How Downtown Fullerton Got This Way

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A short version…

In 1994, the legislature passed a law, AB2897, giving more control over licenses to sell alcohol to cities. That is what F. Paul Dudley, then director of Fullerton’s Development (formerly known as Planning) Services, told four other fellow employees–Pat McKinley, police chief, James Armstrong, city manager, Jeff Roop, police lieutenant, and Ted Commerdinger, senior planner, in a memo March 24, 1995. To get a license, he explained, the local governing body would have to tell Alcohol Beverage Control that it was a “public convenience and necessity” that an applicant receive a license.

Dudley’s memo noted that “‘Public convenience and necessity’ is tied to the concentration of licenses in an area, the population of the area, and reported crimes. As a result of AB2897, local agencies now have much more influence over the issuance of retail licenses.”

Dudley told the four who received the memo that if they had no problems with it, he would have the mayor sign a letter designating his department as the contact for ABC. Mayor Jule Sa sent that letter to ABC April 4, 1995. The keys to a Fullerton liquor license were now in the hands of Paul Dudley.

Some time in 2002, Jack Franklin, owner of Heroes Bar and Grill in the Villa Del Sol, became unhappy with the rising rent for these premises. He was also acquainted with Walt Johnson, owner of four properties in the downtown block which had yet to receive attentions from the city redevelopment agency, the block bounded by Santa Fe, Commonwealth and Malden Avenues (across the street from Fullerton Community Bank) and Harbor Boulevard.

Walt was then a member of the Redevelopment Advisory Committee for 20 years, during which time he had sold a warehouse building, one of those four properties, to the redevelopment agency and bought it back two years later. These transactions were arranged and facilitated by his fellow RDA committee member, Scott Dowds of Farmers and Merchants Bank. Walt was appointed for yet another term by Councilmember Sharon Quirk.

Meantime, Paul Dudley and others in the city were concerned about bringing more business activity to downtown. Some, including Mayor Don Bankhead, Sgt. Fred Casas of the police department, assigned to downtown, and Jack traveled to consult in Pasadena to see how that downtown was developed. They discovered a Restaurant Overlay District, ROD.

City Manager Chris Meyers, at a meeting in 2008, said that Paul Dudley drew up the  ordinance stating that no restaurant had to provide parking nor have a conditional use permit. “Paul Dudley meant it for parking,” said Meyers. “But it says, ‘no conditional use permit’” said a citizen. Answer came there none.

In June 2002, the council unanimously resolved to hold a hearing and adopt such ordinance. In October 2002, the planning commission approved this proposal, Dudley’s staff telling them it had “negative declaration.” In December 2002 the city council–Don Bankhead, Michael Clesceri, Richard Jones, and Jan Flory –unanimously approved this ROD. (Chris Norby had resigned from the council.) Apparently city attorney Richard Jones did not caution his clients that there would be consequences for no conditional use permits for downtown restaurants that served alcohol. Nightclubs were born and thrived. Crowds of revelers filled the streets, blocking emergency vehicles at times.

Bookstores, antique shops, dress shops were driven out. The only businesses activities accommodated in downtown Fullerton were “restaurants” which had become nightclubs because there were no restrictions, that is, no conditional use permits, to control alcohol-fueled activities. And landlords could get so much more in rent from a restaurant than from a book store.

Yet the Franklin/Johnson plan to redevelop the 100 block of west Commonwealth and Santa Fe Avenues could not get approved without some parking nearby. They coveted the lot on Santa Fe and Malden owned by Fullerton Community Bank. They asked CEO Carl Gregory for permission. He said no. They returned again and again, according to a former bank employee, until they wore him down and he gave permission to use bank property for bar patrons. SOCO was born, midwifed by Jack Franklin. Walt Johnson and Mike Ritto, Downtown Merchants (later, Business) Association, according to a former city employee. Mike says he was not one of the people who nagged Carl Gregory, but a former bank employee said he was.

The redevelopment agency spent $4,500,000 of our money on this party venue. ( Later, an extra $10,000,000 was to be spent in acquiring property for the train station parking on the west side of Harbor Boulevard, although the city owned property right at the train station on the east side of Harbor Boulevard. That parking is across the street from SOCO.

(The downtown boys had asked the redevelopment agency in 2004 for a pedestrian bridge across Harbor “to connect the two SOCO’s,” but the agency at the time said it didn’t have the money. That pedestrian bridge is now built to get commuters the long hike to the station.)

In 2004, parking was still a pressing need north of Commonwealth. So Amerige Court was born. It was a plan to get a five or more story parking structure built on one of two parking lots in the 100 block of West Amerige Avenue to serve the needs of six or seven or eight or ten restaurants/ bars/ nightclubs on the west side of Harbor Boulevard. The two parking lots had been redeveloped in the 1970s, paid for by the surrounding businesses as a Parking Assessment District.

To make this parking scheme economically feasible, a nine-story condominium structure on the other parking lot would be built, and the city would give the developer the two lots plus $5,000,000. (Later amended to $5,500,000.)

Mike Ritto escorted the developer to meeting after meeting with the local businesses, and many meetings with citizens were scheduled by city staff. But residents and business people just could not stomach such a monster development in that area. However, the project still lingers on, renamed Amerige Commons, and designated as “new.”

Then there is the Florentine Fraud. Also approved unanimously by the city council. May 6, 2003, the city council approved a patio as an “encroachment” giving Tony Florentine, owner Florentine’s Downtown Bar and Grill, 380 square feet of public sidewalk to construct “a raised concrete deck, approximately six inches high, that will utilize six feet of the 12-foot-wide sidewalk… adjoining the existing building.”

June 3, 2003, Paul Dudley, as Acting Director of Redevelopment Services, gave permission to Tony Florentine, written on an Application for Public Dining Permit, to build an “addition to  building,”  which became the Tuscany Club, on our public sidewalk. After this was exposed in the Fullerton Observer,  Paul Dudley had to eat some humble pie, but the city council okayed the deal.

*to the party crowd, this does not mean DownTownFullerton, but Down To F==k.

School Choice

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Is there a month that goes by without an article in the Register about reforming public schools? Gloria Romero wrote her opinions September 10 and October 29, and more to come. She is, after all, an “education reformer.”

Gloria’s big thing is her “Open Enrollment” law. “Choice” is what parents should have, she and others advocate.

Fullerton elementary school district established “choice” for all of us in 1972 when Robert Crawford was superintendent. Unfortunately, then-superintendent Duncan Johnson took it away again in 1983.

Yes indeed, on May 9, 1972, the Fullerton Elementary School District Board of Trustees voted and adopted a policy that said parents who wanted a particular alternative style or approach to the education of their children could establish such a school and work with teachers to do so. The choices were suggested to be an open or “free school” mode, a more strictly disciplined model known as “fundamental” school or just stay with the middle of the road.

A group of parents took up that offer – they after all had initiated the demand for it – and implemented a free school model known as Community Open School. It was located at Maple School on Valencia Avenue. The school board had closed Maple for their one-way bussing solution to Fullerton’s segregated schools.

Ironically, some of those same parents had been on the District’s 33-member Human Relations Advisory Committee appointed to solve the integration problem, and that committee had overwhelmingly recommended to the Board that a system of choice be established and students assigned to schools on an integrated basis, with Maple School to remain a neighborhood school.

I was an essential trekker in both adventures, the Human Relations Advisory Committee and the establishment of Community Open School. And thus I acquired a great deal of political experience.