Response to OC Register – Priorities, Infrastructure & Mixed-Use Development


Below are my responses to questions posed to the Fullerton City Council Candidates by Brian Whitehead of the OC Register.  Responses were published in the  October 13, 2016 Fullerton Tribune. Please note that my age was incorrectly calculated by OC Register staff as 60. I am 50. 

What is Fullerton’s greatest need? How will you address that need?

Overdevelopment is one of the most common concerns I hear from Fullerton residents. While we sit in gridlock on Fullerton’s deteriorating roads, the City Council busy themselves approving every new high density project.

We need to revise the City’s General Plan regarding development and scale back the infill zoning City Council has already approved to facilitate increased density.

Before anymore high-density projects get shoe-horned into our town, we need robust public transit with streets designed for walkers and bicyclists and nearby services such as grocery stores. Current residents should not be negatively impacted by traffic, parking, and strained city services.

What must be done to improve the city’s infrastructure? And how will you make your listed initiatives a priority for the council?

Residents have accepted a 5% per year increase on water rates, compounded over 5 years, to fund repairs to the water delivery system. The city’s engineering staff, aided by our Infrastructure Review Committee, prioritizes street repairs to coincide with water pipe replacement. We are on track for 7 miles of reconstruction per year limited by the availability of funds and with the goal of minimizing street closures.

I will ensure that planned improvements are fully funded without burdening residents with bond funding and will look for opportunities in the general fund budget to shift more money into street maintenance efforts.

What is your opinion on new mixed-use projects landing in the city?

The mixed-use development in Fullerton has been high-density residential projects with minimally used retail space on the ground floor.

Mixed-use does allow for office as well as retail and/or residential uses. But when left to out-of-town developers to decide the use, they are consistently choosing high-density residential projects to maximize their profits, not because it is what is best for Fullerton.

Under the proposed mixed-use zoning as well as the 600 W Commonwealth Project Specific Plan, developers can build with less parking in a mixed-use project than would be required for a project with residential use alone. That’s not right.

Picking your 3 Candidates

Fullerton Observer Video

This is an exciting election year for Fullerton voters – you get to vote for a majority of the City Council seats as we do every four years during the Presidential Elections.

There are three seats to fill and twelve candidates to pick from!

There are many sources of information from which you can learn more about the candidates.

Your Sample Ballot should be arriving this week in the mail or you can see your Sample Ballot now online using the  Voter Lookup on the Orange County Registrar of Voters website. It contains the Fullerton City Council Candidate statements as well as arguments for and against Fullerton’s By-District Elections Ballot Measure ii.

Also available online is the League of Women Voters moderated Candidate Forum. Its 2 hours and then some of 10 of the candidates for City Council answering 10 questions selected from the 100 people who attended the Forum on September 29. If you do not have time to view this in its entirety, there is a synopsis written by CSUF professor emeritus of Political Science, Vince Buck in the Early October Observer.

As mentioned in a previous post, a local political action committee known as NUFF has posted the endorsement application forms submitted by 6 City Council Candidates.

The Fullerton Observer is also posting online candidate information for the first time this year on their YouTube Channel. If you don’t have time to watch and listen to the individual candidates respond to questions from the Observer you can see the editor’s synopsis of the interviews in the Early October print or pdf format of the Observer.

In each of these opportunities to communicate with you, the voters of Fullerton, I have made every effort to be clear, knowledgeable and informative. I try to be concise. But there are many complex issues that don’t always fit into simple answers. If you feel that you need more information from me on the topics discusses in these forums, please contact me.

My Vision for Fullerton & What I hope to Accomplish – responses to NUFF

Below are some of my responses to the endorsement questionnaire for the local political action committee Neighbors United for Fullerton (NUFF PAC).

What is your vision for Fullerton?houseswwalker
I see Fullerton as a place where neighborhoods are respected and people are encouraged to participate in their community.
But there are many things on the current landscape that continue to interrupt the ability of our community to participate.
These are some egregious examples.
  • The inclusion of map 8a in the district elections ballot initiative ii disenfranchises voters on many levels.
  • The refusal by our City Council to overturn the West Coyote Hills Development Agreement and all other approvals as stated in the referendum is an affront to 61% of the voters in Fullerton who said “No” to development.
  • The continued threats of overdevelopment throughout the city without regard to the concerns expressed by the community, such as impacts from increased traffic and a lack of funding to provide infrastructure and safety resources long-term for the increasing population, are short-sighted and detrimental to our community.
As much as there are major challenges for the community, there are also many opportunities.
These and other problems can be resolved by electing leadership that includes, consults, and respects the community when making decisions. By increasing communications channels, ensuring adequate time to learn and discover different options, and having a City Council that knows who they are elected to serve, more Fullerton residents will participate, knowing that their input is valued by the City Council and integral to Fullerton to be the best it can be.
 What do you hope to accomplish?stopoverdevelopment
  • Resolve the overdevelopment battles that are recurring by revising the Fullerton Plan/General Plan (GP). It is apparent that the GP does not express the community’s vision in regards to new development
  • Preserve Coyote Hills as 100% open space.
  • Work with our Chief of Police to support and expand upon reform efforts
Fullerton’s Parks
We need to continue to maintain parks and provide adequate facilities for people to enjoy the parks. Our parks are more than just sports fields; they are places where community members gather.
I would like to see public facilities within our parks made more available to community members. Our park facilities should not be seen as a source of revenue. We need to lower the cost of using public buildings and community centers for residents to utilize.
Hillcrest Park’s trees are dying. We need to prioritize what makes a park a park – shade trees and green spaces where children can explore nature.
West Coyote Hills
The intent of Fullerton voters can be contorted by legal arguments (at the expense of Fullerton voters) under the direction of the current City Council to say our “NO” vote does not equate to no development.  But we know what we meant and the City Council should respect that.
I stand behind the will of Fullerton voters to preserve Coyote Hills as 100% open space.
Development Policies
We need to revise the General Plan and ensure policies reflect the needs and desires of Fullerton residents, rather than the goals of outside developers to maximize their profit today at the expense of Fullerton Residents tomorrow.
We need to revisit the new medium to low density infill zoning (PRD-I) that was recently approved by City Council and keep working on the proposed high density mixed-use zoning (M-U) to ensure neither can result in unintended consequences to our neighborhoods.
District Voting
I am an advocate for many reforms that would encourage greater voter participation in our City Council elections such as ranked choice voting, local campaign finance ordinances, or district elections.
Unfortunately, our opportunity to create new district elections was tainted by the self-interests of the current City Council who feared a loss of power under district elections. Their hostility to district elections has resulted in their unanimous support for a worst-case example of gerrymandering.
In the map selected by our City Council, the downtown neighborhoods are divided five ways to prevent downtown residents from being able to elect a representative of their choosing.
The cutout created in the northeast to protect an incumbent’s reelection in 2018 divides the active and cohesive Rolling Hills neighborhood into two districts. The Princeton Circle/Yale (sparkle balls hanging from the trees at Christmas time) neighborhood is cross-wise cut into two different districts. The voice of Asians within what-was-supposed-to-be an Asian majority Citizen Voting Age district was reduced to a plurality under 8a.
I encourage all Fullerton voters to vote NO on Measure II to protect the rights of Fullerton voters to elect City Council representatives of their choosing.
 “Surplus” Property, the Hunt Library, etc.
First of all, the Hunt Branch Library is not “surplus property!”  There was an emergency closure due to a large homeless population that has since been removed. Because the City Council does not have the will to fully fund the Hunt or even our main branch, the Hunt was leased to a church at a discounted rate.
Funding to the Hunt Branch Library should be restored and the Hunt should be reopened for the whole community.
This rare city asset is currently shuttered to all but the church membership under threat of arrest as posted in multiple locations on the property.
We need a careful vetting by the public of whether and how public owned properties should be sold-off. Each should be considered with the goal of maximizing the benefit to the residents.
trafficWe need to resolve our transportation challenges in this city. Traffic is a serious problem that cannot be ignored. It impacts each of us regardless of where we live in the city.
Downtown Fullerton has a drinking problem.
We need a council that will no longer turn a blind eye to the regular lawlessness that threatens the safety of residents and visitors and leaves behind an unpleasant environment for legitimate daytime businesses and their patrons.
Historic Preservation
Historic Fullerton is being chipped away project by project, decision by decision. We need to support our historic neighborhoods and preserve historic structures at every opportunity.
We need to restore the criteria for designating historic properties before we feel the detrimental effects of the City Council’s recent decision to add new burdensome hurdles.

The complete questionnaire and answers are available  here.

When Public Participation Isn’t

fullcouncilSo much time is wasted at City Council Meetings on battles we should not be having. The City needs to engage people early and often, not slam decisions through on a 72-hour notice with a 300 page document that won’t download from the City website.

Public hearings may be scheduled, announced, and occur as required by law, but these minimal efforts don’t seem to be working well for Fullerton residents who want to be engaged. We should take great advantage of the energy and interest of residents who mostly have the good of all residents at heart.

So why don’t we?

  • Notice public meetings well in advance so busy working people and families can attend
  • Inform the public rather than assume they are disinterested or incapable of comprehending
  • Listen to public questions, provide satisfying responses and address real concerns
  • Consider the perspective of each speaker and how they see a potential decision will impact them

Public Hearings should mean what the name says so residents don’t feel like it’s nothing more than a formality. We need policies to ensure adequate time is available for the community to express concerns and for the City Council and staff to fully address concerns.

We should ensure proper and thorough communication beyond what is legally required so that everyone who wants to can participate in planning decisions. We need a user-group committee to discover problems, recommend fixes, and confirm corrections to the difficulties experienced by various users trying to get information on the City’s website. We also need to utilize existing social media and print better to communicate directly with residents.

Our commissions and committees need to be consulted at every opportunity. Proposals should be vetted by commissions and committees, with proper notice and scheduled at a time when working people are able to attend. Input should be used to make changes to a proposal before it is placed on the City Council agenda.

In response to more people participating at City Council Meetings, the City Council has rearranged the order of the agenda and shortened the speaking times and now adamantly imposes the new limitations in an attempt to discourage meaningful discourse at public meetings. They seem to have the perspective that it’s a lot easier to do the City’s business when you don’t have to listen to a bunch of noisy people showing up at City Council Meetings.

My perspective is different. It’s a good thing that people want to participate. A council should be respectful and responsive to the community. Council members should be able to clearly and logically explain their reasoning for a decision or incorporate compromise into the decision process.

Mixed Use Zoning

To inform voters about my opposition to adding new Mixed-Use zoning that would streamline the approval process for more high-density infill development, below is my statement to the Planning Commission from July 27, 2016.

Most people don’t know what a city’s General Plan (GP)  is until they are trying to figure out how to stop a project they don’t want in their neighborhood. They learn that developers and the city planning staff will interpret the GP to justify the development they are trying to stop. This has been seen time and time again since the approval of the GP.

The density assumed in the GP is far too aggressive for what Fullerton residents can stomach.

When the GP was approved on May 1, 2012 by City Council  (of which the majority was recalled the following month) most residents did not anticipate the large number of massive, multi-block projects that would be built, are currently under construction, and are now being proposed. But people did recognize the potential for this kind of rampant overdevelopment when they saw what was proposed in the Downtown Core and Corridors Specific Plan (DCCSP) in 2014.

The DCCSP was scrapped by City Council in 2016 “due in part to concerns raised through the Public Hearing process” according to the city planning staff.  But those same concerns, traffic, noise, parking, depleted city resources, such as water, fire and police service, are still the same objections being heard today in opposition to projects coming forward under the planning tools devised to replace the failed DCCSP.

The PRD-I (Planned Residential Development-Infill) zoning slipped through Planning Commission and then City Council with no discussion. It appeared that the City Council didn’t even know what they were approving when they voted for PRD-I zoning based on their questions to staff about PRD-I zoning at the July 19, 2016 City Council Meeting at which PRD-I zoning was being used to support the Melia development.

Like PRD-I zoning, Mixed-Use (M-U) zoning is going to result in more high density projects being plopped into existing neighborhoods. And when the residents of those neighborhoods come before Planning Commission and City Council in an attempt to stop yet one more gargantuan multi-block project from being built near their homes, they are going to be presented with these cold hard facts:

  1. The GP housing element allows an enormous increase in population.
  2. The GP identified the focus areas where this increased population would be shoe-horned.
  3. The GP included a policy that enabled the council to give staff direction to create “zoning tools” to facilitate high density in-fill development.
  4. The zoning tools have been created and there isn’t a thing that can be done to stop that over-priced, multi-story, high-density, under-parked, traffic clogging project that is about to be built in your neighborhood.

Don’t approve M-U zoning tonight. Instead, revisit the GP to review the density and the focus areas and recommend that City Council ramp-down the overdevelopment of Fullerton.

Following the Public Hearing, the Planning Commission asked for a study session to learn more about where and how mixed-use zoning would be applied because they were concerned about a loss of commercial properties being rezoned to residential under M-U.

"At times one remains faithful to a cause only because its opponents do not cease to be insipid" – Nietzsche