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.

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.

Trail to Nowhere Pests Throw Party

A Friend just forwarded notice that something called South Fullerton Community is holding a “recognition” celebration this Saturday. The cause? Recognizing “community leaders” for succeeding in pestering, insulting and generally annoying Councilmembers Dunlap, Jung, and Whitaker until the latter finally caved in and approved the $1.7 million State grant to build a recreation trail through the middle of the worst industrially blighted, drug-riddled and gang infested strip in Orange County.

Hubris doesn’t seem to be something the South Fullerton Community folk worry about.

Of course this unheard of group was obviously created by and exists solely as a prop for Councilman Ahmad Zahra. Ironically, they won’t be holding their victory party anywhere near the site of the Trail to Nowhere. That would be a bummer for the celebration.

The announcement says that Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk Silva will be there to recognize the achievement, which makes sense because she doesn’t have any. Senator Josh Newman knows better than to bless this disaster-in-waiting by his presence; but maybe Gas Tax Josh doesn’t know better. This is the same guy who passed a regressive tax increase on his constituents the day before he left town for a Caribbean vacation.

And still the problems of the Trail to Nowhere appertain: a fraudulent grant application that omitted mention of contaminated soil and lied about the number of potential users; 10 active testing wells for trichlorethylene on the site; gang graffiti everywhere; homeless encampments; and of the cost of ongoing maintenance that no one has accounted for. Then there is the rosy, 5 year old budget that won’t get the deal done and will require additional money that could be used on other facilities.

RIP

Will any of the celebrants care about the true facts of the Trail to Nowhere? They haven’t so far. Will any of them stand up in a couple of years and apologize for the harebrained scheme? Of course not. All the people in charge of this mess know it as a fact that government has no rearview mirror and that mistakes may have been made (passive voice) but:

  1. Not enough money was spent.
  2. The people in charge have retired.
  3. Critical information was withheld by someone, possibly, but it was all a worthy gesture.
  4. It’s not a disaster it’s a victory!!
  5. Hindsight is 20/20.

Of course this being Fullerton the subject probably won’t come up at all, just as no one even bothers asking about the 20 year old embarrassment known as the Union Pacific Park.

I wonder if the party-givers have invited Messrs. Dunlap, Jung and Whitaker to their fete. They deserved to be recognized, too, and maybe even get a certificate of achievement.

Fullerton City News Opines on Noise Debacle Downtown

Just kidding…

A publication called Fullerton City News features a very detailed look on the embarrassing nuisance noise situation created by Downtown Fullerton’s scofflaw bar owners, and the even less than feeble efforts of the City’s code enforcement crew to do something about it. As FFFF noted, here, City staff’s latest response to the 15 year old problem is to let the noise get louder.

By the way, I enjoy the fun Fullerton City News masthead and logo. It’s a takeoff on the city seal, and a nice and well-deserved shot at the less than worthless Fullerton Observer pretending to be “independent.”

Here’s the story:

“Since 2009 the Fullerton City Council has been going back and forth with bar owners and their proxies on City Staff, specifically in the Community Development Department, over how loud Downtown Fullerton should be on any given night.

The short version of this story is that staff is trying to implement a “noise zone” in Downtown Fullerton. Despite building housing basically on top of the bars (and approving a hotel at the train station), somehow it makes sense to make this mixed-use residential area LOUDER.”

See the whole article, here.

Cops Croak Combative Chemise-less Chap

The following is a Fullerton Police Department issuance:

Fullerton Police Officers responded to a restaurant located in the 1300 block of S. Brookhurst Rd on March 6 at 3:01 am regarding two males that were standing at the front of the doors, possibly under the influence of drugs. The reporting party, who was the manager of the business, was concerned for the employees’ safety as they began to arrive for work. 

Officers arrived on the scene and contacted one shirtless male adult, who was uncooperative with Officers’ commands. The male began swinging a belt at officers as they attempted to contact him. Additional officers were requested, and once they arrived, they utilized a taser to attempt to subdue the suspect, which was ineffective.

The suspect continued to act erratically and was uncooperative as he refused to comply with officers’ commands. Officers then utilized a less lethal kinetic energy projectile and struck the suspect, allowing officers to take him into custody. At this time in the investigation, it is believed the suspect sustained a significant injury to the chest area as a result of the use of the less lethal kinetic energy projectile. 

Officers began life-saving measures while paramedics responded. The suspect was transported to a local trauma center, where he was later pronounced deceased. 

As is standard practice in Orange County, the Orange County District Attorney’s Office will conduct an independent in-custody death investigation. 

The Orange County Coroner will release the deceased suspect’s identity. 

It would be nice to take FPDs statement at face value, but given both the history of the department, it’s unreformed record, and the nature of police reports in general, it would be unwise to do so. I won’t comment on the propriety of this episode other than to point a out a few of the typical bias issues with the report that are clearly intended to sway public opinion in the police direction, regardless of the central facts of the actual encounter. We’ve seen it lots of times before in Fullerton.

It’s 3 o’clock in the morning at a restaurant, most likely the McDonald’s store, which is in the 1300 block of South Brookhurst. Two dudes are hanging out in front of the doors, as reported by the store manager, who is apparently concerned for the safety of his incoming employees, and who has called for the police. So far so good.

Except that the two are reported as being possibly under the influence of drugs. It’s also possible that they are not under the influence of drugs. And here’s where the narrative gets loosey goosey because we don’t know, and won’t know until the Coroner is done with the corpus delecti, oops, the body.

We learn from the report that the cops on the scene encounter “one male,” shirtless; male #2 presumably has decamped. The fact that the man is inexplicably not wearing a shirt at 3am is further non-evidence in the effort to direct us to the inevitable exculpation of the police.

We are informed that the man was uncooperative with commands. Not knowing what the commands were, we are left to assume they were legal commands. Mr. Shirtless, removes his belt and swings it at the cops as they try to “contact” him. Contact? Verbally? Physically? What for? Has he even broken any laws at this point? Your guess is as good as mine. Fearing for their safety (no doubt) the cops on the scene request back-up, which arrives. Is Shirtless still swinging the belt? Don’t know. But rather than physically restrain Shirtless, somebody decides he needs a Tasing as a form of attitude adjustment. Which, of course fails.

Now there are multiple officers on hand and Shirtless still remains uncooperative to commands and erratic, another subjective and loaded term. Is he still swinging the belt after the failed Tasing? Don’t know. Still no mention of an attempt at physical restraint by any of the multiple, presumably fit officers. At this juncture somebody decides to hit the man with a “less lethal kinetic energy projectile” which hits him in the chest. I don’t know what a less lethal kinetic energy projectile is, but I guess if you hit somebody in the wrong place (and I don’t mean the 1300 Block of South Brookhurst), you can kill him. In this case, the technique wasn’t less lethal.

The police offer “life-saving measures” that don’t work, either, and the man is hauled of to a trauma center where he is “later” pronounced deceased, although the wording implies that the death, not the announcement came later. We don’t actually know when the man died.

There are lots of specific questions about this encounter, such as several failed tactics and the possibility of escalation, none of which is offered in the press release. Will we find out? The DA won’t help with transparency and neither will the FPD. But, surely Mr. Shirtless has relatives, and the relatives will have lawyers.

The Trail to Nowhere Complaint

It’s a total waste of money, but it sure is short…

As has been predicted, a concerned Fullerton Friend has decided that the dismal Trail to Nowhere was such an insult to California’s taxpayers and to any commonsensical Fullerton resident that he was going to do something about it.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Camp-750x1000.jpg

So he wrote a letter to the State of California Natural Resources Agency and addressed it to the Agency’s boss, Mr. Wade Crowfoot. I understand that the letter was sent by registered mail so it may be hard for Mr. Crowfoot to claim he didn’t get it.

Well, well, well…

Cynics will say that the California bureaucrats at these agencies don’t care how their grants are spent, or in this case, misspent. Their jobs are to dole out the dough without a backward glance. In this case there was no real forward glance either; judging by the initial approval, they swallowed Fullerton’s tale by the proverbial hook, line, and sinker.

Anyway, it’s a good synopsis of the various inaccuracies and falsehoods in Fullerton’s grant application. Here is the text of the letter, forwarded to us by its author:

Mr. Wade Crowfoot
Secretary for Natural Resources
California Natural Resources Agency
715 P. Street, 20th Floor
Sacramento, CA 95814

Dear Mr. Crowfoot,
I am writing to you as a concerned citizen of the City of Fullerton, to inform you of irregularities in a
Grant Application made by the City of Fullerton to your agency which resulted in the award of a Urban
Greening Grant to build a recreational trail on an abandoned section of the Union Pacific Railroad right-of-way.
This is a 2022 grant for $1,777,200.00, under Grant Agreement U29194-0 which itself was authorized by
Senate Bill 859.
The irregularities in the Grant Application falls into two categories: first, omission of pertinent
information required by the application; second, outright falsehoods about the projected positive
aspects of the project.
The application failed to alert the State that one of the adjacent properties to the proposed trail is
contaminated by trichloroethylene (TCE), a known carcinogen. The property (311 South Highland
Avenue) is identified by the EPA and the State of California Department of Toxic Substances Control
(DTSC). Reports have indicated a TCE plume emanating from 311 South Highland in a southerly direction, precisely under the proposed trail site. There are currently 10 Monitoring test wells along the proposed trail site and several others in adjacent properties.
The proposed project budget does not include any cost for additional testing, remediation, and/or
export. There is no inclusion of the need to rework or replace the existing test wells.
Beyond the unmitigated environmental concerns, the City of Fullerton Grant Application asserts
“connectivity” as a positive feature of the proposed trail. These assertions are demonstrably false. The
proposed trail does not connect to any businesses; it does not connect to Downtown Fullerton; it does
not create connections between parks and schools; it does not connect different parts of the City and is
actually contained within the same compact area. In fact, the proposal for Phase II does not even
connect to its predecessor, Phase I, which itself was a selling point in the Grant Application.
In truth, the proposed trail is a disembodied half-mile length of property that starts and stops without
reference to any other transportation corridors.
To the West, Phase II terminates with the Burlington Northern Santa Fe right-of-way at the back corner
of Independence Park, a park so poorly maintained that the playground, courts, and gymnasium have
been closed off to the public for several years. On the East, Phase II abruptly ends at a sidewalk adjacent to Highland Avenue, a North-South thoroughfare serving approximately 11,500 vehicles daily, per the City’s own traffic study in 2019.
Even if Phase II connected to Phase I, which it does not, Phase I itself stops at the back of the abandoned
Union Pacific Park which was closed due to contamination 15 years ago. There is no practical extension
in either direction.
Despite these facts, the City of Fullerton’s Grant Application included a projected 105,000 annual users, a number that is simply preposterous on its face.
The proposed trail does not pass through a residential neighborhood, but rather a blighted industrial
strip situated between two dilapidated, neglected, and run-down parks. In short, it doesn’t go where
anyone with common sense would want to go.
The existing abandoned right-of way has provided plenty of evidence of being unsafe. There is rampant
drug use, homeless encampments and two violent deaths over just the past few years.
The City of Fullerton cannot afford to maintain the proposed facility, as is clearly witnessed in the
condition of the trash strewn, dilapidated, weed-infested Phase I, a condition deliberately omitted from
the grant application. The idea that this area has been so poorly maintained but somehow the City will
be able to be good stewards of the area only AFTER the State grants it nearly $2 million more, is
insulting.

The $1.77 million grant represents resources that could, and should, be used elsewhere.
Fullerton’s Application was disingenuous, at best. At worst it included falsehoods dressed up in words
echoed back from the stated objectives of the Application Form in order to defraud the State.
In writing this I am hoping that your Agency will reevaluate this project, rescind the funding, and find a
better use of this valuable Grant money.
Thank you for consideration of this matter.

The Abdication

Lots of Indians, but no chiefs…

I’ve been watching Fullerton politics and governance for for a long time – since 2008 or 2009, in fact. One thing that has consistently struck me is the way in which Fullerton’s elected officials have completely and almost happily abdicated their responsibility to determine the direction of policy.

It has always been the goal, in principle if not in practice in modern representative democracy, that policy would be established by electeds, and administrated through a protected civil service bureaucracy.

Determining policy – the philosophical direction you want the town to take – isn’t easy in the “City Manager” form of government, a form deliberately created to remove any sort of executive authority from elected representatives. But with that set-up came something else, too: the difficulty of people’s representatives in establishing policy direction, and doing it without violating the Brown Act strictures on open meetings.

Nevertheless, the responsibility is still there, even if it easier to have photo ops, and ribbon cuttings and the like. Sadly our electeds have failed; failed with remarkable banality and complacency. Former Councilman and Fullerton Police Chief Pat McKinley once illustrated the point when challenged for his “failure to lead.” He exclaimed that councilmen weren’t there to lead – that was the City Manager’s job.

Lately the policy role abdication has been seen with the regurgitated, spit out, re-consumed and regurgitated again noise ordinance, an ongoing embarrassment that has plagued honest citizens for over fifteen years. I read the staff report on the recent noise effort, a report that justifies a decision to actually increase acceptable levels, protect offenders by including an ambient noise mask, and locates the noise metering away from the source whence it can be muddled by an equally noisy neighbor.

The staff report is nothing but a list of events that have occurred since 2009 when the City Council last expressed a coherent position. Nowhere in the staff report is there any discussion on the policy decisions behind any of the activities. Why not? Because there weren’t any. In the same way that the incredibly costly, drunken binge known as Downtown Fullerton has escaped any intelligent policy conversation, the noise nuisance issue, a subset of the former, has evaded policy discussion as City staff – behind the scenes – has diligently avoided doing anything to enforce existing code, and worked very hard to reduce the requirements.

So what has happened is a vacuum in which each new action seems disembodied from policy conversation; that’s because it is. And our council steadfastly refused to have an open and honest conversation of what it wants, abdicating its responsibilities.

One size fits all…

There is a long list of issues that our elected representatives should be addressing from an overarching policy level and aren’t. This sort of thing takes thought; and some hard work in ascertaining whether your city employees are really doing the thing you want; or not, as in the case of the Trail to Nowhere. It’s easier just to ram through the Consent Calendar on the nod, rubberstamp the ridiculous, clean your plate like good kids, and move on to the photo ops and the trophy ceremonies.

I Think I’ve Seen This Movie

It’s real expensive, but it sure is short…

When thinking about the Trail to Nowhere it seemed to me that I had seen this same sort of thing before. Then it struck me. Of course.

An expensive and unnecessary project that dragged out for years, and that was supposed to be paid for with other people’s money, “free money” as it is known in City Hall, I recalled.

It may have been expensive, but it sure was unnecessary…

I remembered because I wrote about it, here. The second elevator towers at the Fullerton train station, a project so ridiculously over-engineered, so expensive, so reliant on phony ridership projections and so expensive and mismanaged that it ended up raiding Fullerton’s own Capital Budget to the tune of $600,000. In the end no one knows how much was actually spent on that boondoggle when everything was said and done. But one good thing that came out of it was teaching me to appreciate how things are done in Fullerton, and how there isn’t one cent’s worth of accountability on the part of anybody.

If the Trail to Nowhere actually ever gets built but is way over budget, unused, unmaintained and falls into decrepitude, who will stand up to take responsibility? Not the City Council who approved it without question. Not City staff – the chief architects of this disaster in-waiting are already gone – nor will the City Manager, who will be gone as soon as his pension formula tops him out. None of the people stirred up to insult and harangue the City Council will be in evidence and the proprietors of the Fullerton Observer, if they are still around annoying people, will not be searching for those accountable. No one else will be, either.

Maybe the less said, the better…

Remember the multi-million dollar Poison Park intergenerational fiasco? Has anybody ever taken responsibility for that poster child of bureaucratic incompetence and political indifference? Of course not. That would be a horrible precedent. Fullerton.