Sometimes it’s hard to tell if government bureaucracies do the things they do because of incompetence, venality, or favoritism. In the never-ending story of Fullerton’s noise regulation all three seem to be uniquely intertwined.
What is inescapable is that the City of Fullerton has striven mightily to separate the issue of nuisance noise emanating from downtown outdoor areas from both enforcement and illegality.
In 2011 the ridiculous Transportation Center Specific Plan finally made it legal to propagate amplified outdoor music, thus making Jeremey Popoff’s Slidebar appear honest, although he still didn’t have a legal Conditional Use Permit. But the new regulations for noise had no more effect than Popoff’s missing CUP because the City – cops and code enforcement – refused to enforce the regulations.
What to do? Hmm. What about throwing the issue into a miasma of bureaucratic paper shuffling so that nobody would notice what you were doing, and downtown scofflaws could actually be absolved, de jure as well as de facto?
In August, 2014 the City tried this pitch with the idea that the Noise ordinance would be updated along with great swaths of the existing land use law to make thing, you know, easier to figure out. But downtown noise played a prominent part in the discussion, if not really in the staff report. The council approved noise studies as a mechanism, a cynic might say, to avoid cracking down on Popoff, Jack Franklin’s Roscoe’s, and their ilk, because that is exactly what happened.
2015 rolled around and the Community Development “professionals,” led by newly minted Director Karen Haluza, were again yakking it up about revising the Code. Well, these things take time, you know, and in the late summer of 2016 the City Council finally got around to passing Ordinance 3232, a revised Code, still, with intent of instilling commonsense and clarity. The definition of amplified music was scratched out pending future action.
But whatever the motivation, the ever-shifting sands of sound gave the bureaucrats, aided and abetted by the perpetual dishonesty of City Attorney Dick Jones, the pretext they needed to bat away complaints about the illegal noise – because the issues was under study and consideration!
The vicious circle took yet another revolution in June of 2018 when the Council was persuaded by yet another new planning director, Ted White, to pass a Resolution of Intent to once again revise the land use codes in the interests of commonsense and clarity. Of course the Noise Ordinance and downtown noise was actually a key driver in this conversation, too. Mr. White took it upon himself to introduce a new downtown noise map where any outdoor sound would be permitted; but, the standards – 70 decibels outside and 65 decibels inside – were not to be applied to the source, but to the sensitive receptor, and the burden of proof was clearly laid at the feet of the victim, not the perpetrator of the nuisance. The bureaucracy seemed oblivious to the Armageddon of Noise they were trying to create or the sensibilities of residents adjacent to the riot zone.
The Planning Commission was finally scheduled to review the latest iteration of musical chairs in November, 2018; but the discussion was mysteriously continued for three months until February, 2019 by which time two opponents of amplified music, Nick Dunlap and Ryan Cantor had been removed from the Commission. A coincidence? Who knows? Stay tuned…
Okay. What have we learned so far about Fullerton’s long and corrupt attempt to avoid addressing the problem of amplified outdoor music?
First we have learned that Fullerton’s “experts” in the Planning and Code Enforcement divisions have been serially uninterested in enforcing their own laws in an effort to appease and placate scofflaw bars in the financial sinkhole known as downtown Fullerton.
Second we have learned that you can’t make government bureaucrats do their jobs if they don’t want to do them.
Way back in 2009 City Hall knew it had a problem on its hands as the metastasizing and illegal clubs began sharing their good times with everybody else. A “consultant” called Bon Terra was engaged to to a noise study and the City Council, at the time, voted to maintain the existing code that prohibited outdoor music.
But saying something and doing something about it reflects a mammoth void in Fullerton, and the bureaucrats in City Hall don’t give up on an issue until one way or another, they get what they want.
And in 2012 they got a friend, Jennifer Fitzgerald, who was more than happy to run interference for people who had no qualms about violating the noise and land-use law.
And so, over the next seven years, the Noise Nuisance continued, most notably at The Slidebar, a club that was illegally operating without a CUP. And even as the nuisance continued, the City embarked on a campaign to eliminate any restrictions at all. Complaints were invariably batted away by Planning Directors Karen Haluza, Ted White, and Matt Foulkes who, along with our egregious City Attorney, Dick Jones kept citing studies and new plans, and whatever else they could use as a pretext for doing nothing.
Finally by 2019, it became apparent that the goal was to permit an acoustic free-for-all in downtown Fullerton.
In the past 10 years or so, Fullerton has had four different planning directors: Al Zelinka, Karen Haluza, Ted White, and most recently an individual named Matt Foulkes. Pop quiz: what else do these folks have in common?
Time’s up. Answer: none of them enforced the city’s noise ordinances, and each seemed to be dedicated to ignoring zoning and land use regulations in downtown Fullerton. We’ll get to the “why” of it in a later post. For now I want to point out the trajectory of this mess. As scofflaws like Jeremy Popoff’s odious Slidebar and the Florentine Mob’s various enterprises refused to comply with our laws, the Planning Directors noted above began an ongoing project to lower and lower the legal bar until even the lowest nematode could wriggle over it.
Now if we contemplate this downward spiral of our “experts” in the Planning Department and Code Enforcement we notice that it hit a virtual rock bottom in January 2019 when Matt Foulkes pretended that he didn’t know what a property owner was and approved the submission of an official document forged by Joe Florentine pretending that he, Florentine, was an “owner.”
Of course all of this malfeasance was amply documented here on the FFFF blog. And guess what? Nobody in City Hall cared; or to be more precise, nobody cares, still. See, in Fullerton incompetency and blatant corruption are so common on the part of our City Attorney, Dick Jones and the cadre of drunk, venal and just plain dumb City Managers and staff that our threshold for outrage is as low is almost worn away.
But not quite. Stay tuned for noise. And by noise I mean the noise generated by city staff to ignore, dilute, obfuscate and dodge the Noise Ordinances.
Of course everybody is now familiar with how, in 2003, the Florentine Mob successfully put a permanent building on an area that only had an “outside dining” encroachment agreement. The details of the case reveal an incompetence and misfeasance on the part of city staff that is truly mind-numbing, the principle party being F. Paul Dudley, Planning Director, who “approved” the illegal permanent structure as it was being built in June, 2003. He also seems to have personally approved a loan to the Florentine crew, and rental terms on the space that weren’t approved by the City Council.
Of course it wouldn’t be Fullerton unless our legal-eagle Dick Jones also played a part in the fiasco, and in the inevitable cover-up. He actually put his signature on a completely different agreement in August, 2003 – two months after Dudley did his sleazy back-room deal. How’s that for staggering incompetence?
Note that “for some reason” the agreement was not formally executed until August. For some reason? Jesus H., Jones, did you even bother to ask why you signed something that was obsolete, or why in Hell you were signing it?
So the embarrassing enclosure was allowed to continue in July, 2003 even though the furor continued for months, and the deal was finally buried in 2004 whereby the parties involved, Shawn Nelson, Don Bankhead, Dick Jones, Mike Clesceri and Leland Wilson surely hoped it was forever interred.
Well, now it’s 2020. The legal party responsible to remove and restore the encroachment area has fled the scene, and the embarrassment of the Florentine addition that squats on public property, remains.
The owner of the rest of the building, Mr. Mario Marivic is apparently embroiled in a legal fight with the FloMob, and good luck to him. But good luck to us, too. Because we, the citizens of Fullerton, have an unowned room addition on our right-of-way, and the people on the hook for its possible removal are gone. Mr. Marovic is under no obligation to remove the structure, and he is not even under any obligation to pay the measly 25 cents per foot that the egregious F. Paul Dudley “negotiated” with the Florentines. The City’s options are limited: it can terminate the encroachment and pay to remove the building addition itself, or it can negotiate a new lease agreement with Marovic, and the sidewalk stays as is. Either way, the public loses.
So this Ghost of Incompetence Past continues to haunt us almost 20 years after the con was consummated. Mr. Dudley has been six-figure pensioned, and the inept councilmen who were indifferent to the notion of government accountability are dead or moved on. But Attorney Dick Jones is still around, profiting off of the gullibility, incompetence and militant ignorance of our “leaders.”
It’s taken well over thirty years, but apparently the Family of Tony Florentine is calling quits in downtown Fullerton. Normally, such an occasion would be cause for gratitude, reflection, fond memories, etc., etc., ect.
But not in this case.
The reason nobody is indulging in kind reminiscence is simple. Over the years the family has been in on, and accused of some very shady stuff. Forget about shitty food and consider the following fun events, documented right here on the pages of FFFF, even if ignored by City staff, the Fullerton Police Department and the Fullerton Fire Department.
It’s hard to say what other misdeeds and actual crimes have been committed by the Florentines, over the years. Stories abound. But what we know gives us plenty of reason not to consider their departure with any sort of remorse.
And the very continuation of the bad behavior gives us plenty of reason to ruminate on the political climate that permitted the ongoing flagrance and fraud. Decision makers in City Hall have been running interference for, enabling, and diligently looking the other way through this little reign of terror. Does anybody care? The old City Councils never did. Will the new one?
Word has seeped out from the once hermetically sealed walls of City Hall that we may not have Richard “Dick” Jones, Esq. to kick around much longer. It would seem, if the rumors are true, that Good Ol’ Dick has had enough of screwing the taxpayers of Fullerton with his pettifogging, self-serving legal advice and is “retiring” with all of his ill-gotten spoils.
Well, possibly not all his spoils, because he must believe his “I Can’t Believe Its A Law Firm” will have some residual value after Mudslide oozes off.
Now I don’t know about you, Friends, but a collection of lawyers that includes Kimberly Barlow and Gregory Roosevelt Palmer doesn’t seem like it could be worth very much to me; but Jones is supposedly pitching the continued services of his collection of miscreants, so he must plan on keeping his name on the letterhead and probably receiving revenue thereby.
Will our city councilcreatures keep this gang on retainer? After the abysmal performance of Jones in the pas it’s hard to imagine anybody wanting them around, at all. Of course this is the same gaggle that has kept Jones, et al., on the clock for over twenty years – and that’s a lot of bungling and cover-ups.
If someone takes the time to review the history of Fullerton over the past forty years, one thing becomes shockingly clear: when it comes to building things, maintaining things and planning for things, the City government just can’t do much of anything right. And yet over this long history, the City and the public seem to have the shortest of memories.
For the denizens of City Hall, the fact that the jalopy has no rear view mirror makes perfect sense. After all, if you’re pulling down well over a hundred Gs, with a trampoline retirement coming your way, why spoil things with strange notions like accountability and responsibility? It’s so much easier to pretend nothing bad has happened.
The people who live here on the other hand, have no such incentive; quite the reverse, in fact. So how come constant repetition of the disastrous lessons from the past are tolerated? Is it easier to just ignore the millions upon millions wasted in foolish vanity projects, make-work comedies, and deteriorating infrastructure? Maybe.
But I hope that by continuing the drumbeat started on this brave blog 11 years ago, sooner or later the populace will wake up to the ineptitude and dissimulation by its highly paid, and so far untouchable masters of disaster.
And so join me Friends as I take you on trip down memory lane, Fullerton style.
Today almost nobody remembers the comical City endeavor to transform Harbor Boulevard in the early 80s by removing on-street parking, adding medians, spike-laden, pod-dropping floss silk trees, and bizarre concrete peristyles along the sidewalks. Comical, did I say? It would have been funny except that it doomed the businesses along Harbor to slow entropy. The ridiculous peristyles were soon removed but the rest of the mess lasted for decades and many of the hideous trees and broken sidewalks are still there as a reminder that the City is perfectly willing to waste millions on hare-brained, concept-of-the-day tomfoolery that gives them something to do.
The Allen Hotel, was Fullerton’s first foray into “affordable” housing back in the late 80s. It was a slum, alright and thirty years after the City’s bungling acquisition, the site is just begging for more “redevelopment.” Will it get it?
The CSUF Stadium & Fundraising Fiasco of 1990 ought to give plenty of pause to those contemplating Big Projects with public money. The brainchild of slimy City Councilman and later slimy State Senator, Dick Ackerman, the idea was to build a permanent home for the CSUF football team. Only trouble was that the $15,000,000 stadium was completed the same year the plug was pulled on a dismal gridiron program. In typical fashion, the City invested in a fundraising plan in which a company was hired at a cost of several hundred thou to raise money, and didn’t. Oops!
The horror story “Knowlwood Corner” is a veritable textbook case of government bureaucratic misfeasance, from start to finish. The story started in the early 90s and dragged on for years and years; when the signature building was finally built, the missing second floor became a perfect symbol for this misadventure. From stupid economic micromanagement to horrible architecture, this one touched all the bases – and it took seven years to do so.
The Bank of Italy Building was another disaster from the early 90s, but one that actually gutted an historic building. Millions in public money were wasted to pay for something that never should have been undertaken in the first place.
The North Platform remodel of 1992-93 proved that no matter how bungled things were in Fullerton, it could always get worse. A landscape architect was hired to place as many impediments between passengers and trains as was humanly possible. Some of the citizens got wise, and half the crap was ripped out. Heads rolled in City Hall. Oh, wait, no they didn’t.
Few folks now remember the Fairway Toyota dealership expansion fiasco from the mid-90s that required threatening an old lady with eminent domain and then closing off Elm Avenue forever. The City’s investment disappeared like an early summer morning’s dew when the dealership took off for Anaheim a few years later. After years of housing a used car dealership, the City permitted the development of another massive cliff dwelling along Harbor Boulevard. The losses were never accounted for but at least the neighbors got a nice view and early shade.
Fullerton’s Corporate Yard expansion was a mid-nineties project that left the City gasping for air. Despite hiring an outside construction manager and paying him a couple hundred grand, the project dissolved into a litigation mess that only escaped public embarrassment because nobody on the City Council gave a damn. Settlement details vanished into the haze.
The so-called Poison Park on Truslow Avenue may set the standard for Fullerton incompetence, although admittedly, the competition is fierce. In the late 90s, the City had Redevelopment money to burn and just couldn’t wait to do so. So they bought a piece of industrial property and built a park that nobody outside City Hall wanted. Cost? $3,000,000. Of course the site attracted gang members and drug dealers as predicted. Worse still, the land was contaminated and the “park” fenced off. It’s been like that for almost 15 years. And Counting.
No story of Fullerton calamities would be complete without once again sharing the tale of the Florentine Sidewalk Hijacking, in which a permit for “outside dining” was transformed one day by the Florentine Mob into a permanent building blocking half a public sidewalk. The Big City Planner, Paul Dudley, said everything was peachy. He was lying, of course, but did anybody really care?
Some people might conclude that the majority of Fullerton’s disasters can be laid at the feet of the Redevelopment Agency (really just the City Council) and well-pensioned, inept managers like Terry Galvin and Gary Chaplusky. When they weren’t slapping brick veneer on anything that didn’t move, they were screwing everything else up, too. But when we regard the history of Laguna Lake we enter into the realm of Fullerton’s Parks and Engineering mamalukes. After spending a small fortune on renovating the lake, the thing leaked like a sieve. Hundreds of millions of premium MWD gallons were pumped into the thing to keep it full. The public and council were left in the dark, even as citizens were told to conserve water in their homes. Did anyone in charge give a damn? Did anyone ask how much money and water were squandered over the years? Of course not. This is Fullerton. We could ask Engineering Director Don Hoppe for details, except that he is now comfortably retired and pulling down a massive pension.
Our professional planners, have been knee deep in Fullerton’s morass. Over-development (see example, above) has been fostered and nowhere was this better seen than in the Core and Corridors Specific Plan. This idiotic plan wasted a million bucks of State money without a backward glance after the whole thing was finally dumped on the QT – too stupid even for Fullerton. Did anybody ask for their money back? Nope. And yet a link to a blank web page titled Core and Corridors still exists! Hope springs eternal.
The 2000s proved that nobody in City Hall or out, was learning anything, even after the expensive failures of the 90s. The “West Harbor Improvement” project in 2009, was an endeavor so unnecessary that it could only be proposed in Fullerton, where government “place making” has never succeeded. The alley is a barf zone behind a bunch of bars that only needs hosing down every Sunday morning.
This litany of disasters, follies and debacles brings us to the Pinewood Stairs at Hillcrest Park which put on display the incompetence of the designer, the city staff, the construction manager, and a contractor who couldn’t build a sand box to code. Wasting $1.6 million is bad enough; permitting the code violations and construction deficiencies go unfixed is even worse. Barely two years old, the ramshackle structure moves more than the Tacoma Narrows Bridge.
And over all these years Fullerton’s “leaders have neglected our aging infrastructure and permitted zone changes allowing for massive new development that has lined the pockets of developers and political campaign coffers, and left the rest of us with even more traffic and more burden on our roads and pipes.
What is it about the Orange County Transportation Agency and its love of bicycle boondoggles? We know they are obligated to pretend they care about multi-modal transportation, but why the silliness? FFFF readers will recall we talked about the ludicrous $800 per bike ride fiasco overseen by former County Supervisor and OCTA Boardmember, Shawn Nelson.
Now it appears that Nelson’s sclerotic successor, Fullerton’s own Prince of Potholes, Doug “Bud” Chaffee is following in the noble tradition.
I just received a self-promoting e-mail from Supervisor Chaffee touting OCTA bike day. For ten bucks you get bike training, a nifty bike helmet, bike lights and a delicious lunch. What the subsidy for these days of fun is the public is not informed. However the impoverished need not worry; for “scholarships” are available on a limited basis although we are not enlightened as to who might qualify, and how. The provided link says nothing about “scholarships.”
Now while there’s nothing wrong with bicycle safety, per se, one wonders why we are paying for classes on how to ride a bike, and on “fun” bike tours and “advanced” bicycling skills. And why does the public have to pay for the political promotion of “public servants?”
Last September it was revealed that the Long Beach Police Department was using a phone app, known as TigerText, to send encrypted and self-deleting messages. From the article:
Two of the officers claimed that they were also instructed by their superiors to use the app to “have conversations with other officers that wouldn’t be discoverable”.
The City of Long Beach paid for an independent review which found no wrongdoing, owing that the city and investigator claimed that the messages were “transitory” and thus exempt from disclosure.
This transitory argument should sound familiar as it’s the same argument which was made by the Orange County Supervisors, including now District Attorney Todd Spitzer, when they voted to destroy “transitory” records including texts and emails.
So what does this have to do with Fullerton PD?
TigerText was being used in Long Beach when our now former Chief David Hendricks was Deputy Chief in that department. The idea that he wasn’t using or didn’t know that TigerText was being utilized for years under his command is laughable.
Knowing the above, one of our friends put in a records request asking if the city of Fullerton was using Tigertext or a similar app known as Signal and what the policies and procedures were around such software.
From Chief Dunn himself:
“Hi ma’am…this question was floating around here last week…I am not familiar with any use of either of those messaging apps…I am aware that we use other apps that may do the same thing however…”
According to our Current Police Chief the city does in fact use similar software, in what capacity it is unknown, and they have no policies or procedures in place over how to use such software or to help mitigate abuses.
Now let us skip ahead to this last week when a Superior Court Judge ruled against the OC Supervisors in the ongoing case over their transitory records policy. The County’s argument fell apart because the word “transitory” exists nowhere in disclosure laws.
With that ruling it certainly looks like the OC Supervisors broke the law to hide as much as possible which is pretty much par for the course from that legislative body.
Let’s circle back to Fullerton with that ruling established thus far.
Is Fullerton PD is still using a similar app to TigerText, as Chief Dunn admitted, and are they also using it to destroy “transitory” records illegally?
Will the City Manager or City Council even bother to investigate this issue and further will they follow the law if PD is found to be in violation? Don’t count on it.
I noticed two things in the Fullerton Observer the other day that on the surface are pretty innocuous but that upon a little reflection seem to be symbolic of the way our city government has operated over the years.
The first is the City’s proclamation of Arab American Month, a first, and no doubt conceived by new councilmember Ahmad Zahra who is himself an Arab American. Here is Zahra:
“As an Arab-American myself, I’m very proud of this moment, and I’m proud of our city for being such a wonderful, diverse place where everybody can celebrate who they are but work together for what is best for our community.”
Diversity and celebration. Hmm. Well, okay, a little color toner and some quality legal-sized paper, a few minutes of everybody’s time and you’ve got your proclamation. Go in peace.
The second item is about the rainbow flag flapping on the pole in front of City Hall. The City Council in March approved flying the banner that symbolizes LGBTQ rights, etc for LGBTQ Month. Mr. Zahra is also gay and this may account for the fact that Fullerton has finally got around to this pressing issue. This is a bit more problematic because here we have an official endorsement by the City. Personally, I’m all for equal rights for everybody – including marriage, and I couldn’t care less if Jennifer Fitzgerald orders that a Goofy flag fly over the City Hall. Still, it gives one pause to consider the priorities of our esteemed leaders – nobody’s rights are threatened by not flying the flag; meaning, of course, that the whole thing is an empty gesture.
And this brings me, finally, to the point of this post. We have a city council that has spent us to brink of fiscal disaster with no accountability, no responsibility and no concern at all for the taxpayers and citizens of Fullerton. They have squandered millions on vanity construction projects that were mismanaged, unnecessary, or downright dangerous. They have let the streets of Fullerton become the joke of Orange County. They have turned over downtown Fullerton to a gang of scofflaw saloon owners. They have nurtured a deadly Culture of Corruption in the police department, an infection that reaches from top to bottom. Meantime they are determined to ignore any of the calls for a correction to the course they have navigated.
Ask yourselves this question: Are any of the real municipal problems of Fullerton ever addressed? The answer, sadly, has been no. Meanwhile, empty symbolism and diversion are the order of the day. It’s easy pandering, and to the uninitiated might even look like something is being accomplished.
The question whether hollow gestures are better than none at all, especially when promoted by incompetent or corrupt officials, may remain academic. What is a practical reality is that in a month or so Fullerton will begin its Annual Can Kick – known as the budget approval. But the can is getting more obdurate every year and the lies coming from Fitzgerald and Flory ever more outrageous. Soon we will be able to see what sort of new flags from Mr. Zahra and his colleagues will be run up the flagpole. Will anybody salute?