The Union Pacific Park Sink Hole. What’s Next For The Park From Hell?

The Park That Never Was...

The history of Redevelopment failures should weigh heavily in the upcoming recall campaign. The disasters and boondoggles are many, but none so painful, perhaps, than the Poisoned Park. This is a saga of utter incompetence with zero accountability; in other words, business as usual for our illustrious City Councilmen Bankhead and Jones. McPension gets off this hook because he wasn’t part of this calamity, although you could bet your bottom dollar he would have gone along with it, too.

This post was originally published 27 months ago. The public is still fenced off from the contamination.

– Joe Sipowicz

It was supposed to be a park. That’s how they pitched it over at City Hall. The only problem was that nobody asked for a park. And nobody outside City Hall wanted a park. Commonsense could have predicted the future of a park.

We are referring, of course, to the Union Pacific Park on West Truslow Avenue, the sad history of which has been well documented on these pages; and one of many in a conga line of Redevelopment disasters perpetrated by Terry Galvin and Gary Chalupsky of the Fullerton Redevelopment Agency- in this case aided and abetted by Susan Hunt the lady dragon of the Community Services Department, and former City Manager Jim Armstrong, mastermind of a million Fullerton failures. We have also stressed the fact that so far nobody has been held accountable for this miserable failure and waste of millions of tax dollars. No one.

Last Tuesday, during the public comments portion of the City Council Show, a longtime resident who lives on Truslow Avenue, across from The Great Disaster spoke about the  problems the City had created when they decided to bestow a park upon unwilling residents. Below we share the video of the residents statement, as well as the response by City Manager Chris Myers. The video is a bit long, but well worth the watch. Borrachos, meth-heads, gang members. Who else did the City think was going to frequent this park?

In the end Myers admits that the park is being shut down – toilets closed, tables removed, fences going up, etc. You can decide for yourselves if can detect any contrition in his voice for the complete and unarguable waste of the millions spent on acquiring, designing, and building this park THAT IS ONLY FIVE YEARS OLD.

Now the city wants to create a “reuse committee,” ostensibly to figure out how to clean up the mess they created.

Here’s a free bit of advice from FFFF: SELL THE PROPERTY ASAP! And let’s not forget a complete investigation into this entire disaster with accountability for the people who created this mess. Perhaps the three councilperson who don’t have their fingerprints all over this debacle, Quirk, Keller, and Nelson, will be willing to demand accountability.

The “Paseo Park” Chronicles: The Park That Never Was. Or Is. Part 3

So far we have chronicled the story of a city park that nobody needed, with a proposed name no one wanted. Once construction was done, what had heretofore been a waste of time and money was soon to take a new twist.

No, not that kind of Twist, Chubby.

It was discovered that a flume of toxic material contaminated the west half of the park.

Oops. They're all empty. Now that's not very good, is it?
Oops. They're empty. Now that's not very good, is it?

Nobody in City Hall had bothered to do an environmental assessment before buying an old piece of industrial zoned property: not Gary Chalupsky the Redevelopment Director; not Susan Hunt the Community Services Director; not Bob Hodson the Engineering Director. All these Directors and nobody was directing anything. Perched atop of this shaky pyramid of incompetence sat Jim Armstrong, just waiting to bug out for the soonest better deal that offered itself. By the time the park was built Armstrong was gone, and his protege Chris Meyers was in charge – and probably damn glad this was Fullerton, where nobody was ever held accountable for anything.

This'll come in handy...
This'll come in handy...

Since 2003 a fence has been set up around the contaminated half of  the park. Meanwhile the City has been wrangling with the Gas Company over clean-up costs. This is now 6 years of embarrassing closure, and counting.  Half the park has been fenced off.

Not much of a park, is it?
A lot of chainlink fence and dead grass. Not much of a park, is it?

Meanwhile, too, the few Fullertonians who were actually paying attention found out how little park $1,500,000 in land and $1,900,000 in construction gets you nowadays: a prefabricated toilet building, among other things. And the City continued its tradition of ludicrous design, for instance a monument sign with its own little roof! How precious!

What kind of genius would put a tile roof on a sign? And how come the tiles are broken?
What kind of genius would put a tile roof on a sign? And how come the tiles are broken?

And as predicted, the half-park attracted just the sort of element you don’t want hanging around your parks and your kids – gang taggers, cholos, and neighborhood borrachos. Fortunately few kids seem interested in playing there anyway.

In the proposed Redevelopment expansion this would be proof of blight!
In the proposed Redevelopment expansion this would be proof of blight!

As this park degenerates we wonder how long it will be and how many consultants hired and studies performed to recommend the re-Redevelopment of this park; or to pave it over for Metrolink parking! Since we know that the City doesn’t like to part with territory once they acquire it, we can only speculate about future foibles in the Never Ending Story.

Read the rest of the Paseo Park Chronicles – Part 1Part 2 – Part 3

The “Paseo Park” Chronicles – The Park That Never Was. Or is. Part 2

Friends, when we left off our dismal tale of “Paseo Park,” the City Of Fullerton had just decided to build itself a park; a park that nobody outside of City Hall asked for or wanted. Susan Hunt, the Director of Community Services, long known for her jealous exclusion of citizens from deciding issues that affected “her” parks, was just shifting into high gear.

Where to, lady?
Where to, lady?

In December, 2002 City staff presented the City Council with a name for the new jewel in the city parks crown: Paseo Park –  a name, so staff claimed, that was chosen by the assent of some sort of “Advisory Committee.” The only problem was Susan Hunt made the whole thing up. The name was her idea – she just decided that the cliche fit the bill; after all, one of the phony reasons for buying the old right-of-way was to extend Fullerton’s trail system. And you can’t walk on a trail (no matter how truncated) without passing from point A to point B, and it was in the barrio, after all; hey presto: Paseo Park!

Here's a paseo. Maybe if we add a Mariachi...
Here's what a real paseo looks like: Merida, Mexico

Well that foolish Spanishification got shot down almost immediately as Tony Bushala, the next door neighbor, took umbrage at the ignorant oversight of the UP’s role in Fullerton history and the exclusion of the public in the naming process.  Later, the City Council fittingly named the new facility the “Union Pacific Park.”

Staff embarrassment should have been acute when it later became apparent that there was no park “Advisory Committee” at all; except that embarrassment presupposes guilt and shame, two emotions not known to exist in abundance in the west 300 block of Commonwealth Avenue.

If you can't see it, it can't hurt you...
Hindsight is 20/20...

In the meantime,  the plans and specs were put out to bid, a contract was awarded and construction got underway.

And here the story would have ended, except for the Law of Unintended Consequences that seems to bedevil almost everything our Redevelopment agency puts its hand to.

more trouble ahead
more trouble ahead

Read the rest of the Paseo Park Chronicles – Part 1 – Part 2 – Part 3

The “Paseo Park” Chronicles – The Park That Never Was. Or is. Part 1

This is a story that relates a chain of events that goes back many years, Gentle Readers, so please be patient. For those who don’t think Redevelopment spends half its time fixing mistakes it created with the other half, we promise that you will learn a lot about the way your city has been run – in three bite-size installments.

Why can't they leave stuff alone?
Why can't they leave stuff alone?

Way, way back in the 1980s Terry Galvin of the Redevelopment Agency cooked up a deal with the Union Pacific Railroad to acquire their Mission Revival depot on Truslow and Harbor. It was properly seen as a valuable historic resource, but damn the luck! It was on the wrong side of the tracks! Galvin’s plan was to relocate it to its current location on Harbor and Santa Fe, attach a weird-looking wood box addition to it, and present it to his pals at The Spaghetti Factory for $1 a year. The first of Fullerton’s subsidized restaurants offered cheap carbs to the masses, and why not? They weren’t paying any rent!

25 years of corporate welfare...
25 years of corporate welfare...

But how does this narration tie into something called  “Paseo Park” you ask? Patience, Friends, patience.

As usual the Redevelopment “experts” created more problems than they solved, for the empty lot created by the relocation was soon to become a permanent dumping ground for trash and junk – right next to Harbor Boulevard in the veritable gateway to Downtown Fullerton! And the painful irony: blight as a by-product of Redevelopment! But it was in the barrio so nobody cared.

Blight in the foreground, blight in the background, Redevelopment style...
The UP site with the Allen Hotel in the distance: blight in the foreground, blight in the background, courtesy of Redevelopment.

But cleaning up junk on railroad property is not nearly so fun as playing Monopoly with other people’s money, and the problem festered for years and years – almost twenty to be exact; until the Union Pacific decided to unburden itself of this section of track and the adjacent depot site. Despite the fact that that the railroad was in negotiations with private citizens to buy the old depot site, the Redevelopment Agency led by Gary Chalupsky intervened, and acquired the property itself – with the ludicrous intention of building a trail and an adjacent park. The “trail” itself was utterly useless since it effectively ended at the Highland Avenue grade separation on one end, and the SoCo Walk project at the other. The park occupied the former depot space between Truslow and the trail. Check out the aerial.

And all the property was removed from the property-tax rolls forever.

How about a Utility Tax Fix?
How about Another Utility Tax Fix?

Apart from the trail to nowhere, the park project itself was a dubious venture from the start. The location was not auspicious, and nobody from the community really wanted it. Sparsely attended “community” meetings showed that people on Truslow were concerned about on-street parking and getting rid of blight – not creating more. And they weren’t interested in a hang-out for the local gangs and borrachos by creating a “pocket park.” Well the City never let that sort of thing stand in the way of progress.

Skeptical observers noted that vast Richman Park was only a few blocks away, but this did not dampen enthusiasm in City Hall for a land grab: Susan Hunt, the Director of Community Services, was in a facility building mood – and that’s all that counted. Redevelopment money was there to grease the skids.


Read the rest of the Paseo Park Chronicles – Part 1 – Part 2Part 3

The List – Fullerton’s $100,000 Pension Club

Fullerton taxpayers are looking down the barrel of a major increase in pension payments next year. The CalPERS agency has lost as much as 37% of its assets in the stock market crash and taxpayers are contractually obligated to make up the difference.

Our Friends at the California Foundation for Fiscal Responsibility just released a report called the CalPERS $100,000 Pension Club. In their handy database, we located the annual pensions of 26 City of Fullerton employees who are bringing home over $100,000 a year post-retirement at our expense. We believe in an open government where the residents of Fullerton know what they are paying for — so here is the list:

Name Annual Pension Position
JAMES “JIM” REED $163,512.96 Fire
MICHAEL MAYNARD $137,565.84 Police
DANIEL CHIDESTER $136,680.84 Fire
FRANK PAUL DUDLEY $131,197.20 Development Services Director
ALLEN BURKS $131,152.92 Police
ANTONIO HERNANDEZ $124,902.12 Police
H HUNT $124,157.88
RONNY ROWELL $122,712.12 Police
STEVEN MATSON $121,586.16 Police
GEORGE NEWMAN $120,332.76
MARK FLANNERY $118,563.48 Director of Personnel
DAVID STANKO $117,924.00 Police
ROBERT HODSON $117,606.60 Director of Engineering
DANIEL BECERRA $114,625.56 Police
PHILIP GOEHRING $112,821.12 Police
BRAD HOCKERSMITH $111,957.96 Fire
JEFFREY ROOP $111,382.32 Police
NEAL BALDWIN $110,694.12 Police
ROBERT “BOB” RICHARDSON $107,643.48 Police
DONALD “DON” PEARCE $105,858.00 Police
CAROLYN JOHNSON $105,078.48 Library Director
PAUL TURNEY $103,674.36
RONALD “RON” GILLETT $103,431.72 Police
ARTHUR WIECHMANN $102,113.88 Police
JONATHON “JON” MCAULAY $100,036.32 Fire

Though we did our best to identify the contributions these individuals made to our city, some of the names do not ring a bell. Perhaps our loyal audience can fill in the blanks for us.

Say Fran... we really stuck it to those taxpayers, huh?
Say Fran... we really stuck it to those dumb taxpayers.

We are not against paying market rate for talented and motivated professionals to run our dear city — our disdain lies with the cloud of financial uncertainty that pension plans represent to our taxpayers. Historically, pensions are gleefully spiked in rosy times, with little thought given to potential long-term risks.

Out in the real world, we often use a calculation called “Total Compensation” — the sum of all salary, health benefits, taxes and retirement contributions for a given employee. This number allows both the employee and the employer to calculate the exact compensation of the employee and to ensure that it is comparable to that of similar jobs at other businesses. Businesses can see exactly what they are paying for an employee and thus how that will affect their budget for years to come.

With pensions, no such calculation is possible because an employer is making a future commitment based on unlikely investment forecasts stretching 50 years into the future. As we are about to painfully learn, those forcasts can be incredibly wrong. If we don’t change the way we compensate city employees now, we will continue to foot the bill for a very long time.


UPDATE: We are republishing this wonderful post by Fred Olmstead originally posted on February 21, 2009. We do so in order to highlight the fact that the park – suffering from real blight – is in the Redevelopment project area, and stands as yet another testament to the failure of Redevelopment. Sharon Quirk, are you reading this?

– The Fullerton Shadow


Loyal Friends of Fullerton’s Future, gather ‘round the cool glow of your computer terminals and follow a sad saga of miserable municipal negligence.

Located in the center of Fullerton is a resource of inestimable value, overlooked by almost everybody in and outside of City Hall: Hillcrest Park. Included in an early vision of the city it followed upon the City Beautiful, and natural urban park elements of the Progressive movement; and coincided nicely with the new auto culture of the 1920s, positioned as it was, along the original Highway 1.

Developed fully during the Depression in a rustic mode, the park soon after began a long decline into municipal irrelevance, and if anything, seemed to be perceived by many as a liability rather than a great asset.   This tragic trajectory is a shameful blot on Fullerton’s history and is akin to placing your eighty-five year old mother in a criminally negligent nursing home.

After Don Bankhead and Fullerton’s Finest chased out the acid-dropping hippies in the 1960s, the park became a haven for perverts; trees began to die and were not replaced; erosion claimed many of the north and west facing slopes and was not arrested; as the infrastructure crumbled it was replaced by City Engineer Hugh Berry with incongruous cinder block walls and concrete light poles.

In the mid-1990s Redevelopment Director Gary Chalupsky, in a philanthropic mood, decided that Redevelopment funds could be used to address Hillcrest Park issues – the first official over-the-shoulder glance toward the park in years.

And here, dear Friends, the story turns from a chronicle of benign neglect to one of outright incompetence and, one might plausibly argue, a form of bureaucratic malevolence.

In 1996 the usual scoping/charette pantomime was performed with an historic park landscape architect, specially imported from Riverside. An odd thing happened: every time the consultant prepared a list of priorities for the park, the Community Services Department’s wishes kept getting pushed to the top. The Director of Community Services was Susan Hunt, a woman long known for her mindless turf battles with her constituents – (including the Isaak Walton Cabin in Hillcrest). Hunt was determined to hijack the process and divert resources from where they were needed to facilities that she and her department could control and perhaps even profit from.

Hunt was successful. The consultant, knowing whom it was important to please, seemed only too happy to abet the fraud that was perpetrated. The city council (including current Jurassic members Bankhead and Jones) went along. Chris Norby was there, too. Now he’s in charge of the County’s parks.

A new playground replaced the old one in the Lemon parking area even though no one had complained about the existing one that parents seemed to like. More egregious still, a new facility (known as Hillcrest Terrace) was built behind the Veteran’s building that could be rented out for social functions. But the real needs of the park – slope stabilization, plant cataloguing and replacement, the removal of inappropriate elements – went unaddressed – and the problems have continued unabated to this day, ten years later, as interest in the park waned again.

Last fall the City once again roused itself from its somnolence and created an ad hoc committee to consider issues related to Hillcrest Park. The time is, perhaps, propitious. Susan Hunt has disappeared into an overdue and well-compensated retirement, current Director Joe Felz is much more amenable to citizen input. It’s time to reclaim this park.

Hillcrest is still in the Redevelopment Area and remains affected by indisputable blight. This should become a priority for Redevelopment Director Rob Zur Schmied.

While we wonder if the Hillcrest Park committee will actually display the necessary independence from staff manipulation, and that they possess the necessary technical abilities, we wish them well. And we encourage citizens to make sure that this time any assessment of Hillcrest will objectively address the needs of the park and report directly to the City Council. Recommendations should be included in the City’s Capital Budget.

Hillcrest Park can and must return to being the crown jewel of Fullerton’s parks.