Sunday, August 21, 2016

Fullerton City Council Notes (8/16/16)

For the upcoming issue of the Fullerton Observer newspaper, I went to the last Fullerton City Council meeting, listened, took notes, and wrote up a summary of the main issues discussed, called "Council Notes."  Though I've attended many city council meetings over the years, usually to speak on one issue (like Coyote Hills, police misconduct, the Art Walk, etc.), this was the first time I actually stayed for the entire meeting, mainly just listening and taking notes.  My goal here was not to voice my opinion, but to observe and report, which is something I like to do anyway.

Most of this stuff is, on the surface, pretty boring.  By the end of the meeting, I was one of maybe 15 people who'd stuck it out for the full four hours.  However, rather than finding myself bored, I was actually inspired to learn more.  Here was democracy in action, for better or worse.  Most of it is seemingly boring and profoundly unsexy, but this is the stuff that affects our lives and our community.  By disposition, I actually enjoy taking something that is complex, unwieldy, and seemingly boring--and turning it into a piece of writing that shows its relevance to readers, especially readers of my generation or younger, who don't tend to get real excited about local government and civics.  And so, here it is, a special preview of my first ever Council Notes (with some images added), to be featured in the next issue of the best (and only) real local paper, The Fullerton Observer.  Stay informed, fellow citizens!

Fullerton City Council Notes (8/16/16)

Closed Session Report: Before each public meeting, the Fullerton City Council meets in a closed session (i.e. not open to the public), usually with lawyers and labor negotiators.   In this week’s closed session, a few notable items were listed on the meeting agenda: two lawsuits against the City of Fullerton (subject of the lawsuits was not included on the agenda), and labor negotiations with the Fullerton fire and police departments regarding salaries, benefits, and working conditions.  In her closed session report, the city attorney reported that both the city and the Fullerton Fire Management Association had rejected each others labor proposals.

Special Presentations: At the beginning of the meeting, Fullerton City Hall council chambers were filled to capacity, with standing room only.  After a prayer and the pledge of allegiance, mayor Fitzgerald gave presentations, congratulating three community groups: FAST Water Polo players who competed in the junior olympics, LoveFullerton, a city-wide serve day hosted by local nonprofit OC United, and Fullerton Cares, another local nonprofit which raises money for autism awareness.  After these three presentations, the council chambers emptied out, leaving around 20 attendees for the remainder of the meeting.

Public Comments: During public comments, one resident expressed concern over the Fullerton Joint Union High School District’s recent dismissal of five full-time employees of Plummer Auditorium, and the possibility that the city was jeopardizing the future of this important local theater venue.  The next High School Board Meeting will be Tuesday, September 6th at 7:30pm in the Education Center Board Room, located at 1061 West Bastanchury Road, Fullerton, should residents wish to make their voices heard on this issue. 

Plummer Auditorium

Council Communications: Council member Whitaker asked city staff what Fullerton’s current water conservation goals are.  City staff replied that the current goal is “zero.”  A staff member added that there is a non-mandatory goal of ten percent reduction, and cited the three-day a week restriction on residential watering.

Fullerton has set the lofty goal of zero percent water conservation.

Mayor Pro-tem Flory expressed some residents’ concerns over the state of trees at Hillcrest Park, which she described as “a marked deterioration…in need of rehabilitation.”  She mentioned upcoming renovations planned for Hillcrest, including construction of some stairs, and rehabilitation of the fountain in front of the park.  She mentioned that the Parks and Recreation department budget had been “gutted” by the city’s decision to purchase one of the areas of the planned Coyote Hills development.

Do not fear.  More stairs are coming to Hillcrest.

District Elections Update: City manager Joe Felz gave a brief update on District Elections in Fullerton.  After a town hall meeting on August 2 (in which the majority of residents spoke in favor of a publicly vetted map 2B), city council re-approved a different map 8A (which had been submitted after the public process by downtown bar owners).  It will be this map (8A) that residents of Fullerton will be able to vote on in November should they choose to change Fullerton’s voting system from at-large to district elections.

Photo by Rudy Chinchilla/Voice of OC

Grace Ministries Project: City council unanimously approved local church/school Grace Ministries International’s application to build residential housing for visiting pastors and returning missionaries, and to change the official use of the church’s 26.5-acre campus in west Fullerton from “Commercial/Manufacturing” to “Religious Institution.”  The campus currently owned or leased by Grace Ministries includes the former Hunt Branch Library, which was gifted to the City of Fullerton in the 1960s by Norton Simon, and two historically significant buildings: the former Hunt Offices, designed by famous mid-century architect William Pereira, and a “streamline moderne” art deco building, also formerly owned by Hunt/Simon.  Both buildings are currently owned or leased by Grace Ministries.  When asked if these buildings will be protected from future modification or destruction, city staff stated that they are not currently designated as Historical Landmarks, but will have “some protection.”  Mayor Fitzgerald called the new development “a great use of this property” and commended Grace Ministries.

Here I am in front of the Art Deco building currently owned or leased by Grace Ministries.

Change to Historical Landmarks Code: Council unanimously approved a change to Fullerton’s Municipal Code, adding a “property owners consent clause” to the process of designating local buildings as Historical Landmarks.  Under this new formulation, owners of historic buildings (not the city) will have the final say in whether their buildings are protected by the Historical Landmark code.  Planning Commissioner Kevin Pendergraft spoke in favor of the change, citing property owner rights and stated “In America, we should not be asked to give up our individual rights for such a greater good.”  Tom Dalton, vice president of Fullerton Heritage, spoke against changing the code.  

Water Quality Report: City staff gave a report on water quality in Fullerton, stating that water tested over the past three years is well below the Environmental Protection Agency’s “Maximum Contaminant Levels” of lead, coliform bacteria, trichloroethylene (industrial solvent), tetrachloroethylene (dry cleaning chemical), and natural uranium (a radioactive element).  Resident Joe Imbriano raised concerns about fluoride in the water (which tests did not show), calling it an “agenda” and stating “We oughtta be fluoridating the Coca-Cola.” 

Coliform bacteria.

Consent Calendar: One interesting aspect of City Council Meetings is something called the “Consent Calendar.”  This is a list of items to be voted on en-masse by the council, usually without discussion or public comment.  At this meeting, there were eleven items on the consent calendar, including an update on Coyote Hills, downtown development, grants given to the Fullerton Police, environmental clean-up, and a fire station remodel.  Thankfully, members of the public asked to “pull” a few of these items for further discussion, most notably regarding two issues: a planned apartment building in downtown Fullerton, and a $400,000 grant to the Fullerton Police Department.

The “New” Amerige Court: Residents Jane Rands and Jane Reifer spoke against the extension of an agreement between the city and downtown developer The Richman Group regarding a plan to develop what Richman Group president Luke Daniels called the “New Amerige Court.”  The original high-density Amerige Court project was denounced by numerous local residents, and ultimately failed; however, The Richman Group purchased entitlement to proceed with the project. Speaking for the development, Daniels spoke of “the magic of mixed use” buildings and said, “We can turn it into a magic street.”  Wizardry aside, Rands and Reifer raised objections.  The council voted 4-0 (Whitaker abstaining) to approve item ten and continue negotiations with the developer.

Police Grant: The other notable consent calendar item pulled for discussion was a $400,000 grant from the California Office of Traffic Safety to the Fullerton Police Department, which involves Fullerton’s Drug Recognition Training Program, which is utilized by police officers from around the region.  City council unanimously approved the grant.

The next Fullerton City Council Meeting will be Tuesday, September 6, 2016 at 6:30 (unless you are really special and get to go to the closed session, which is at 5:30).

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