It’s a sad fact that local politicians usually have no qualms about spending money from off-budget sources – like State and Federal grants to do this or that uber-important thing. And these things don’t really undergo much scrutiny at all because the money the locality gets, if it finds itself awarded such a grant, isn’t competing with other municipal needs. And, better still, the awarding agency very often has no interest in seeing how successful the grant actually was. See, this requires a rear-view mirror, which the government go-carts just don’t have.
This topic came to light during discussion of the ill-fated “Trail to Nowhere” that was going to built with almost $2,000,000 bucks raised from some State of California bond rip-off or other. We heard from the drummed up “community” that the money had been awarded, so better take it; these people being not at all concerned that just maybe the money could be better spent on a project elsewhere. And let’s not worry about the fact that nobody will be responsible for the failure of the scheme.
Which brings me to Fullerton’s history of grant money, utterly wasted, and with absolutely no accountability. Specifically I am referring to the long-lost Core and Corridors Specific Plan. I wrote about it seven years ago, here.
Back in 2013 or so, the City of Fullerton received a million dollars from Jerry Brown’s half-baked Strategic Growth Council to develop a specific plan that would sprawl over a lot of Fullerton, offering by-right development for high-density housing along Fullerton’s main streets – a social engineering plan that would have drastically changed the character of the city. The reasons for the entire project’s eventual disappearance off the face of the Earth are not really important anymore. What is important is that the grant money – coming from Proposition 84 (a water-related referendum!) was completely and utterly wasted.
A page on the City’s website dedicated to the Core and Corridors Specific Plan had quietly vanished by 2017, never to be heard of again.
The lesson, of course is that Other People’s Money causes public officials – the elected and the bureaucratic – to take a whole other attitude toward spending on stuff than it does if the proposed projects were competing with General Fund-related costs – like the all-important salaries and benefits; or competing for Capital Improvement Fund projects that people actually expect a city to pursue. And it’s very rare indeed for a city council, like ours, to realize that grant money can be misused and actually wasted.
And so I salute Messrs. Dunlap, Whitaker and Jung for voting to return the Trail to Nowhere grant money – an act of true fiscal and moral responsibility.
So last time I resurrected the disaster of the proposed “boutique” hotel at the Transportation Center and noted that the land had already been sold – even before the so-called entitlements were in place. It was all crammed into the end of the year to avoid compliance with the new State requirements for getting rid of “surplus” land. The fact that the land in question is not surplus – it provides much needed parking for commuters and our esteemed downtown revelers – doesn’t seem to have entered any decision makers’ noggin. Common sense be damned, this is The Tracks at Fullerton Station.
But I discovered the real travesty while watching the Planning Commission hearing on the proposed site plan and conditions for a hotel use.
See, the hotel concept somehow metastasized over the past five years to include a standard, massive housing block – yet another cliff dwelling – giving indication that not only was the new developer trying to cram his pockets with all he could get, but that that this new element may have been needed to ensure success for the whole endeavor.
And here’s where the swindle comes in. The density of the apartment block was developed using the entire site area. So our sharp planners took the 1.7 acre site and multiplied it by the Transportation Center Specific Plan limit of 60 units per acre. That’s 99 units. Then, because the developer was proposing 13 “low to very low” units he got a “density bonus” of another 42 units, per State law. If you’re counting, that’s 141 units.
But wait! Those 141 units sit on only 60% of the property, the other 40% being dedicated to the hotel.
Think about that. The whole site is being used to justify the massive density on only a portion of the site. Meantime the hotel proposal has an additional 118 rooms on its part of the site. Friends, let’s do some math. 118 plus 141 equals 259 units for the entire site, or a jaw-droppingly massive 152 units an acre, 2.5 times the density allowed in the Transportation Center Specific Plan!
How do I know the percentage of use for hotel and apartment block? Because the developer is asking for, and getting, a legal parcel division that shows separate parcels for the hotel and apartment. And here’s the Tentative Parcel Map submitted to the Planning Commission:
Based on the developers own Tentative Parcel Map, the land underneath the apartment component amounts to 42,684 square feet, which is 98% of an acre. This entitles him to only 59 units per the Specific Plan. Adding the State density bonus of 40% brings the allowable total to 83. But he’s getting 141. And a hotel with another 118 roomson the same 1.7 acres.
Finally, I have to point out that the City Council itself – specifically Zahra, Charles and Whitaker already approved a Mitigated Negative Declaration for this half-baked obscenity in December, even though it clearly violates the Specific Plan that all the planners kept nattering about. That isn’t legal, although this, is Fullerton, meaning that nobody gives a damn.
I would like to report that the Planning Commission was all over this scam and was outraged. But of course I can’t. Instead the 5 commissioned turnips quibbled over electric car charging stations and other gnats on their way to swallowing this camel whole. Honestly, you could take five average people off Harbor Boulevard and you would end up with a more intelligent and sensible commission.
Well, that’s enough of that. My next post is going to be about the idiotic solution to a made-up bus station problem.
Here at FFFF HQ we always leave the door open for Fullerton citizens to share their issues. This instance is a little different. We received (anonymously) a statement that purports to be by a 5th District resident. I don’t know who wrote it, or in what context it was written. I don’t need to know. It is a well-written, eloquent, and damning indictment of Ahmad Zahra’s weepy, sleezy, self-serving 4 year tenure on the Fullerton City Council.And it’s all true.
Here’s the statement as we received it:
“1. Mr. Zahra denied the voters of Fullerton the opportunity to elect a member to a half term on the Fullerton City Council. Although he at first vocally supported an election to fill the at-large seat vacated by Jesus Silva on the Fullerton City Council, Mr. Zahra ultimately voted to appoint someone to the two year remainder of this term despite dozens of public speakers from all backgrounds pleading for a special election. Mr. Zahra argued that a special election would be too expensive, but went on to support at least one other questionable expenditure far in excess of the estimated cost of such an election.
“2. Following the appointment of Jan Flory to the aforementioned two year seat on the city council, she joined council member Jennifer Fitzgerald and Mr. Zahra himself in appointing Mr. Zahra to a paid seat on the Board of the Orange County Water District, supplanting the city’s then current representative, whose term had not yet expired. The vote gave the appearance of an obvious quid pro quo, wherein Mr. Zahra supported appointing Ms. Flory to the council in exchange for her support in appointing him as Fullerton’s representative to the OCWD.
“3. Mr. Zahra consistently voted to support spending over a million dollars on legal fees to sue two writers from the Friends for Fullerton’s Future blog who downloaded private files from an unguarded and publicly available folder on the city’s website— a folder to which the city itself had directed the bloggers. The blog’s publication of of at least some of these files revealed incompetence and malfeasance on the part of the city’s administration and police department. In addition to being an enormous waste of public funds on a suit the city was unlikely to win, this lawsuit represented a serious attack on freedom of the press, on par with legal actions taken against the publication of the Pentagon Papers fifty years ago—that is, an attempt by government to suppress publication of materials embarrassing to it and to punish news outlets who would do so. Council member Zahra’s support of this lawsuit alone should be reason for any news organization to decline to endorse him for public office.
“4. Mr. Zahra participated in a council subcommittee consisting of himself and then Council member Jennifer Fitzgerald. This economic development subcommittee held meetings behind closed doors with no publicly available agendas, no publicized meetings times or places, and no subsequent public notes. The public were not invited to attend. No one knows what was discussed in these meetings.
“5. No notes were ever made available from the aforementioned subcommittee meetings, but Mr. Zahra subsequently supported, with great enthusiasm, the development of the former Kimberly Clark property into a massive warehouse distribution site for Goodman Logistics, a frequent host of Amazon delivery services. It is no exaggeration to state that Goodman subsequently stripped the site of every living tree, including a perimeter of large, mature pine trees and groves of fruit trees that included the last orange tree orchard in Fullerton.
“6. Mr. Zahra falsely claimed authorship of a story about the Orange County Water District submitted for publication and ultimately published by The Fullerton Observer. Subsequent discovery that the article was actually authored by OCWD staff caused public embarrassment to the Observer and revealed that Mr. Zahra was willing to uncritically and deceptively pass along an agency’s public relations material to The Fullerton Observer as his own writing, casting clear doubt about the independence of his representation of Fullerton on the Board of this agency as well as his trustworthiness as a public official.
“7. Mr. Zahra has refused to reveal the ultimate disposition of criminal charges brought against him while serving on the council. Although the charges were reported by the Observer to have been dismissed, court records were sealed, denying the public the right to know what actually happened in the case of a public official accused of assault and vandalism. Whether or not the charges were judged to be justified, Mr. Zahra should have revealed exactly how this case proceeded and how it was ultimately concluded to dispel any doubt in the minds of his constituents.
“8. Mr. Zahra appointed to the Planning Commission, arguably the most important and powerful committee or commission in the city, a representative for a pro-development organization Her role as director of this organization represented a clear conflict of interest between her profession and her public service. She ultimately resigned from the Commission part way through her term with no prior notice during one of its meetings, leaving before the meeting has been concluded the the evening. Such an appointment, in my opinion, calls into question Mr. Zahra’s judgement.
“Additionally, we should remember that the 5th District was created to accommodate representation by the area’s largely Latinx population—the only such district in the city. Endorsing the only non-Latino in this contest would not seem to advance this goal.”
Fullerton 5th District Councilman Ahmad Zahra seems to have adopted the strategy of rewriting his previous interaction with the wheels of justice, to wit: he was not arrested because nobody cuffed him and tossed him in the FPD slammer. And oh, by the way, “there was no case.”
Well there sure was a case, Friends.
Here’s what it looks like:
Zahra has previously claimed he was somehow exonerated, too, although he seems to think that statement is satisfactory. And yet other than his say so, he has shown no evidence to show the DA dropped the case – for any reason. Meantime, a source in the DAs office has indicated that Zahra pled guilty, did community service of some sort, and had his criminal record safely sealed.
Here is a fun video in which District 5 Councilman Ahmad Zahra stumbles and stutters his way into denying that he was arrested for battery and vandalism. It happened right outside his fundraising party when protesters showed up.
With some coaching from a masked friend he concludes that there was no “case,” and no arrest because he was not handcuffed and was not taken to a jail cell.
It was not an arrest says Zahra because some “citizen” (in air quotation marks) did something.
Uh huh. Get a kick out of how Zahra tries to incriminate Tony Bushala of something dishonest; the woman rightly points out that it is Zahra who was elected to represent Fullerton and who needs to come clean.
The confrontation then disolves into Zahra’s Spanish speaking camp followers adding a little ethic flavor like they constantly do at council meetings.
Well the thing is simple. The District Attorney, Todd Spitzer chargedthis miscreant with crimes, so the fact that he may or may not have spent some time in the FPD lock up is hilariously irrelevant.
Come clean Ahmad. If there was no case you can prove it by sharing the correspondence from the DA saying so. But one thing will always be undeniable: you were arrested and charged. No getting away from that albatross around your neck.
Last Wednesday, Elizabeth Hansburg quit the Fullerton Planning Commission.
FFFF has already introduced Ms. Hansburg to the Friends, noting her involvement in the drive to cover Fullerton in penitentiary-like apartment blocks. Her “non-profit” is used to provide Astroturf support for developers of huge housing projects and of course donations from said developers are always welcome.
Ms. Hansburg was also part of the shadowing clan that developed a new housing plan that almost nobody knew anything about until it was conceptually presented the the City Council. The idea was (and is) to achieve the preposterous new housing unit needs count – 13,000 -proffered by SCAG, the Southern California Association of Government – an unelected agency run by and for bureaucrats and their Big Ideas.
Well, anyhow, Hansburg has had enough. Here’s her petulant good-bye speech at the end of the meeting in which she attacks the City Council, bemoans the loss of her beloved fellow 5th Columnists in City Hall, and of course praises the contemptible camera hog and credit thief, Ahmad Zahra.
Self-righteous, indignant, know-it-all. Hansburg went out of her way to promote God-awful projects that were intrusive, obnoxious, and promised a tsunami of negative impacts on our neighborhoods including more parking disasters.
Good riddance. This is exactly the sort of person that causes regular folks to be wary of self-proclaimed “experts” and the bureaucracies they love so dearly. Now she can peddle her services to developers free from legitimate charges of conflict of interest.
We have also seen how Zahra claimed authorship of Water District-related articles actually ghost-written by a district bureaucrat; and how he tried to leverage this pseudo-expertise to keep his well-compensated seat on that board.
Then there’s the about-face Zahra played on the suckers of Fullerton when he announced that the open seat on the Council should be decided by a vote, and then promptly voted to appoint Jan Flory to the vacancy at the behest of Jennifer Fitzgerald.
And that last bit is what this story is about. The deal that Zahra cut with Fitzgerald to appoint Flory and get himself appointed to the lucrative Orange County Water District Board, a board that pays stipends for all sorts of meetings and sub-committee meetings.
Check this out:
And did Zahra have a role in this little handout? Was this a little payback for getting appointed in the first place? These sorts of little deals happen in OC political/government circles all the time. It’s all just easy government cheese. Maybe Zahra will be forthcoming about what this was all about. Maybe, but don’t count on it.
Starring former Fullerton City Manager, Joe Burt Felz who got drunk on Election Night 2016, drove over a tree, and tried to escape from his own cops. There is something sort of pathetic about Felz, errand boy and water bearer for Jennifer Fitzgerald, saying over and over that his turn blinker wasn’t working and how he became befuddled, until one of his own policemen tells him to stop yammering about it.
As one of the cops said: “it’s the Chief’s call.” Subsequently Chief Danny “Gallahad” Hughes lied to the Council about the affair even as Felz tried to quietly pay for the tree and move on.
The City of Fullerton tried for years to keep this under wraps because it implicated our MADD rewarded police themselves in incompetent and illegal activity. FFFF sued the City to get the videos, and in retribution two bloggers were personally sued by the City for legal activity, a lawsuit that cost the taxpayers hundreds of thousands and that finally exonerated David Curlee and Joshua Ferguson.
Here at FFFF we like to praise our City Council when they do something smart; when they don’t we smack them on the snout with a rolled-up copy of the yellowing Fullerton Observer.
Well, Lo and Behold! On Tuesday, last, the Council voted 3-2 to shitcan a horrible scam cooked up by California’s houseocrats to reward developers and speculators by taking over market rate housing at The Aspect apartment project and control rents – for people who make between $102,000 and $123,000. Yes, you read that rightly, Friends. According to our experts, if you make more than that, by definition, your housing is “market rate.” The perniciousness of this scam cannot be overemphasized. A new term has been cooked up to describe these unfortunate six-figure po’ folks: the Missing Middle.
The way this scheme works is that the City cuts a deal with the California Statewide Community Development Authority – a perfectly opaque agency, to be sure. The CSCDA floats a bond, the proceeds of which will buy out the existing owner, rewards up-front the agents and speculators who put the rancid deal together; management will be left in the hands of other parasites who are in on the deal, too. Did I mention that the sale price may well exceed market appraisal? Well, why not?
The funniest part of this may have been the revelation that the complex has a 98% occupancy rate – an astounding number – people who can ALREADY afford to live there! And these good folks will be the recipients of the small lowering of rents – or be forced to move out if they don’t have a long-term lease..
A reasonable person may well wonder why ANY of this is necessary, and the answer from the government Wohnungen uber alles crowd will be so crammed with feel-good bullshit that you know right away it’s a scam.
One of the problems is that because the apartment project is now owned by the government the property owner (CSCDA) pays no property tax; in order to sweeten the deal on The Aspect, the promoters promised a “Host City Fee,” essentially an annual tribute to the City. Meanwhile other entities are just shit-out-of-luck.
The enormity of this nonsense is pretty significant; all one has to do is look to Anaheim – a pay to play town where the City has spent gargantuan amounts buying up big apartment projects and rewarding the lobbyists like Curt Pringle, who skim right off the top of this sort of crap.
Well, finally, back to council meeting. Councilmembers Whitaker, Dunlap and Jung were adamantly opposed to this, to their credit. Not surprisingly, Zahra and Quirk-Silva who petitioned to put this item on the agenda were all-in for it, babbling phrases like “outside the box” and “innovative thinking” and brushing aside concerns about unknown details full of devils.
Thanks to Jung, Dunlap and Whitaker, and of course shame on Zahra and Quirk-Silva who were very clearly in the pocket of whichever lobbyist was promoting this idiocy.
The last time I wrote on this topic, I pointed out that Fullerton/Brea Fire Chief Adam Loeser is a union puppet, using his authority as fire chief to advocate for the interests of the IAFF fire union.
What I didn’t tell you at the time is he flat out lied in his agenda letter to the City Council. The real reason, the more pressing reason, for seeking cancellation of the automatic aid agreement with the City of Placentia is to settle a dispute the union clowns filed with the California Public Employment Relations Board (PERB). In the first agenda letter, he said the City Council should cancel because, “The current Automatic Aid Agreement between Fullerton and Placentia and its corresponding Memorandum of Understanding outline specific deliverables and capabilities. The City of Placentia has not sufficiently met many of these deliverables and capabilities to the satisfaction of the City of Fullerton Fire Department.”
Nowhere in there did he mention the pending litigation before the PERB that forces the City Council to vote on this matter to determine if the matter will proceed to a PERB hearing or not. If the City Council does what Loeser and the fire union want, the union has agreed to drop the matter before the PERB.
An honest public servant would have included this vital information in the initial agenda letter. I’m even told members of the City Council had no idea the PERB dispute existed until a couple weeks ago, even though it was first filed over a year ago.
Don’t take my word for it, compare his agenda letters. The first is the September 21, 2021 letter and the second is the October 5, 2021. (Note: the matter was continued from the September meeting, so this concerns the exact same issue)
October 5, 2021 version:
To add insult to injury, Adam Loeser put this item on the Consent Calendar where it can be rammed through without discussion – unless the public, or a member of the City Council, requests it to be “pulled” for discussion. The Consent Calendar is used for routine matters that don’t warrant discussion, such as approving the minutes from the prior meeting. This is not a routine matter, automatic/mutual aid agreements are amended or cancelled like this maybe once every 30 or 40 years.
Loeser, in his usual arrogant form, first lies to the public. The second time around — after he was told to fix the agenda letter, by you know, telling the truth — put it on the consent calendar in hopes he won’t have to explain himself.
These types of self-serving public servants are the worst of the worst.