is that the ongoing “protest,” such as it is, was ginned up by D5 councilman Ahmad Zahra to embarrass his political opponents on the Fullerton City Council. And this little scheme has been aided and abetted by the Kennedy clan every step of the way.

So get this.

On October 4th the Fullerton Observer is inviting people to show up at Independence Park that afternoon to talk about ways to improve Fullerton. No mention is made of protest signs and walks along the railroad tracks with narration provided by one Egleth Nunnci, Zahra’s loyal, go-to Latina foot soldier. Anyone seeing this message might believe they were going to discuss improving Independence Park and would hardly expect to hear the propaganda that has nothing to do with Independence Park. Neither would they expect a photojournalist (and maybe even a reporter) to be in attendance to report on a political protest, with signs handed out for fun.

What a sad, albeit sort of funny little scam, but just the sort of small-scale chisel Zahra watchers have come to expect. Now, it’s likely that nobody seeing that message even showed up, and that the trail hikers were all Zahra brand crisis actors. Nevertheless, the willingness to deliberately mislead citizens like this is pretty reprehensible even for the self-important and self-righteous Kennedy family.

Voice of OC Played By Trail to Nowhereists

Addendum: I apologize for not providing a link to the story in Voice of OC. Here it is. And after reading it again and Elattar’s phone interview with the egregious Egleth, I really have to wonder if he even went to the site at all. Why would he have to call her if he was there listening to her nonsense? Could this whole tale be simply the result of phone interviews? If so, that would be pretty bad, and seeing Leopo’s pictures still should have made his journalist’s antennae go sideways – if he has any.

DE-H

People who read the online news source known as the Voice of OC know that it reflexively leans toward stories that promote the notion of the local underdog up against monied interests entrenched in the corridors of power.

And that’s okay – up to a point. And that point is crossed when their “reporters” buy into some shenanigan or other without delving at all into the issues. It’s the narrative that counts, of course: rich vs. poor, good vs. evil, and the narrative must not change.

And so when Voice of OC reporter Hosam Elattar got a call from Ahmad Zahra (or one of his brain-washed followers) about the “popular” uprising in Fullerton about a rejected “greening” grant it must have been irresistible. And so the Voice scribe showed up for some sort of Trail to Nowhere romp where the usual suspects – Egleth Nunnci and Saskia Kennedy of Fullerton Observer infame – were ready for him, with a gaggle of followers bearing the usual “home made” signs of protest.

Over there is the run and play and enjoy railroad tracks. We need that fresh air. (Photo by Julie Leopo/Voice of OC)

It doesn’t seem to have occurred to Mr. Elattar to ask why protesters with signs were parading down the abandoned UP right-of-way where exactly nobody could see them, except Julie Leopo, the Voice “photojournalist.” A real reporter, or an honest one at this point would know he was being played. It doesn’t seem to have occurred to him to inquire into Nunnci’s absurd statement that he later published:

“This is an area that is overpopulated, overdeveloped – where people are not thinking about green spaces,” Nuncci said. “Mental health (issues) are happening because our children don’t have the opportunity to go and play and run and enjoy.”

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

Elattar didn’t ask why those poor, mentally affected kids couldn’t “play and run and enjoy” themselves in nearby Richman Park or Lemon Park or Independence Park. Nor did he inquire into the question of how these little victims of society were going to get to the Trail to Nowhere, since only one street – three short blocks of Truslow Avenue – is closer to the right-of way than to Richman Park or Independence Park. And he didn’t bother to notice, or at least inquire about the graffiti and ask Ms. Nunnci if maybe the industrial zone with its obvious blight, might not be the best place to build a linear park. The Leopo pictures themselves betray the problem by showing the beloved Trail to Nowhere as it runs along the no man’s land next to and lower than the Santa Fe mainline tracks.

Did Elattar bother to continue along the route to see what it passed through? Did he even bother to look at a google satellite image?

Did Elattar bother to interview any of the residents of the adjacent Liberty Walk community at the western end to find out if they were even notified of the Trail to Nowhere proposal that had lights shining into their backyards? What about SOCO Walk on the eastern end? Did he ask anybody who actually lived on Truslow whether they would use this silly facility? Why would he do that? He already had his tale from the get-go.

Elattar, moreover, took it as gospel that this rump trail would have provided connectivity to other trails and “several parks.” It would not have – previous lies that even City staff have finally abandoned, although The Fullerton Observer keeps using to dupe the gullible kids and the elderly Observers who just can’t know better.

And finally I would be remiss if I didn’t share this charming image:

Why just write about stuff when you can try to make your own news! (Photo by Julie Leopo/Voice of OC)

This is Saskia Kennedy, directing traffic for her photo op actors, creating the news before her Fullerton Observer writes opinion “news” articles about it.

One hopes that Hosam Elattar’s superiors at the Voice of OC cotton on to the scam pulled on their ace reporter and advise him to delve into the issue more closely. But I’m not counting on 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.