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.