By now Fullerton City Hall is aware that their partner in a boutique hotel/apartment high-rise on Santa Fe Avenue, TA Westpark LLC, is in trouble. TA Westpark Fullerton., AKA Johnny Lu has defaulted on a massive loan, previously borrowed to complete projects in Irvine.
The fallout from this embarrassment remains unknown, although there are plenty of questions that need to be answered, and sooner rather than later.
One of the questions involves the transfer of the public property ownership at the site to TA Westpark Fullerton, LLC before proper project approval, a desperate, and of course, totally unnecessary act. And the actual documents supporting ownership of the land in question need to be examined, too.
On December 22, 2022 the City sold the land at a huge discount to Lu. Check out the grant deed:
By now Craig Hostert, whose brain-child the boutique hotel was, is scratched out and TA Westpark Fullerton, LLC, a Delaware corporation, is the proud owner of the land and the transfer is signed by a “managing partner” of a whole other entity – “TA Partners.” Looks like Hosteret was bought out or walked away, abandoning his baby.
But, as they say in the infomercial, wait, there’s more. A quick check of the State of Delaware’s corporations roster doesn’t turn up any results for TA Westpark Fullerton, LLC. Hmm.
And here’s something else. A few months later a new grant deed was promulgated and recorded at the County of Orange. Here, the hard to find Delaware corporation deeds the land in question over to TA Westpark Fullerton, LLC, a California corporation.
Something is odd here, and it’s not just the amateur hour handwritten changes on the original deed. Did the City sell this property to a non-existent corporate entity? If so, hasn’t some sort of fraud occurred? Why the shell game here, and could the original deed be considered invalid in retrospect?
We could ask these question of Dick Jones of the “I Can’t Believe It’s a Law Firm” law firm, because I doubt the City Council will make inquiries of their ace lawyer. Getting an honest answer from ol’ marble mouth? A rare and precious jewel.
Some might think this entire fiasco is going to get worse before it gets better. I’m not sure how that’s possible.
Friends probably remember that FFFF has been relentlessly critical of the dubious scheme approved by our City Council to underwrite a downtown boutique hotel and uber-dense apartment project on a parking lot owned by the City and used by Metrolink commuters.
Here’s a reminder: three councilmembers Bruce Whitaker, Shana Charles and Ahmad Zahra voted to sell this property to a developer for a mere $1.4 million (less site material removal) while simultaneously time jacking up the value of the land by approving density 2.5 times the limit specified in the Transportation Center Specific Plan. It was a gift of public funds at least ten million dollars.
Here’s the fun part. The original and completely unqualified baby daddy of the project, Craig Hostert, didn’t have the wherewithal to make the deal. After years of failing to perform on his Exclusive Negotiating Agreement and numerous extensions, Hostert’s West Park Investments, LLC joined its non-existent forces with TA Partners Development of Irvine, Johnny Lu, proprietor.
Mr. Lu, the new face of the project, appeared at council meetings to seal the deal with a ration of gobbledygook bullshit.
It seems that Johnny has gotten himself in over his head on two projects in Irvine, including second bridge loans that he has now defaulted on. And of course Sunayana Thomas, Fullerton’s crack “business development” director seemingly failed to inform the City Council of Mr. Lu’s impending financial embarrassment, something that should have been revealed in even a cursory perusal of TA Partners’ asset to debt ratio and its balance sheet.
And then, of course there is the problem with the completely incompetent concept of rushing the approval to transfer of title to the land, before the deal had received final approval.
By now the Council has possibly, though not necessarily been informed by the Fullerton City Manager, Eric Leavitt, of the problem, but where does the deal stand? Title to the property has been transferred from the City to and through Lu’s companies*, presumably for the original sale amount. But if TA Partners can’t perform, will the City get its now very valuable property back, or will it be encumbered by bankruptcy receivers? Will the City, in order to save face as it always has, permit Mr. Lu to assign his rights and interests to another party as a face-saving strategy? If that happens, will the original bad idea still go forward, or will the Council approve something even worse as a sop to a new developer so to avoid admitting their horrible mistake in the first place?
You can try asking Whitaker, Charles, or Zahra, the architects of this inexcusable and completely avoidable mess, but don’t hold your breath waiting for a response.
A Friend directed me to a item in the Fullerton Observer about how Mayor Fred Jung had misused the official City seal on business cards.
UPDATE: 6:45PM 10/31/23. To protect them from getting nasty calls from any mean spirited person out there, the phone numbers of these honest men who are trying to help Fullerton’s economic growth have been redacted. The cards were originally published in The Fullerton Observer. I’m curious where the Observer got the cards from to begin with., something tells me it was devious. Two wrongs don’t make a right. Hope The Observer follows suit, but don’t hold your breath. Admin.
There’s nothing odd or wrong about members of City commissions using official insignia and I bet it happens all the time. What is strange is the creation of non-existent jobs advertised on two of the cards we’re looking at here. There is no official thing as a Mayor’s Art Counsel (sic?) or a Mayor’s Economic Advisor. These endeavors would be purely unofficial and creating business cards for them is wrong. And there is no reason to include a résumé on the backside of anybody’s City-related card.
One of the reasons I’m posting this is because a few days ago FFFF published a blog post about the self-congratulatory and unsolicited statement sent out by Councilmembers Ahmad Zahra and Shana Charles about the situation in Gaza on City letterhead that includes the City seal, and that was published in the Fullerton Observer without objection. In the comments section one of our Friends questioned the dubious use of the City seal.
The self-righteous Kennedy clan that operates the Fullerton Observer is too dense to recognize their own hypocrisy here, but I’m not.
The misuse of the seal is happening, and it needs to be stopped, regardless of who is doing it.
This fun image popped up on the City of Fullerton’s splash page very recently.
Looks like the HR department is interested in recruiting fresh talent into the ranks, and I wish them luck. Their success hiring real talent over the decades has been a little iffy.
And then I reflect that this blog has been working and working hard for Fullerton’s Future since 2008 – 15 years with only one sabbatical.
No, we haven’t been paid by the taxpayers, and no big pension accrual for us. None at all, in fact. No gratitude, of course, from the high and mighty inside the Seventh Wall, as Professor J.H. Habermeyer would put it.
Still, we soldier on, working for the future of Fullerton.
You know, the more I have looked into the ill-fated “rec trail” that would have wasted $2,000,000 in public funds, the more I notice a trend of ignorant misstatements and misdirection; outright prevarication and a lot of hopeless wishful thinking.
Since it’s so hopeless, I can dispense with the wishful thinking (for now). The deliberate lies will be the theme of another post. This post will deal with the misstatements concerning the so-called “Phase I” of the Trail to Nowhere that City staff and trail supporters keep talking about as some sort of achievement. I really wonder if any of them have ever actually seen what they are talking about. I went there today, and I’m here to help.
First, here is a satellite image of “Phase I” that was put in place at the same time the Union Pacific Park was built. The black line is superimposed over the “trail” – a sidewalk running next to a decomposed granite path along which an horse railing was thoughtfully added, presumably for the equestrian enthusiasts in the barrio.
The trail, such as it is, doesn’t even start at the UP Park. It starts just west of it. It runs a few hundred feet and makes an abrupt 90 degree turn, crosses the paved alley about 50′ and then it makes another 90 turn to the left and eventually follows the descending grade of Highland Avenue where it stops at Walnut Avenue at the bottom of the railroad underpass.
Does any of this “trail” meet any sort of basic requirements? It sure looks like a design mess to me. And of course this “facility” has been completely neglected by City maintenance and is covered in weeds, broken railings and strewn with trash and vandalized by graffiti.
It’s perfectly obvious to anybody with a modicum of commonsense that this effort has no broader connectivity at the east end. It has no connection to the Transportation Center, Downtown Fullerton or parts east, as continuously claimed by promoters of the “Phase II” extension. It has no connection to anything except the fenced off UP Park. In fact, the thing is so obviously useless for its intended purpose that the City used the adjacent parking stalls for homeless car campers. Who would care? The route behind the Elephant Packing building smells like it’s been used for public urination. A lot of it.
The sad fact is that of course nobody uses this trail for recreation purposes, and for obvious reasons. It’s useless and it’s often dangerous.
The answer? Phase II of course! The problem with this little useless zig-zag is to connect it to Independence Park with a two million dollar extension, and the problem is solved.
Here’s the City’s plan:
But how is that supposed to work, exactly? If you look at the City’s proposal image above you can easily see that the Phase I part doesn’t even line up with the would-be Phase II to the west, indicated above by the arrow. But the asphalt alleyway does.
This would have meant that Phase I isn’t even finished and would require further modification, a scope of work not discussed by anybody, not shown on the plan above, not budgeted, and one that would mean the horror of a bike trail running alongside the existing paved road to get to Highland Avenue. And then of course there’s the problem of actually getting across Highland and traffic line of sight safety – another impediment to recreational fun.
While the questions of Phase I’s utility and connectivity to Phase II are now, fortunately, moot, it’s instructive to observe the design failure and the real truth: this would never have been a connection to any other part of eastern Fullerton or linkage to any regional trail plan as relentlessly cited by staff. The only way Phase I was useful was its availability to justify an extension. Unless you were to look at an actual map.
As might have been predicted, someone made a Public Records Act request on October 12th for information regarding soils and environmental testing on the abandoned Union Pacific right-of-way, purchased by the City of Fullerton in the 1990s.
Why is this request germane to FFFF? Because the blog has speculated about contamination along the UP right-of-way, in view of previously discovered toxicity that closed the UP Park and because it is known by the EPA, the Orange County Water District, and the City of Fullerton’s Engineering Department that the carcinogenic chemical trichloroethylene was discovered at 311 S. Highland Avenue, a heavy industrial property that lies along the proposed recreation trail on the UP right-of-way. It is also known that contamination is moving south and east from the aforementioned property.
Needless to say, none of this information was given to the Fullerton City Council when they considered approving the State Natural Resources grant that would have paid for most of the trail construction.
Here is the request:
Well, that’s a pretty simple request. And, as you can see, the City claims that it has complied by issuing a “full release” of documents. Here’s what they released:
Enjoy yourself reviewing these documents on the City Clerk’s website page. It won’t take you long. Of the 6 files listed none has anything to do with soils or environmental testing. From this response, such as it is, we may reasonably infer that no testing was done, or if it was, the documentation is lost. In either case the proper response should have been “no relevant documents exist.” Instead City staff posted completely irrelevant and non-responsive documents onto their website. Was it just an effort to look responsive, somehow? Did they even care?
If we grant that the City’s functionaries are somewhat honest as they go about their business then we have no choice but to conclude that no soils or environmental testing have ever been preformed by the City or its agents along the right-of-way and that this has led to an egregious omission of information to a City Council being asked to spend $2,000,000 building a trail and no one knows how much securing and maintaining it.
When you’re a politician and really feel the need to promote yourself what do you do? You wait for an opportunity. Almost any opportunity will do if you’re truly needy and advertising your brand is critical to your narcissist mission.
Here, our esteemed Councilmembers from District 3 and 5 have joined forces for a truly unnecessary exercise in showing how wonderful they are – Jewish and Arab-Muslim leaders. Of course the word leader should be placed within quotation marks.
How wonderful. Except that I have to wonder about the use of the City letterhead bearing the official City seal. Is this sort of expression even legal? Someone should ask Dick Jones of the “I Can’t Believe It’s A Law Firm.”
Disillusioned Ex-Hippy has just written a nice piece about how the Voice of OC got conned into publishing a completely one-sided story on the defeated Trail to Nowhere, replete with the same falsehoods being printed by Saskia Kennedy and her mother, Sharon, who are responsible for the editorials of the Fullerton Observer.
The narrative is simple: poor, underserved Latinos are fighting City Hall to get “nice things.” Of course it was lapped up by Voice reporter Hosam Elattar who took the bait and the hook along with it. The whole thing is a genuine and popular uprising of hard working folk taking time away from their jobs, etc., etc.
But there’s a problem with this story, one that we already know about. And that is that the ongoing “protest,” such as it is, was ginned up by D5 councilman Ahmad Zahra to embarrass his political opponents on the Fullerton City Council. And this little scheme has been aided and abetted by the Kennedy clan every step of the way.
So get this.
On October 4th the Fullerton Observer is inviting people to show up at Independence Park that afternoon to talk about ways to improve Fullerton.No mention is made of protest signs and walks along the railroad tracks with narration provided by one Egleth Nunnci, Zahra’s loyal, go-to Latina foot soldier. Anyone seeing this message might believe they were going to discuss improving Independence Park and would hardly expect to hear the propaganda that has nothing to do with Independence Park. Neither would they expect a photojournalist (and maybe even a reporter) to be in attendance to report on a political protest, with signs handed out for fun.
What a sad, albeit sort of funny little scam, but just the sort of small-scale chisel Zahra watchers have come to expect. Now, it’s likely that nobody seeing that message even showed up, and that the trail hikers were all Zahra brand crisis actors. Nevertheless, the willingness to deliberately mislead citizens like this is pretty reprehensible even for the self-important and self-righteous Kennedy family.
Addendum: I apologize for not providing a link to the story in Voice of OC. Here it is. And after reading it again and Elattar’s phone interview with the egregious Egleth, I really have to wonder if he even went to the site at all. Why would he have to call her if he was there listening to her nonsense? Could this whole tale be simply the result of phone interviews? If so, that would be pretty bad, and seeing Leopo’s pictures still should have made his journalist’s antennae go sideways – if he has any.
People who read the online news source known as the Voice of OC know that it reflexively leans toward stories that promote the notion of the local underdog up against monied interests entrenched in the corridors of power.
And that’s okay – up to a point. And that point is crossed when their “reporters” buy into some shenanigan or other without delving at all into the issues. It’s the narrative that counts, of course: rich vs. poor, good vs. evil, and the narrative must not change.
And so when Voice of OC reporter Hosam Elattar got a call from Ahmad Zahra (or one of his brain-washed followers) about the “popular” uprising in Fullerton about a rejected “greening” grant it must have been irresistible. And so the Voice scribe showed up for some sort of Trail to Nowhere romp where the usual suspects – Egleth Nunnci and Saskia Kennedy of Fullerton Observer infame – were ready for him, with a gaggle of followers bearing the usual “home made” signs of protest.
It doesn’t seem to have occurred to Mr. Elattar to ask why protesters with signs were parading down the abandoned UP right-of-way where exactly nobody could see them, except Julie Leopo, the Voice “photojournalist.” A real reporter, or an honest one at this point would know he was being played. It doesn’t seem to have occurred to him to inquire into Nunnci’s absurd statement that he later published:
“This is an area that is overpopulated, overdeveloped – where people are not thinking about green spaces,” Nuncci said. “Mental health (issues) are happening because our children don’t have the opportunity to go and play and run and enjoy.”
Elattar didn’t ask why those poor, mentally affected kids couldn’t “play and run and enjoy” themselves in nearby Richman Park or Lemon Park or Independence Park. Nor did he inquire into the question of how these little victims of society were going to get to the Trail to Nowhere, since only one street – three short blocks of Truslow Avenue – is closer to the right-of way than to Richman Park or Independence Park. And he didn’t bother to notice, or at least inquire about the graffiti and ask Ms. Nunnci if maybe the industrial zone with its obvious blight, might not be the best place to build a linear park. The Leopo pictures themselves betray the problem by showing the beloved Trail to Nowhere as it runs along the no man’s land next to and lower than the Santa Fe mainline tracks.
Did Elattar bother to continue along the route to see what it passed through? Did he even bother to look at a google satellite image?
Did Elattar bother to interview any of the residents of the adjacent Liberty Walk community at the western end to find out if they were even notified of the Trail to Nowhere proposal that had lights shining into their backyards? What about SOCO Walk on the eastern end? Did he ask anybody who actually lived on Truslow whether they would use this silly facility? Why would he do that? He already had his tale from the get-go.
Elattar, moreover, took it as gospel that this rump trail would have provided connectivity to other trails and “several parks.” It would not have – previous lies that even City staff have finally abandoned, although The Fullerton Observer keeps using to dupe the gullible kids and the elderly Observers who just can’t know better.
And finally I would be remiss if I didn’t share this charming image:
This is Saskia Kennedy, directing traffic for her photo op actors, creating the news before her Fullerton Observer writes opinion “news” articles about it.
One hopes that Hosam Elattar’s superiors at the Voice of OC cotton on to the scam pulled on their ace reporter and advise him to delve into the issue more closely. But I’m not counting on it.
It could be. Last post I described how the the UP Park was contaminated and shut down for remediation just after $2 million were sunk into building a park. Nobody in the City bothered to do an Environmental Analysis.
I asked, rhetorically, whether the rest of the long UP right-of-way had been subsequently tested for toxins in light of the fact that trichloroethylene (TCE) had been detected on the property at 311 South Highland Avenue, a property adjacent to the proposed Trail to Nowhere. It seems that some years ago the Hughes Corporation used the solvent to clean up the circuit boards they made at this location, and the EPA still regards it as an active site.
A little digging uncovered the fact that ground zero seems to be the west end of the property where testing has been periodically done in the area of a likely dump site for the nasty TCE toxin. Apparently there are several monitoring wells located in the yellow areas circled in red in the image below.
Please note the proximity to the Trail to Nowhere of the wells in the lower left. 15 feet? 10 feet? 5ft? Surely somebody in the Parks or Engineering Departments gave thought to this when the Trail to Nowhere concept was developed; when the grant application was made; even when the proposed project budget was laid out. No? If not, why not? How could they not have known? The EPA has recognized this as a site of TCE ground water contamination where a toxic plume is heading southward – under the proposed trail.
At this point questions are starting to pile up. Questions that may have uncomfortable answers.
We are fortunate that Messrs. Dunlap, Jung and Whitaker have put the kibosh on the silly and wasteful Trail to Nowhere proposal for other common sensical reasons. And yet there remains the problem about lack of disclosure to our elected officials in their decision making process, and perhaps even in the grant application itself.