New Well. Same as Old Wells

A new testing well has recently appeared on Walnut Avenue next to the source of trichloroethylene contamination at 311 South Highland Avenue. Friends may remember that this contamination has been monitored by the Feds and the State agency responsible for tracking such things. Here’s the drill rig crew hard at work installing the well casing.

Of course FFFF has already noted the existence of the contamination of the property and its neighbors in the context of the dismal $2,000,000 Trail to Nowhere, pet project of Ahmad Zahra and his colleagues on the City Council; FFFF also identified ten testing wells on the trail site, plus a couple more in the middle of Truslow Avenue. Apparently testing is now taking place to the north, on Walnut Avenue, too. That’s not very good, is it?

The City of Fullerton claimed and still claims that there is no problem with their trail site and apparently the State Natural Resources Agency, the bureaucracy that doles out grant money, remains incurious as to why no mention of trichloroethylene has ever been made by Fullerton’s environmental consultants in their reporting.

Meantime the City continues its silence about the growing plume that could be moving northward, too.

Of course public employees are indemnified for their activities, no matter how incompetent or based in misfeasance. It’s the public that gets to pick up the check.

Revenue Enhancement

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

It seems like every few years Fullerton City Councils are presented by the bureaucracy with a new “fiscal cliff”: It’s done slowly, tentatively, and then with an ever-increasing tone of persuasion, the argument for “revenue enhancement” unfolds.

Revenue enhancement means taxes or debt – one way or another. And so it is in 2024.

With time running out to put a tax increase on the November ballot, the urgency from “staff” is getting more direct. Time has run out for soft-sell concepts like phony push polls of unwitting citizens. At Tuesday’s council meeting our esteemed City Manager is presenting ideas for raising money.

Well, it might work…but, then again…

TOT Tax. What is a TOT tax? Transient Occupancy Tax is a tax levied on visitors who stay in Fullerton hotels. The staff report tells us that several million can be raised with a slight increase and that hopefully we will remain competitive because we are so close to the Anaheim “Resort.” No on can prove this one way or another, but it seems like becoming comparatively less competitive is a poor way of raising revenue. The positive thing about a TOT increase, says the staff report, is that Fullerton taxpayers won’t be affected (unless, of course the concept turns out to be a money loser).

Sales tax. We have already seen the sales pitch on how a general sales tax only needs 50%+1 to pass. We are told that a “1%” increase (from 7.75 to 8.75) on sales tax is being pursued by cities up and down California, etc, etc. Of course they think we’re too dumb to know that this isn’t a 1% increase, but a 13% increase. As with a TOT increase, it’s hard to see how becoming comparatively less competitive is going to make money. The sales tax issue seems DOA. 4 votes are needed to put this on the ballot and Whitaker and Dunlap aren’t going for that.

POBs. And then we see the concept of Pension Obligation Bonds, in which bond revenues are deposited with CalPERS to buy down the actuarial unfunded liability. The idea is that the interest rate on the bonds is lower than the return CalPERS will give us and the difference is all gravy. This idea was floated back in 2021 by then Interim City Manager, Jeff Collier. FFFF covered the proposal, here. One upside is that this scheme is not constrained by the usual debt ceiling limits placed on local governments by the state. Great. More gambling.

Well, there she goes. Don’t worry. There’s more where that came from…

Mr. Collier was kind enough to visit our humble site to educates us on POBs. Friends immediately pointed out the risks involved with POBs, and the lack of skin in the game Collier and his pals had. And that was three years ago when market interest rates were way lower. The equities market is now going through the roof so the idea looks appealing to our bureaucrats, but not to California pension system observers who note CalPERS ever-declining return assumptions and remember the disaster of 2008. Will the City Council approve this gambit? It’s possible, and a public vote is not required.

Hey, you down there…

These various options involve raising taxes or encumbering property to some extent. That’s risk with a speculated payoff. Ahmad Zahra is bound to support anything risky and foolish so as to protect his friends in City Hall. So is Shana Charles, another liberal torchbearer who will tell us this is for our own good; or for the urban forest; or for boutique hotels, or something else nonsensical. Whitaker won’t go for any of this nonsense. Dunlap? Who knows these days. And then there is Fred Jung who had the opportunity to be the third vote to shut down talk of revenue enhancement last year and didn’t.

Hero. Deserve.

A problem with any tax revenue increase is that the increase, such as it were, will immediately be snatched up by the so-called “public safety” employees, whose unions have the clout to grab what they want and everybody else be damned. That’s exactly what happened in Westminster a few years when the cop union pounded the pavement for a sales tax increase, got it, then gobbled it all up. And Westminster is right back where they were before.

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.

The Militarization of Fullerton’s Cops

No more blood on Fullerton’s streets,” went the chant of a handful of protesters after the vote on last Tuesday’s Council Agenda Item 4. These folks were upset that the item, which was a statutory requirement that the City police department list its “military” hardware, on going running costs, and reaffirming policy to the use thereof, was passed on a 3-0 vote.

But you’re looking good, baby, I believe you’re feeling fine…

The protesters, such as they were. seemed agitated that the cops have these toys to begin with – surplus military equipment, some of it, and other weaponry that were included by the Legislature under the rubric “military.” And that’s okay. Ever since the war on terror began two decades ago, our military-industrial complex has been churning out hardware to attack, assault, disarm, kill, maim anybody that cause or accident put in the way of our military. So a lot of it, used or unused, has become surplus, and was bound to find its way into the hands of American police departments. That’s not okay.

Da! Is good…

Having the equipment – from projectile launchers to high caliber guns and assault rifles – has helped reinforce the notion of our own police as an occupying force, and is about the last mentality you want your cops to have, and leaves citizens feeling like maybe something sinister is at work. I get that.

The apologists for this item were quick to point out that the list of equipment – some of it very expensive to maintain – was for stuff the City already has, and wasn’t a shopping list, as they supposed the public speakers believed. Councilmembers Whitaker, Charles, and Zahra were happy to explain this, and reiterated the pro forma nature of the list and the policy statement. They seemed really averse to discussing the item at all, which is understandable for a politician in Fullerton; you don’t get ahead denying police their armored vehicles and, riot gear, and SWAT paraphernalia.

And so the the second issue that should have been discussed never happened at all.

Do we trust our police department to deploy their military equipment competently?

A few weeks back, as Friends may recall, FPD cops killed an evidently distressed man in front of the McDonald’s on Brookhurst St. by blasting him in the chest with multiple “less lethal” projectiles – a distinction without a difference to the dead man.

Then there was the case of Hector Hernandez who was blown away on his own property defending himself against a police dog let loose by Jonathon Ferrell – who is still on the payroll. That settlement cost $8.5 million.

I could go on and report the FPDs long history of physically abusing the citizenry – people like Veth Mam and Edward Quinonez, but really, why bother? Would you want an AK 47 or an assault vehicle in the hands of Manual Ramos, Jay Cicinelli, or Joe Wolfe? What about Christopher Wren, or Jeff Corbett, or Sonny Siliceo, just to name only a small handful of FPD’s “bad apples?”

And finally, there is this harrowing tale from 2011, when the FPD SWAT gang invaded the wrong damn house!

And just as importantly, who is going guarantee the proper training for this gear? Accountability has never been a strong suit of Fullerton’s governing personnel.

This is all certainly food for cogitation. But Fullerton, being Fullerton, nobody is going to do it, at least not anybody in authority.

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.

An Unhappy Anniversary

And what anniversary might that be, Friends may be asking.

Not gone, but almost forgotten…

This Wednesday, March 27th, marks the one-year anniversary of a deadline date agreed to by the City of Fullerton and one Mario Marovic, a downtown bar owner. Not much of a deadline, huh?

Hey, that’s not yours!

By March 27th, 2023, Mr. Marovic was required to have started demolition of the so-called “bump out,” an illegally constructed room addition built by the Florentine Mob two decades ago on City property. Marovic had gotten rid of the Florentines, finally, but decided that the leasehold on the room addition was somehow ripe for the encroaching. So he began remodel work on the leasehold right along with the rest of the building that he does own.

Busted.

Meet the new proprietor, same as the old proprietor…

But Fullerton being Fullerton, where nothing seems to be done right in City Hall, and where downtown scofflaw saloon owners do whatever the Hell they please, Marovic seems to have decided that the deadline meant, and means, nothing. And why should he believe otherwise? He has seen firsthand how the City bureaucracy and the City Attorney bent all the way over for the Florentines – instead of making them obey the law.

Well, the Earth has made an entire revolution of the Sun.

The City Council may occasionally talk about this in their hush-hush, top secret “Closed Session” meetings, but the public is not to know what is happening, even as our money and property are being frittered away. We do know that Marovic has threatened a claim against the City, but so what? Why would that be cause for the City to ignore Marovic’s breech of contract and seize the public property that Marovic encroached on illegally?

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

The reason could be that our esteemed lawyer, Dick Jones of The I Can’t Believe It’s a Law Firm, believes upholding agreements is not a winning strategy. Of course this third rate pettifogger has won so few cases for us, and has lost so many that we may feel confident questioning his judgment.

Or, it could be that the feckless and spineless City Council has been individually persuaded by Marovic that it’s in their best interest to ignore the deal, and that they should just let Marovic keep raking in the bucks thanks to a Conditional Use Permit that was contingent upon the removal of the room addition.

Council Ponders Parking Puzzle Pilot Program

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Tale of Two Trails

A Friend has alerted us that the on-line version of the Fullerton Observer posted a story by somebody named “Emerson Little” about a little known Fullerton trail called the Lucy Van Der Hoff Trail. The title? “Lucy Van Der Hoff Trail Needs Maintenance.” It seems that almost nobody knows about this .9 mile “asset” even though it is City-owned.

Unfortunately, the “trail” is overgrown, full of trash, and is yet another shining example of neglect by our top-notch Parks Department. Fortunately, the intrepid Emerson took the trail and generously provided images. But let’s let Emerson tell it in his own words: .

“It’s maintained by the Fullerton Parks and Recreation Department and is listed on the city’s website as a connector. However, when I walked on the trail, it was rather overgrown and poorly maintained. In certain spots, there were quite a few lost objects and pieces of garbage, possibly swept down the pathway by rainwater.”

Put on your walking shoes…

So, the City has completely failed at maintaining the Lucy Van Der Hoff Trail – even as a simple mountain bike trail. They seem actually have completely ignored it – a facility that should cost almost nothing to maintain. It’s alleged “connector” value is almost useless.

It’s the thought that counts…

More from Emerson: “I stepped around some discarded plastic bags, bottles, pillows that were torn open, unidentifiable articles of clothing, pieces of broken wood, old soccer nets, and cans, making my way forward.” When the overgrown vegetation became too thick our brave explorer had to ditch the “trail.”

Finally, here’s Emerson wrapping up the tale of his Big Adventure: “So, while my hike was interesting, I really wouldn’t recommend taking the Lucy Van Der Hoff trail.”

And now, Friends, here’s an observation that seems to have escaped the keen notice of the Observers. The advocates of the infamous Trail to Nowhere on the old Union Pacific right-of-way tacitly believe (or pretend to believe) it is going to be maintained – 170 trees, hundreds of shrubs, water lines, irrigation systems, benches, paths, signage, light fixtures – and let’s not forget graffiti removal, etc. – even though there is no budget to do this, and the money can’t be looted from the Park Dwelling Fund which can’t be used for maintenance.

We’ve already seen the maintenance fiasco of UP Trail Phase I – the plant denuded, trash filled, urine soaked predecessor of Phase II that nobody in City Hall has given a rat’s ass about. And Fullerton is also facing a fiscal cliff thanks to years of budgetary mismanagement.

Several months ago FFFF received a comment from former City Manager Chris Meyers, warning about the foolishness of building something that doesn’t have a plan for maintenance cost. But Ward 5 Councilman Ahmad Zahra believes even talking about maintenance issues south of the tracks is “offensive,” the idea being that it’s great to give the “underserved” barrio “something nice,” but who cares what happens to it later. It’s like giving somebody a car when they can’t afford to buy gas, or insurance, or keep it running. Looks like Zahra’s colleagues all agree – even though the very same people can’t figure out how to open Union Pacific Park – another embarrassing disaster.

Preservation Attempt in South Fullerton

I checked out the upcoming Fullerton City Council agenda and noticed an appeal of a Planning Commission decision to approve a new, 185,000 square foot warehouse project at 801 S. Acacia Avenue.

The appeal is being made by Fullerton Heritage who believe that the PC failed to receive enough relevant information about the existing building’s historical significance.

Apparently the structure was designed by noted SoCal architects A. Quincy Jones and Frederick Emmons. It’s front elevation sports a mid-century modern aspect.

The back doesn’t seem very distinguished – metal buildings and canopies. According to FH they used to make sliding doors here including those requested by well-known architects.

Well, good luck to Fullerton Heritage, say I. The City government has almost always turned a blind eye to historic preservation, pretending otherwise, of course. And in the old days “historical” meant old and cutesie – in City Hall it probably still does, and it’s not hard to see staff blow past something like this.

Of course Historic Preservation is generally a more “liberal” idea and in this case the property in question is standing in the way of “economic development” a concept so near and dear to every politician’s self-promotion. It should be fun to observe District 5 Councilman Ahmad Zahra navigate his way between some of his natural constituents and his proclaimed dedication to the hustle of economic development.