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Angelo’s & Vinci’s: will the city demolish it to provide parking for it?

Matthew Leslie

 

Anyone who attended the joint Fullerton City Council and Planning Commission Study Session on the Fox Block Tuesday night might be tempted to believe that time is cyclical, or in Nietzsche’s concept of the Eternal Return (“I’ll have to sit through the Ice Capades again,” joked Woody Allen). Didn’t we all, at some time in the not too distant past, watch Pelican-Laing’s Dick Hamm pitch his mundane ideas for developing some city-owned property or other, like Amerige Court? And didn’t we all see “architectural” renderings depicting some sort of contest to see how many boxy stucco structures could be crammed into the block surround the Fullerton’s historic Fox Theater just a few years ago?

Yes, we did, but then Dick Hamm and Pelican-Laing were hired last year to pitch ideas for what to do with the so-called Fox Block, currently stranded in post Redevlopment limbo, and Tuesday night we all got to see and hear their best efforts, which were less than inspiring, to say the least.

Despite the mind numbing sense of deja vu, the evening was somehow still full of surprises. Pelican-Laing had four proposals in their report, presented by the perpetually tanned Mr. Hamm, and two of them included buying and demolishing Angelo’s & Vinci’s Ristorante. Yes, you read that last sentence correctly. Half of Dick Hamm’s four proposed scenarios for development on the Fox Block site were at least partially predicated on buying and leveling the restaurant whose parking agreement with the city is given as the very reason for building anything on the site in the first place.

Before we decide just how far off into the clouds this effort has ascended, let’s quickly review the four possible development options, as presented by Mr. Hamm:

  1. A parking structure on the big rectangular part of the L-shaped parking lot south of Ellis Place.
  1. A parking structure plus a mixed use, two and one half-storey development on the triangular parking lot north of the A & V’s, and a two-storey office building, residential, and/or mixed use building on the Chapman/Pomona corner site.
  1. A parking structure, residential condos, and a retail courtyard on Harbor, with possible development on the triangle and Pomona sites.
  1. A parking structure, an eight screen movie theater with retail on Harbor.

Even Mr. Hamm and Pelican-Laing’s report make it clear that they do not favor # 4, the movie theater proposal, but # 3 was taken seriously by the some of the elected and appointed officials that night, leaving stunned audience members to speculate about the real motives behind the whole effort to develop around the Fox Fullerton in the first place.

We also had to wonder why, if Angelo’s & Vinci’s was fair game for a purchase to make room for development, the recently renovated McDonald’s was not. After all, just a few years ago the city was seriously contemplating spending $ 6 million to move the fast food restaurant from its present location, inconveniently in the middle of the southern boundary of the site, to a more development-friendly location on the southeast corner of Chapman and Pomona. No one had a ready answer to that question.

Although the proceedings were characterized as a Study Session, the city planning staff nonetheless sought guidance from the council about which scenarios to seriously consider. Mayor Whitaker conducted an informal straw poll of the five council members and the six present members of the Planning Commission. Even a straw poll, however, seemed out of order for an item designated “Receive and File.”

Fox Block Report Cover

No, it won’t fund the Fox Theater, but the report does have digital holes punched in it.

Matthew Leslie

Remember the Fox Block? How could we forget it? It began as a proposed complex of retail buildings and a parking garage and maybe more movie theaters that would more or less surround the historic Fox Fullerton Theater. The theater has been undergoing restoration since being saved from the developer’s wrecking ball over twelve years ago. But the deal that saved it also guaranteed extra parking for the adjoining Angelo’s and Vinci’s Ristoronte if and when the historic Fox Theater ever opens again to the public.

Mark your calendars: Tuesday, August 29, 6:30 p.m. City Council Chambers, 303 W. Commonwealth Ave, Fullerton, CA 92832.

https://www.cityoffullerton.com/cals/default.asp?ViewBy=7&CalDate=8/29/2017&EventDateID=93436

The link is to a city web page with a long chronology of the project, including last year’s decision to choose Dick Hamm and Pelican Communities to propose development plans for review by the Planning Commission and City Councils (and you, so be there to have your voice heard). Fullerton residents will recall that it was Dick Hamm who was originally attached the still unbuilt (fortunately!) Amerige Court/Commons project downtown. This time they are just here to present different possibilities for bland, overbuilt attempts at urbanity, and not necessarily to build them. Details can be found at this link:

The Fox Block Development Plan Report can be found at this link:

https://www.cityoffullerton.com/civicax/filebank/blobdload.aspx?BlobID=24991

The report begins with the history and context of the site, then progresses to summarize the results of various meetings with neighbors, institutions, businesses, and the general public. The plan includes an illustration of what are identified as “project areas” and “opportunity areas.”

Fox Block Opportunty Sites

Oh, the many opportunities for dullness…

 

The Project Areas consist of

  1. The L-shaped parking lot directly behind the Fox Theater that extends north to Ellis.
  1. The rectangle on the corner of Pomona and Chapman, bordered by existing residences to the north.
  1. The triangle-shaped parking lot just north of Angelo’s and Vinci’s, bordered by the creek to the north.

The Opportunity Site is the existing parking structure located across Chapman and Pomona. The presumed opportunity is to add more parking to it.

There are several challenges to any plans for the site:

  1. The residents of Ellis Place, just north of the Fox parking lot, probably don’t want a multi-storey anything across the street—a narrow street at that.
  1. There is a McDonald’s restaurant right in the middle of the southern part of the site, and it isn’t going anywhere (despite a daffy $ 6 million proposal to move it years ago).
  1. There are more residences on the corner of Pomona Ave. and Ellis Place that would be impacted by traffic and oversized buildings.
  1. More cars entering and exiting the developed sites will further stress the traffic on the corner of Chapman Ave. and Harbor Blvd., as well as Pomona Ave. , which borders Fullerton Union High School.

The four development alternatives presented in the plan are:

  1. A parking structure on the big rectangular part of the L-shaped parking lot south of Ellis Place.
  1. A parking structure plus a mixed use, two and one half-storey development on the Triangle site and a two-storey office building, residential, and/or mixed use building on the Pomona site.
  1. A residential condo over a parking structure on the big lot.
  1. An eight screen movie theater with retail on Harbor and a parking structure.

Each proposal includes a financial breakdown explaining how much it would cost the city, as well as how much each would generate. Without going into each one now, we’ll summarize by noting that the parking structure alone proposal would cost the city $ 1 million in additional funds, while the others would be expected to pay for themselves, so some degree over time. Most noteworthy is the scheme to sell off the two smaller project areas for oddly identical sums to provide income to the city.

Following are the usual bulletin board pages of images of buildings and built environments developers include to suggest what they are proposing.

If you cannot attend the meeting, City of Fullerton Senior Planner Matt Foulkes invites you to send him an email with the subject line “Fox Block Development Plan – Public Comments.” Send them to this address: MattF@ci.fullerton.ca.us

More later…

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The choices before the Fullerton City Council. Which one provides the safest route for bicycles?

Matthew Leslie

 

With a four-to-one vote, Jesus Silva dissenting, four members of the Fullerton City Council sold out Fullerton’s Bicycle Master Plan in order to allow what is effectively illegal overnight parking on a street near a recently built housing development in Amerige Heights. Ignoring unanimous decisions by both the Bicycle Users Subcommittee (BUSC) and the Transportation and Circulation Commission (TCC) to proceed with a planned Class II bike lane along Hughes Drive between Bastanchury Road and Nicolas Street, the City Council instead decided to force cyclists to share the road with automative traffic on a two lane street so they wouldn’t anger the residents of an adjacent housing project who use the public street for overflow parking.

Class II bike lanes provide a separate lane for riders, demarcated by thick white lines and clearly printed words designating them as such, next to vehicular traffic lanes, providing at least theoretical protection for riders. Class III bikeways are simply signed routes on roads, without a striped lane. The ultimate goal of the plan is to provide a safe bike route between Gilbert Street and Bastanchury Road.

Hughes-Drive-Wide-View-

The segment of Hughes Drive originally slated for a Class II bike lane.

Hughes Drive seems to have been a four lane street at some point, but is currently considered to be a two lane street with a center left turn lane to accommodate workers entering the Raytheon facility on the north side of the street. Don Hoppe, the city’s Director of Public Works, said that there was inadequate space for both a bike lane and the street’s center lane, and the existing parking. On the south side, residents of the tightly packed houses just over the sidewalk enjoy the benefit of parking their cars on the public street, often overnight, even though parking between 2:00 and 5:00 a.m. on any Fullerton street that doesn’t enjoy an exemption from the city’s overnight parking rule is against the law.

Hughes-Drive-Parking

A close up view of Hughes Drive, where residents have the convenience of a public street to park their cars overnight, because four spaces per house is somehow not enough parking.

Residents complained that they hadn’t enough parking for guests, even though each unit has a two car garage and a driveway to accommodate an additional two cars. Councilmember Silva argued for adding the Class II bike lane, as planned, noting the existence of about forty parking spaces right around the corner on Nicolas Street.

Nicolas-Street-Parking-

Easy parking  on Nicolas Street, just around the corner, but not close enough for residents.

Sounding for all the world like recalled Councilmember and Mayor Dick Jones, Mayor Pro Tem Doug Chaffee launched into a reminiscence of riding his bicycle in India as a Peace Corps volunteer. He argued that bicycle riders and automobile drivers should be able to share a road in Fullerton if he was able to dodge cars, cow pies, pedestrians, and water buffalo on his bike oh so many years ago half a world away. Ignoring the fact that water buffalo don’t move at twenty five miles per hour, the speed limit on Hughes Drive, Mr. Chaffee evidently thought that lowering the bar on traffic safety to the standards of India in the 1960’s was appropriate for Fullerton in 2017.*

Doug-Chaffee-Hughes-Drive-Bike-

Doug Chaffee: had to dodge a water buffalo in India fifty years ago, so you shouldn’t have a safe lane for your bike.

Mr. Chaffee then characterized the conflict between the needs of cyclists to ride safely with the desperation of nearby residents to preserve their free overflow/overnight parking by calling it a case of “the ivory tower versus boots on the ground.” In his opinion, the plan for the bike lane was approved by people in an ivory tower, somehow removed from” the reality,” even though the BUSC is populated by actual cyclists who actually ride the streets of Fullerton and know from experience what they are talking about. “Boots on the ground,” in his mind, are “all the houses that came later,” as if whole housing tracts appeared out of thin air without city approvals of plans for neighborhoods with inadequate parking, if one chooses to side with the residents, who somehow need more than four parking spaces per house.

Most shocking was the treatment given Transportation and Circulation Commission Chair Elizabeth Hansberg, who rightly observed that overnight parking was a city-wide issue that needed to be dealt with in a consistent manner all over Fullerton. She was promptly shut down by Councilmember Jennifer Fitzgerald, joined by Bruce Whitaker, who insisted that overnight parking was a separate agenda item later in the meeting, even though it was obviously germane to the Hughes Drive bike lane decision too, since the Amerige Heights residents themselves said there were cars (their own, evidently) parked on Hughes “day and night.”

Ultimately, the council chose to downgrade the Class II bike lane to a Class III bike route with sharrows, forcing bikes and cars to share the road, which can work well, but should not be adopted where there is room for a Class II instead. Remember, the speed limit on Hughes Drive is 25 mph, and most cyclists do not ride that fast (!). Cars will now be restricted to whatever speed a cyclist feels like riding.

At least Bruce Whitaker recognized the that developers weren’t providing enough parking, but he characterized the existing parking as “overflow,” ignoring the fact that residents also routinely use Hughes as their own private overnight parking lot. Either way, his acknowledgement that parking was a problem didn’t keep him from making the wrong decision about the cycling lane, even though he took the time to confirm with Public Works Director Hoppe that the Hughes Drive street segment in question was, in fact, part of the larger bike plan, and shouldn’t be considered in “isolation.” Which is worse, making a bad decision out of ignorance, or knowing full well the consequences of it, and doing it anyway?

Bruce-Whitaker-Hughes-Drive-Bike-Lane

Mayor Bruce Whitaker: recognizing the problem of inadequate parking, and making the wrong decision anyway.

Some public speakers observed that they didn’t see many cyclists using Hughes Drive, but they miss the point, as the council did, that if the city creates safe conditions for cyclists, people will ride their bikes instead of driving cars. The council’s decision, Mr. Silva excepted, was a 100% retrograde one in terms of encouraging alternative transportation in Fullerton. A chain is only as strong as its weakest link. Removing a safe bicycle lane from the city’s bike master plan creates a gap that affects the ability of cyclists to safely commute across the city. Doing it to privilege parking for cars not only encourages residents to rely on automobiles, but also rewards developers for providing inadequate parking for neighborhoods.

*At press time, the city’s video of the meeting has been uploaded, but the video mysteriously, and maddeningly, starts just after Doug Chaffee’s water buffalo story, cutting out the staff presentation and all of the public speakers. UPDATE: The full recording of the meeting now appears in the city’s website (August 15, 2017, 7:00 p.m.)

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