Below we re-print the original article about the origin of this issue, by Judith Kaluzny, published in the July 2003 issue of the Fullerton Observer.
The Concrete Wall Downtown
by Judith Kaluzny
Approval to build a 6-inch-high patio that later turned out to include a 4-foot block wall enclosing a wide swath of City sidewalk on Commonwealth at Harbor in downtown Fullerton was given to “Intimate Inns of California, Inc., doing business as Florentine’s Downtown Bar and Grill,” in a unanimous City Council vote May 6, 2003.
Although a sign and two trees were removed for the construction and the sidewalk was reduced from 12-feet to 6-feet wide, Florentine’s application was not sent to the Planning Commission for discussion.
According to City officials, encroachment issues are often approved without public discussion. Florentine’s project was referred to the City Council by staff because it was thought that it would be controversial.
However, the Agenda information sheet No.14, which was presented to Council members, the public, and the press, failed to include diagrams, figures, or even a description of the concrete block wall running down the middle of the sidewalk. Instead, Council was shown an artist’s rendering that was not made available for publication and was not included in the Agenda backup information. Hopefully such vital details are not routinely omitted since our representatives must make decisions based on the facts given to them by staff.
The two-page information sheet paired Florentine’s “raised concrete deck, approximately 6-inches high” with the encroachment application for St. Jude Medical Center’s pedestrian overpass and included a staff recommendation that both agreements be approved.
Although City Manager Chris Meyer explained that “City Council was not being asked to approve the building plans but just the encroachment,” how a reasonable decision could be made without accurate facts remains in question.On May 7, the day after City Council approval, the permit application was signed and approved in the engineering department . The wall has since been built. As part of the agreement, Florentine’s will pay 25 cents per sq-foot per month for use of the property for 10 years. No fee is to be charged during the first year.
City Manager Chris Meyer, Development Services Department head Paul Dudley, and Director of Engineering Bob Hodson met with a few concerned citizens including both current and former members of the City’s Redevelopment Design Review Committee who would like to see the wall removed.
The wall meets “all applicable codes,” Hodson said, with nods from Meyer and Dudley, “specifically, the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act).” Hodson indicated that the application also met with current guidelines that have been in place since 1994.
The Downtown Fullerton Outdoor Dining Guidelines are intended to protect the public interest while permitting private outdoor dining facilities on public property within the public right of way.
The Downtown Fullerton Outdoor Dining Encroachment Agreement asks the applicant to “Provide a brief description of the proposed street furniture and how it is designed to be compatible with the historic downtown surroundings in terms of color and materials.” In this case, a copy of the Public Right-of-Way Excavation, Construction & Encroachment Application and Permit described the project simply as “Installing Patio on Sidewalk” for a fee of $111. Again, no mention of the wall. Dudley agreed with the citizen suggestion that the wall could have at least been open work of wrought iron, but said the block wall was what Mr. Florentine wanted, and that is what the City Council gave him.
Asked why the issue had not come before the Redevelopment Design Review Committee [RDRC] for review, City Manager Chris Meyer said “The RDRC has no political power but acts only as an advisory body to the City Council.”
However, in this case, the RDRC was not given the opportunity to review or advise.
“It would have made no difference,” Dudley said. “This City Council would happily dismiss the entire committee.”
Author’s note: When I wrote this article, I had not yet discovered the outdoor dining application wherein Dudley gave Florentine permission for “Addition to building.”