What’s Wrong With This Picture?

Downtown Fullerton saw a ribbon cutting this week for “Madero.” It’s not a new place. It used to called “Matador” but an El Matador already existed in Costa Mesa and the story goes that Mario Marovic, proprietor of the Fullerton place, got sued and had to change the name of his establishment. So an event was held and here’s the scene:

All smiles…

The guy with the green hat is Mario Marovic. That name sure rings a bell.

Right. He’s the scofflaw who got caught squatting on the City’s property on Commonwealth Avenue – the legacy of the Tony Florentine sidewalk theft. When that came out Marovic made a deal with the City to remove the egregious “bump-out” and to be complete by July 2023. Oops. Nothing has even started, 14 months after the start of work deadline. And we know that the City Council has been presented with some sort of legal claim by Marovic, because it was on their Closed Session agenda.

And who is the little guy on the left standing next to Marovic? Why it is none other than the District 5 Councilman Ahmad Zahra, dressed in his usual ribbon-cutting attire, palling around with Marovic and even giving him some sort of City proclamation!

Will not work for new clothes…

Now, we all know that little Ahmad is a notorious attention hound and desperate photo-op seeker. We also know that a City Council agreement isn’t worth the paper it’s written on. But this is really too much. Marovic is still squatting on public property and it looks like no one in City Hall has the balls to enforce an agreement signed by Marovic himself. Instead the City seems to be actively socializing with him.

The Opportunity Site

A few days back I shared a couple of upcoming agenda items that the City Manager had forecast for the May 21st Fullerton City Council meeting.

I observed the reference to a development agreement with some entity called “Frontier” and also to an item simply called “Fox Block.” The two are related, but oddly, not listed together. Fullerton being Fullerton.

What I didn’t notice at the time was another item called “Chapman Parking Lease” another non-descriptive term, possibly not meant to attract attention.

A helpful Friend point out my oversight and got me thinking. Chapman parking? What the Hell is that? Then the other shoe dropped. There is a city-owned parking structure on the south side of Chapman Avenue, between Lemon and Pomona. It was built by the Fullerton Redevelopment Agency back in the ’90s the heyday of Fullerton Redevelopment, when they had so much money they could build parking structures that nobody even needed. Could this be what the cryptic agenda item referred to? Supposedly the facility was meant to help out Fullerton JC and maybe this is the entity with whom a lease was worked out.

The Junior College District has now built parking structures of its own, using our property tax increases to do it. Maybe the Chapman structure is now superfluous.

Could be. Check this out:

This satellite image has been used to accompany information/propaganda relating to the development known as the “Fox Block.” And the violet shape over in the lower left side of the image is the parking structure.

Hmm. Can this possibly be the site of yet another butt-ugly, monstrously overbuilt, under-parked housing project? Why not? It would be the only part of a Fox Block fiasco that could be worth anything to anybody. And since the City can no longer hand over piles of cash to “developers,” they can certainly hand over free land, enriched by the necessary zone changes.

I’m sure it’s all a big secret now. But in a couple days the May 21st agenda will be posted and maybe we can find out what “Frontier,” whatever that is, might be getting gratis from the people of Fullerton.

Coming to a Theater Near You

On this week’s Fullerton City Council agenda I caught a glimpse of the upcoming May 21st agenda forecast:

AGENDA FORECAST (Tentative)
Tuesday, May 21, 2024

  • APRIL 2024 CHECK REGISTER
  • MONTHLY COMMITTEE ACTIVITY AND ATTENDANCE REPORT
  • DISPOSITION AND DEVELOPMENT AMENDMENT FRONTIER
  • COSTA COURT AREA STREET REHABILITATION PROJECT
  • ALL CITY MANAGEMENT SERVICES CONTRACT
  • SENATE BILL 1383 COMPLIANCE ACTION PLAN FOR SERVICES AND PROGRAMS
  • CHAPMAN PARKING LEASE
  • FOX BLOCK
  • REVENUE OPTIONS

Not all that interesting until you get to the bottom.

Yeah, it was ugly as sin, but there sure was a lot of it…

The Fox Block, a never ending saga and a classic example of a tail wagging a dog. For years the “rehabilitation” of the historic Fox Theater structure has been used to support all sorts of God-awful lunacy, including residential land acquisition and demolition, new grotesque clown architecture, and the six million dollar relocation of the McDonalds restaurant a couple hundred feet to the east. The “Fox Block,” as the boondoggle came to be known, is a living fossil of the bad old Redevelopment days, when any nonsense could be got away with by City staff playing with Monopoly money. Damn accountability. It’s the Fox Block!

Why this is on the agenda is as yet unknow, but I noticed that one of our Friends “Fullerton Historian” suggested it may have to do with extending a development agreement or some other similar concept. Then I saw the third bullet point above: Disposition and Development Amendment with Frontier. “Frontier?” That’s all? What is this? Frontier Real Estate is our “partner” on the Fox Block, meaning we’re probably taking the risk and they’re goon get any reward – if there is any.

M. Eric Levitt. Will he save us from ourselves?

And finally we see an item simply called “Revenue Option” an oatmealy sort of phrase, but one that FFFF has already discussed. At this meeting the City Manager, Eric Levitt, will try (without too much unseemly enthusiasm) to tie dangling threads heretofore described here: a push poll created to drum up support for enhanced public services; a review of the likelihood that general sales tax might pass at 50%; and a precipitous budgetary cliff looming ahead.

See where this is going? Let’s see who stands up and demands that for our own good we must have a tax increase.

Zahra’s Past Catching up Quick

Go west young man. Try Arkansas.

The other day FFFF related a story told on the Orange Juice Blog about Fullerton City Councilman Ahmad Zahra having been married to a woman in Arkansas in the late 1990s. It’s always been a blank time in Zahra’s otherwise detailed autobiographies.

The problem is that Zahra has been very clear about being a gay man and “always” knowing it. The unambiguous statements asserting his self-awareness are published in interviews. So how and why did he come to marry a woman?

From beautiful Pulaski County

According to the OJB story, Zahra tells of his arriving in the United States (no mention of what sort of visa he held); and, not knowing a blessed soul, heading to Little Rock, Arkansas where he claims a friend of his father lived. There, says Zahra, he met a woman whom he says he “liked” and who liked him in return. This tepid romance led to a marriage, dissolved a few years later after Zahra had made his way to Los Angeles to learn the movie trade.

The story is so outlandish that it stretches credulity far past the snapping point. The OJB forewent an opportunity to delve farther into the strange tale, but the obvious difficulties emerge with startling clarity.

An immigrant to the United States of America shows up for some reason, not knowing anybody. Is he a tourist? Maybe. But if so he decides to go to Arkansas, of all places – not exactly a well-know tourist destination. Well, there he is in Little Rock. Where does he live? How does he get by? He can’t get a job, at least not legally, so he must have a little something stored up for a rainy day Stateside.

Michelle Salmon

Enter Michelle Salmon, stage right. Somehow our eager young visitor crosses paths with Ms. Salmon. How and where they meet is at the heart of this mystery and is open to some interesting conjecture. Inexplicably the relationship leads to matrimony at the Pulaski County Courthouse where a marriage license is obtained.

Michelle has hooked herself quite a prize catch: a 27 year-old foreigner with no job (legal anyway), no job prospects, and, according to Zahra himself, completely aware of his homosexuality. On the surface he seems like pretty poor husband material for an Arkansas gal, so we have to wonder if poor Michelle was either mentally challenged or perhaps in need of financial assistance.

Zahra makes no mention of his visa status in his story to the OJB, but we have to assume that he received either a work visa or permanent residency status because not long after his connubial union he goes to LA, bravely living in a car on the streets of Hollywood (so he says). His visa would have been helped along by a marriage certificate to a citizen and it’s safe to say he got one that permitted him to stay in the US.

Well, says Zahra cavalierly, the marriage thing didn’t “work out,” what with the husband living in a car in Southern California, and with Michelle deciding to remain in Arkansas “with her family.” Divorce ensued and Ahmad’s new life journey had begun. He became a citizen in the course of time, a fact he shares as if this simple fact absolves him of any impropriety in the acquisition thereof.

Here’s what happened…

Naturally, Zahra tried to paint this ludicrous picture to the OJB as his “coming out” portrait, and invited homophobic and Islamophobic FFFF to “make fun” of the narrative. The old dodge. Homophobia. Islamophobia. Be a victim.

I’m not the least bit interested in making fun of anything relating to Zahra’s gay coming out story – whichever variation he is selling at any given time; except when the story is cooked up to obfuscate what looks like a serious and likely problematic question. To wit: did Ahmad Zahra commit Marriage Fraud to expedite the legal requirements for him to stay in this country?

Zahra Was Married in Arkansas. To a Woman.

Our friends at the Orange Juice Blog published a story yesterday about Fullerton City Councilman Ahmad Zahra having been married in Arkansas, of all places, in the late 90s. And to an American woman named Michelle Salmon.

FFFF was sent of a copy of the marriage license.

Now this would normally not be of interest to anybody, except that Mr. Zahra has branded himself as the first gay Muslim, etc., etc. – brave hero, in fact. However, his self-propagated biography, such as it is, has never discussed a sojourn in the state of Arkansas, let alone having a wife there.

Michelle Salmon

How a Syrian immigrant ended up in Arkansas, married, sounds like an interesting tale in itself.

According to an interview with Zahra, the OJB reports his version of how he ended up in hillbilly country:

Adrift on a foreign shore. What to do?

I got to this country and I didn’t know anybody, but my father had a friend in Little Rock, so that’s where I went first. I met Michelle, and we liked each other and thought we could work things out, but it didn’t work out. She was even going to go to LA with me but she decided to stay with her family.”

Wow, that’s pretty damn thin. Personally, I “like” all sorts of folks without feeling the least bit inclined to get married. Not surprising “it didn’t work out.”

Zahra’s would-be explanation falls flat given his previous statements. Like these:

Zahra, 52, did not have one specific moment when he came out as gay. He always knew he was, but it would be decades until his family would know.

In fact, when Zahra did finally come out to his friend, he was not entirely surprised, saying, “That explains a lot.” Zahra had never dated girls.

So why does a gay, Muslim immigrant marry an American woman in Arkansas? That’s a good question. Was Zahra giving the hetero deal one last swing at the plate? No need for marriage to do that, especially in Arkansas.

The Orange Juice suggests another reason:

Okay, well, the suspicion arises that this was a marriage to get citizenship, which is illegal under the Immigration Marriage Fraud Amendments Act of 1986. But Ahmad tells us he didn’t become a citizen until long after their 2001 divorce, in 2008.

Um, we always know that when somebody provides irrelevant information, he’s likely avoiding something. In this case the year of Zahra’s actual citizenship (even if true) isn’t the issue. The issue is whether he tried to accelerate permanent residence status by virtue of a phony marriage. And as OJB observes, that is illegal.

The fact is that nobody cares about Zahra’s sexual orientation, or his “heroic” coming out narrative, real or otherwise. What I (and others, no doubt) care about is his pattern of untruths including his tale that he was “exonerated” by the District Attorney in a case of battery; his phony accusation of assault against Fullerton council colleague Fred Jung; his disappearance from a council meeting for a photo-op, etc. And naturally, if an immigrant’s first official act in America is to break the law, then the public deserves to her about it.

Surprise: High School District Wants More of Your Money

Just in case you thought the City of Fullerton was the only government agency that wants to put their hand in your pocket, you can think again. Back on April 9th the Fullerton Joint Union High School District held another one of those ridiculous “workshops” where the only work going on is push polling designed to get the school board to put yet another school bond on the ballot.

This item was agendized under the harmless sounding title of Facilities Master Plan Update.

This was none other than an opportunity for the school district’s army of six-figure educrats to sing the blues about how they need hundreds upon hundreds of millions of new property taxes to bring the wonders of technology to the districts underserved teenagers.

Just as the City did, the high school district employed the kindly offices of a consultant, True North, to do a poll. And guess what? The consultant (who specializes in managing technology upgrade projects) informed the Board that indeed, yes, their survey of 695 individuals indicated support for a bond, perhaps not realizing that district property owners are still in the process of paying off two previous facilities bonds and will be doing so for another twenty years.

Well, there it is. As with Fullerton, the District will need to adopt a resolution pretty quickly to get this bond on the November 2024 ballot. These things usually are timed with annual budgets although assuming a victory at the polls remains iffy, indeed.

In March of 2020 the FJUHSD’s Measure K – a deceitful operation from A to Z – went down to defeat. So did the Fullerton Elementary School District bond attempt, Measure J, on the same day. Will the FSD try another bond double-header like they did last time?

Stay tuned Friends and let’s see what happens in June. And like last time we’ll be reporting on the Bond Sales Industrial Complex to see who’s funding such an attempt.

It’s Coming For You…

The other day the Fullerton Harpoon posted a brief synopsis of Fullerton’s Fiscal Year 24-25 budget, suggesting that the “workshop” to present Fullerton’s dire economic situation was just another step in the process of trying to get the City Council to put a sales tax increase on the November ballot.

Of course Mr. Harpoon is right about this. Not only have we seen this play before, we noticed that the process of collecting manipulated information started last year. Of course it’s still ongoing. But the pro-taxers in City Hall are running out of time for 2024 since some acceptance of tax inevitability will have to be discussed during the budget formalization in June.

After that there’s only about a month until the 2024 ballot cutoff.

To be sure, the tax increase doesn’t have to be on the ballot in the fall. And the reality is that there may not even be the votes to do it. This makes the 2024 District 4 election more important.

She wants what you have.

District 4 candidate and former City parking ticket hander outer, Vivian “Kitty” Jaramillo would no doubt be only too happy to apply a regressive sales tax on her “underserved” constituents, just like Ahmad Zahra was in 2020. If the votes are there a special election in 2025 might be tried.

In any case, our tax dollars would undoubtedly be used to propagandize us about how our quality of life is determined by how many happy public employees we have bumping into each other in City Hall. Even worse we would be scolded about our lack of civic responsibility, etc. etc.

It will never occur to the would-be taxers that a lot of folks in Fullerton don’t feel like having taxes raised as a response to years and years of fiscal imprudence on the part of liberal councilmembers and incompetent city managers.

Our message to our would be overlords in City Hall, the “heart of the City” as Jan Flory called them, is clear.

The Fiscal Cliff

The Fullerton City Council is holding a special meeting tonight – a 2024-25 Budget “workshop.” No work will get done but there will be shopping going on as staff begins its formal press to raise a sales tax.

There is a lot of self-serving verbiage about how well our City staff has performed its tasks up ’til now, but then the hard reality hits because budget numbers can’t pat themselves on the back.

There are some harrowing numbers in the proposed budget – including a $9,400,000 draw-down from strategic reserves. This means of course, that the budget is no where near balanced as City Hall apologists like Jennifer Fitzgerald and Jan Flory claimed when they ran the place into the red almost every year.

M. Eric Levitt. Will he save us from ourselves?

Let’s let our City Manager, Eric Levitt tell the tale:

Financial Stability. The City has been able to over the last two years (for the first time in recent history of the City) to reach and maintain a 17% contingency reserve level. This budget maintains that reserve level; however due to an operating deficit, we will be utilizing one-time excess reserves this year and coming close to that 17% level in FY 2024-25 and below that in years beyond next year

Read. Weep.

The overall picture gets even worse as the levels of reserves slowly dwindle away. After this year Fullerton continues to be upside from $7.5 to $8.8 million each year until the end of the dismal decade. We are not favored with the running reserve funds balances.

Infrastructure is supposedly a big deal. Which reminds me of a quotation attributed to Mark Twain: Everybody talks about the weather but nobody does anything about it. But this year we are told, we can push get going on our deteriorating infrastructure along by borrowing! Once again let’s heed the words of Mr. Levitt:

I have also put together a strategy to increase that funding level to closer to $14 million over the next four years through the use of financing. However, there are both upsides and downsides to this approach which will be discussed with you in more detail at today’s presentation.

Now this should be a red flag: borrowing to perform maintenance, a basic accounting no-no. And what form will the borrowing take? Not a municipal bond, you can be sure, It would likely be by selling certificates of participation or some other dodge to avoid municipal debt restrictions. Here’s the table that shows our Maintenance of Effort (MOE) shortfall without financing.

Now we all know that interest payments are made by somebody, somewhere, and that somebody is you and me. We get to pay the interest on debt incurred by years of municipal mismanagement by people like Joe Felz and Ken Domer and Jeff Collier who get to sail off to a glorious and massively pensioned retirement at 55 years of age.

And finally, to circle back to the story lead, here’s a distasteful nugget carefully slipped into the City Manager’s report:

“Staff recommends City Council review options over the next year to stabilize the budget and ensure the City remains financially sound.

Jesus H. There it is. Not quite explicitly stated, but we know very well where this is going. Another general sales tax effort, just like the ill-fated Measure S of four years ago. The seeds for this have already been planted, of course, in a nasty little taxpayer-funded fishing expedition in the guise of a community survey. Last November I regaled the Friends with this slimy maneuver, here.

How did things get so bad?

By the way, this is exactly the same process City Hall rolled out four years ago. And we will be told By Ahmad Zahra, Shana Charles and Vivian Jaramillo that if we don’t pony up we will be morally deficient.

Well, good luck Friends. This is going to be a long year and you can bet the farm that we will be asked to pick up the check – again.

Kitty Throws Hello Party For Self

A couple weeks ago FFFF posted about Fullerton’s 4th District Council election this fall. Incumbent Bruce Whitaker will be incumbent no longer – finally termed out. One of the subjects was the candidacy of Ms. Vivian “Kitty” Jaramillo, a former City employee, former council candidate, and most recently an annoying presence at City Council meetings.

Well, it turns out the wheels of another Jaramillo candidacy were indeed in motion. Here’s an invite to her coming out party. Oops. Somebody doesn’t use spellcheck.

“Appetisers” for all…booze is extra.

Josh Newman and Sharon Quirk-Silva are taking time out of their busy schedules messing up California to be there, so Ms. Kitty must have the backing of the OC Democrat operation, although this time there will be no fake candidates created to protect an incumbent.

So the first battle line is drawn: do we want another former public employee on the Fullerton City Council? Do we want one who will certainly be willing to raise our taxes to support her pension? Do we want Ahmad Zahra to have a third vote to promote stupid vanity projects that will promote his “brand?”

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.