Fullerton Observer Up To Old Tricks

On a clear day you can see forever…

Those Fullertonions who know about the Fullerton Observer are well aware of the bad habit of this operation of passing along editorial content as news.

Here’s an example.

An “article” running under the heading: Union Pacific Trail advocates hold peaceful demonstration asking to use the $1.78 million grant for its intended purpose.

Reading this headline you might suppose that somebody had been shot by the cops, and that violent protest could have broken out at any moment, and kudos to the protestors. But no. This drama was about not wasting a couple million bucks for a useless Trail to Nowhere that runs through one of the most dangerous parts of Fullerton. Were those octogenarians and 13th graders likely to break out in a rage-induced riot?

The editorial under the headline, written by one S. Kennedy, followed suit. Readers were not informed why the trail might have been considered a poor idea, for that would have been real journalism. Instead we learn the identities of a few of the those who spoke against giving the dough back to the state. We are told that nobody spoke against the Trail to Nowhere, a stupendous mislead since there was no agenda item to discuss it and the only people there had been orchestrated to yak about they knew not what during open mike public comments.

Readers were helpfully informed that there going to be another protest at today’s council meeting just in case some of the eager didn’t get Ahmad Zahra’s memo.

Trails are necessary for the health of our kids…

What the author of this piece didn’t tell you was that she was one of the cheerleaders of this event; that speaker Egleth Nunccio is a part of a conspiracy to ignore the City Council majority’s previous direction; that speaker Diane Vera is an Observer scribbler.

Intrepid reporter/newsmaker, S. Kennedy, top left.

Of course the authoress, Saskia Kennedy, got up and spoke her ignorant piece. (She did so again today, above -10/3/23 – and then plopped down in the audience to smugly encourage the “outraged” protesters she helped stir up). In other words the Observer, which calls itself a newspaper, is actually helping create the crap it is “reporting” on – and not telling anybody.

Comments were varied, some calling out the obvious Astroturf protest. One happy soul named Angela offered: “Civics in action. Love to see it!” Except, Angela, this was a lot less about civics and a lot more about a petty political game by Zahra to embarrass his opponents. The Trail to Nowhere isn’t coming back, the public at large doesn’t care, and Zahra knows this.

As I started this essay (see I know the difference between opinion and news) I pointed out that none of this should really come as a surprise to those who have been around a while. And as the Observer passes from one generation of ignorant, self-righteous Kennedy to the next, it would be foolish to expect otherwise.

This Has Been a Zahra Production

Ahmad is a film producer, we’ve been led to believe – by Zahra himself – although the body of work is a bit thin. So thin, in fact, as to be transparent. But last Tuesday he gave every indication that a Zahra production need not be a moving picture.

The casting call went out to gullible kids and even those of advanced age who should know better: a protest is needed. The underserved, bikes, trees, arbols, clean air, chubby kids finding health and happiness, all in jeopardy; in other words the ludicrous Trail to Nowhere, a $2,000,000 boondoggle vanity project whose only function was to make an appearance on a future Ahmad Zahra campaign mailer. Streetside they presented a pretty thin line whose handmade signs revealed the lack of imagine one associates with Fullerton Observers.

The protesters spoke, too, wasting lots of the council’s time, repeating the same nonsense previously scripted by Zahra

The Chief said I could have this neat shirt if I joined his team…

Zahra’s acolyte named Egleth Nunccio actually tried to get 18 minutes of talking time by taking the time allotted to five women standing behind her. Some of those responding to the casting call gave indication that they were nothing other than paid crisis actors employed to bulk up the chorus. Some make a sad presentation and sure didn’t look like rec trail advocates.

Will protest for a sandwich and a smoke…

So the production came and the production went off. The protesters had been told by their handlers that there was a chance the rejected State grant could somehow be clawed back from the brink of termination by a council suddenly enlightened or frightened by the Zahra music-less comedy. It can’t. Surely, Zahra knew this even as his little band wasted everybody’s time. His real goal was once again to look like he was accomplishing something. And more importantly, the petulant Zahra wanted to embarrass his colleagues.

And there are people in Fullerton who still wonder why Zahra can’t get himself chosen Mayor by his fellow councilmembers.

If You Build It…

The other night I watched an old movie from the 80s called Field of Dreams. Somehow I managed to get through an hour and a half of the worst Hollywood schmaltz imaginable. Some guy hears voices and builds a baseball field in the middle of an Iowa cornfield. And guess what? Magic happens! Long dead baseball players show up to knock the old horsehide around.

Today I realized that 90 minutes of my life hadn’t been wasted after all.

“If you build it, he will come…” He did, and he did. I noticed the same blind faith in principalities of the air in those who kept, and keep yammering about the Trail to Nowhere.

These folk believe that simply building something will cause users to show up on their field of dreams. Somehow. Sometime. Even though they never bother to identify who those users are going to be. And I suspect that this one practical effort is dutifully avoided because at some visceral level they don’t even care if the trail is used by anybody.

Field of Dreams is all about the suspension of reality if you really, really, really just wish it hard enough.

As has been pointed out by several FFFF commenters, there is a mindset that cherishes gesture, not effectiveness, good intention over good outcome. And when this is compounded with the old liberal attitude of happily patronizing minorities (ahem, underserved populations) by granting them government largesse, the recipe is complete.

It might work…if you build it…

Anybody who has been along this strip of real estate knows a few things. They can’t figure out who on earth would want to use this as a trail and that the so-called Phase I has been at utter failure in use and design as a recreation facility – even when its terminus, Union Pacific Park, was open. The proposed Phase II runs through desolate industrial buildings, used tire stores, plating and asphalt business; it traverses junk yards parking lots with junk cars. Somehow this bleak, linear experience offers a golden shower of dreams to government employees with too much money and their do-gooding camp followers who seem to think that spending money is more important than spending it well. See, it’s the thought that counts. Just build it. You’ll feel good about yourself.

Ground Zero for Inertia

My latest essay detailed the problem of corporate inertia and described how Fullerton’s government as a corporate body displays all the problems associated with stagnation, ossification and an inability do things any differently. And then of course, there’s the arrogance and secretiveness.

Here’s a prime example of a culture that is in need of electric shock therapy.

Last April I wrote a post about how the the City and property owner Mr. Mario Marovic had come to an agreement in the fall of 2022 about the latter’s removal of the infamous Florentine hijack of the sidewalk on Commonwealth Avenue. In return, Marovic got to open his two new saloons on the corner.

We now know what a foolish bargain it was for the City.

Marovic was supposed to start demolition the last week in March. That was five and a half months ago. As of mid-September this has not started, and there is no sign that it will ever start. Why not?

Cheers!

Some people may suspect that Mr. Marovic has cast his bread upon the City Council water, so to speak, either above or below the table. But there is also a more likely scenario: the City is simply continuing to cover up its own incompetence in the long, sad history of the sidewalk theft.

No, I wasn’t asleep. I was praying…

And at the center of this tale? City Attorney Dick Jones, who is the only player who has been involved in this mess from the proverbial Day One, and who continues, no doubt, to dispense his legal wisdom that has been so disastrous, and has included turning a blind eye to his own conflict of interest, and justifying forgery of an official City application.

There’s also a bigger picture.

The government of Fullerton has developed a noxious habit of ignoring its own rules and regulations in the downtown area; it has systematically ignored the scofflaws who own the bars, and in fact has coddled and pampered them. Both bureaucrats and elected have continued to portray downtown Fullerton as an achievement, a great success, a municipal asset, when in fact, the saloon culture has never been anything but an annual $1.5 million drain on the City’s budget.

Of course the pages of FFFF are full of stories that confirm the nature of the stasis that defines our city’s governance. What is the solution? That’s the theme of a future post.

The Curse of Other People’s Money

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.

It might work…

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.

Phase 1 was a complete failure so Phase 2 is bound to work!

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.

I’ll drink to that!

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.

It doesn’t matter how it turns out. It’s the gesture that counts.

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.

Weeds, Weeds and More Weeds

A Friend sent in a copy of a letter from Daniel S. Franco of the City of Fullerton, requesting/demanding weed abatement per the Municipal Code. Supposedly the letter was instigated by a complaint. That may be a true story; or not. Here’s the letter:

Now, this isn’t all that unusual except that the irony of the City making a private citizen do what it will not is pretty rich. What am I referring to? Why, the Trail to Nowhere, of course, the City-owned former UP right-of-way where lately a handful of people, offensively masquerading as “the community” demanded a recreation trial. A quick look at the current situation along the abandoned strip reveals the City in severe breach of the rules it feels compelled to apply to the populace.

Oops.

Oops, again.

It’s pretty apparent that the City of Fullerton can’t take care of its own property. Or maybe by neglecting this property the City is offering up a big FU to the “community” it pretends to care so much about.

In any case the question of our town’s ability to maintain its property brings into focus the question of maintenance costs for new facilities – like the sad proposal of the Trail to Nowhere.

Trail to Nowhere Goes Nowhere

Oh, the potential!

On Tuesday night the Fullerton City Council again shit-canned the moronic recreation trail proposed on the old Union Pacific right-of-way.

Councilmen Bruce Whitaker and Nick Dunlap both presented compelling reasons; that the proposal failed to address requests from the Council in 2021 that the area be addressed wholly, not by piecemeal projects. Mayor Fred Jung joined them in voting to turn back the grant money.

Looking down from above…

Naturally, Ahmad Zahra championed the wasteful project, pretending to be offended by Dunlap’s observation that maintenance was issue since Fullerton can’t take care of the parks we already have. It didn’t seem to occur to him that his position was grossly patronizing to his own constituency who must be separated from the hard truths of fiscal realty. He was joined in his profligacy by Shana Charles who giggly gushed over the opportunidad to bestow a top-down gift to the community – and after all, it was free money and wasn’t going to cost anything.

A gaggle of speakers showed up to defend Option 1 – a bike trail that would pass through some of the worst, least safe parts of Fullerton. A couple opined that a useless trail was desperately needed. A few Spanish-speaking women appeared to regurgitate the talking points of Zahra, but as usual displayed a complete factual deficit. Their job was to bad-mouth Option 2 that could have include an auto passage along the trail, and again to babble about “the children.”

Jane Rands. Commonsense prevailed…

One speaker named Jane Rands actually provided intelligent and pertinent points, to wit: the City staff had not developed a general concept for the redevelopment of the area, and that the trail has no connectivity to anything else in the trail system, a point lost on the thoughtless Zaharites.

So in the end the council majority voted on Option 3 – give the money back to the opaque agency that took it from the taxpayers and doled it out in the first place. In a fun twist, Jung added a caveat to his Option 3 support: that the Up Park be re-opened ASAP.

After the vote was taken, one of Zahra’s lunatic followers began screaming at the Council about being racists and insensitive beasts, etc., and had to be removed from the chamber by the pit-sitting cop. And Zahra could be heard muttering under his breath into the open mike: “Bushala.”

Say, Who’s In Charge Over There?

I know, lets get some running exercise. Before they catch us!

The other day I learned that Fullerton’s nonsensical trail to nowhere has been magically resurrected, again, it seems, the beneficiary of some wasteful State grant meant to make people feel good about themselves. How do I know it’s wasteful and all about virtue signaling? Easy. Just consider the “Trail To Nowhere.”

Time to recreate.

City staff is no longer even pretending that the the proposed “trail” goes to the Transportation Center, or that it could ever make its way to the Hunt Branch and points northwest. At least those lies have been dispensed with. Now it’s all about connecting a refurbished UP Park and Independence Park, a connection that means nothing to anybody outside the hallowed halls of City Hall. The proponents of this absurdity still can’t identify a single likely user, nor can they spit out the cost of maintaining this trail. They don’t know and don’t care. Build something and someone’s bound to use it, despite the fact that it runs through a dangerous, dilapidated, and dismal industrial zone of junkyards, used tire shops, asphalt plants and metal plating operations. The gesture is what counts, not the aftermath!

But I have already digressed.

The real point of this post is to ask how this miserable idea sprang back to life after the City Council expressed their displeasure with the bureaucratic piecemeal planning of this area, questioned the wisdom of the proposal and said they wanted to see alternatives that might actually help innovative development in the area. They got none of that.

Don’t let the amorphous shape fool you. Oh, wait…

It’s true that Fullerton has had four City Managers in the past three years or so; it’s pretty easy to spot the vacuum here. Plus the new guy, Eric Levitt, seems to have the backbone of a jelly donut when it comes to saying no to his staff. He appears to be cruising for a pension spike and an imminent decampment.

The idea may have been bad, but it sure was old.

Who was it that organized the happy field trip to explore the potential wonders of the trail? How come nobody knew about it except select invitees? How did the Parks Commission come to be presented with a choice that was no choice and how on Earth did this get on the City Council agenda? Obviously there has been a conspiracy to revive this idea and Mr. Levitt is all on board. Why? And why has the City Council permitted the same proposal it rejected last time, to reappear in the same form? These are rhetorical questions only.

The fact that D5 Councilmember Ahmad Zahra and his minions wanted this so badly last time – a gesture, (no matter how expensive and hollow) to the communidad – leads me to suspect this thing has been orchestrated by him and Parks staff to embarrass his colleagues into going along with the scheme this time.

OCPA Losing Juice. Fast.

The other night I was watching our esteemed councilcreatures meet so I could check out the Associated Road conversation and I stuck around for the discussion on whether to hire a “consultant” to figure out the cost for Fullerton to ditch the Orange County Power Agency.

Green and electric…

The OCPA was conceived as a way to provide “green energy” alternative electricity to people in orange County who wanted it. The idea was the brainchild of the City of Irvine who paid for the start up costs. Eventually Fullerton, Buena Park, Huntington Beach and the County signed on.

Don’t Ask Don’t Tell!

From the get go critics attacked the new agency for secrecy and incompetence and failure to deliver a competitive price. It was up to individuals who wanted out, to opt out, a backhanded way to get, and keep customers. Not a good start.

Flash forward to today.

The County has pulled out of the OCPA, Irvine has been talking about it, too. Last Tuesday the Huntington Beach council voted to do the same; on the very same night the Fullerton City, debated the merits of hiring a consultant to figure out what the financial ramifications might be for us get out, too, before Fullerton is left holding the proverbial bag.

I have no idea why City Hall doesn’t already know the consequences of leaving the agency and why the exact formula wasn’t know before we got into it. Anyhow, the discussion wasn’t all that clear.

Show me the money…

Ahmad Zahra, one of the people who voted for Fullerton to join this agency wasn’t there to opine on it. Bruce Whitaker and Nick Dunlap both expressed reservations about the whole deal, but went along with Mayor Jung’s suggestion of having the City Manager ask the agency to tell them what it would cost to bolt, instead of hiring a consultant to do it. That makes sense of course, but begs the question of why this wasn’t done a long, long time ago. Like on Day One.

Cost analysis is hard…

Shana Charles who comically described herself as a “cost analyst” was pushing hard to waste money hiring somebody to pry the information, somehow, out of the OCPA – no doubt a way to embarrass Jung who is now happens to be the Chair of the OCPA. Her motion died a very slow death.

So where will this all lead? The OCPA claims to have reformed itself, but has provided zero evidence to show it has. The board got rid of the first problematic CEO even as they showered him with praise. As far as I can see this shows that nobody there is serious about anything.

Getting out of OCPA may be expensive and may get more so as members drop out; nobody seems to know, and if they do, they ain’t a-talkin.’ And that’s not only embarrassing, it’s a dereliction of duty on the part of the people who got Fullerton into this mess.