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.

How Hard is it to get a Green Card in Arkansas?

Zahra-Busted
Time to come clean…..

About a week and a half ago FFFF linked to a story in the venerable Orange Juice Blog, documenting how our Fullerton D5 Councilmember, Ahmad Zahra, a visiting tourist from Syria, headed to Little Rock, Arkansas and got married to a woman.

Those facts alone would be enough to warrant a sideways glance toward a man who says he gave up a career as medical doctor to live in his car in Hollywood while pursuing his dream: a film-making career.

Zahra’s narrative quagmire gets stickier because of his own origin tale in which (according to his own bio) he always knew he was gay.

So why would a gay man, aware of his gayness, marry an Arkansas woman whom he says he “liked?”

The obvious answer, bolstered by subsequent events, is that our young visitor was looking for a foothold for permanent residency in the United States.

In case you think getting this marriage to do the residency trick might be a real hurdle, a frightful bureaucratic undertaking, a rigorous examination conferring validity, consider the following tale told by a young woman named “Amanda” to the Arkansas Traveler about her Arkansan marital experience with a Middle Eastern immigrant. After their marriage, the immigrant needed to get his status as a permanent resident established:

The couple sits in front of a USCIS (US Citizenship and Immigration Service) agent and answers a series of intimate questions.

“I heard horror stories about the interviews where people are dragged away from each other,” Amanda said. The penalty for getting caught is five years in prison with a $10,000 fine for the American and permanent deportation for the foreigner.

“I had never been so scared before in my life,” Amanda said. They sat there in a large pale waiting room surrounded by other couples with a pile of paperwork and photo albums on her lap – their entire marriage legitimized.

But instead of the expected – “What are his favorite colored socks? What kind of toothpaste does he use?” – their interview took only five minutes. “OK, you’re both Jewish, good. Are these your names? Good. Your address? OK, thanks.”

Five minutes. Rubber stamp.

Getting His Stories Straight?

An alert Friend sent in this screenshot of a website in which Fullerton City Councilman and erstwhile film maker Ahmad Zahra presents his (partial) biography. This was just yesterday.

Just the other day the Orange Juice Blog broke the tale of immigrant Zahra’s marriage to a female in Arkansas – a rather embarrassing fact omitted from his previous self-discovery narrative.

I wonder if Ahmad is combing through his past representations to see what, if anything needs re-arranging.

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.

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.

Friday Photo Fun

Every now and then I look down from doggy heaven and see something entertaining. Then I ask you humans to come up with a caption for the image. Here’s an picture that just cries out for a caption. Your councilman Ahmad Zahra, beloved by my former mistress, Jan Flory, and others of her ilk. My canine instinct senses something is off-putting about this man, but, arf. I’m only a dog, and a dead one at that.

Please give it a whirl. I am informed the best effort will receive special FFFF recognition.