May 23, 2009

What's Up With All the Love for John Fitch?

h/t to HeardAroundPoway

Politicians often say the darnedest things. 
Like how they don't want to have a special election to fill a vacant council seat because they are so concerned about the financial condition of the city.


A special election to fill the empty Poway council seat would  cost something like $250,000. Just a little more than the new directional signs around town. Just a little more than the upgraded sound system  planned for the Performing Arts Center. And a whole lot less than the millions of dollars they paid for a new city hall, when the old one wasn't that old. Heck, a special election would have cost half as much as the extra funding the city had to throw in to remodel an apartment house on Oak Knoll Rd. Apparently, democracy is not priceless.

At their special council meeting last week, the remaining four council members could not come to a consensus on who will be their our new councilperson. Don and Betty want John Fitch. Merrilee and Jim do not. So the council will meet again next Tuesday to have another look at the final four: Carl Kruse, John Fitch, Sabrina Butler and Dr Alexandra Page.  In the meantime, if you are a Poway citizen who feels like you ought to have a say about the matter, don't bother phoning or sending an email to Don. He has had it up to his eyeballs with having to read drivel from the masses.

That sparked an angry retort from Boyack.

“I could not disagree more,” Boyack said. “It’s our job to listen to the public ... I say, ‘Bring it on.’”

As I said, politicians say the darnedest things.

But what's up with all the love for John Fitch?

John Fitch was once the assistant city manager in Poway. Fitch was hired in 1981 as director of administrative services and promoted to assistant city manager in 1983. And although Poway City Manager Jim Bowersox is the one who hired John Fitch, and the two had previously worked together in La Mesa City Hall, there were strains in their working relationship. In 1996, things weren't going so well. Bowersox interviewed for and was offered a job as city manager of El Cajon. To keep him in Poway, the council had to agree to Bowersox's plan to reorganize the city manager's office and eliminate John Fitch's job. 

Fitch's options were to return to his previous position as director of administrative services, or to accept a new position that was created: Assistant City Manager-Economic Development.  It was probably a good economic move for the city because Fitch's salary could be paid out of the redevelopment pot of money instead of the general fund. And Fitch would be located in a different building. Hopefully, the physical separation would ease the tensions. 

Before Fitch accepted the new position, his attorney prepared an employment agreement.
One section described what would happen if he was fired or if he resigned.

The agreement became effective June 1, 1996.  Many people on Fitch Watch expected him to resign around Thanksgiving, but in December, the council did a strange thing. They modified the agreement so John would still get 18 months salary if he resigned within the next 90 days. This was a pretty big clue that everyone knew he was gonna be out the door by Feb 26.  John Fitch resigned on Feb 26, 1997, the last day he could resign and still get the maximum benefit. Fitch claimed he was "harassed" by city manager Jim Bowersox. Fitch was unhappy with the comments Bowersox wrote in his performance review. One of the comments said "You need to decide if you want to handle the economic development program and be a team player." (Poway News Chieftain, 3/6/97 pA14) In an interview with the Chieftain(PNC, 3/6/97 pA14) 

Bowersox said he had scheduled numerous team-building seminars over the years for his staff with a consultant, primarily to help Fitch get along with other department heads, who, at the time,reported to Fitch.

So, Fitch maybe isn't a "team player" and he has problems working with the staff. Is that the type of person who should be appointed to the vacant council seat?

While Fitch was feeling kicked around by Bowersox, he did a little kicking himself. In Oct 1996, Fitch, as rodeo chairman (he wore several hats) and pageant director Darci Sheldon, sent a letter to the reigning rodeo queen, telling her she could not represent Poway at future events and  asking her to return the "crown, chaps, clothing and other items" she had won in the pageant. (quote is from Dec 24, 1996 SDUT, p B3)

The two-page letter accused her of a series of "incidents of insubordination, gossip and personal attacks" on pageant officials, specifically Sheldon. In addition, she was accused of harassing the rodeo's junior queen and making derogatory comments about a fellow beauty queen, Miss Coors, at the 24th annual rodeo in October.

The rodeo queen was upset, felt humiliated and hired an attorney. She sued. The issue buzzed about in the newspapers for weeks.  So, it wasn't just staff that John had trouble with, it was 19- year-old rodeo queens, too.

Fitch had, and still has, a lot of ties with "the rodeo" and "horsey people" in Poway. When Creekside (our first town center) shopping center opened, John hyped it as a "western seaport village". He envisioned horse-drawn carriages carrying shoppers between Creekside and Old Poway Park.  Yep, politicians say the darnedest things. From time to time, there were other Western Village-theme park projects floating around. None of them ever came to fruition, but I'm sure John would still do one if he had the chance.

Whatever his dreams were, the reality was that John Fitch worked on shopping centers and affordable housing projects when he was asst. city manager. In order to build  Creekside shopping center, our first "town center", the city  had to clear out an old trailer park on Poway Rd.  The city had a new project built, Haley's Ranch Estates (HRE), as a place to relocate the former trailer park residents and also to meet the affordable housing requirements from redevelopment. The Poway Redevelopment Agency (PRA) signed an Owner Participation Agreement (OPA) with  Poway Land, Inc (PLI),  the developer on the project. The plan was that PLI would develop the site and have the manufactured homes built (with financial assistance from Poway) and then the PRA would buy the whole thing back. PLI was owned by one or both of the Kuebler brothers, Richard and Allan.

The original OPA was signed in June, 1989 and amended in 1991. This was the time period when John Fitch was assistant city manager and it is John Fitch who initiated the staff reports for the agenda items regarding the OPA with PLI. In other words, this project was his baby. 

The project was built, but when it came time for the Poway Redevelopment Agency to buy it back, PLI claimed what seemed like excessive amount of costs, many of which were "nearly impossible to verify" according to the Poway Redevelopement Services Department Notes, March 30, 1994.  The matter ended up in court. Poway lost and had to pay out $5.7 million (case # 701895) to the Kuebler's.  Another court case and appeals erupted over the attorney's fees. Poway had to pay out more than a million dollars on that one. Ouch! 

As asst. city manager, John Fitch complained about the Kuebler brothers and their shoddy record keeping. But after he resigned, Fitch may have begun consulting for one or both of the Kueblers. One of the Kueblers bought a prime parcel in the south Poway Industrial Park that John had his eye on for a long time. In fact, John  had the redevelopment agency work on designing a golf course/resort for the parcel while he was still working for the city.

photo and caption from North County Times, Jan 28, 1996, B-2

In January 1996, about 6 months before the city manager's office re-organization,  John Fitch and Betty Rexford unveiled one of their favorite projects: a golf course/resort to be located the southeastern edge of the city. Actually, they were planning on 2 golf courses, one would be on the south side of Scripps Poway Pkwy (SPP) and the other one would be on the north side of SPP near the Garden Road residential area. As a happy little coincidence, Fitch had a tunnel built under SPP to facilitate the  golf carts wild critters getting from one side to the other. In Feb 1996, the city hired a consultant to draw up plans for the resort and golf course (cost: $5,200). The project was called Standing Chimney Resort. 

I've noticed another thing about politicians. Besides saying the darnedest things, politicians  seem to forget a lot of stuff. Like the 7 yr drought we had in the late 80s and early 90s. Where was all the water supposed to come from for these golf courses?  

I am not sure if the golf course project is dead. The land was owned by the Pallas family for generations.  When the Industrial Park was being built, Freida Pallas hired a consultant and tried to get approval to develop her land, but she was unsuccessful.  She finally gave up and sold her land to one of the Kuebler brothers. Yep, those same Kueblers. The brothers also own other tracts of land south of Garden Road School. From what I hear, John Fitch has been doin' some consulting for the Keublers. When the owner of the parcel adjacent to the Keubler's parcel requested a zoning change, it was John Fitch who met with Merrilee Boyack and Betty Rexford to encourage them to vote for the change. The two sites, (Slough and the one owned by Keubler) were to be developed in tandem. This parcel owned by Kuebler (formerly the Pallas property) is the last big parcel in the Industrial Park. At one time Palomar College was looking at it as a possible location for a satellite campus, but the city really doesn't want the campus there (or maybe anywhere in Poway.)

If John Fitch were to be appointed as a city council member, his consulting work could create a lot of conflicts of interest. Would John Fitch be looking out for the best interest of the people of Poway or would he be using his position to get things moving for his client(s)?

I don't keep close tabs on John Fitch. I do not know how many projects he has been involved in that required city approval. There are 2 cases that I am familiar with. One was an approval for a gate on Mina de Oro.  Fitch represented a group of homeowners who lived on Mina De Oro and wanted city approval to install an electronic gate.  The intent of the gate may have been to block access for Manny Shoval, who also owns land on Mina de Oro and has some dreams for developing his land in a way that his neighbors are not too happy with.   After the gate went up on what Shoval contended was a public road, he  sued the city and the other owners.  Manny won his court case and 2 yrs after the gate went up, the courts demanded that it be removed. 

I've always wondered why the city granted approval for that gate in the first place. Shoval had documents which indicated that the road was a public road. Did the city do it just to put Shoval into extensive and costly litigation? Do we want to get the city tangled up in more litigation and neighbor squabbles? Why put John Fitch on the council?

Two of the people (Harry Rogers and Dennis Keena) who lived on Mina de Oro and John Fitch were involved in another city caper. The Juarez family owned 2 adjacents lots in the old Poway area. There was a small house on one of the lots. The Juarez's wanted to build a larger house but they were deterred by the city requesting that they do expensive engineering studies. They eventually sold the vacant lot to Harry Rogers in Sept., 2004 for $50,000.  Four months later Harry sold the lot to his neighbor Dennis Keena for $200,000 (4 times what he paid for it).  A year later, Keena wanted to build a house on the small lot, but the lot was so small he needed a variance to fit a house on the lot.  Represented by John Fitch, Keena submitted plans for a 2-story 2,172 sq ft ranch style  home and asked the city for a  variance  "to permit the garage and residence to encroach into the front, rear and side yard setbacks." The next door neighbor reviewed the plans Keena submitted.  But on the night of the variance hearing before the council, unbeknown to the neighbor, Keena showed the council plans for a different house, a 2,850 sq ft Victorian house that had a much larger profile than the ranch house. Represented by John Fitch, Keena asked the council to approve a "variance envelope" and an agreement that he could build the first house, the Victorian or another house without coming back to the council for approval, as long as the house fit within the variance envelope. This was an exception to the Poway code, which  says that if a project is later redesigned, then the applicant has to come back before the council for a new approval.  Unfortunately, the neighbor had never seen the plans for the Victorian house and was unaware of what the city had approved until it was being built.  But even then, the project was out of compliance. Construction was stopped until the council could meet and give another variance.  In the end, the council reduced the front setback from the required 40 ft to 27 ft, the side setbacks from 20 ft to 18.5 and 13.25 ft and the back setback from the  50 ft to only 21 ft.  In other words, the council gave permission to  Keena to build a house almost 30 ft closer to the neighbor's house than allowed under the code. Keena had bought the lot for $200,00 in Jan 2005. After obtaining the variance and permission to build the Victorian house, Keena sold the lot in Feb 2006, to Sean and Kendall Valenzuela for a cool $330,000.  He also sold the Valenzuela's one hell of a disgruntled neighbor. 

As Betty Rexford said, John Fitch knows the ropes. Yes he does. Maybe all too well. But I don't think we need a John Fitch as our next councilman, especially right now. We don't need more lawsuits, disgruntled residents, or insider deals. We need  council members who know that the staff's job is to serve the people of Poway; they're not your personal concierge.  May the person who is appointed be someone who is committed to serving their community first, before their own special interests. 

1 comment:

NEWS_FLASH said...


Fancy signage for Poway Roads.

Special election to fill empty Poway City Council seat.

Appointment to bring in former city staffer who really “knows the ropes”.

There are some things that money can’t buy. For everything else, there’s…… Appointing an unscrupulous former Poway city staffer wheeler-dealer who knows how to “work” the system.


What are Higginson and Rexford thinking? How can John Fitch with such a --- let’s just say ---“spotty” record even be considered for a Poway City Council seat appointment? There must be some questionable ulterior motives in Higginson and Rexford’s minds for them to be pushing Fitch for appointment. Just look at his past history. Good Grief!!! Not only does he have problems as a team-player, the guy is a walking-lawsuit-just-waiting-to-happen with everything he gets involved with. Appointing someone like Fitch as a council member might be the biggest blunder that Poway has ever made.