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 Fullerton City Council And It’s Trail of Tears to Nowhere

It's a long wretched journey, but is sure isn't worth it when you get there...
It's a long wretched journey, but it sure isn't worth it when you get there...

We have almost exhausted ourselves relating the long and troubling story of the Poisoned Park, AKA the Union Pacific Park, a perfect case study in local government overreach, squandered millions, and zero accountability from our “very, very good” City Manager or anybody else for that matter.

with a spring in his step...
with a spring in his step...

First the Redevelopment Agency interfered in a private sector transaction; then they unwittingly acquired contaminated property. Then they built a park that nobody but cholos and borrachos used (good thing half of it was fenced off!). Several million bucks later city staff sat on an embarrassing disaster whose magnitude could only be minimized by comparing it to other historical Redevelopment fiascoes.

But now to the point of this post. On Tuesday, the council voted to apply for grant  funds to continue the “trail” westward from Highland, even though they had been informed of a toxic plume under the property. More millions spent on more contaminated property! And still no explanation about the fact that this idiotic “trail” has no provision to take pedestrians, cyclists (or horses, yee haw!) over the at-grade crossings at Highland and Richman; and no coherent vision about how this thing is supposed to function at all.

When the issue of contamination popped up, City Engineer Don Hoppe made some noise about how they had looked into the issue (yeah, sure Don); ever helpful City Attorney Jones suggested that the application be made anyway while some sort of site check up be performed.

Huh? Once again nobody seemed real curious about how the City got stuck with contaminated property (no doubt mistakes were made and hindsight is 20/20). Instead of accountability they seem more more interested in chucking more good money after bad.

Like chickens with their heads left on
Like chickens with their heads left on

And of course it didn’t really seem to bother anybody that the City’s previous efforts on the Union Pacific right-of-way have been a titanic debacle from start to…well, there will probably never be a finish.

Now that's not very good, is it?
Now that's not very good, is it?

The thought process behind the original, ill-conceived acquisition still seems to be driving things along: it’s there, we’re the City, and there is an opportunity to own property, play park designer and trail manager, not to mention playing around with millions of dollars of somebody else’s dough.

On the Agenda: December 1st, 2009

Fullerton City Council AgendaThe Closed Session has something very interesting. Item 2 is noted as “Portion of Tentative Tract Nos. 15671, 15672, and 15673 – West Coyote Hills, Fullerton, CA”. Yep, more Coyote Hills for those that just can’t get enough.

Among other items on the consent calendar, Item 5 is going to change the appointment process for at-large commissioners.

Item 6 is so that the Parks and Recreation folks can apply for a grant that would be used for the Union Pacific Trail Phase II. The total cost is estimated at $1,345,000 which in one way or another comes from public coffers.

Hill Crest Park is 7th on the consent calendar. There is a 113 page back-up document which includes an agreement for landscape architect services. Also in the motion is a request to transfer $60,000 from Redevelopment to Parks and Recreation. (Ed.: One concern that has been voiced by many is the poor maintenance of the parks. Whether from vandalism or neglect, the parks and playgrounds are in need of some TLC.)

8th on the list is the landscape ordinance. In the name of water conservation, let city staff decide what plants are “aesthetically appeasing and environmentally beneficial”. The cost is shown as “None”. Shouldn’t it be a cost saver for the city? Otherwise, why implement it?

Want to know who will be our next mayor? The answer is in the council’s decision on Item 9.

The January 5th meeting is to be canceled per Item 10 because there just isn’t anything for them to do. At least that’s what the staff report says.

Not on the forefront of our minds is who will serve on the Vector Control Board? Jones’ term is up. Can you imagine how he has been representing Fullerton at Board meetings? I would imagine he rambles on about…who knows what.

City staff has recommended several changes related to restrictive parking on public streets. Read Item 12 for details.

Lastly, look out for the December 15th meeting. There are a lot of topics which will likely bring a large turn out. Tentatively they are:

  • Annual Financial Report (A – City/RDA) & B – Airport Update
  • October Financials
  • Contract Renewals for Group Insurance Programs
  • Public Hearing – 5 Year Implementation Plan
  • Adopt Landscape Ordinance
  • Update Deferred Compensation Plan
  • Sewer Reconstruction Project 09/10 Carol/Magnolia Area
  • Public Hearing – Appeal – Encroachment Permit Denial
  • Presentation – Certificate of Appreciation – Dick Waltz
  • Closed Session – Property Negotiations – OC Flyers
  • Public Hearing – Parking Permit Fees
  • Adopt Ordinance – Permit Parking
  • Direct Appointments – Library
  • Public Hearing – Olson Housing Project
  • Contract Award – Raymond Grade Separation
  • RDA Annual Determination Re: Low & Moderate Housing
  • RDA FY 08/09 Annual Report
  • Signal Modification – Orangethorpe/Highland & Signing/Striping – Orangethorpe
  • Presentation – MWD Update

Ground Zero of Fullerton Redevelopment Failure

For dyed-in-the-wool government apologists like Dick Jones, Jan Flory, Dick Ackerman, Sharon Kennedy, Don Bankhead, et al., Redevelopment blunders are conveniently overlooked, when possible; when not possible, some lame defense is mounted, such as: mistakes were made (passive voice obligatory) but we learned and moved on; hindsight is 20/20 (Molly McClanahan’s motto vivendi); the problem was not too much Redevelopment, but too little!

But when any reasonable person contemplates the collection of Redevelopment disasters along Harbor Blvd. between Valencia Drive and the old Union Pacific overpass, the only conclusion he or she could draw is that the Fullerton Redevelopment Agency should have been shuttered years ago, and the perpetrators of the manifest failures crowded onto a small raft and set adrift with the Japanese Current.

We have already described in nauseating detail the “Paseo Park” debacle; and the Allen Hotel fiasco; we haven’t yet had time to talk about the “El Sombrero” pocket park give away (we will).

But instead of wasting too many perfectly good words, we will share with you Friends a Redevelopment pictorial essay with just a little piquant commentary.

First there’s the strip center known as Gregg’s Plaza. Brick veneer, of course. Even the veneer is so disgusted it’s trying to jump off the building.

The standards of the RDRC were established early.
The standards of the RDRC were established early.
Pop goes the brick veneer...
Pop goes the brick veneer...

Across the street is the Allen Furniture Store. When they got their rehab loan somebody forgot to tell them that a storefront is a storefront – not a jailhouse. So why are there bars on the dinky little windows? And pink stucco?

Stone walls do not a prison make; nor iron bars a cage...
Stone walls do not a prison make; nor iron bars a cage...

Jumping back across the street we re-introduce ourselves to the egregious Allen Hotel, perhaps the biggest Redevelopment boondoggle of all, a mess that we have already admirably documented, here. As we noted then, the add-on was unspeakably awful (and expensive). The front is, well, pretty awful, too.

The once and present tenement...
The once and present tenement...
It could have been worse. Well, no, it couldn't...
It could have been worse. Well, no, it couldn't...

What was sold, in part, as an “historic preservation” project ended up violating just about every standard in the book. The original windows were ripped out and replaced with vinyl sashes; the transoms were destroyed and replaced with sheets of plastic and surface applied strips supposed to simulate leaded glass.

Just say something. They'll believe anything...
Just say something. They'll believe anything...

Across Harbor we discover the “El Sombrero Plaza,” another sock in the face to any Fullerton windshield tourist. Forget the stupidity of the sideways orientation and the Mission Revival On Acid stylings (which attain a kind of crazy Mariachi deliciousness); this development included the give away of part the adjacent public green space so they have parking for a restaurant. The owner never did develop a restaurant, of course (more on that story later).

Ay, caramba!
Ay, caramba!
The extra parking that was supposed to be for a restaurant is now used for a storage container!
The extra parking that was supposed to be for a restaurant is now used for a storage container!

And finally we come to exhausted collapse at another one of the Fullerton Redevelopment Agency’s low points. And by low point we mean the complete, unmitigated disaster of the Union Pacific Park, ably chronicled here; and in a whole series here, here, and here.

Maybe the less said, the better...
Maybe the less said, the better...

The poisoned park: dead as a doornail. An aesthetic, pratical, and policy disaster. And no one has ever stood up to take responsibility for the total waste of millions of dollars.

Embarrassing from the beginning. How many $100,000 pensioneers had their fingers in this pie?
Embarrassing from the beginning. How many $100,000 pensioners had their fingers in this pie?

Well, there you have it, Friends. Redevelopment in action; Redevelopment creating blight, not eradicating it. No accountability. None. Zero. Zilch. And some people wonder why FFFF has sued to keep Redevelopment from expanding.

City Council Left in Dark Over Fate of Park; Say, Who In Hell Elected That Guy, Anyway?

While watching the youtube clip of David Espinosa tee off on the Union Pacific Park and the comment by City Manager Chris Meyer that the park was being shut down, we got to thinking. The Mayor was clearly not told by anybody that the park was being closed down – observe the standard “we’ll fix it, thanks, move along” comment by Bankhead followed by Meyer’s explanation.

Meyer went on to say that the problem of what to do with this “park” was being passed to the Community Services Commission for ponderment.

And we say: who in Hell gave Chris Meyer the authority to shut down a public park? Why wasn’t the Council asked to make this decision and how come they were never even told about it before the apparent revelation at the council meeting? Who gave Meyer the authority to assign this problem to anybody, let alone a lower committee without even informing the Council of his plans? Why wasn’t this issue agendized and discussed, in public, by the City Council?

These are mostly rhetorical questions, of course. The City’s staff wants to sweep this acute embarrassment under the municipal rug and the only way to do that is not to tell anybody. Even their bosses.

meyersIt also makes us wonder how much else in Fullerton has being undertaken by the City Manager on his own hook. It’s one thing to execute policy laid down by elected officials; it’s quite another thing to start taking on major policy decisions, and worse still, not tell anybody. Unfortunately this situation is symptomatic of two long-standing problems in Fullerton, two problems that fit together like pieces in a jigsaw puzzle.

First is the perfect willingness of our elected city council persons to abdicate their own policy-making responsibility and simply show up for the meetings, the Rotary lunches, the Chamber mixers, and the ribbon cuttings; second is the perfect willingness of the city managers to step into the authority void and run the show any damn way they please. It’s a perverse symbiosis.

This has got to stop. The results have been amply catalogued on the pages of this blog. And they aren’t very pretty.

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