Fullerton City Council voted 5-0 to receive a $1.78 million Urban Greening Program grant to construct a trail along the City-owned Union Pacific right-of-way from Highland Avenue to Independence Park at their May 4 meeting. An additional $330,712 in City funds will be used to complete the trail. The money will not come from the General Fund but from Park Dwelling Funds that must be used for park-related purposes.
The Union Pacific Right-of-Way property begins just south of the Transportation Center at Santa Fe Ave. and Harbor Blvd. and extends 0.8 miles west to Independence Park between Truslow and Walnut Avenues.
A short segment of the trail (phase I) was built in 2006, and extends from Harbor Blvd. to Highland Avenue, running along Union Pacific Park and behind a few industrial buildings. The new segment of the Trail, funded with the new grant money, will extend the Trail from Highland Avenue to Independence Park, which is open, along a corridor that is mainly flanked by industrial buildings.
A staff report states, “The project provides a safe alternate route from the Transportation Center to the Richman Park and Independence Park neighborhoods…The trail project comprises ten feet of concrete trail, five feet of decomposed granite trail, site lighting, trees, native and drought tolerant landscaping, irrigation, and outdoor fitness equipment. The proposed project will transform an existing 50 feet wide to 80 feet wide, blighted corridor into a greenbelt trail providing alternate transportation, and link the Transportation Center and several parks, including Independence Park at its terminus.”
The California Urban Greening program is “a competitive grant meant to increase greening of public land by establishing and enhancing parks, non-motorized urban trails and safe walking routes, mitigation of urban heat islands, green streets and alleyways and provide and improve riparian habitat for water capture and wildlife benefits,” according to a staff report.
During time set aside for comment many members of the public, especially those associated with the CSUF Center for Healthy Neighborhoods at Richman Park, spoke in favor of the trail.
Barry Ross of Providence/St. Jude said, “This project will encourage physical activity, easier access to the Transportation Center and jobs, and turn a blighted area into a community asset. Please support this project and the commitment to the health of the community that it makes.”
Executive Director of Center for Healthy Neighborhoods at Richman Park Jessie Jones pointed out that south Fullerton does not have many trails as opposed to north Fullerton, which has an extensive trail system.
“This trail will make a difference in the neighborhood. We don’t have trails in south Fullerton. We want to link with north Fullerton,” Jones said.
“Please approve the Union Pacific Trail for all our families—it’s very important,” one resident said. “We need green space. We live in the south. Please do not forget us. We need the trails in the same way as those who live in north Fullerton.”
“This will give more options for me to walk with my children,” another resident said.
Egleth Nunnci, a community leader and organizer in the Richman Park area said, “We are here as a community because we have this need. We want a change…We are so lucky to have been selected for $1.7 million in grants, which is very hard to get. We’re going to have 176 new trees. This will bring our families outside, doing exercise, bringing health to our community, and now it’s in the hands of all of you to make the right decision for our community.”
One member of the public spoke against project. Tony Bushala, whose family owns about 30% of the property along the proposed trail, has a different vision for development of the area.
Bushala expressed disappointment that he was not notified about the meeting and said he thought the project was a waste of taxpayer dollars.
“Before you make a decision on this, go over there to the existing trail between Harbor and Highland and look at it and see what it is. It’s actually a no-mans-land. The City spends lots of money cleaning it up. It’s adjacent to industrial and residential buildings. It’s a hodgepodge. It’s pie in the sky,” Bushala said. He urged Council to allow others to make proposals for the Union Pacific right-of-way, and said, “My family has ideas and proposals.”
Because Union Pacific Park is currently fenced off, the existing trail appears to not be widely used. A visit to the trail on a Friday afternoon showed three people using it, two of whom were experiencing homelessness. Council recently allowed a proposal to expire that envisioned turning Union Pacific Park into an urban farm and event center. Bushala also spoke against this proposal.
Tony and George Bushala (of Bushala Brothers Inc.) are frequent contributors to City Council campaigns. In the 2020 election, Tony contributed $3,000 to the campaign of Mayor Pro Tem Nick Dunlap, and George gave $3,000 to the campaign of Fred Jung. Tony is also the major funder of a political action committee (PAC) called Fullerton Taxpayers for Reform that in the last election cycle spent thousands of dollars for mailers, yard signs, and Facebook ads supporting the campaigns of Jung and Whitaker, and attacking their opponents.
Councilmember Jesus Silva expressed support for the Union Pacific Trail concept. “I think it’s going to liven up that area and maybe take it from a hodgepodge of nothing to something,” Silva said.
Jane Reifer said she wanted to know how this project fit into the City’s larger plan for this area. “I have become very confused about projects in this area. I hear there’s a Rail District project, then I hear there’s a second Rail District project. I would like to start understanding how the pieces all fit together,” she said.
At a March 15 meeting, Fullerton’s Community and Economic Director Matt Foulkes presented information about a Rail District “Specific Plan.” Bushala had previously proposed his own “Fullerton Rail District” plan.
Fullerton Mayor Bruce Whitaker, who “reluctantly” voted to receive the trail grant said, “What we’re looking at here is something that needs to be part of a larger picture, in my mind.”
Mayor Pro Tem Nick Dunlap agreed with Whitaker.
“It’s like trying to put together a puzzle without having all the pieces,” Dunlap said. “I’m willing to support this to receive the grants, but ahead of any action we take we need to look at this in conjunction with a bigger plan for that particular location.”
Councilmember Fred Jung asked Parks and Recreation Manager Alice Loya if there is time between receiving the grant money and deciding what to do with it.
Loya said yes, however, “if we change what we do with the grant money substantially, we may have to return the grant funds because it was awarded based on the application that we submitted with that concept plan.”
Prior to approval of the grant money, Whitaker asked Loya how much the City would have to spend on maintenance of the trail. She did not have an exact figure but said it would be “a minimal amount compared to how much we spend to maintain our parks.”
Loya said the City has plans to eventually continue the trail along the Union Pacific right-of-way that goes along the Bastanchury greenbelt all the way to Imperial.
Whitaker gave direction for staff to bring back broader plans for that area at a future meeting.
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