FFFF supports causes that promote intelligent, responsible and accountable government in Fullerton and Orange County
Redevelopment is Government removing existing homes, businesses, and other buildings and replacing them with something different. The history of redevelopment in Fullerton has lead to a long string of ugly, deteriorating buildings and outright failure.
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.
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.
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.
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.
As you might expect, the application form is boilerplate and gives the applicant the opportunity to pick questions that put its proposal in the best light. Reading it gives one the impression that the State doesn’t do a lot of particular investigation; takes applications at face value, assuming applicant to be honest; and doesn’t condescend to concern itself with real field investigations.
The application is replete with traffic and demographic data of the most useless sort. This tripe can be dismissed as bureaucratic string tying and gobbledegooking. The literary answers in it sounds like somebody describing the Yellow Brick Road leading to the fabulous Emerald City.
But there are specific questions on the application that are germane to effective spending of public money, and the answers elicited shed light into the mindset of our Parks Department personnel.
Let’s look at Lie Collection #1. The City is asked to describe boonful economic impacts of the Trail to Nowhere:
Visit local businesses? What the Hell? Like the back of industrial buildings and junk yards? Countless opportunities for economic renewal and growth? Name just one along this dismal “trail.” We now know the proposed “trail” doesn’t even line up with Phase I, a fact omitted in the project budget and description. We also know it doesn’t go east past the abandoned park and doesn’t reach the Transportation Center. An affordable way to travel? For whom, for God’s sake? And how much does it cost to walk to Independence Park, using safe streets? That’s right, nothing. The “trail” links no disadvantaged community with schools (there aren’t any), or local businesses, and of course the “trail” doesn’t get to the Transportation Center. It stops at Harbor Boulevard.
Here’s another packet of misinformation, Lie Collection #2. Get a load of this.
Somehow the author of this application “anticipates” 105,000users annually,an astonishing 288 users each and every day – 24 every daytime hour. In order to get where? Why to the back parking lot in the northeast corner of Independence Park, that’s where. The statistics thrown into the mush to support this nonsense are of the most generic kind, and .prove nothing. Of course we already know that there is no physical linkage to the half-circle north of the tracks. Calling this strip an “active transportation corridor” is hysterically funny to anyone who has walked the abandoned right-of-way.
I included the paragraph above the c.2 in the snippet just to show the repetition of the lies and the nonsense that this “trail” would be used, miraculously, by bus and train riders. There are no points of connection from the “trail” to either service. And notice that the application includes the names of all sorts of disembodied parks that are nowhere near the “trail” and that are not remotely accessible to it.
Now we arrive at Lie Collection #3. This is more of the same rubbish.
This block of lies is nothing but a bureaucratic word salad of nonsense and misinformation. It’s comical that the described location of Independence Park is actually where the large DMV facility is located. You’d think the Parks Department would know where their parks are, but this geographical illiteracy may explain how the “trail” proposal was cooked up in the first place. And we know the “trail” provides no access to Richman Park, and of course the Big Lie about connectivity to Downtown Fullerton, the High School and Fullerton College must be repeated, and repeated and repeated – ad nauseam.
Lie Collection #4 is crucial to understanding how this grant was approved, rather than booted out the door with guffaws of laughter.
Whether this hot mess was really “shovel ready” as confidently asserted here is a matter of conjecture, based on the presence of carcinogenic toxins adjacent and below a significant part of the “trail.” But observe in the red box how the application writer avers that some sort of “Environmental Review process” was completed in 1998, and how no elements of the “trail” were found to require mitigation. There’s a body buried here and it’s toxic, too. We know this claim is a lie because the UP Park was acquired at the same time as the linear right-of-way, and was found to be contaminated much later – in the 2000s, demanding that we accept the idiocy that the “trail” was tested in 1998, but the park site was not. It’s an inescapable conclusion that no environmental “process” was undertaken by the City in 1998 at all. Furthermore, we know that two recent Public Records Act requests for specific information about testing on the “trail” returned no relevant documents. This means that if any documents for Environmental Phase I and Phase II research and testing were performed in 1998, the City is withholding that documentation. Or, alternatively, no documentation exists, meaning that the claim in the application couldn’t have been verified.
Finally, the application conveniently omits any mention of TCE contamination along part of it, and under it, a fact well-known in City Hall and by the State of California for decades.
And that leads to a significant question: would the State ever have approved a grant based on this dodge about environmental assessment? I seriously doubt it.
Fortunately the question is moot so far as the future of the infamous Trail to Nowhere is concerned. That proverbial train pulled out of the station with the wise vote by Dunlap, Jung and Whitaker. That’s not what these series of posts have been about. They are about what goes on in City Hall, how decisions are made, or, as the case may be, not made; how there seems to be be little or no accountability for things that are done poorly, illegally, illogically, and untruthfully.
This item popped up on tonight’s City Council Closed Session Calendar.
Could this relate to the northwest corner of Commonwealth and Harbor? If so we are dealing with one Mr. Mario Marovic, who opened two bars on this property that he owns at this corner. Why anticipated litigation? What claim did he make against the City? Let’s review a bit of history, shall we?
By now the Friends are well-familiar with the Saga of the Florentine Stolen Sidewalk, one of Fullerton City Hall’s more egregious and embarrassing fuck-ups, a high bar to clamber over, indeed.
Back in 2003 the Florentines purloined the public sidewalk on Commonwealth Avenue by putting a permanent structure on it without permission. The whitewash was that the City would now lease the land under the building addition to the Florentines. And the Florentines owned the addition, not the owner of the adjacent building to which the addition was attached! In the lease the Florentines were held responsible for removing the addition at the City’s discretion.
But the underlying problem of who owned what and who was responsible for what, never went away.
The comic opera took a new turn in 2020 when the Florentine Mob bugged out, abandoning their addition and their responsibilities for their sidewalk leasehold. Who owned the “bump out” as the encroachment was now charmingly referred to? Why, the people of Fullerton, of course. We assumed ownership, and responsibility. But this didn’t stop the owner of the attached building, Mario Marovic, from trespassing into the bump out and from beginning to modify it as he was remodeling the rest of the old Florentine establishments for his new bars.
What a mess, all predictable and all avoidable had the City staff and the City Council done the right thing back in 2003. Well, if the Queen had…never mind.
The most recent twist became public last fall when, behind the scenes, our feckless City Council made deal with Marovic. He could assume the Florentine ground lease, and open his new establishments; in return, he would be responsible for removing the encroaching structure from the City sidewalk, and all would be well with minor embarrassment to the City. Marovic’s deadline to start demolition was the last week of March 2023, to be complete by July.
Well, March came and went. So did April, May, June, July, August, September, and now October; and nothing has started. Nada. Marovic has been in breach of the agreement for seven months, reaping revenue from his saloons and from our property, too.
I really hope this item about a claim made by Marovic because it will inevitably raise the issue of his delinquency, although if it is, and this being Fullerton after all, I suppose the Council will end up letting the scofflaw keep renting our bump out on our sidewalk and maybe even pay him for the honor. It would be yet another effort to keep the City from more institutional embarrassment. Can’t have that, can we?
Here’s what should happen since the City has inexplicably decided not to go after the Florentine Mob for damages. The City should suck it up: cancel the existing ground lease with Marovic, demolish the bump out once and for all, and replace the open wall with whatever was there before this whole damn thing started.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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?
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.
My latest essay detailed the problem of corporate inertia and described how Fullerton’s government as a corporate body displays all the problems associated with stagnation, ossification and an inability do things any differently. And then of course, there’s the arrogance and secretiveness.
Here’s a prime example of a culture that is in need of electric shock therapy.
Last April I wrote a post about how the the City and property owner Mr. Mario Marovic had come to an agreement in the fall of 2022 about the latter’s removal of the infamous Florentine hijack of the sidewalk on Commonwealth Avenue. In return, Marovic got to open his two new saloons on the corner.
We now know what a foolish bargain it was for the City.
Marovic was supposed to start demolition the last week in March. That was five and a half months ago. As of mid-September this has not started, and there is no sign that it will ever start. Why not?
Some people may suspect that Mr. Marovic has cast his bread upon the City Council water, so to speak, either above or below the table. But there is also a more likely scenario: the City is simply continuing to cover up its own incompetence in the long, sad history of the sidewalk theft.
And at the center of this tale? City Attorney Dick Jones, who is the only player who has been involved in this mess from the proverbial Day One, and who continues, no doubt, to dispense his legal wisdom that has been so disastrous, and has included turning a blind eye to his own conflict of interest, and justifying forgery of an official City application.
There’s also a bigger picture.
The government of Fullerton has developed a noxious habit of ignoring its own rules and regulations in the downtown area; it has systematically ignored the scofflaws who own the bars, and in fact has coddled and pampered them. Both bureaucrats and elected have continued to portray downtown Fullerton as an achievement, a great success, a municipal asset, when in fact, the saloon culture has never been anything but an annual $1.5 million drain on the City’s budget.
Of course the pages of FFFF are full of stories that confirm the nature of the stasis that defines our city’s governance. What is the solution? That’s the theme of a future post.
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.
In my last post I introduced the topic of Fullerton’s latest foray into “Economic Development” a term that really refers to the idea that a city can generate more sales tax revenue through its ministerial efforts so that it can hire more people and pay them more money.
This is the old California Redevelopment mantra that was used by cities across California for decades to hand out land, cash, and favors to chosen developers and retailers. Nowadays, there’s really only land to give away as we saw in Fullerton with the abysmal “Tracks at the Tracks” project that ironically handed away millions of dollars in potential up-front revenue that might have balanced our budget in 2025 all by itself.
I thought I would spend some time reviewing the Kosmont Companies report and watching our esteemed City Council’s review of said “Retail Market Strategy.” To say that I was underwhelmed would be an understatement.
The report is 90 pages long. 95% of it is data mined from some source which tells us nothing an ordinary person couldn’t fathom all by himself – like on-line shopping is a big problem – and which seems almost disconnected from the recommendations on pages 11-13.
I have to wonder about the source of all this tsunami of numbers and even their validity. One side-by-side pair of graphs was particularly dubious.
Somehow triple net rents in Fullerton spiked, even as vacancies soared. Meanwhile in the broader areas of Orange County, including neighboring towns, vacancies somehow dropped during the worst of the Covid pandemic. And in Fullerton the graph shows, rents stabilized, even dipped in ’21-’22 even though demand apparently skyrocketed. I’m not an economist but this sure looks like pure nonsenso-data to me.
Anyway, the recommendations are just a boilerplate laundry list of ways to spend money, and a lot of it, to hopefully make money. I’m sure Kosmont uses them over and over again in every “study” they perform. Here they are. Enjoy:
What a load of consultant bullshit-jargon leading to the inevitable conclusion that Fullerton needs to hire more people in order to pay for the ones we already have. If we look at these recommendation we see the old Redevelopment lingo writ anew – collaborations, outreach, improvement districts, façade improvements, “thematic” sidewalks, way-finding, public art. Don’t forget enhanced customer service! And of course collecting data (probably through the kindly and expensive offices of Kosmont itself). But is there a single mention of a public accountability program by which the people of Fullerton and their elected representatives can determine if money blown on this nonsense even paid for itself? Nuh-uh.
And of course Kosmont’s “study” diplomatically avoided mentioning Downtown Fullerton’s million dollar budgetary sinkhole, supporting the myth that it is an asset instead of a decades-old liability. Maybe they think thematic sidewalks will clean up the clientele.
The Council’s reaction to this consulto-gibberish was utterly predictable. Ahmad Zahra, who must have peed himself in excitement over Action Item 12 was completely on board and vocally supported the need to increase “staffing levels” to accomplish this laundry list of pabulum. He believes that art tourism, and all of Fullerton’s museums can pave the way to success. His accomplice in stupidity, Shana Charles was all giddy, too, and pointed out the inescapable link between economic development and Fullerton’s “urban forest” whatever that may mean.
Bruce Whitaker mentioned that he was a follower of somebody named Jane Jacobs and supported organic economic development. A wise position, but one completely at odds with his recent approval of the idiotic City-driven apartment/hotel boondoggle that flushed millions and millions right down the municipal commode.
In the end nothing specific was decided and the Council moved on, no one having bothered to find out, presumably because they didn’t care, what this 90 page report cost the taxpayers of Fullerton.
In December, as the Friends will remember, the City of Fullerton sold a public parking lot to a so-called developer for $1,400,000. The “developer” had the task of building a boutique hotel and an apartment block. FFFF has already documented the ridiculous density the City has bestowed upon the project. So let’s revisit the topic of land value, a calculation based on the number of residential units a developer can cram onto a parcel of land.
In this case we know precisely how many units are proposed because the development agreement tells us. There are going to be 141 apartment units and 118 hotel rooms – rooms that will undoubtedly be converted to low income housing when the hotel concept fails. Dividing 259 units by $1.4 million gives us $5400 per “door” as they say in the biz.
Does that number seem low? I didn’t really know, so I contacted some pros at Land Advisors who informed me that a more typical number is in the range of $60,000 to $65,000 per unit in these parts, which produces a land value of about $15.5 million and above.
So the “economic development” geniuses in City Hall got the City Council to agree to a massive reduction in value for the sale of the land, a reduction that could be in the neighborhood of $14,000,000.
Now we all know that government and its agents shield themselves (or try very hard to) from accountability for this type of incredible giveaway. It’s not a crime to be stupid, and so there the issue of legal malfeasance can be fuzzy without proof of corruption. But here there is the issue of misfeasancethat in this case justifiesthe initiation of a recall of the elected representatives who voted for this evident gift of public funds.
And those three representatives are Ahmad Zahra, Shana Charles and Bruce Whitaker.
Now, undoubtedly, these three politicos would argue that they had great reasons for “subsidizing” this boondoggle, and that those excellent reasons are well-worth the $14,000,000 they happily pitched at the developer, an individual, we must remember, who brought this unsolicited proposal to the City. But the City, remember, never did its due diligence by opening up this concept (or any other) for a submission of qualifications by those who might have been interested. No. Not even after several years had gone by and the proposer had been granted several extensions of a Exclusive Negotiating Agreement and the proposal kept metastasizing.
Are a “boutique” hotel at the train tracks and yet another overbearing apartment block so important that they justify the $14,000,000 giveaway? Well, I would challenge Charles, Whitaker and Zahra to prove it to voters in their districts.
I’ve been relating the newest bit of Fullerton nonsense lately, to wit: the unfolding, bureaucrat driven, unfolding the disaster now know by the funny name The Tracks at Fullerton Station.
So far, we’ve found out that the 141 unit density of the apartment half of this hermaphroditic monster was based on the entire site size, despite the fact that that the “boutique” hotel, all 118 units, sits majestically on the other half. In essence, the Transportation Center Specific Plan limit of 60 units an acre – which is already ungodly dense – has been multiplied by two-and-a-half times, and the environmental documents that have already been approved by the City Council neglect to address this incompatibility with existing governmental strictures.
But it gets even worse.
It’s axiomatic that government minions will invariably cough up “solutions” to non-existent problems. It’s called job security, and the results, as these pages have amply demonstrated over the years, are never subjected to the embarrassment of scrutiny and accountability. This concept is not different.
At the recent Planning Commission hearing we learned that the project in question involves the complete remodel of the existing parking area just north of the Santa Fe Depot, south of Santa Fe Avenue. This further elimination of parking is being proposed to accommodate a brand new bust lane and stop. Why? No intelligent reason was forthcoming. Here’s the site plan:
The existing OCTA bus stops and canopies are only a couple hundred feet away. Is this deemed too far for the scant few travelers who use both bus and train? Of course not. Obviously some “transit” dreamers are hard at work, making work – for themselves.
And now notice at the right of the site plan the proposed hotel juts into the existing Pomona Avenue right-of-way. This will require an abandonment of part of a public street which would require an official abandonment. This is being done to provide outdoor eating for the proposed ground floor café. In order to provide an alternative, our thoughtful staff floated the idea of non-permanent elements in the same area, only requiring the issuance of an encroachment permit. Here’s the architect’s vision looking south along Pomona Avenue:
This wet, hot mess was all approved by the five gourds sitting on the Planning Commission dais. Soon it will make its way to the City Council. Will it pass, as the sale of the property did in December? Will the three who voted to virtually give away this useful public land – Whitaker, Charles and Zahra – vote to double down on their foolishness and approve the monstrosity, the unnecessary bus stop and the abandonment?