Joe Felz has been making a difference in the city since 1984, but has been making a difference as the Fullerton City Manager since 2011.
Born in Los Angeles, Felz graduated high school in 1977 and ended up in Fullerton when he decided to attend California State University of Fullerton as a sociology major in 1979.
“I felt sociology was broad, you could apply it to a lot of different disciplines and careers, it was a very tough time coming out of a recession the job was pretty poor back then,” Felz said, “I just felt it was a broad perspective and things I was interested in as far as potentially working for government, in fact I focused my thesis work on public policy and public programming and how that impacted people’s lives.”
He graduated with his bachelor’s degree in 1982 and with his master’s degree in 1985 in sociology.
He worked at Stater Bros. full time for five years unloading trucks in the middle of the night while attending school, until getting hired with the city in 1984.
“CSUF had an internship program with the city, so I took advantage of that,” Felz said, which eventually led to a job.
Felz started in city government by producing events again for the city, like the parade and the 10k run, as well as focusing on the opening of The Muckenthaler Center.
He became community services supervisor in 1987 specifically being assigned to the Fullerton museum at a time when the city started focusing on revitalizing the downtown area as part of a city strategy to focus on downtown.
“Downtown was nothing back then like it is today, it was very quiet, a lot of vacancies and there was no nightlife whatsoever.” Felz said, “Now it’s certainly vibrant, a lot more economically viable and active and I think people are proud of it.”
He was responsible for many downtown events such as the “First Night Fullerton,” New Year’s Eve celebration and Felz is actually the one who created the Fullerton Market, after the council had challenged staff to come up with ways to breathe life into downtown.
Felz came up with the idea by modeling the Fullerton Market after European street markets he had seen when visiting his friend in England.
“It was a challenge the first few years, but it was nothing like it is today.” Felz said.
The city was considering scrapping the Fullerton Market due to low turnout but local businesses shared their revenues the day of the market and according to Felz their profits were “staggering” so businesses committed private funding to help the market stabilize and grow.
He held the community services supervisor position for eight years until he became community services manager for six years and eventually assistant city manager in 2005.
With that position he began to evolve into government relations, significant grant writing and working on getting funding for city projects such as for the grant to rebuild the Fox Theatre.
He then became the Fullerton Parks and Recreation director in 2007, and eventually to his position as city manager in 2011.
“Focus on your career, always try to be as broad as possible, and never pass up internships, getting an economic development strategy in place that made sense for Fullerton and we’re starting to see the results of that,” Felz said, “The other thing I tried to bring here was a sense of renaissance.”
He has also help implement needed infrastructure improvements such as work on the water system in Fullerton.
Felz believes that Fullerton needs to stop focusing on what they don’t have, like the rumor about how Disneyland was supposedly supposed to be in Fullerton.
“It’s negative energy, and it’s just a fruitless conversation to have, so why don’t we focus on who we are.” Felz said, stating the city needs to focus on things to be proud of such as the downtown area.
Outside of working for the city, Felz enjoys spending time with his family, “these days, it’s all my kids,” Felz said.
Felz advice to student’s looking to get into city government is to always look for opportunities.
Felz has many new ideas for the future of Fullerton and he is highly optimistic about the years ahead.
“I’m proud to be a part of the city, and I’m honored the [Fullerton] City Council asked me to come on board.”