What’s Wrong With This Picture?

Downtown Fullerton saw a ribbon cutting this week for “Madero.” It’s not a new place. It used to called “Matador” but an El Matador already existed in Costa Mesa and the story goes that Mario Marovic, proprietor of the Fullerton place, got sued and had to change the name of his establishment. So an event was held and here’s the scene:

All smiles…

The guy with the green hat is Mario Marovic. That name sure rings a bell.

Right. He’s the scofflaw who got caught squatting on the City’s property on Commonwealth Avenue – the legacy of the Tony Florentine sidewalk theft. When that came out Marovic made a deal with the City to remove the egregious “bump-out” and to be complete by July 2023. Oops. Nothing has even started, 14 months after the start of work deadline. And we know that the City Council has been presented with some sort of legal claim by Marovic, because it was on their Closed Session agenda.

And who is the little guy on the left standing next to Marovic? Why it is none other than the District 5 Councilman Ahmad Zahra, dressed in his usual ribbon-cutting attire, palling around with Marovic and even giving him some sort of City proclamation!

Will not work for new clothes…

Now, we all know that little Ahmad is a notorious attention hound and desperate photo-op seeker. We also know that a City Council agreement isn’t worth the paper it’s written on. But this is really too much. Marovic is still squatting on public property and it looks like no one in City Hall has the balls to enforce an agreement signed by Marovic himself. Instead the City seems to be actively socializing with him.

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.

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.

Surprise: High School District Wants More of Your Money

Just in case you thought the City of Fullerton was the only government agency that wants to put their hand in your pocket, you can think again. Back on April 9th the Fullerton Joint Union High School District held another one of those ridiculous “workshops” where the only work going on is push polling designed to get the school board to put yet another school bond on the ballot.

This item was agendized under the harmless sounding title of Facilities Master Plan Update.

This was none other than an opportunity for the school district’s army of six-figure educrats to sing the blues about how they need hundreds upon hundreds of millions of new property taxes to bring the wonders of technology to the districts underserved teenagers.

Just as the City did, the high school district employed the kindly offices of a consultant, True North, to do a poll. And guess what? The consultant (who specializes in managing technology upgrade projects) informed the Board that indeed, yes, their survey of 695 individuals indicated support for a bond, perhaps not realizing that district property owners are still in the process of paying off two previous facilities bonds and will be doing so for another twenty years.

Well, there it is. As with Fullerton, the District will need to adopt a resolution pretty quickly to get this bond on the November 2024 ballot. These things usually are timed with annual budgets although assuming a victory at the polls remains iffy, indeed.

In March of 2020 the FJUHSD’s Measure K – a deceitful operation from A to Z – went down to defeat. So did the Fullerton Elementary School District bond attempt, Measure J, on the same day. Will the FSD try another bond double-header like they did last time?

Stay tuned Friends and let’s see what happens in June. And like last time we’ll be reporting on the Bond Sales Industrial Complex to see who’s funding such an attempt.

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.

Jaramillo High on Retail Pot

Green means green. One way or another…

You heard right, Friends. Very high.

Wanna ganj?

Earlier today, one of our Friends shared a couple Vivian “Kitty” Jaramillo posts from the Next Door site sharing her views on the subject of marijuana tax revenue. Jaramillo says she’s running for the Fullerton City Council, and has big plans for solving the budget problem.

I don’t know when the lightbulb will go on for our current council majority that our city is dying. We have been pinching penny’s for much too long and our city’s infrastructure shows it. If they would put on their thinking caps and allow legal dispensaries they could be the super heroes of Fullerton. Vote only candidates in favor of legalizing

Responding to something called Legalize Fullerton Dispensaries, Jaramillo shared:

Thank you for your continued interest in legalizing marijuana dispensaries in Fullerton. Unfortunately we still have the same 3 councilman, Whitaker, Jung & Dunlap, who voted against this issue. So let’s be sure when any of these 3 are up for re-election to show up and vote them OUT! Our city is losing millions of dollars each year that dispensaries are not allowed. We all know how desperate we are for a stronger budget……

I can’t guarantee that these are genuine comments made by Jaramillo, but when you consider the poor grammar and punctuation, they have the ring of genuineness. And of course, Jaramillo’s world view, “pinching penny’s” (sic) is the problem, not excessive pay and pensions to thousands of employees over the years.

Her stake-out makes sense if she she believes the Long Beach Cannabis Cartel can be a source of political fundraising; and, of course her political soulmate, Ahmad Zahra, has long been known a wannabe player in the legal dope store game. Zahra supported the proposed ordinance that could have resulted in legalized dispensaries within 100 of your house. Zahra has also been associated with the “consulting” work of one Melahat Rafiei who recently pleaded guilty for conning a would-be dispensary operator in Anaheim out of hundreds of thousands that were meant as payouts to officials, and to trying to bribe Irvine City Council members.

Now, it could be that Jaramillo really believes that dispensaries are an economic salvation for Fullerton, and the more the better, and any negative impacts are worth the price of happy public employees and timely CalPERS payments This may put her at odds with the Fullerton Police Department that has a long-standing opposition to this sort of thing; she must be counting on the cop union to paver her way to office.

Dysfunction Junction

Denial is a fairly common human condition, but normally it involves interpersonal relationships and fact isn’t always that easy to ascertain. It is also quite common in politics where one’s emotional beliefs and prejudices are set against somebody else’s. And then there’s the case when bald facts are staring you in the face and you just can’t allow the cold truth to intrude upon your fantasy.

Nowhere is the latter situation better seen than in the City of Fullerton’s attitude and actions involving the “downtown” area.

Business is booming…

It’s not real complicated. The City has known for almost two decades that downtown Fullerton was a money loser. A big money loser. And yet nary a word of complaint or criticism of the booze culture of downtown Fullerton has been uttered by the bureaucrats and politicians.

The most recent analysis was essayed 7 years ago. Here’s the money shot:

In 2017, the taxpayers of Fullerton were subsidizing the bar owners to the tune of almost $15,000 per liquor joint, each and every year. Three quarters of a million a year. Of course this was just for “public safety” as noted:

We focused on the public-safety facets of this study alone, and did not include the development and maintenance services costs Fullerton audited. We illustrate below Fullerton taxpayers were effectively subsidizing bar and restaurant establishments – to the tune of about $15,000 per establishment – all to cover the costs of police, fire and rescue services provided to the establishments and their patrons.

We know that maintenance and code enforcement and the legal services of Dick Jones and his I Can’t Believe It’s a Law Firm jack up the cost to well over a million bucks – $1.4 million being the overall cost previously discovered. And there are now over 50 bars.

Another award!

Think of it. During hard times and good, the taxpayers of Fullerton subsidize the likes of the Florentine family and the Marovic mob and the Poozhikala posse, while they make a fortune peddling fish bowls of booze to out-of-control miscreants and ignoring the law.

And still City staff insists on describing downtown Fullerton a glowing success story, a triumph to be built on; of course they aided and abetted in the charade by city councils that are marked by political cupidity, stupidity and a desire to look like they have accomplished something. Anything. For decades these people have crowed about their achievements in DTF, even as they desperately crammed more and denser housing blocks in and around main streets – hoping a captive audience would somehow help. It didn’t, and by the early 2000s the City decided an open air saloon was just the thing. And then the restaurants morphed into bars and then the bars morphed, illegally at first, into nightclubs.

I can keep this up all night…

As things got more lawless, and even some like Dick Jones lamented the “monster” he had created, the only thing that happened was that things got worse. Blasting noise, random violence, sexual assaults, human waste, mayhem, shootings, sadistic and pervy cops – you name it – caused no retrospection in City Hall about what had, and what was happening. It was all a big victory, and you don’t second guess a victory.

Well, things are looking glum fiscally for Fullerton according to last years budget projections and we will be told Ahmad Zahra and Shana Charles that we must bear the burden of a new sales tax jack-up in order to keep the creaky old jalopy going.

I say fix the financial sinkhole that is downtown Fullerton before you stick your hands in our pockets.

An Unhappy Anniversary

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

Not gone, but almost forgotten…

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

Hey, that’s not yours!

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

Busted.

Meet the new proprietor, same as the old proprietor…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.