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Matthew Leslie

On May 15 the Fullerton City Council voted to form Library Ad-Hoc Committee to consider recommendations to explore future uses of the Hunt Branch Library. The library is currently closed, and leased out to neighboring Grace Ministries on a month-to-month basis. Although the Library Board of Trustees seems generally to favor retaining the Hunt as a city facility, opinions on that board differ about what can, and should, be done with it. The City Council is more sharply divided, with two members, Bruce Whitaker and Jesus Silva, voicing support for keeping it in city hands, while Mayor Doug Chaffee has openly advocated selling it. His position is evidently shared by Council member Jennifer Fitzgerald, who was quoted in a May 24 OC Register story as speculating that a sale of the property could help fund library services on the east side of the city. Mayor Pro Tem Greg Sebourn remains uncommitted on the matter. Although some of his comments in the recent meeting could be taken as encouraging by anyone advocating for the Hunt to remain a city asset, he has not ruled out a sale.

Formation of the ad-hoc committee was ultimately approved on a 4-0 vote during the May 15 meeting (Jennifer Fitzgerald absent), but only after extensive discussion by the council. The city staff report proposed a committee of seven that would include two members of the city council, but just one library trustee, in addition to one member each from the Fullerton Parks and Recreation Commission, Fullerton Heritage, and the Fullerton Planning Commission, and the Fullerton Public Library Foundation*. Council member Jesus Silva, who had suggested establishing the committee at an earlier meeting of the City Council, objected to populating the ad-hoc with “a lot of ‘inside players,’” and suggested expanding it to “include some members of the surrounding community” because they would ultimately be most affected by whatever plans were eventually made for the property. Mr. Silva also said he wanted to include representatives from “cultural and educational organizations to see if we can really generate some ideas,” referring to the possible use of the Hunt as a center for cultural and education programming.

Council member Bruce Whitaker agreed, saying that it was “time to step back and take a wider view as to what the beneficial use of this city-owned property might be over time. And that would be the effort of the ad-hoc committee—to bring people who are creative and who might help forge partnerships that would allow us to renew that facility in a part of town where we need that, where we don’t have much in the way of city facilities.”

Mr. Silva suggested reducing the number of city councilors on the ad-hoc to one, and adding a member of the elementary school district board, another library trustee, and members of the public. Mayor Chaffee objected to including any library trustees at all, stating “I hear way too much bias when I listen to that group.”

Mayor Pro Tem Greg Sebourn called the ad-hoc an opportunity for “getting the community engaged.” He supported including a mix of public members, and didn’t see the need to include a member of the city council. His motion to get the committee started by having each member of the council simply appoint a person of his or her choice was the plan eventually adopted at the meeting. These five initial appointments are expected to be announced at the June 3 meeting of the city council. Library Director Judy Booth will be included as an ex-officio member.

Once convened, the new ad-hoc will appoint four additional members. A link is present on the city’s website for applications for the committee, but does not yet lead to an actual application. Interested parties are encouraged to call or email the City Clerk’s office to find out how to apply at (714) 738-6350 or CityClerksOffice@cityoffullerton.com.

Though not technically required to do so, the new ad-hoc will proceed in accordance with the Brown Act, announcing meetings in advance, and open them to the public, and keep minutes. Rather than the sixty days recommended by city staff, the committee will continue for at least ninety days. During this time City Manager Ken Domer will contact “educational and cultural arts organizations interested in utilizing the property” in advance of an anticipated City Council Study Session later this year.

Some of the many members of the public who spoke to the issue that night didn’t see the need for the formation of an ad-hoc committee at all. Elizabeth Gibbs recalled that another such committee had already existed five years ago, whose recommendations had been adopted by the Fullerton Library Board of Trustees. Others agreed that the trustees themselves were the appropriate body to explore options for the Hunt, but Mayor Chaffee characterized the Hunt as “a building owned by the city without any purpose or restriction on it,”

Area resident Maria Hernandez recalled visiting the Hunt Branch Library frequently with her children, and told the council that if they “converted Hunt Branch library into a cultural center, (they) would be creating jobs, family activities, and come to the rescue of a historic site…” 

Library Trustee Ryan Cantor, who was himself a member of original 2012 ad-hoc  committee, took issue with the agenda item’s reference to the Hunt as a “former library,” as did current Fullerton Library Board of Trustees President Sean Paden. “It’s not the former library, it is the library. It’s closed, but it’s still our library,” said Mr. Paden.  In response, the  city council agreed not to refer to the Hunt Branch in those terms from that point forward. Trustee Cantor recommended issuing Requests for Proposals from interested community groups who might be able to provide funding and/or programming for the Hunt, something also discussed during Library Board meetings.

Nine days later the Library Board itself considered several items regarding the Hunt during their regular May meeting. Rather than meeting in the small boardroom in the west part of the building, the May 24 meeting was held in the Main Library’s Osbourn Auditorium to accommodate the unusual presence of nearly forty public observers. The trustees adopted a document intended to “Define the Intent of the Gift of the Hunt Library.” 

As requested in their previous Special Meeting of May 5, a representative from the office of the City Attorney was present in the person of Deputy City Attorney Kim Barlow for consultation about legal actions the trustees might choose to take over any proposed sale of the Hunt. Ms. Barlow promised to respond to questions in a confidential email to the trustees.

*The Fullerton Public Library Foundation is a non-profit that raises supplemental funds for specific library projects, and is distinct from the Fullerton Public Library Board of Trustees, and from the Friends of the Fullerton Public Library who organize periodic book sales and operate the library’s book store.

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.

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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.

Can you find the Manuel Ramos Arrest?

Can you find the Manuel Ramos Arrest?

Former Fullerton Police Officer Manuel Ramos, who was tried and acquitted for second degree murder in the 2011 beating death of Kelly Thomas, was arrested on a misdemeanor charge of domestic violence three weeks ago, but no news circulated about it until late this week. Police were called to an address on W. Oak Ave. in Fullerton to investigate a disturbance on July 16. Mr. Ramos was booked, and released on $ 10,000.00 bail, according to ABC News. The story first came to light on August 2, when an unnamed source informed Fullerton activist Stephen Baxter about the July arrest. Other local activists searched for records and alerted the media, eventually resulting in ABC and other media outlets covering the story.

Ron Thomas, father of the slain Kelly, thinks that the FPD were silent about the arrest because his civil suit over his son’s death is scheduled to begin next month. “They want it as quiet as possible…Ramos being arrested isn’t going to make him look good,” he tells Gabriel San Román of the OC Weekly in a story this morning.

Ron Thomas may be right, especially if we consider the contrast between the three week delay in reporting the arrest of Manual Ramos with the next day coverage of former state Assemblyman Chris Norby’s arrest for domestic violence on March 11, 2014. Mr. Norby was never charged with any crimes, and later divorced his wife, who was alleged to have battered him, injuring his eye. The arrest came during an election year amid speculation that he might be considering a run for Fullerton City Council. By any objective measure, the negative publicity following the arrest damaged his chances of succeeding in such a campaign.

During his 18 previous years on the Fullerton City Council, 7 years as OC Supervisor, and 3 years in the California State Assembly, Chris Norby was known as a critic of public employee unions, who lined up on the side of his opponent Sharon Quirk-Silva in 2012, helping to defeat him. In the State Assembly he authored a bill aimed at reforming asset seizure laws, which had been a boon to police departments throughout the state. He had also expressed frustration with the limits placed on reporting about problem officers included in the Peace Officers Bill of Rights. The prospect of his return to the Fullerton City Council would not have been a welcome one for the Fullerton Police Department, who have enjoyed a reliable three member majority of supporters in the form of Doug Chaffee, Jan Flory, and Jennifer Fitzgerald since November, 2012.

A year later, when the dust had settled, Chris Norby reflected upon his arrest in an April 28, 2015 letter to the Voice of OC. He noted in the letter that “During Family Court civil hearing, two independent witnesses testified personally of the physical abuse I had suffered. There were none against me.

One has to wonder, just how did the media find out so quickly about the arrest of Chris Norby, while the arrest of Manuel Ramos on the same charge (they even had the same bail amount of $10,000) went undetected by reporters for three weeks? The OC Register first reported about Chris Norby on March 12, less than 24 hours after his arrestThe LA Times had a story up by March 13. The Fullerton News Tribune, owned and published every Thursday by the OC Register, includes a weekly crime feature called The Blotter, showing selected arrests throughout the city. The July 23 edition lists two separate July 16 assaults for addresses on W. Malvern and W. Commonwealth, but nothing on W. Oak, the site of the Manual Ramos arrest. Not until August 6, did the OC Register finally pick up on the story.

Did someone tip off the press about the Chris Norby arrest last year, while laying low about the arrest of Manuel Ramos last month?

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