Thursday, February 23, 2017

Fullerton City Council Notes 2/21/17

I am a reporter for The Fullerton Observer newspaper, the only independent paper in Fullerton.  For the past several months, I've been covering Fullerton City Council meetings.  Basically, what this entails is sifting through a lot of seemingly boring stuff, finding the interesting and important things among the mundane, and trying to explain it in a concise way.  At this past City Council meeting, there were presentations, discussion, public comment, and votes on important things like local groundwater contamination, high-density development, affordable housing, our local election system changing to districts, a local nature preserve, and more.  This stuff is not inherently sexy, but it affects the lives of the nearly 140,000 humans who live in my hometown of Fullerton.  Here are my council notes, my fellow citizens.  Stay informed, and be sure to pick up a copy of The Fullerton Observer, where you can read this in print form!

Closed Session

Before every public City Council meeting, there is a Closed Session meeting, in which council meets with various parties and discusses topics outside view of the public.  According to the agenda provided by the City Clerk, during this week’s closed session, council discussed the dismissal/discipline/release of an unnamed City Employee, two pending lawsuits against the city of Fullerton, and negotiation with the public employee union of the Fullerton Fire Department.

The Public meeting opened with a prayer by Ron Oakley from The Rock church, and the Pledge of Allegiance led by Council Member Jesus Silva.

OCWD and Local Groundwater Contamination

Mike Markus, general manager of the Orange County Water District (OCWD), gave a presentation on where our water comes from and a potential contamination issue.  The OCWD provides water to north and central Orange County.  According to Markus, 75 percent of the total water in the OCWD comes from local groundwater, and 25 percent comes from the Metropolitan Water District (MWD), some of which comes from distant sources like the Colorado River.  Orange County’s Groundwater replenishment system, the largest of its kind in the world, turns over 100 million gallons of sewage and waste water into potable water daily.  

One item of concern for water users in North Orange County is the North Basin Groundwater Contamination, caused by decades of industrial waste created by local manufacturing which has created a “plume” in our local aquifer, affecting Fullerton and Anaheim.  In 2015, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) became involved in the ongoing cleanup, which involves developing extraction wells. 

This is a map of the "North Basin Contamination Plume"  The red parts (where I live) are not good.

Aeromedical Community Emergency Services (ACES)

Dr. Richard Caso gave a presentation on The AeroMedical Community Emergency Services (ACES) organization, which was founded to help resupply hospitals and other emergency health care facilities following a natural or man-made disaster.  ACES pilots use small aircraft and can land in municipal airports, like our own Fullerton Airport.  For more information

Public Comments

Slidebar Noise (Again)

Local Resident and property owner Tony Bushala once again (for the third City Council meeting in a row) criticized local watering hole The Slidebar for its alleged illegal use of outdoor amplified music, citing their lack of a required conditional use permit, violation of a local noise ordinance, and a long history of noise complaints.  

Red Oak Development Referendum

Residents Jane Reifer and Matt Leslie urged Fullertonians who are opposed to the proposed high-density Red Oak Development on Commonwealth Avenue to sign the petition which is circulating, and to visit

Artist rendering of the proposed Red Oak project on Commonwealth Ave.

Public Hearings

Affordable Housing Project Postponed 

City Council voted 4-0 to postpone approval of a 46-unit, multi-site affordable housing project located on W Valencia, W West Ave, and S Ford Avenue, to be built by Jamboree Housing Corporation (a non-profit affordable housing developer based in Irvine).  The project would be funded by 3.9 million in Housing Bonds as well as tax credits from the Federal Government.  Council Member Jennifer Fitzgerald recused herself from voting because Jamboree Housing is a client of hers.

The Story of a Fence

Approximately 45 minutes of this City Council meeting was devoted to complex discussion regarding a homeowner’s decision to build a four-foot fence in a neighborhood that (maybe) limits fence height to three feet.  To hear this riveting discussion and find out the council’s landmark decision on this important issue, visit the “Council Meetings” live section on the City’s Web site.  Start viewing at 1:52:00 and end at 2:35:00.

Regular Business

District Elections Are Coming!

Following the passage of local Measure II in the election last November, the City of Fullerton will change its voting system from at-large (in which candidates must get the majority of all residents’ in the city to win) to a district election system (in which the city is divided into voting districts, and candidates must get the majority of votes only in the district in which they live).  This change came as a result of two lawsuits alleging that the City of Fullerton’s at-large system violated the California Voting Rights Act.

These are the new Fullerton voting districts. 

Fullerton staggers its City Council elections, so in 2018, two council seats will be up for reelection (Chaffee and Sebourn).  In 2020, three council seats will be up for reelection (Whitaker, Fitzgerald, and Silva).  At this Meeting, City Council decided that in 2018, Districts 5 and 2 will be up for election, and in 2020, Districts 1, 3, and 4 will be up for election. 

Will There Be a Downtown Business Improvement District?

Council voted 4-1 (Sebourn “no”) to postpone discussion and study regarding creation of a Business Improvement District (BID) for Downtown Fullerton.  Over the past year, the Community Development Department has begun meeting with Downtown business owners, property owners, and residents to gauge interest in creating a centralized Business Improvement District, which would create additional funding and staff to provide downtown maintenance, safety, capital improvements, parking, beautification, marketing, and special events.  

Judith Kaluzny, a property and business owner downtown, spoke against the creation of this BID, suggesting that it would create another layer of government, a taxing agency, and that it would disproportionately benefit downtown bar and nightclub owners.  Hubert “Skip” Davis, also a downtown property owner, opposed the BID, expressing his frustration that he only received notification eight days ago, and called the letter he received “calculated, misleading, deceiving” calling the BID an unfair tax on property owners.  

Tony Bushala, another Fullerton property owner, spoke against creation of BID, saying that its unfair for all business and property owners to pay for the problems created by the downtown bars, saying: “We all know what’s wrong with Downtown Fullerton.  It is a culture of booze, violence, and public nuisance.  It is an economic sinkhole costing the city at least 1.5 million more than the city brings in.”    

Fire Joint Powers Agreement Put On Hold

For the past year, the cities of Brea and Fullerton have taken steps to form a Joint Powers Agreement (JPA), in which these cities would share certain municipal services, like merging their fire departments.  In a recent study session, Brea City Council voted to “table” the fire department merger aspect of the JPA.  Fullerton City Council voted to 5-0 to postpone discussion of the Fire Department merger aspect of the JPA, which means it is not going to happen (at least for now).  It is important to note, however, that Fullerton and Brea do share a Fire Department Command Staff, led by Fullerton Fire Chief Wolfgang Knabe.  

Short Term Rental Regulations Discussion

City staff gave a presentation on the potential of regulating Short Term Rentals (such as AirBnB) in Fullerton, which has seen an increase in recent years.  Our current municipal code does not address or regulate short term rentals.  Currently there are between 80-100 short term rental listings in Fullerton, ranging from whole house to single bedrooms.  Suggested regulations include taxes, obtaining a business license and insurance, and safety measures.  

During public comment, speakers were divided on this issue.  Some criticized short term rentals, particularly in neighborhoods with homeowners associations, for upsetting the character of the neighborhoods, and creating potential nuissances and problems, citing the example of Anaheim, which recently banned short term rentals.  Others, particularly those who rent their properties as short term rentals, argued that complaints have been minimal and that it provides business activity in the city.  Council voted 5-0 to “receive and file” this report for further discussion. 

West Coyote Hills Update

Although it was an agenda item, there was no official update on Coyote Hills.  However, Council member Silva made a motion to have the Parks and Recreation Commission “review the subject of public use of the Robert E. Ward Nature Preserve and return to the city council with recommendations  for access, signage, safety, habitat protection, and promotion.”  The Robert E. Ward Nature Preserve is a city-owned natural habitat adjacent to the Chevron-owned Coyote Hills land.

Council Member Fitzgerald was opposed to this suggestion, stating: “As long as the Friends of Coyote Hills are holding the city and Chevron hostage, there’s nothing else we can do, and I don’t know with what money you think you’re gonna do that.”  By “holding the city and Chevron hostage” she was referring to the Friends of Coyote Hills’ recent appeal of a Judge’s decision to uphold the Development Agreement (VTTM) of Coyote Hills, which council approved in 2015, in apparent defiance of the 2012 Measure W vote.  Between 2012 and 2015, Chevron/Pacific Coast Homes had a lawsuit against the City of Fullerton.

Silva continued, “I want to see what it would cost [to make the city-owned Robert Ward Nature Preserve accessible to the public], and how we can do it.  I’m sure there’s enough volunteers who would be willing  to help fund it, but we don’t know that until we look at it and see what it would take to open our land, to make it usable.”  

Mayor Whitaker requested aggrandizing this item, to get more information about what the city could do to make the Robert E. Ward Nature Preserve more open and accessible to the public.

This is the entrance to the Robert E. Ward Nature Preserve on Euclid.

Consent Calendar

The final part of the Council Meeting Agenda is called the “Consent Calendar.”  This is a slate of items to be voted on “en masse” with a single vote, unless someone “pulls” an item for further discussion.  One item was pulled for discussion, which was the second reading of the Council’s February 7th decision to repeal Fullerton’s  2010 ordinance imposing residence and location restrictions on registered sex offenders.  This decision was made following a California Supreme Court Decision that found “blanket” residence restrictions such as this to be unconstitutional, as well as a lawsuit filed by a Mr. Frank Lindsay against the City of Fullerton, and 17 other cities in California, most of which have since repealed similar ordnances.    Three residents, including Barry Levinson, who spearheaded this 2010 ordinance, expressed frustration and anger at the Council’s decision.   City Council voted 5-0 to uphold their repeal of the ordinance.  All state laws are still in force to track and monitor registered sex offenders.  

The next regular City Council meeting will be Tuesday, March 7th at 6:30pm.

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