Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Fullerton City Council Notes: 10/18/16

Lately, I've been attending Fullerton City Council meetings (which happen every other Tuesday at 6:30pm at City Hall) and writing "Council Notes" for the Fullerton Observer Newspaper.  My goal is to sum up, as concisely as I can, what gets discussed and voted on at these meetings.  This past meeting was actually fairly lively, as several members of the public came to speak their grievances regarding such things as the condition of a sports field on the south side of town and Fullerton's infamous 2-5am "No Parking" ordinance.  Anyway, here are my council notes, with some images to keep things interesting.  And be sure to pick up a copy of The Fullerton Observer!

Fullerton City Hall, where it all goes down.

Invocation and Pledge of Allegiance

The meeting began with a prayer (or, invocation) and the Pledge of Allegiance.  The practice of saying prayers (which tend overwhelmingly to be Christian) before city council (and other legislative) meetings has been legally challenged in recent years as violating the constitutional prohibition against government establishment of religion.  In 2014, the U.S. Supreme court ruled 5-4 (in Town of Greece v. Galloway) in favor of allowing prayers before government meetings to continue.  In recent years, towns across America have allowed diverse religious (or non-religious) voices to lead the invocation.

A Muslim Imam gives the invocation before a Wheaton, IL City Council Meeting last year.

Closed Session

Before each Public City Council meeting, there is a Closed Session meeting in which City Council members and the City Manager meet privately with public employee union representatives, developers, and other parties to negotiate and make decisions outside view of the public.  During this meeting’s closed session, the Council and city manager met with a representative of both the Fire and Police department unions to discuss “parameters of authority for negotiating salaries, benefits, and working conditions.”  They also met with a lawyer representing Pacific Coast Homes, the wholly owned subsidiary of Chevron which will be developing Coyote Hills.  The City Attorney gave no closed session report.

This is the latest Coyote Hills development plan.

Presentations: Community Planning Month, FAST Swim Team, Socktober

Mayor Jennifer Fitzgerald presented City Planner Karen Haluza with a proclamation commemorating Community Planning Month, which is during the month of October.  “This year’s theme is ‘Civic Engagement,’ said the Mayor, “and it highlights the importance of engaging the public, elected officials, and key leaders in the discussions that shape the future of our city…thoughtful local planning cannot happen without that meaningful civic engagement.”  This was followed by a presentation to the local FAST swim teams which participated in the Junior Olympics and Junior Nationals this summer.  Sarah Blake of Cupcake Blake and her daughter Sonia gave a presentation on “Socktober” in which local people are encouraged to buy socks and donate to the homeless.  

Public Comments

Families Speak About Poor Condition of Richman Field

Many local residents, mainly families with children, stayed to speak during public comment regarding the poor condition of the field at Richman School where local soccer teams The Blue Stars and AC Fullerton were relocated four years ago, amidst much protest.  These residents spoke out against the fact that their soccer club pays the city for use of a field that is lacking grass, open bathrooms, and lighting.  “I don’t find it fair that our kids have to practice in the dark, while the other side has lights,” said one parent, referring to the adjacent Richman Park, where there are lights.  “It’s literally a fence dividing them,” said one resident, “It’s pitiful.  It would be an eye-opener [for the Mayor] to see our side of town.”  In 2012, hundreds of people protested at council over the fact that these teams (composed primarily of Latinos from the south side of town) have been relegated to a sub-standard field, while other city leagues like the Fullerton Rangers enjoy better quality fields, at cheaper rates.  Four years later, the situation has not changed, prompting questions of fairness and equality.  City Council Candidate Jesus Silva spoke on behalf of this community, suggesting that “It’s time to revisit the policy of how we give different leagues preference.”  Council members Whitaker and Sebourn made a motion to aggendize this issue for further discussion at the next meeting, with Mayor Fitzgerald opposing this, stating that this is a Parks and Rec issue.   

Parking Tickets Put Financial Strain on Renters

Several residents who live in rental properties in a neighborhood around Orangethorpe and Baker, voiced their concerns about a Fullerton ordinance which prohibits street parking between 2-5am.  Residents stated that their complex only offers one parking space and that families with two vehicles must park on the street, for which they are often ticketed, sometimes several times a week.  One resident stated, “I feel like my neighborhood is being discriminated against...because of the fact that we’re not homeowners.”  One angry resident asked, “What goes on between 2 and 5 in the morning?  Everybody’s asleep.  We’re being robbed.”  Another stated, “You’re taking money out of family’s households.”  One resident fanned out several tickets she’d recently received, stating, “I work very hard.  I’m a taxpayer.  I should have the right to park on the streets where I live…I can’t afford this anymore. I have kids. I wake up between 1-2 in the morning, just to move our vehicle...Last week, every single day, they gave everyone parking tickets.  That is absurd.”  City Manager Joe Felz stated that “much of this comes from the homeowners not wanting overnight parking on their street.”  Many residents suggested the city issue parking permits, for which they would gladly pay.  Council member Sebourn explained that the problem with obtaining parking permits is you have to get the owner’s consent, and that with an apartment complex it’s difficult for renters to get ahold of the owner, let alone their consent.  “It’s a real Catch-22,” he said.  Council member Flory proposed aggendizing a moratorium on parking tickets, for discussion at the next meeting, which was seconded by council member Sebourn.  Mayor Fitzgerald opposed this, stating: “It’s a city ordinance, so I’m not sure if we can [change it] ‘by fiat.’  The City Council, being an elected body, can however change an ordinance by vote.   

Public Hearings

Building and Historical Landmark Code Changes

Deputy Fire Chief Julie Kunze introduced Fullerton’s new Fire Marshall Kathy Schaefer, who is now the highest ranking female Fire Officer in Orange County.  Kunze presented eight new ordinances and two resolutions to the 2016 Fullerton Building and Fire Codes, to bring our city into compliance with California Building and Fire Codes, which Council unanimously approved. After some discussion, Council voted 3-2 (Flory and Sebourn voting against) to adopt a change to the municipal code, requiring the property owner’s consent before a building is designated as a Historical Landmark.  City Council candidate Jane Rands raised concerns about unintended consequences of this ordinance, causing the city to potentially lose valuable historical landmarks.  

The Hunt Branch Library is a historically significant building in Fullerton whose future is uncertain.

Council Approves Joint Powers Agreement With Brea

City Staff gave a presentation on a proposed Joint Powers Agreement (JPA) between Fullerton and Brea to merge city services.  This was the third council meeting since August in which this proposed merger was discussed.  After much discussion and public comment, City Council approved the JPA 3-2 (Whitaker and Sebourn voting “no”) without really knowing what (if any) city services will be covered by it.  The most discussed (and likely) outcome will be a merging of Fullerton and Brea’s Fire departments, though a “feasibility study” is still in the works to determine whether this will be a good idea.   As at the previous two council meetings when this JPA was discussed, public comment was nearly unanimously opposed to its creation.  Local residents raised concerns over cost, over the fact that the council does not know what services the JPA will actually cover, over the JPA’s power to issue bonds, and over the fact that the feasibility study has still not been released, despite the Fire Chief’s assurance that it would be available weeks ago.  Before casting her “yes” vote, mayor Fitzgerald stated, “The public has had ample opportunity to weigh in on this item” to which Council Member Whitaker responded, “The majority of input from the public has not been positive.”

The JPA seems to be all about the fire department.

Affordable Housing Agreement with A Community of Friends
City Council unanimously approved an amendment authorizing $3 million to be spent on an affordable housing project called Fullerton Heights at 1220 E Orangethorpe Ave. to be built by the non-profit group A Community of Friends.  They hope to start construction in December.

Artist's rendering of proposed affordable housing development.
Consent Calendar

The “Consent Calendar” is a list of agenda items that the City Council votes on en masse, unless a member of the public requests an item to be “pulled’ for discussion.  A resident named David Curley asked that the “September 2016 Check Register” (which is a list of payments made by the city to outside entities) be pulled for discussion.   David Curley called the Council’s  attention to a $10,000 payment to Griffin Structures, which is a construction contractor, and asked City Manager Joe Felz about a lunch meeting with Griffin Structures CEO Roger Torriero, suggesting that there was a kind of “backroom deal” going on.  In response to this accusation, Mayor Fitzgerald actually laughed, and Mr. Felz explained that there was nothing unusual about his lunch meeting with Mr. Torriero.  After this, the “consent calendar” passed 5-0.

Griffin Structures has contracts with Fullerton and it's all above board and totally legit.

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