Local Government

An Interview with Newly-Elected District 1 Councilmember Fred Jung

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Fullerton Observer (FO): You stated in your campaign that you were opposed to Measure S, the failed sales tax increase. Given Fullerton’s current dire financial straits, what specific proposals do you have to address the City’s revenue shortages?

Fred Jung (FJ): I’ve been going from department to department, meeting with all the department heads, meeting with a lot of city employees to just gather where we’re at—how many folks they’ve lost in their department, how many jobs have been furloughed, and what’s been the operational tipping point as a result? Do citizens now risk getting a measurable diminishing of their service? Are we risking so few police officers on a certain day at a given time that this becomes a safety issue for our residents? So before I do anything, I’ve got to get a handle on where we’re at. It’s one thing to see the [budget] numbers on paper; it’s a whole other thing when you actually see it on the ground. When you go into the library and there’s no one there, it starts to really dawn on you that the previous cuts that have already been made, and the further cuts that are planned—these are difficult decisions.

FO: You are the first Korean American to be elected to Fullerton City Council. Fullerton has a large Korean-American community, particularly in District 1. What unique concerns and needs do you see among Korean Americans in your district?

FJ: Korean Americans in general are small business owners. When they come here, and they’re educated in Korea, their education doesn’t mean anything here. So often times they’re forced to purchase a small business where they can dictate their own hours, and just work, just grind away. That’s a struggle that I’m really used to, having seen it with my parents, having gone through it myself. With my parents’ store, my mother would work Christmas Day, New Year’s Day, Thanksgiving. She never made a Thanksgiving. It was just constant work, and they try to do that to make sure that their children are educated here. I think that’s a lot of what Korean Americans struggle with here in District 1 and Fullerton—making a living as small business owners. Often they don’t have vacation time. Health care is a real issue for them because they have to figure it out on their own. This pandemic and its recession has really impacted Korean Americans in district 1 hard. From a Korean American perspective, small businesses have really suffered.

FO: What can the City do to help?

FJ: Giving immediate help in terms of grants that are available. The City hopefully will do a better job at communicating to folks about these grants. The County has these grants, some of which may still be available—to act as a bridge between now and when we get out of this pandemic. Now that we have president-elect Joe Biden, my full expectation is that the federal government can figure out some sort of stimulus package that will work for small business owners and the general public.

FO: On your website, you self-identify as a small business owner. What is your business?

FJ: I still own part of a jazz magazine, All About Jazz, that I started. I’ve also got ownership in some stores and restaurants out of state.

FO: How will you address housing affordability and renter protections?

FJ: There are so many interested parties in terms of housing. It’s not just developers. There are non-profits that want to do sustainable housing for low income folks and the homeless. So you have to make sure you’re working with all of these folks. The main thing is—you can’t have anybody slide through the grate anymore. The safe parking program that they have right now—really great.

FO: That program ends on December 31, though.

FJ: We’ve got to re-up that because you just can’t criminalize people who live in their cars because they have nowhere else to go, especially with the economy the way it is. We’ve just got to do a better job of protecting our citizens. If there’s a way of encouraging our governor to extend the eviction moratorium, that’s certainly something I’d be willing to do.

FO: The City has done a fair job of approving developments that are in the higher end of the market. The challenge is on the affordable/workforce housing side. How do you encourage those projects?

FJ: Low income/affordable housing does not denigrate the value of your home at all, and in fact will end up increasing the value of your home. Everybody’s real estate theory is that if a million dollar home is built across the street from me, my home value will automatically go up. That’s not the case. That’s not how the real estate market works. A house is worth what someone will pay for it, not what Zillow says it’s worth. So the more we can uplift young folks in our community who want to buy an entry-level home, the more we can uplift the poor who are in our community, the working poor, so they can afford their starter house. This really works because it’s been proven through generations of studies that home ownership is the primary way for the working poor to build long-standing equity for their families, long-standing revenue and wealth. Why wouldn’t we want to do that for everybody?

FO: How can Fullerton balance new housing needs with keeping/protecting Fullerton’s unique parks, open space and historic neighborhoods in both north and south Fullerton?

FJ: Open space is so finite that protecting it has to be at the forefront of everybody who’s on Council. Once we develop on it, it’s gone forever. You can always turn a parking lot into an apartment building. You can’t turn a parking lot back into a park. So once we’ve got the open space that we have, we ought to make every effort to preserve it. For me—the primary priority has to be open space. Secondary to that, we have to find ways to find affordable housing. A lot of what happens is—developers will come, City Council approves it, and then they build. And the residents go, “What just happened? Nobody told me this was going on.” I think that’s where a lot of the entrenched resentment comes from.

FO: Given the challenges of COVID-19, how would you improve public participation at City Council meetings?

FJ: Our next meeting on December 15 will be at the Fullerton Community Center—a much larger facility than council chambers at City Hall. There will be double the capacity for folks to be in the audience, socially-distanced. I don’t like time limits for public comments. For the sake of meetings not lasting until four in the morning, I understand the time constraints. But two minutes—you can’t get your point across in two minutes. I’d like to see that extended, perhaps.

FO: I’ve heard complaints from people who submit eComments or write e-mails to Council that are not read during the meetings.

FJ: I’ve heard that too. We as Councilmembers can make sure that the City Clerk reads every one. I recognize that under the previous Council, they just wanted to move the process along so they’d ask the City Clerk to summarize the eComments. It’s really hard to summarize all those e-mails and eComments. So a lot of it just slips through the cracks. So I think we can avoid that by saying, “Let’s read every one.”

FO: Can all of Coyote Hills still be saved?

FJ: Absolutely. It’s going to take a lot of political will from folks who are in higher office than me, like Assemblywoman Quirk-Silva who was instrumental in purchasing the parcels that we’ve already purchased. Senator Josh Newman’s bill SB714 would have purchased all of it, but he got recalled and that money went into the wind. I think there is great hope, actually. I feel more hopeful now that we can get it all preserved than I did prior to the election. Anyone who is a State officeholder, the one thing you want them to do is to bring money back to our district. And they’re both really great at that so I look forward to working with them.

FO: Would you support a Citizen’s Police oversight commission?

FJ: Should there be transparency in the police department? Absolutely. Are they working towards that? They’re getting a lot better at it. Expanding commissions is a huge priority for me. There’s equity in that. The prior council took all of these commissions that our city had and pared them down to five. There used to be more commissioners. That’s just better—more public participation, better representation. It helps with public trust, it helps with transparency, so that’s a real priority for me. In fact, that is my first priority—find more equitable representation by expanding these commissions and increasing them.

FO: What are your top priorities on Council? Do you intend to introduce new items? What are they?

FJ: Equity and representation are critical factors for me. I think we have to really explore all the potential possibilities to try to make sure that we don’t fall below a level of service to the point where it starts impacting our citizens. So that’s why I’m studying right now. These are the two things I can do right away: equity in terms of commission and committee appointments, and better representation, and also to make sure that I get a real handle on where we’re at services-wise.

FO: How will you communicate and connect with your constituents?

FJ: I’m extraordinarily accessible. I’ll give out my personal number and e-mail to whomever asks. But beyond that, starting next year, if we’re in the pandemic still, I’d like to do virtual town halls.

FO: You have received a lot of backlash for your decision to support Dunlap, not Zahra, for Mayor Pro Tem when you were first sworn into office. In hindsight, would you still have done this? Why did you do it?

FJ: I got a lot more backlash on that than I had anticipated. It was simply reaching across the aisle. While the outgoing councilmembers were having their ceremonial pat on the back, congratulations, the whole time they kept ignoring Councilman Whitaker. They didn’t allow him to speak…and it really took me aback. It saddened me that politics is this way. So it was just reaching across the aisle and showing some grace and togetherness on working together. If I were to do it again, I probably would have run it by a few people first, just to kind of check the water temperature.

FO: Was it a spur-of-the-moment thing?

FJ: Yeah, it really was. I decided to do it while I was sitting there. I didn’t discuss it with anyone. I just thought it would be a good gesture—that the two incoming City Council members are dedicated to working together.