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600 W. Commonwalth Overhead

More and more high density housing..,

Matthew Leslie

Here is the good news: Fullerton’s Planning Commission is not scheduled to make any decisions about the newly revived Downtown Core and Corridors Specific Plan (DCCSP) or the giant mixed-use housing project proposed for the 600 block of West Commonwealth Ave when they meet on the evening of April 27. The bad news is that this two-building project is being proposed in the first place, and that the DCCSP still exists, albeit radically downsized by Community Development Director Karen Haluza and her staff of planners.

Wednesday night’s meeting is instead a study session for both proposals. The four page staff report about this proposed development attached to the agenda explains rather cryptically that, following a preliminary public meeting in September, 2015, “it was acknowledged that this project would be reviewed concurrently with the final design and development components in the revised DCCSP.” The DCCSP itself has undergone quite a change since first approved by the Planning Commission in 2014. Readers will recall that consideration of the massive, and massively inappropriate, plan was halted in its tracks by, among other concerns, revelations shared on this blog that two members of the Fullerton City Council owned property within 500 feet of the plan area. A study session was promised to properly consider the implications of what would have been the largest single Specific Plan in the city’s history. It never happened, and neither did anything public with the DCCSP, but the Community Development planners were evidently hard at work trying to salvage something from it. Two weeks ago, they narrowed it to “three new zoning tools” to “replace the DCCSP” for the Planning Commission. The proposed tools are:

  1. Mixed-Use Overlay Zone
  2. Adaptive Re-Use Incentive Zone
  3. Central Business District

It is the first new tool, Mixed-Use Overlay Zone, that is being considered “concurrently” with a plan by Red Oak Investments to build nearly three hundred living units in two structures on the 600 block of W. Commonwealth Ave. that together would take up most of a city block between Commonwealth on the North and the railroad tracks on the South side. Unfortunately, this tool seems to be more concerned with “appropriate building and frontage type combinations,”  quoting the staff report, than it does with the appropriateness of adding so many new housing and retail units to the former car dealership land in the first place.

600 W. Commonwalth Specs

More apartments, parking spaces.

The plan addresses the issue of overly large building frontages by proposing two stories facing Commonwealth stepping up to four stories backing up to the train tracks (what a view!), but the two structures will still represent over 270,000 square feet of mostly residential space with 568 new parking spaces. And therein lies the major problem. Despite prioritizing water main and electrical upgrades to Commonwealth Ave. in recent months in anticipation of projects like this one, there is virtually nothing that can be done to accommodate the additional vehicular traffic that will be added to our already clogged streets once the units are occupied by people with, you know, jobs to get to. Unless flying cars are introduced into the marketplace by the time tenants move in, there will be more traffic not only on Commonwealth, but also on the residential streets immediately to the North, as drivers try to escape rush hour left turn lines at Euclid and Harbor by cutting through adjacent neighborhoods.

ReidFleming

Reid Fleming has found a traffic solution, how about you?

The Red Oak project is more than six blocks from the train station. Although a bus line does run up and down Commonwealth, do we really think these new residents are all going to take public transportation? Where are the infrastructural upgrades that will facilitate these additional vehicles? Nowhere, that’s where. Anyone driving near this new project would just have to spend even more time stuck in traffic, and nearby residents would have to endure even more cars speeding through their neighborhoods. Oh, and where are we getting all of the water for all of these new residents?

The DCCPSP may have been downsized, but its purpose seems to have remained the same—to facilitate more and more multistory high density residential developments in the downtown area and along Fullerton’s major transportation corridors, whether the current residents of the city want them or not.

Sebourn-BIA

The Downtown Core and Corridors Specific Plan (DCCSP) has become so unpopular that virtually all of the seven candidates for Fullerton City Council have expressed opposition to it in some form. During a recent forum hosted by the North Orange County League of Women Voters none of the seven gathered candidates supported the DCCSP as written.

Some candidates cited concerns about the comprehensive nature of the plan, while others were more specific  about the DCCSP’s potentially negative effects on current residents, but we should remember that it is developers and City Hall who want it to pass, and being too tied to either group should give voters pause when considering which candidate(s) would be most likely to follow through on stopping the DCCSP as it now exists.

Incumbent Greg Sebourn, for example, has received $ 1,000.00 in campaign contributions this year from the Building Industry Association (BIA) of Southern California’s PAC and Olson Urban Housing, LLC. The BIA exists to build, and build more housing. Olson is an Orange County based builder responsible for Liberty Walk, Legacy Walk, SOCO Walk, and other residential blocks in Fullerton shoehorned into parcels next to existing single family home neighborhoods.

Old guard candidate Larry Bennett also received $ 1,000.00 from the BIA PAC. Raise your hand if you’re surprised. You shouldn’t be, since Mr. Bennett is endorsed by recalled former City Council members Don Bankhead, Dick Jones, and Pat McKinley, who regularly rubber stamped high density housing projects in Fullerton. Larry Bennett can also boast of receiving $ 100.00 from the Assoc. of Builders and Contractors PAC of So Cal and $ 100.00 from Crane Architectural Group, a local firm who capitalized on Redevelopment funding to build structures like this one:

Painful to look upon...

Painful to look upon…

At least incumbent Mayor Doug Chaffee was honest enough to plainly identify the DCCSP as a replacement for Redevelopment as a mechanism to attract outside investment in Fullerton, which brings us around to who really wants the DCCSP, piecemeal or not, and who they are willing to support to make sure they get it in some form. Developers develop, and the more land is re-zoned for their residential high rises, the more money they make. More people equals more tax dollars, and that’s what City Hall really wants, even if it degrades the quality of your life here.

When Jane Rands first began asking questions about the DCCSP over three years ago, it wasn’t even on the radar screens of other candidates in the City Council race. But the winds have shifted. Public forums organized by her with Friends for a Livable Fullerton put enough pressure on the City Council to delay a vote on the DCCSP until more notice is given to residents and more time can be spent studying the plan. Not surprisingly, Ms. Rands has accepted no campaign contributions from the building industry.

The DCCSP isn’t dead yet, and City Hall isn’t about to let it go without a fight. Who do you trust to defend the interests of Fullerton residents in this fight? Candidates who are taking big bucks from the building industry, or a grassroots activist supported by ordinary people like you and me?

Twilight Zone Kick the Can

“This is tough one, better wait until after the election…”

When we last left the Downtown Core and Corridors Specific Plan it was August, and the City Council voted to postpone a decision on the controversial 1,300 acre plan until “a date uncertain.” That date uncertain now seems to certainly be sometime after the November City Council elections. When the DCCSP was scheduled to be considered by the City Council on August 5 the Rag pointed out that both Mayor Doug Chaffee and Council member Jennifer Fitzgerald would need to recuse themselves from voting on it because each had a financial interest in separate properties located within 500 feet of the plan area.

The City Attorney suggested that all council members would be able to vote on the plan because it was of such importance that it would override conflicts of interest the two aforementioned council members might have. The City Attorney’s logic was completely backwards, of course. The primary problem with the DCCSP is that it is inherently too large and comprehensive a plan for anyone other than perhaps the voters themselves to consider. Suggesting that it was of overriding importance is ludicrous, when the plan could easily be broken up into smaller constituent parts that would obviate the need for Council Members to recuse themselves in most cases. To assert that a plan for development is somehow of such importance that it overrides a clear financial conflict of interest on the part of some Council members is also a measure of what passes for important these days.

“Too Big to Mail” were the words of Friends for a Livable Fullerton founder Jane Reifer, who objected to the city’s failure to effectively alert property owners and local businesses of the impending vote. Mayor Chaffee and the rest of the City Council quickly decided that a study session was in order and that thousands of residents in the draft plan area should indeed receive letters notifying them about the DCCSP before any action by the Council should be taken. No date was set, but the month of October was mentioned. However, the DCCSP doesn’t appear anywhere on the forecasts found at the bottom of the latest City Council agendas, leaving the Rag to conclude that no study session and no vote will be heard until after the Nov. 4 election, although “Conflict of Interest Code” update does seem to be scheduled for October 21.

Fullerton Project Logo2

Why it will have taken the City Attorney two and a half months to update the City Council on what properly constitutes a conflict of interest as defined by state law is unclear, but the timing of the update suggests that the DCCSP could be heard right after the election.

Waiting until after Nov. 4 will save two incumbent candidates from alienating either the developers, who want to see the DCCSP approved to streamline high density residential projects over much of the city, or voters, who are rightly concerned about what impacts these developments may have on their neighborhoods. The outcome of the election could also change the balance of power on the council, making it either harder or easier to pass the plan with new members in place. But if the DCCSP vote is taken right after the election and the Council decides that conflicts of interest-be-damned and everyone can vote, then the plan’s backers can have their cake and eat it too because they can probably count on a three vote majority to pass it following the election even if one of those three isn’t re-elected because a new council would not be seated for another two meetings.

In one sense, voters will have the chance to weigh in on the plan by choosing who to elect in November. Kicking the can down the road may be convenient for some candidates now, but anyone running for Fullerton City Council should have something substantive to say about the DCCSP one way or the other, or they shouldn’t be in the race. And if the City Council membership does change after November 4, then a vote of this magnitude should not be taken until a new Council is seated.

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