Argument in Favor of District Elections

Matthew Leslie

The official argument in favor of the District Elections measure scheduled for local ballots in November has appeared on the City of Fullerton’s website, as has the argument against it. The argument in favor of the measure to adopt district-based elections is weak, misleading, and patronizing. In fact, there is really no argument at all in the text to indicate how a district-based elections system itself would benefit the residents of the city, only a wrongheaded and fallacious defense of the dreadful district map the council chose as the mechanism for this change.

Tellingly, the argument is signed not by Vivian “Kitty” Jaramillo or Jonathan Paik, the plaintiffs whose respective lawsuits claiming underrepresentation of Latino and Asian voters resulted in  the city placing district-based elections on the ballot in the first place. One might expect Mr. Paik and Ms. Jaramillo to be out in front trying to get the measure passed, but the Fullerton City Council chose a map so objectionable to the plaintiffs that they have not signed the argument in favor of its passage. And they’ve initiated a court action to stop the adopted Map 8A, drawn up by a local bar owner, and staunchly opposed by the plaintiffs, from appearing with the ballot measure they sued to bring about.

Instead, Mayor Jennifer Fitzgerald signed the argument in favor of District Elections. It is signed by four others, including bar owner Jeremy Popoff, but the text is both disingenuous and sophomoric enough to have actually been penned by Jennifer Fitzgerald personally. Let’s take a look at it line by line, with Jennifer Fitzgerald’s arguments in bold italics, followed by my comments:

Argument in Favor of Measure___*

Fullerton is a great city with a small town feel and no matter what laws change in our community, we must work together to ensure that Fullerton always remains a special place.

It begins with standard patronizing puffery, unnecessary in a ballot argument. Sounds more like a re-election campaign mailer…

Recent changes in California state law dictate that the city of Fullerton will no longer be able to elect its city council members by a city-wide vote.

What recent changes? If state law required Fullerton to adopt district-based voting now, would there exist the need to put this very measure before the voters? The California Voting Rights Act (CVRA), enacted in 2002, made it easier for minority groups to sue cities if they claim that their collective vote is diluted by a majority population in an existing at-large voting system. Cities have been successfully sued all over California to adopt at-large voting systems to remedy complaints. More than 160 cities, in all, have adopted such systems for elections. Fullerton is just the latest to settle a suit by placing a ballot measure to adopt the district system before the voters. (Cities with populations of less than 100,000 may summarily switch to district elections by a vote of their City Council, as Buena Park did, but Fullerton has about 135,000 residents, and so the proposed changed must go before the voters).

Instead, starting in 2018, voters will only be able to vote for one council member who lives in their respective voting district. Fullerton will be divided into five voting districts and the map of those recommended districts is attached.

These statements will be true if this very ballot measure is passed by the voters, but they aren’t true now. It is true that if this ballot measure doesn’t pass it is likely to end up in court, where a judge might ultimately approve a different map, but the new map could have more than five districts in it.

The City Council felt that changing our election system required a strong community process. The recommended map contained in this measure came about after extensive public education and involvement of community members across the spectrum of our city at community meetings, through on-line engagement and at public hearings.

The key word in the above sentence is “after.” Slidebar owner Jeremy Popoff attended exactly none of the community meetings before submitting his map, 8A, “after” the meetings had already occurred. Whatever was gained by the numerous meetings is not reflected in Map 8A, which was not the product of any significant “community engagement,” unless one counts Mr. Popoff’s fellow bar owners as a community.

In June of this year, the recommended map was unanimously approved by the Fullerton City Council.

True, and it was, I think, the worst unanimous vote of the Fullerton City Council in recent memory. There was absolutely no valid argument made for adopting Map 8A over the other much better maps before the council. Ironically, the unanimous vote itself may be the best single argument for adopting district-based elections in general because it might hasten the exit of the current council members, but this map is not the one to accomplish that goal.

Fullerton is a City with amazing history and a big heart.

It turns out that we’re big-hearted and amazing (!). Is that an argument for something?

The proposed map respects our communities of interest and gives all Fullerton citizens a common voice in representation of our unique historic downtown, the heart of our community.

No, the proposed map does NOT respect Fullerton’s communities of interest. Artificially stretching five district boundaries so that they all meet downtown not only fragments the downtown residential community of interest into non-existence, but also distorts other communities of interest to do so. Grafting pieces of the downtown residential neighborhoods onto the five other districts distorts each of them into a gerrymandered mess, with boundaries cutting right through neighborhoods in other areas of the city, destroying their integrity as communities.

Our downtown is our natural meeting place. Whether it is First Night, the Thursday Night Market or the Veterans Day Parade, downtown is at the center of it all.

Downtown is also a place surrounded by residential houses and apartments with inhabitants who should have just as much right to representation as any other area of the city. The people living in those residences will be split up five different ways as appendages to other districts, obliterating their voting community if this measure passes, but Mayor Jennifer Fitzgerald and her cohorts are not concerned about these people. Indeed, this map is a deliberate attempt to keep them, or anyone else, from having a unified voice in the downtown area, where most of the  large scale high density development is planned in coming years.

We recognize not everyone is happy with having council districts or with this specific map. But after much community engagement, a unified city council joined together in support of this plan.

As if a bad decision is somehow better because five people made it together… The “argument’s” conciliatory tone wouldn’t be necessary if people other than bar owners had supported this map. Telling voters to just suck up their objections and be happy that something got done, even if it’s a bad thing, is dismissive of the real concerns many of Fullerton’s residents expressed about this map.

Please join us in moving forward with community pride for an even better Fullerton.

Again, a fallback appeal to Fullerton’s “community pride” instead of a cogent argument demonstrating how this awful map would make Fullerton “even better”.

We urge you to vote “Yes”on Measure___*

No, don’t. Jennifer Fitzgerald and her bar owner friends took what could have been a good idea for better democracy in Fullerton and turned it into a disaster that doesn’t deserve your vote.

 

*The measure doesn’t yet have a letter designation

Homeaway Capture STRs

When is a house not a home? When it’s a Short Term Rental hotel in disguise.

Matthew Leslie

Most people don’t mind their neighbors having the occasional garage sale. They put up with the increased traffic and parking for a day or two because it’s only temporary. Sometimes it’s even fun. Have a garage sale every weekend, however, and neighbors may justifiably object to what is effectively a business on a front yard in the middle of the suburbs. Such is the case with what have become known as Short Term Rentals (STRs) of homes by their owners.

Before the internet age renting a house long term was generally a better strategy for a guaranteed income than risking hit and miss short term rentals, unless one owned a house near the beach or a cabin in the mountains, and even then, renting any time of the year was doubtful. But for people living near major tourist attractions in ever sunny Southern California, websites have made it possible to avoid vacancies in favor of consistent higher yielding week-long or even just weekend bookings. The result? De facto hotels next to homeowners or long term renters, who are not amused by partiers and early morning and/or late night arrivals and departures of short term guests with little interest in keeping the peace.

Homeowners also sensibly complain that the longterm effect of allowing short term rentals in their neighborhoods is an increasingly deleterious one that threatens the very idea of a neighborhood itself. You can’t call a revolving door of occupants next door neighbors, and without neighbors, you can’t have neighborhoods. Members of the Fullerton City Council who campaigned on “protecting neighborhoods” should remember their promises when they are inevitably asked to consider the practice of STRs in Fullerton.

Those who argue that banning short term rentals constitutes an infringement of the rights of property owners conveniently ignore the rights of those who own property near these home businesses. No property in a residential neighborhood should be allowed to operate a business that disrupts others, whether it be a car repair shop, chinchilla breeding farm, or a house turned into a hotel. Homeowners are perfectly free to rent their houses long term to others, just as they always have been—it isn’t as though there is a shortage of renters these days—but short term rentals cross a line from acceptable practice to outright commercial activity in neighborhoods designed for families. If people want to get into the hotel business, they should build or buy a hotel in an area zoned for it.

Fullerton’s planning staff’s recent attempt to create an ordinance governing short term rentals was picked apart by The Fullerton Planning Commission as unworkable and unfair, with some commissioners outright hostile to the idea of regulating the practice at all, calling it a solution in search of a problem. The commission ultimately asked for a rewritten ordinance to consider, coming soon, we understand. Planning staff and the The Fullerton Planning Commission/City Council can save everyone a lot of time by simply banning the practice altogether as the Anaheim City Council did on June 28 of this year.

1934cornerview

The Firestone building next to the Fox Theater circa 1930’s. Things change, but they don’t have to be made worse.

Matthew Leslie

On June 21 the Fullerton City Council voted 4 to 1, Bruce Whitaker dissenting, to award an exclusive negotiating agreement with Dick Hamm’s Pelican Communities to develop a plan for the Fox Block. The so-called Fox Block concept has been around for several years, dating back to the days of Fullerton’s Redevelopment Agency. Although Redevelopment has gone away (for now), there is still money set aside for the project. The stated rationale for the project is an agreement between Cynthia Peck, owner of the adjacent Angelo’s and Vinci’s Restaurant and the RDA (now the city’s “Successor Agency”) to provide adequate parking for the theater when and if it ever opens so the restaurant will not be left without convenient spaces for its patron’s vehicles.

Six members of the public spoke out against entering into an exclusive agreement with Pelican, citing such concerns as:

  • Pelican’s inability to build anything on the Amerige Court site they were supposed to develop nearly ten years ago,
  • Their record of insensitivity to historic resources
  • The lack of transparency in the process because the decision to prepare the original Request for Proposals was made by the Fullerton City Council in a Closed Session meeting in 2015.
  • The vagueness of the staff report, in general

Only one member of the public spoke in favor of the agreement, Leland Wilson, who was a member of the three person board who rated the applicants for Fullerton’s Community Development staff, who ultimately made the recommendation to the Fullerton City Council last week.  Leland Wilson is President of the Fullerton Historic Theater Foundation, overseeing the restoration and eventual operation of the Fox Theater itself. He has also filed papers this year to run for Fullerton City Council, an office he held for a single term between 2002 and 2006.

One speaker who expressed concerns about Pelican’s lack of sensitivity for historic resources was Jane Reifer, who was herself a principal figure in saving the Fox Theater from destruction. Several years ago it was Jane Reifer who pointed out that Pelican’s Environmental Impact Report (EIR) of the Amerige Court site downtown characterized several 1920’s era historic structures as “inconsequential 1960’s style” buildings.

Community Development Director Karen Haluza vouched for Pelican’s record of sensitivity to historic resources in their recent Tustin project, Prospect Village. Here is an image of it, you be the judge.

Screen Shot 2016-06-28 at 9.15.40 PM copy

Watch out Fullerton, this is what Pelican built in historic Downtown Tustin.

Perhaps Ms. Haluza was referring to the scale of the new buildings, but, comically, or tragically, if you value historic buildings, one was actually torn down to clear the site for Prospect Village. Here is a quote from an OC Register article published at the time of its groundbreaking:

Old Town merchants and developers from Pelican, Tustin LLC, were on hand Monday for the groundbreaking for the long-awaited Prospect Village, a 13-building retail and residential complex to be built at the northwest corner of Main Street and Prospect Avenue.

They gathered next to the remaining two buildings of the historic Utt Juice Company, which will be razed to make way for the new project with 40,000-square feet of new retail space.

Only one speaker, council candidate Joe Imbriano, asserted that the Fox Theater itself was in danger of being eventually torn down. Director Haluza properly assured him that there were no plans for razing the structure, of course, but the larger point of what kind of structure could be appropriate to build next to the Fox was left for later consideration. Commenter Roy Zartman, a local sound engineer with decades of professional experience, cautioned the council that unless “forty foot” equipment trucks can ultimately access the rear of the Fox, no large touring acts would be able to play at the venue.

Most disturbing was Pelican’s Dick Hamm expressing admiration for what we’ll charitably call the “restoration” of the Firestone Building on Chapman Ave., adjoining the Fox Theater. The Firestone is certainly a functional space for its current tenant, Dripp coffee shop, but no one could seriously say that the building much resembles one that had been restored with historical accuracy, with its metal mullioned windows and lego brick-looking roof. If this is what Dick Hamm and our planning staff admire, watch out…

Firestone Today

The Firestone Building. (Image borrowed without permission from Roadside Architecture.com).

As developers do, Mr. Hamm expressed great enthusiasm for building of the site, but one has to wonder why there were so few responses to the Request for Qualifications issued by the city. Director Haluza spoke of evaluating just four, and though she repeatedly noted that Pelican had scored something like 95 out of 100 possible points in the evaluating process that involved Mr. Wilson, it does seem curious that if it is a site with such potential, no more than four responses were evidently received. Is it even realistic to think that adequate parking can be provided on the site without building a structure that is radically out of scale with the neighborhood to the north? As Leland Wilson himself wrote in an email announcing his 2016 council candidacy: “I believe we can ask for better projects that fit Fullerton’s character. Putting 6 stories next to single story homes is just plain wrong.”

One issue that went entirely unaddressed at the public hearing was the potential conflict of interest presented by having Leland Wilson, a declared candidate for Fullerton City Council, participate in the evaluation process that included Pelican, a developer who contributed no fewer than $ 1,500.00 to Mr. Wilson’s unsuccessful re-election campaign in 2006. Although the evaluation process began prior to Mr. Wilson’s March 10 announcement of his candidacy, “Follow-up” interviews are identified as having taken place that same month on the city’s Fox Block web page. The Rag will be very attentive to Mr. Wilson’s campaign filings to see if Pelican is as generous to him in this year’s election as they were in the past.

Leland Wilson Pelican Donaton 2006

$ 1,000.00 from Pelican for Leland Wilson’s failed 2006 campaign…


Wilson Pelican Donation II

…and another $ 500.00 from Pelican for Leland Wilson, for a total of $ 1,500.00.

 

And while we’re on the subject, we ought to consider who else’s political campaigns have been the beneficiaries of Pelican’s largesse. I’ve reproduced all the filings I could find from the city’s website, recording the following contributions to current members of the Fullerton City Council who voted in favor of entering into the exclusive agreement with Pelican last Tuesday:

Mayor Jennifer Fitzgerald received $ 500.00 from Pelican in 2012; Mayor Pro Tem Jan Flory received two separate $ 250.00 contributions, one in 2012, another in 2013, for a total of $ 500.00.

Fitzgerald Pelican Donation 2012

$ 500.00 from Pelican for Jennifer Fitzgerald’s 2012 campaign.


Flory Pelican Donation 2012

$ 250.00 from Pelican for Jan Flory’s 2012 campaign…


Flory Pelican Donation 2012 2

…and $ 250.00 more from Pelican for Jan Flory in 2013, even though she is not running for re-election.

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