Friday, November 11, 2016

City Council Notes: 11/1/16

The Fullerton City Council meets every other Tuesday to discuss and set city policy, hear presentations, listen to the public, and vote on all manner of things.  Attending these meetings is perhaps the most direct way for citizens to engage with elected officials.  For the past few months I've been attending every Council meeting, taking notes, and then writing a sort of summary of what happened for the Fullerton Observer, one of Southern California's few independent newspapers.  The two main issues discussed at the last meeting had to do with equitable access for youth sports teams and the infamous overnight parking ban, particularly its impact on apartment renters.  I often say that what happens locally is a microcosm for what happens nationally, and I think this meeting (and the overall tone-deafness of the Council) really hi-lighted some basic social problems.  Here are my notes, and be sure to pick up the latest issue of the Observer...

Closed Session

Before every public City Council meeting, there is a Closed Session, in which Council meets with developers, public union representatives, and other parties outside view of the public.  At this week’s closed session, Council met with union representatives from the Fullerton Fire and Police Departments regarding salaries, benefits, and working conditions.  Council also met with representatives of Pacific Coast Homes, the wholly owned subsidiary of Chevron who will be developing Coyote Hills (see related story “The Un-Saving of Coyote Hills”).   In his closed session report, the City Attorney stated that the city had agreed to pay a Leonor Rodriguez $150,000 to settle a lawsuit brought against the city.  The content of the lawsuit was not disclosed to the public, although public funds were used to pay the settlement.

Presentations: Water Heroes

Three of the biggest homeowners associations in town were presented with signs proclaiming them “Water Heroes” by Mayor Jennifer Fitzgerald, for their efforts to comply with Governor Jerry Brown’s 2015 mandate that the city reduce its water usage by 28 percent due to the drought.  These “Water Heroes” are: Fairway Village Community, Morningside Community, and Parkhurst Community.  “That’s probably the only yard sign you’ll allow on Morningside property,” Mayor Fitzgerald joked as she presented one representative with his sign, referring to homeowners’ associations tightly restrictive policies regarding home decoration.  Fullerton public works director Don Hoppe gave an update on recent renovations of Laguna Lake, a popular area for walking and fishing.  Contractor Titan Maritime has completed its renovation, allowing the City to re-fill the “Lake” to levels it had before the drought.

Retiring Chief Hughes Commended

Three members of the Fullerton Police Chief Advisory Committee commended Chief Dan Hughes, who recently announced his retirement after four years of service as Chief, to take a job as VP of Security and Emergency Services at Disneyland.  Tony Package said, “He is not retiring, but going to a fairytale job at Disneyland, protecting Mickey Mouse and others...A worthy cause.  Congratulations.”   Another member of the Advisory Committee, an employee of local corporation Kimberly Clark, commended Dan’s leadership, particularly with regard to corporate relations.   A third member of Chief’s Advisory Committee stated, “He’s a wonderful man…Now people are not afraid to go to the police department.”  

Former Chief Dan Hughes.

Mayor Fitzgerald Criticized

Resident Susan Levinson criticized Mayor Fitzgerald’s recent comments in support of comedian Andy Dick at the Fullerton Cares Comedy Show for Autism.  “As the mother of a son on the autism spectrum, I took great offense to Mr. Dick’s opening joke, in which he used the term ‘retards’ to describe people with autism,” Levinson stated, “It is bullying and should not be tolerated.”  After the show, the Mayor was quoted as saying that she “appreciated that he [Dick] came to Fullerton and shared his comedy with our city” as she posed for photos with him.  City Council candidate Joshua Ferguson criticized Mayor Fitzgerald for laughing at public commenter David Curley at the last council meeting, when he questioned the City Manager about a consent calendar item.  “Is that the situation in Fullerton, where we’re going to mock people who ask questions in this representative system of government,” Ferguson asked, “Is that the lack of respect citizens should expect for asking questions and asking the city to do its due diligence on transparency?”   City Council Candidate Joe Imbriano asked voters to replace Mayor Fitzgerald, based on her voting record, her abnormally high campaign contributions, and potential conflicts of interest with her job as a lobbyist for Curt Pringle and Associates.  

Andy Dick (center), Mayor Fitzgerald (left)

Local Soccer Teams Left in the Dark

Last Council meeting, dozens of players, parents, and coaches representing the Blue Stars and AC Fullerton of the Orange County Community Youth Soccer League (OCCYSL), spoke to Council about the fact that they are relegated to a sub-standard field at Richman School, and must play in the dark, while other local youth sports teams enjoy preferential treatment, and better fields.  As a result, further discussion of this issue was put on the agenda for this meeting.  The recommendation of the Parks and Rec Department was to make no change to its Youth Sports policy, and refer this item to the Parks and Rec Commission (aka, to take no definite action).  Hugo Curiel and John Clemens from the Parks and Rec department gave presentations on the city’s Youth Sports Policy, concluding that OCCYSL did not meet city requirements to qualify for “Partner” status.  “I was not in favor of bringing this before council,” said Mayor Fitzgerald, “because I feel like we have a really good process in place to handle concerns like this.”  Council member Whitaker stated, “There is a sense that there is not geographical equity in the way that fields are being allocated in the city.” 

Richman Field in the dark, Richman Park in the light (photo by Joshua Ferguson)

Three Board Members of the Fullerton Rangers (a local soccer league that enjoys “Partner” status) spoke favorably of the City’s policies.  Jorge Sigaran, head coach of Blue Stars, stated that this has nothing to do with the Fullerton Rangers.  “We are here about the 400 kids who need a lighted field,” Sigaran said.  “We simply want to be treated the same way you treat every other league in the city,” said a parent.  Jeanette Vasquez, School Board Candidate, described witnessing young players from these teams having to carry goals and temporary lights from Richman field back to their homes.  “This is an issue about equitable policies and equitable access,” she said, and urged Council to look at other cities, like Placentia, who have more inclusive policies.   

Mayor Pro-Tem Jan Flory said, “We do have a process that, in my opinion, is not broken.”  Council member Whitaker said, “There’s a certain amount of tone-deafness on the council, because so many of these bureaucratic requirements do add considerably to the cost of participation, and I do believe that there’s a social good for allowing all the children in the city and their parents to participate in sports activities...I think it is important for the council to understand that it serves the entire populace of the city, and not just their immediate neighbors.”  Council voted 4-1 (Whitaker being the no vote) to make no policy change, and refer the matter to the Parks and Recreation Commission.

Residents Protest Fullerton Parking Situation

At the last Council meeting, several residents who live in rental properties in a neighborhood around Citrus Ave, voiced their concerns about a Fullerton ordinance which prohibits street parking between 2-5am.  Residents stated that their complex only offers 1-2 parking spaces and that families with 2 or more vehicles must park on the street, for which they are often ticketed, sometimes several times a week.  Because of these citizens’ complaints, City Council agreed to put this issue on the agenda for discussion. The suggestion of the Public Works Department was to delegate this matter to the Transportation and Circulation Commission (aka, to take no definite action).  

In order to allow overnight parking, 51 percent of homeowners (not renters) must agree to this change, and the few homeowners who spoke at the meeting were not inclined to give their consent. One homeowner complained about her renter neighbors: “We’ve paid taxes on that home since 1990.  It’s a beautiful home.  With cars parked in front of it, on the side, you can’t see the beauty of the home.  We keep the grass beautiful,” she said, “Every morning, every day, I’m picking up dirty baby diapers, Del Taco food.”  Another homeowner, Rick Casey, complained about noise, beer bottles, and broken sprinklers, which he attributed to renters, stating: “Maybe the people who are parking there aren’t really aware of what us homeowners are going through.”  

The vast majority of speakers on this issue were renters, who were often visibly upset and exasperated.  One renter, Elena, stated, “We are not rich.  We are workers.  When I get home, usually after 4, there are no parking spots.”  Another renter, Jeanette Perez, explained how she walked all the way to City Hall and waited for hours to speak, because she didn’t want to move her car and get a ticket. Some renters described getting up to three tickets a week at $35 each.  A student at Fullerton College, who lives with her family, stated: “It would be nice to go out with my family on a weekend and not worry about where we are going to park, or how many tickets we have to pay.”  Local renter Greg Warren stated, “We’re taxpayers too.  We’re not trying to take advantage of them (the homeowners).  We’re just trying to develop a system that’s going to work for everybody.  Just because we don’t own a home, we should not be discriminated against.”  

A nursing student renter named Nathan explained how his family has paid hundreds of dollars in parking tickets, and how he can’t even come home at night sometimes, and he has to stay at a relative’s house in Santa Ana, because he can’t afford the parking ticket.  “That’s an awful thing to feel, to want to come home to your family, but no, you can’t come home to your wife and daughter because you can’t afford to pay the parking,” he said, “To me, it’s an absurd law.  It affects families.  It hurts children…You’re just punishing people for having to live their lives.”   

A renter named Said, who has lived in his complex for 11 years said: “I have spent thousands and thousands of dollars on these tickets for the past eleven years, and it is quite painful...I believe that the city streets belong to the city’s citizens, so I don’t know why there is a differentiation between homeowners and renters.”  Janet Beretto, student at Fullerton College, who is actually writing a research paper on this issue, said, “Parking many blocks away, having to walk home at night is very scary at times, as a woman, trying to walk home with my children.”  When local resident David Curlee stood up to speak on behalf of the renters, both Mayor Fitzgerald and City Manager Felz walked out during his comments.  City Council voted 5-0 to send the matter to the Transportation and Circulation Commission, thus taking no immediate action.

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.  Two items were pulled this meeting, one regarding a change to a municipal code, which would add a “property owner’s consent clause” to the process of designating buildings as historical landmarks.  The item passed 3-2 (Flory and Sebourn voting “no”).  Councilmember Chaffee pulled item 11, which was “Coyote Hills Update.”  He discussed the recent Court hearing in which the Friends of Coyote Hills’ lawsuit against the city (challenging the city’s approval of the Development) was denied by the Judge. “It behooves all of us to come together to put our energy into fundraising so we can acquire as much of the Hills as we possibly can,” Chaffee said, “We do that best by working together, not by working apart, not by spending money on lawsuits and that sort of thing.”  

Helen Higgins of the Friends of Coyote Hills expressed disappointment with the judge’s decision and said, “Our mission has always been, and will continue to be the preservation of Coyote Hills as a park and preserve in perpetuity, serving over a million people.  We will continue to strive toward a successful achievement of our mission.”  Angela Lindstrom of the Friends said, “We are very disappointed.  We had hoped that the Fullerton voters would prevail.  However, if there’s anything you know about the Friends, it is that we don’t give up easily.” The Friends have 60 days to file an appeal.  (See related article “The Un-Saving of Coyote Hills”)

Coyote Hills

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