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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.”

DCCSP-Map

Too big, too soon.

Update: The agenda for the Fullerton City Council meeting of August 5 does indeed show it to be taking place at in the new Public Conference Center at the library next to City Hall. There will be NO LIVE BROADCAST of the meeting if it is held there.

This Tuesday, August 5, the Fullerton City Council will hold the first public hearing to consider the Downtown Core and Corridors Specific Plan (DCCSP). If adopted, the DCCSP would represent a huge change in the way properties located along parts of Euclid, Harbor, Commonwealth, Orangethrope, Raymond, and other major streets can be developed. But the larger density projects that would be allowed under the plan would affect all of Fullerton.

The meeting begins at 6:30, but the DCCSP will probably not be heard before 7:00, at least. There is no definite word yet about whether the meeting will be held in the City Council chambers, recently closed for renovations, or the Community Room next door at the library. If the Council Chambers are not yet ready, there will be no live broadcast of the City Council considering the biggest specific plan in Fullerton’s history, in the middle of the vacation season.

The Planning Commission heard the DCCSP in two meetings in July. On July 23 the Planning Commissiion, with at two of its members absent, voted to approve the plan. Some members had serious reservations about various parts of the plan, and, after much discussion amongst themselves and comments from the attending public, voiced oppositiion to the DCCSP. However, rather than stand their ground against Fullerton’s planning staff and the deveopers and land owners who will financially benefit from the DCCSP’s sweeping zoning changes and density allowances, these initially courageous commissioners ultmiately chose to vote in favor of the plan, with the caveat that their concerns would be noted to the City Council.

The idea behind the DCCSP is to prepare for population growth by adopting a comprehensive set of zoning changes ahead to time instead of having to deal with small areas and projects on a case by case baisis over the coming decades. It may make sense, in some ways, on a conceptual level, but what’s actually in the plan for some of the 13 plan areas is an allowance for higher density development without mitigation for more traffic or, in some cases, even the public review such projects would otherwise be required to undergo before being built.

Despite being funded by a Sustainable Communities Planning Grant, the plan acknowledges that there is simply no way to improve mobility at several already choked intersections, and doesn’t provide for any mass transportation options as an alternative to more drivers on the road. Bells and whistles like landscaped medians aren’t going to do much for anyone’s daily commute, made worse by the addition of new residents’ vehicles. The assumption that more residents will work closer to their jobs if we increase housing density doesn’t hold much water when businesses areas are re-zoned for housing, forcing them away from residences. And when was the last time you heard of OCTA expanding bus service?

In short, the DCCSP looks like a huge giveaway to developers of mixed-use retail and housing projects intended to provided a higher property tax base for the city coffers. It should be either broken up into smaller plan areas to be considered idividually over a longer period of time, or dispensed with entirely. The Fullerton City Council should have the courage to do what the Planning Commssion would not—stand up to wealthy land owners and insatiable developers and stand up for Fullerton’s residents instead.

Logo of Friends for a Livable Fullerton

Protect Fullerton’s residents, not big developers.

 

Planning Commissioners, some sure, some not so sure.

Planning Commissioners, some sure, some not so sure.

This Monday night, July 28 at 7:00 p.m., Friends for a Livable Fullerton presents a Public Forum to discuss concerns about the Downtown Core and Corridors Specific Plan (DCCSP) at the Fullerton Public Library’s Osbourne Auditorium (the windowless room on the west side). This is not a city sponsored event. It is intended as a response to the city’s plans, and as an informational session about the DCCSP.

Last night, despite myriad concerns about the DCCSP, the Planning Commission opted to go ahead and recommend the plan to the Fullerton City Council, albeit with the Commissioners’ many serious concerns noted in the report. The City Council will hear the item on August 5 and August 19, with a decision expected on August 19. Fullerton’s planning staff made numerous changes to the DCCSP in response to both public comments and Planning Commission concerns heard at the last meeting on July 9, but the general condition of the plan remains—to facilitate higher density development without the requisite transportation amenities to handle increased traffic and air pollution.

Last night members of the public objected to everything from the prospect of bad architecture with no public review, the acknowledgment by the plan’s authors that intersections already choked with traffic would only get worse with new development, and inadequate protections for historic resources. With the notable exception of Tom Dalton, Vice President of Fullerton Heritage, no other person spoke up in support of the DCCSP.

Recall that the DCCSP was paid for by a state grant for sustainable communities, but the City of Fullerton (you and the rest of the taxpayers around here) paid for the Environmental Impact Report (EIR). One persistent worry has been that the DCCSP would need to be completed in some form by a specific date in order to fulfill the requirements of the granting agency. The City Council will hear the item next month, already past the evidently soft deadline for the project’s completion. However, there is an equally persistent lack of clarity over exactly when, and exactly what, actions the City Council would need to take in order to be in compliance with the grant agreement.

Several Planning Commissions voiced the opinion that they needed more time to work out problems with the plan, but ran up against a wall of uncertainty about the importance of maintaining the current schedule for its consideration by the City Council next month. Planning staff had no clear answer to a specific question asked about whether or not the the City of Fullerton would have to send back the grant money (about a million dollars) if the DCCSP was not ultimately adopted.

Come to the free Public Forum on Monday, July 28 at the library to hear more and voice your own concerns about the largest Specific Plan in the history of Fullerton, and what it might mean to you.

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