A recent Fullerton News Tribune profile of Fullerton’s ongoing problems with public drunkenness and violence downtown featured a quote by current Councilwoman Jan Flory: “I was surprised by the numbers of people…I was surprised by the drunkenness I saw.”
It is Ms. Flory’s response to what she reportedly witnessed during a recent police ride-along that is itself surprising. Anyone who has ventured downtown during much of the last decade can attest to the conditions described in the article. Was Jan Flory really unaware that revelers routinely vomit and urinate in the streets and on doorsteps, break windows, and get into fights? Perhaps we can charitably say that she knew what a drunkfest the downtown had become, but was simply caught off-guard by the magnitude of the problem. But, who couldn’t have told her that?
In the article, OC Register reporter Lou Ponsi describes for readers what anyone paying attention would already know, that Fullerton police officers mass downtown when the bars close in the early morning hours to try to keep whatever order they can, presumably leaving the rest of the city unprotected.
Mr. Ponsi reports that the city’s response has been to work with bar owners to collectively ban problem patrons and make security personnel more obvious, and that it plans to send undercover officers to “go inside bars to search for the over-serving of alcohol and the serving of alcohol to minors.”
‘“If there is less serving and less intoxication, there are less problems all the way down the line,”’ says Fullerton Police Department Lt. Andrew Goodrich, not addressing the fact that people drink twelve packs of beer in parked cars or line up to purchase fifths of the harder stuff at local liquor stores before even venturing into the streets and bars.
Mr. Ponsi closes his exposé with the revelation that Fullerton is considering charging a fee to park in nearby lots, “…then the city would have more revenue to provide the area with even more security.” This weak solution would presumably not affect the charter party buses that regularly drop off passengers from the Inland Empire and other locales. Instead, it would raise a little more money to help mitigate the nasty effects of a problem created by the city council itself eleven years ago.
Indeed, what is most remarkable about Jan Flory’s evident ignorance of the conditions downtown is that she herself participated in the decision that engendered them in the first place. In 2002 the city council, including Ms. Flory, adopted Ordinance No. 3022, establishing a Restaurant Overlay District in Fullerton’s central business district.
The language of the ordinance is clear: “The Restaurant Overlay District is intended to allow restaurants to expand and/or locate in and around the Central Business District without the need to provide on-site parking or to obtain a conditional use permit as part of the City’s broader effort to revitalize the downtown.”
Without the need to provide for additional parking, restaurants opened all over downtown, taking advantage of the nearby city owned lots on either side of Amerige for their parking needs. (These are the same lots cited in the recent Register article as the preferred destination for early morning drunks looking for a fight.) The astonishing decision to allow restaurants to open without conditional use permits (CUPs) also allowed them to transform into defacto clubs after hours, with almost no restrictions other than fire codes.
Six years later, the city council finally conceded the obvious, that the disastrous decision to adopt the ROD without CUPs had turned the area into “the wild west,” in the words of the later-recalled Councilman Dick Jones. A revised ordinance required CUPs, but, years later, the mayhem continues. During the August 20th meeting of the city council, Fullerton Police Chief Dan Hughes stated that on any given Thursday, Friday, or Saturday night, there are as many as one hundred people drunk in the streets downtown. Ms. Flory may have been surprised by what she saw, but the rest of us have seen it going on for years, and we have to wonder why it’s all worth the trouble.