The Trail to Nowhere Penalty

Although its advocates keep whacking it like the proverbial dead horse, the near-disaster known as the Trail to Nowhere isn’t happening. We can thank Fullerton City Council members Dunlap, Jung, and Whitaker for pulling the plug on “Phase II” of the so-called Union Pacific Trail back in August. The proposal made no sense: it had few, if any potential users, ran through an area of heavy industry, was and would never be connected to anything else, cost nobody knew how much to maintain, didn’t even line up with its alleged Phase I, and cost $2,000,000 to build (if you can trust a City budget).

Perhaps most importantly, the council majority had previously requested that various trail options be considered in the context of a wider area plan. City staff essentially ignored that request and began a behind the scenes effort to drum up support for the original plan – an act of insubordination, really.

At the time no one told the three councilmembers that there was adjacent property with trichlorethylene contamination in the 300 block of Highland Avenue and plumes had drifted south, even though this information had been in the City’s possession for decades. Fortunately, Messrs. Dunlap, Whitaker and Jung had plenty of other excellent reasons to deny the grant funding for its intended purpose.

Another thing the City Council didn’t know was that if the grant application contained “false representations” – either intentionally, or through lack of reasonable effort – the grant could be rescinded and the State could demand whatever of its money had been spent. Here’s the relevant paragraph in the grant acceptance agreement:

In other words, had contaminated soils been detected on the “trail” the State may well have been inclined to demand whatever had been spent, particularly in light of the fact that the grant application falsely stated that environmental testing had been performed in 1998 and was not an issue.

We know this isn’t true because in the early 2000s the UP Park (after construction) was found to be contaminated, requiring mitigation; there is no way that the “trail” was somehow tested, but not the park site. We also know that very recent PRA requests identifying this specific issue returned no relevant documents.

Of course the State could have revoked the grant on the basis of the fraudulent application alone, had they discovered the misinformation, a municipal embarrassment, to be sure.

Fortunately, for the City employees who manufactured the grant application and snuck it past an incurious City manager, there will be no repercussion, not even a mild “talking to.” And fortunately for the rest of us, the City won’t be saddled with a stupid white elephant of Phase II that would have ended up looking an awful lot like Phase I.

Phase I’s inauspicious beginning. It gets worse.

So everybody should be happy, right?

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 Taxman Cometh. Again.

I’m here to help. Again.

A few years ago during the depths of the COVID pandemic, the Fullerton City Council voted to put a sales tax measure on the ballot. Since things were looking grim and with revenue falling off, the best course of action in City Hall seemed to be to lay it on to taxpayers. It was necessary to protect Fullerton’s quality of life, you see; or, to be more precise, to protect the pay and pensions of City employees, particularly the cops and “fire fighters” who suck up the majority of the municipal budget.

Well, the names have mostly changed, except for Ahmad Zahra, but the playbook remains the same.

At their November 7th meeting the City Council heard a report from a company called FM3 that had been tasked with producing a survey of resident concerns, and, significantly, to poll them about how to raise revenue. And lots of it.

Who actually hired FM3 in the first place is a mystery, but it must have been our illustrious City Manager, Eric Levitt, since no record of the Council approving a contract is found in the City Clerk’s database. So far they have been paid $49,000 – most likely sneaking under their City Manager’s spending authorization.

Before delving into the presentation, it’s important to note that FM3 is a consulting operation deeply involved in promoting government tax and bond efforts, and has been supporting liberal Democrat politicians for decades. One of the clients listed on their website is Carter/Mondale! On their splash page we find the slogan: Synthesizing Public Opinion To Help Achieve Your Goals, which is code for push polling that promotes your client’s goal of raising taxes.

The company conducted its polling of likely voters last spring, The “results” were presented to the Council on the 7th.

The concerns of the citizenry polled emphasized Fullerton’s rotten roads and included a bunch of stuff that the City has no control over and is merely being used as data filler. The options were presented by the pollsters.

Notice the inclusion of budget shortfalls on the list. According to FM3, 45% of those surveyed believe budget shortfalls are a extremely/very serious problem. Really? Then the other shoe begins to drop.

First, it’s curious that somehow data relating to 2019 and 2020 are shared. Where did that data come from? And what happened to 2021 and 2022? This presentation is just nonsense.

The bland term “additional funding” to the initiated means more taxes, but probably not to those polled. Not yet anyway, for the respondents are being artfully massaged by people whose job it is to push and pass tax proposals for their governmental “clients.” The bit about providing “the level of services Fullerton residents need and want” is telling, and so is the language. How does one’s “personal opinion” qualify one to opine on all Fullerton residents? The purpose is to loosen the respondents mind into the miasma of the common good, as defined by the principle beneficiaries – City employees. Then the other shoe hit the ground.

It didn’t take very long for FM3 to roll out a couple of “hypothetical” sales tax raising ballot measures, one a general purpose tax and the other more narrowly directed to infrastructure, although including the ambiguous phrase “to maintain rapid police, fire and 911 response.” The general purpose tax only requires 50%+1 ballot majority; the special purpose tax requires a 67% majority. The latter is an almost impossible threshold to get over.

Then FM3 rolls out some interesting language in their push for a general sales tax. Notice how these alleged concerns of the surveyed mimic the language of the typical “push poll.” FM3 is using language that will elicit super-high positive responses and suggest that others are already on board. The tiny text at the bottom of the slide tells all. But is all this dire language persuasive when it actually comes to voting?

Finally, FM3 sums it up by saying that a general sales tax is winnable. But is it? Somebody said the same thing about the City’s Measure S back in 2020 and it failed.

In the end the Council (Jung, Zahra and Charles) voted to keep the “education” process going, a process that we know is nothing other than political propaganda aimed at persuading a majority of voters and coordinating with a special political action committee set up to scare, cajole, and bamboozle the voters.

As Bruce Whitaker pointed out on the 7th, there is supposed to be a “bright line” that separates government information from government propaganda. But this line only in the abstract law. In practice the line dissolves almost completely.

The Park To Nowhere?

Maybe the less said, the better…

Back in August when they voted against accepting State grant money to build the now infamous “Trail to Nowhere,” Fullerton City Councilmen Jung, Whitaker and Dunlap voted to take down the barrier around the fenced-off Union Pacific Park. I thought that was a pretty good idea for a trial run.

But wait! Was there a tacit decision to redesign and reconstruct a new park? Must have been, although there is no funding to do it. Not yet, anyway, although at the last meeting City Manager Eric Leavitt said he was meeting with the State Natural Resources Agency to see if the “greening” grant money that was supposed to go to the trail could be diverted toward building a new park where the old UP Park is located. The proposed park looks a lot like the old one – without toilets or shade structure to accommodate the borrachos.

Pickleball for the community…

This would be a political victory for Jung, Dunlap, and Whitaker who have been defending themselves with the argument that the grant funds might be repositioned. But this is really irrelevant if spending the money ends in failure. The trouble with reopening the park, if it happens, is that Fullerton, sadly, would likely only be repeating the failure of the past. And an expensive failure it was. A complete waste of several million dollars back in the early 2000s.

When the original UP Park was built it had no community support. It was the brainchild of the Parks Department Director, Susan Hunt, and funded with Redevelopment and Park Dwelling Fee play money. After it was opened it was found to be contaminated; and after the contamination was cleaned up, the park was soon closed. It seems that it had become infested with drug addicts, homeless, and gang members. And there it has languished for the better part of twenty years.

Children at play…

So what has changed to make this a workable idea now? There are more homeless than ever and Fullerton Tokers Town hasn’t gone anywhere, either. Will anybody be responsible when this new facility follows the trajectory of the old one? Nobody was ever held accountable for the failure of UP Park #1, so that seems pretty unlikely.

This scheme has been drawn up and is going to the Parks Commission tomorrow night, to be rubber stamped and passed to the City Council for their November 21 agenda. There seems to be a big rush to get this going, and I certainly hope someone on the City Council raises the same pertinent questions that they raised when they axed the Trail to Nowhere. Here are some ideas:

  1. How much is it going to cost to maintain?
  2. Why has there been little to no maintenance of the adjacent “Phase I” of the trail?
  3. Who will be responsible for the success/failure of the reopening plan?
  4. Who, exactly, do they think will be using this facility?
  5. How will the UP Park be any different this time around?
  6. What will the neighbors on Truslow Avenue think about reopening the park?
It doesn’t matter how it turns out. It’s the gesture that counts.

It will also be fun to see how the Zahra Parade will react, especially if the trail money is used. All the same silly arguments and generalities used to support the trail could be used to defend the UP Park reopening: trees, green grass, fresh, air, playground for the ninos, etc. And ironically, just a couple years ago Zahra tried to privatize the park into an events center, proving that he is not the least bit interested in the healthy community script he has bamboozled his followers into reading.

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.

Mario’s “Bump Out” Heist Subject of Litigation?

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?

Sit down and grab some sidewalk, fratello…

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.

Meet the new proprietor, same as the old proprietor…

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.

Still crazy after all these years…

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.

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.

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

Misuse of the City Seal

A Friend directed me to a item in the Fullerton Observer about how Mayor Fred Jung had misused the official City seal on business cards.

UPDATE: 6:45PM 10/31/23. To protect them from getting nasty calls from any mean spirited person out there, the phone numbers of these honest men who are trying to help Fullerton’s economic growth have been redacted. The cards were originally published in The Fullerton Observer. I’m curious where the Observer got the cards from to begin with., something tells me it was devious. Two wrongs don’t make a right. Hope The Observer follows suit, but don’t hold your breath. Admin.

There’s nothing odd or wrong about members of City commissions using official insignia and I bet it happens all the time. What is strange is the creation of non-existent jobs advertised on two of the cards we’re looking at here. There is no official thing as a Mayor’s Art Counsel (sic?) or a Mayor’s Economic Advisor. These endeavors would be purely unofficial and creating business cards for them is wrong. And there is no reason to include a résumé on the backside of anybody’s City-related card.

Look at us, look at us!

One of the reasons I’m posting this is because a few days ago FFFF published a blog post about the self-congratulatory and unsolicited statement sent out by Councilmembers Ahmad Zahra and Shana Charles about the situation in Gaza on City letterhead that includes the City seal, and that was published in the Fullerton Observer without objection. In the comments section one of our Friends questioned the dubious use of the City seal.

The self-righteous Kennedy clan that operates the Fullerton Observer is too dense to recognize their own hypocrisy here, but I’m not.

The misuse of the seal is happening, and it needs to be stopped, regardless of who is doing it.

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.