Correction from Early September issue page 3: A Brief History of SOCO

Correction from Early September issue page 3: A Brief History of SOCO

Mid-September issue, page 17 

Dear Editor,

I am writing to request a correction be published to Judith Kaluzny’s page 3 article in the Early September issue of the Observer, “A Brief History of SOCO.” In the piece, Judith states that, as Director of Redevelopment in 2002, I said I “could not approve” Jack Franklin’s, Walt Johnson’s, and Mike Ritto’s plan to create what became SOCO because the plan did not “provide sufficient parking.”

Not only did the position of Director of Redevelopment and Economic Development not possess the authority to deny the proposal, but I wasn’t appointed. I didn’t occupy the position until two years later, in 2004.

Review of the SOCO proposal in 2002 would have been the collective job of the Development Services Department (who processed approval of the Restaurant Overlay District), the Engineering Department (who operates and maintains Fullerton’s streets and alleys), the Planning Commission, and the Redevelopment Agency/City Council.

The Director of Redevelopment and Economic Development in 2002 would have participated in SOCO planning and made the request to the former Redevelopment Agency Board of Directors to provide funding for the street and alleyway sign improvements. When I was appointed Director, the SOCO alleyway and sign improvements were already complete.

What I did do during my tenure as Director from August 2004 through January 2011 was seek and obtain millions in grant funding and then design and commence construction of the parking garage located in SOCO on the south side of Santa Fe Avenue. The SOCO parking structure serves both Amtrak and Metrolink riders and provides hundreds of parking spaces for patrons of SOCO and the surrounding downtown area. I don’t know where Judith obtained her information, but whatever her source, it was incorrect, and I would request the record be corrected in the next issue.

Thank you in advance for making the correction.

Sincerely, Robert M. Zur Schmiede, Kingston, WA

A Brief History of SOCO

Early September issue, page 3

Sometime 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 attention 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 a 20-year member of the Redevelopment Advisory Committee.

Jack, Walt, and Mike Ritto, an advertising man, devised a plan to redevelop that block south of Commonwealth. Jack would move Heroes to one of Walt’s buildings. The alleyway slicing through the middle of the block would be paved as a pedestrian walkway. Jack would rent one or two more of Walt’s sites for other drinking establishments. Well, eating also. They would name it SOCO for South of Commonwealth.

The Director of Redevelopment, Rob Zur Schmiede, said such a plan did not provide sufficient parking, so he could not approve it. The Restaurant Overlay District (ROD) was not adopted until December of that year. That ordinance was to exempt all downtown restaurants from having to provide adequate parking. The enterprising trio contemplated the empty lot across Malden Avenue behind the Fullerton Community Bank.

The bank owned that lot. It is a good place for parking and would satisfy parking needs for the intended SOCO restaurants. They approached Carl Gregory, CEO and chairman of the bank’s board of directors. Carl declined to lease the bank property for parking. But “no” was not an acceptable answer. According to a former employee, Jack, Walt, and Mike visited Carl time and time again to press their cause.

“Well, you know Carl,” the employee said. “He’s such a soft-hearted man.”

Eventually, permission to park was given. SOCO became a redevelopment project at a redevelopment agency cost of $4,500,000. Jack, Walt, and Mike would later initiate the restaurant overlay district ordinance, ROD.

That ordinance passed in December 2002 exempted central business district (CBD) restaurants from needing conditional use permits and parking. The race to have a nightclub was on. By 2008, party crowds were blocking traffic on Commonwealth, Lt. Greg Mayes told the city council.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.