Oooops!

sorryEvery once in awhile, we make a boo boo which our readers are more than happy to point out.

In this case, we erred slightly when we told you that Melissa Figge of the Tustin Preservation Conservancy was going through the neighborhood, passing around flyers on the Conservancy’s opposition to the code amendment for second units appearing on Tuesday’s city council agenda.

Linda Jennings of the Conservancy Board emailed me to state, emphatically, the flyer did not say the Conservancy opposed the ordinance. “The flyer only says that we want everyone to hear the proposal and express their opinion”, she wrote.

Going back over the flyer, it does say just that at the bottom of the flyer. And, nowhere does it flatly state the Conservancy is opposed to the ordinance. However, it does outline a variety of issues that the ordinance would affect such as parking density and rental income for owners of second units.

If I were to read this without having a conversation with Melissa or anyone else from the Conservancy, I would infer (as I did) the Conservancy is opposed to the ordinance. To be fair, however, I’ll take Linda’s word for it that the Tustin Preservation Conservancy merely wants those living in Old Town to be informed and to speak their mind at the city council meeting.

So, did they?

Who knows? The city, which has had their share of problems with their video system managed to recess before the presentation by city planner Scot Reeskin and did not restart until Councilman John Nielsen started blathering about mother-in-law houses. I’m sure John was trying to get a point across. He just wasn’t doing a very good job of it.

Once again, Linda Jennings came to the rescue saying there were about 50 folks from OTT. Only a few spoke, with most of them against the ordinance. Linda said, “One mother was very moving, talking about why she moved here and how she doesn’t want to see it change.”

I also heard Lindburgh McPherson of the Wilcox Business Plaza in the West OTT spoke….in favor of it, of course. McPherson, and his buddy Silent Mike, are all for anything that will ruin the flavor of Old Town if it will make a buck for someone.

Councilman Nielsen did manage to blurt out his feelings on the parking issue, one that most of us have a concern about. But, it was Councilwoman Beckie Gomez who took it a step further by saying the parking in Old Town is already something the city should be looking at even without this ordinance. Calling it a dangerous situation, Gomez called for more parking enforcement and further resolution to the parking problems Old Town is experiencing.

Gomez also clarified what she thought was a misconception that the affordable housing mandate was being laid on the backs of Old Town residents. Saying the city is addressing the issue in different parts of the city, she inferred that was not the case. I’m not sure if whe misunderstood the issue or wanted to make sure they were being fair.

It was the city that raised the affordable housing mandate in the ordinance. The inference was clear that this was part of the ordinance. But the mandate is citywide, not just for Old Town. And if, as Gomez says, the city already has affordable housing in other parts of the city, why would it even be necessary to address it at all in Old Town, one of the most unaffordable areas? Old Town owners will charge a premium for the privilege of living in their historical district. I seriously doubt anyone would accept an affordable housing mandate on their second unit.

Gomez also pointed out that, if more than a few owners decide to build second units, it would definitely affect the character of the historical district, a concern shared by most of us.

After extended discussion with the city staff, the council voted to continue the item until a time when the staff could figure out parking and other issues associated with it. I’m not sure where that puts the status of the ordinance as normally there would be two readings and a vote to enact. But these folks, in an effort to not create liability on themselves, have to make even the easiest ordinance difficult. What this really told me is that no palms have been greased, ala the OC Business Council and John Nielsen. Perhaps they are waiting for someone to show up with money in hand.

In other business, the city council voted to approve the Veterans Memorial Preferred Concept Plan. This presentation by city staff went off without a hitch and councilmembers got a nice view of the concept.

Allan Bernstein commented that the inclusion of a Purple Heart Memorial at the park was absolutely imperative. We agree. We were also surprised that Allan could say the entire thing without glancing at his notes (or was that the Dodger score on his iPad?).

City Manager Jeff Parker Let us know exactly what and who is behind the drive for Assembly Bill 1217. This bill would reduce the number of members on the OCFA Board and give the County a larger say while reducing the same in cities like ours. Assemblyman Tom Daly, a well known lacky for the public unions, is carrying water for the Orange County firefighters union who hope to have more access to the Board (read influence during negotiations), according to Parker.

Parker said that every city who is a member of the board has opposed this measure. That is, except for Santa Ana, which would get an automatic vote at the table. Some omen, Jeff. Saying the city managers and city councils were trying to send a message, Parker essentially said the state has no business getting into the workings of a local district. Well, looking at Daly’s history with unions, it is no wonder why he is sponsoring this bad bill. The city council voted to send their own message by opposing the measure.

On The City Council Agenda – April 21, 2015

Where-s-the-Fire-The Tustin City Council will have a full plate at the Tuesday meeting beginning with the Closed Session. There are actually two Closed Sessions on the agenda with the last one taking place after the Regular session. The sole purpose will be discussion of labor negotiations for all represented and unrepresented employees. Let’s hope the city employees listen to their union reps this time and don’t screw themselves out of a raise (note: the recession is over).

Aside from the usual suspects on the Closed Session agenda, Item 4.1 Conference with Real Property Negotiators should be of particular interest to Old Town residents. The description indicates Habitat for Humanity is looking to improve the property at 140 South “A” Street. Most of us who live here know this is an eyesore on an eyesore. It is one of the few (are there any others?) empty lots in Old Town Tustin. The house was torn down years ago and the owners back then attempted to put up a shack which the city quickly took care of. Since then, it has sat empty, begging for a relocated house. I don’t know what Habitat has in store but I’m sure Elizabeth Binsack will keep them in line.In any case, it is good to see some action being taken on this lot.

After the usual presentations and fanfare, the city council has scheduled the first of two public hearings on the Code Amendment allowing Second Residential Units in the Cultural Resources District. This ordinance garnered a lot of attention during hearings by the Planning Commission. Sam Altowaiji just about blew a gasket over Elizabeth Binsack’s response to his demand to change the ordinance. Several residents spoke both for and against the ordinance.

Interestingly, Melissa Figge, who lives in Old Town and commented on a recent post about the ordinance, happened to come by my house as I was mowing my lawn (hey, it’s the only exercise I get) today. We had a nice conversation concerning the proposed ordinance as she was walking the neighborhood and distributing a flyer. The flyer was to inform residents of the Tustin Preservation Conservancy’s opposition to the ordinance and outlined their reasons. As someone who is on the other side of the street, I was interested in the arguments against.

What I really appreciated was the fact her flyer was well thought out and the Preservation Conservancy’s reasoning was clear. Just because we don’t happen to agree, doesn’t mean we can’t converse. We found ourselves in agreement on a couple of key issues, one being the parking. As a (little l) libertarian at heart, I find the city’s answer of “We’ll just issue permits” , abhorring. I already pay plenty of taxes that go to the maintenance of public streets. I should have the right to drive or park on them as I please. Melissa didn’t sound enthused about permits either. There has to be a better way.

In any case, both Melissa and I have the same message: If this issue is important to you, show up at the city council meeting and make your feelings known. They may have already made up their minds (well, everyone except Allan Bernstein) but, it wouldn’t be the first time an angry mob changed the minds of the city council.

The last item of note on the Regular Session is Item 15, Approve the Veterans Memorial Preferred Concept Plan. Now, to be clear, John Nielsen had nothing to do with this, no matter how much he tries to take credit for it. The memorial, long overdue, is a project the city sought input on from their natural stakeholders, the veterans themselves. And, there are plenty of them in Tustin. The city held two workshops and the project managers were very receptive to ideas they received. I think the finished memorial, to be placed at the recently renamed Tustin Veterans Sports Park, will be a jewel in Tustin’s crown.

Another important issue, although nothing the city can really do anything about, is Item 16, Resolution Opposing Assembly Bill 1217. This Assembly Bill seeks to reduce the number of the Board of Directors for the Orange County Fire Authority from 25 to 13. This, of course, means Al Murray would lose his lucrative position on the OCFA Board (What? You didn’t know he gets paid for that?). More importantly, it means Tustin would likely lose its voice on the board. While 25 members (one for each member city plus two from the OC Board of Supervisors) seems like a lot, it gives fair representation to a government district that would probably run amok on its own. The oversight is necessary and each member city should have its say on the board.

Moreover, as the staff report states, there is no history of problems or issues stemming from the size of the board. The new system, under this bill, would allow the Board of Supervisors an unfair balance of power, outweighing the population served. In addition, there could be undue influence in the selection process that could give the county an even larger edge. Why Tom Daly, a Democrat, is proposing such an idiotic scheme is beyond comprehension. Oh, wait, there is the politics of the matter. In any case, I hope the city council hasn’t fallen asleep by the time this issue comes up. They should be doing all they can to oppose this. Face it, the OC Board of Supervisors can’t even choose a reputable ambulance company to take care of us. Why would we trust them with oversight of OCFA?

As always, you are welcome to chime in on any of this. Just keep it civil. We’ll keep you posted on anything interesting.

Massage? Uh, Sure…….

massageWell, it was an interesting meeting of the Tustin Planning Commission last night. Wish I could have been there. This morning’s video was good for a laugh, anyway. Someone should tell Commissioner Ryder Smith the meeting is taped. The closeup of him chewing his cud on camera was priceless. Hope he isn’t running for councilman next year.

Well, I was wrong. I predicted a change-up of chair and pro tem. The commissioners, by obvious prior collusion, decided to keep Jeff Thompson and Austin Lumbard in their respective seats. Congratulations. Of course, Lumbard may be waiting until next year to be elevated to chair so he doesn’t have as long to embarrass himself before the city council elections.

I don’t know if the guy showing up with Lodestone Chiropractic owner Antoni Nguyen was a lawyer or not but he sure sounded like one. Denying Nguyen was running a massage parlor and stating that he had no employees, Mr. Dudeker (apologies on any misspelling) spent his time stumbling over words in an attempt to distance Nguyen from the independent contractor who blew the whistle on him in the first place. It took more than 20 minutes of questioning by Jeff Thompson (who missed his calling as an attorney) and the others to ferret out the real truth that Nguyen did lie on his application.

Probably the most compelling speaker to complain about the business activities was a 19 year old young lady who lives in the area. Saying that she and her friends had been approached numerous times by strange men who park in front of her house at all hours of the night, she asked the commissioners to do the right thing for the neighborhood and shut the business. And, they did. On a 5 to 0 vote, the commissioners upheld the staff recommendation to invalidate Nguyen’s business license.

Over the past few years, the city has been dealing more and more with massage parlor type businesses. While it can be difficult to discern legitimate businesses from sleazy parlor operations like the ones depicted on backpage.com, it is important for the city to continue to crack down on them when they can. And, our city has not done enough.

I can remember only one sting operation the police department has publicized in the past couple of years. In testimony over another massage parlor license about this time last year, an undercover officer told the city council he had been involved in a sting operation with an associated business. The discussion was pretty graphic and gave an understanding of just how sleazy and dangerous the massage parlor/sex trade business can be.

Our town Tustin, unfortunately, seems to have become a haven for “day spas”. I’m not saying they all run their operation with skimpy outfitted young ladies inferring sex upon payment is an option. But, at least some of them are. The city could be doing more to squelch these types of operation while allowing legitimate spas to conduct their business without this stigma hanging over their heads. No legitimate business is going to object to occasional, unannounced visits.

Last year, the governor signed a new law re instituting the California Massage Therapy Council as the governing board to certify massage therapists. A Certified Massage Therapist is required to undergo 500 hours of training to be certified. There are fingerprinting and background checks as well.

The CMTC has had its detractors, surprisingly, cities who want to keep more local control of massage therapists and businesses in the lucrative sex trade. Instead of objecting to the state certification, however, cities should embrace the state permitting system and look to tighten controls at that level. Any profession that requires the touching of hair, skin or other body parts, should undergo uniform requirements for certification. The city council-lauded Association of California Cities-OC, led by former police officer and Tustin Councilman Al Murray, could begin with asking for more stringent training and certification requirements.

While cosmetologists and barbers are required to undergo more than a year of full-time training, certified massage therapists are only required to take 500 hours and it may be “distance learning”, a euphemism for on-line school. Even manicurists are required to attend a 400 hour school in person. The ACCOC could create a policy venue to address this.

One of the most important arguments for state licensing and certification is the eradication of the sex trade. Like it or not, massage parlors are a breeding ground for slavery. If you think Tustin is immune, think again. That undercover officer who testified at the city council last year, gave a chilling indication that businesses that support the sex slavery are alive and well in our fair city. It’s time for our city and the police department to take another serious look and eliminate this blot on our community.

In the meantime, it might serve the city council to place a moratorium on massage parlor and day spa business licenses until they can figure out how to separate the legitimate provider from the sex slaver.

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On The Planning Commission Agenda – April 14, 2015

Wisam "Sam" Altowaiji Tustin Planning Commission

Wisam “Sam” Altowaiji
Tustin Planning Commission

This week’s meeting of the Tustin Planning Commission will be decidedly shorter than two weeks ago. Hopefully, Sam Altowaiji has come off his high horse and settled down again. At the last meeting, if you recall, he was pulled up short by Commmunity Development Director Elizabeth Binsack. Sam apparently thought that, as planning commissioner, he was Elizabeth’s boss. Sorry Sam, maybe you should confer with City Manager Jeff Parker for clarification about who runs what in the city. While you’re at it, ask him about the Brown Act and serial telephone meetings.

The first thing on the plate for the new/old planning commission is to elect their respective Chair and Vice-Chair. My bet is on Austin Lumbard to take the chair. Lumbard is reportedly (mostly by his dad) running for city council next year. It only seems natural that he demonstrate his leadership ability as chair of the planning commission. Hmmm. Let’s see, the affable but clueless Ryder Smith sounds like a good candidate for pro tem. But, the commisssioners may want to keep Jeff Thompson in there as he has experience with these sorts of things. The only bad thing about Jeff is he keeps recusing himself for anything that comes within 5 miles of Old Town.

Yes, like a bad penny, the resolution on Second Residential Units keeps coming back to haunt us. Fortunately, this time, it is just to rectify a staff mistake in numbering. With any luck, Altowaiji won’t attempt to turn this into another Binsack bashing.

The only other item of note on the agenda is a Public Hearing. Item 4, Appeal of Notice of Invalid Business License, should prove interesting if the owner shows up to defend himself.

Lodestone Chiropractic practices out of an office building on Irvine Boulevard. According to the staff report, the city became alerted to an irregularity in their business license when a massage therapist came in to obtain their business license as an independent contractor for “Lodestone Therapy”. It was noted then that the chiropractic business states on their license application they did not provide massage therapy services at their business. The ommission is what prompted a revocation of his license and this appeal.

Lodestone’s owner, Antoni Nguyen, defended his application by stating that he is a duly licensed chiropractor and, according to state law, massage is listed as a normal practice for chiropractors. So, Nguyen didn’t need to state that he offers massage therapy separately on the license.

Uh-huh……..

Well, I’ve been going to my chiropractor for 15 years and she also practices massage therapy. I think what the state had in mind was more in line with what she offers and how she offers it. Her massage is incidental to her chiropractic work and does not involve dressing up in skimpy outfits ala housemaid.

When the city looked into Nguyen’s business practices, they found a web ad on backpage.com for “Full Body Massage”, 7 days a week from 10am to 9pm. The accompanying photos show a young lady looking back over her shoulder while wearing a skimpy top. I seriously doubt she knows swedish massage techniques. As a matter of record, she is also not a licensed chiropractor.

Now, I don’t blame Nguyen a bit for taking the position he does in his appeal. State law specifically allows licensed chiropractors to provide massage as part of their therapy for a patient. But, the state law he cites is for licensing chiropractors, not their business. The city says he failed to note the massage therapy, provided by an independent contractor, on the license. This is pretty much a no-brainer. The length of the discussion, however, will depend on how much the commission wants to hear themselves talk as well as whether Altowaiji wants to somehow work this into another diatribe against Elizabeth Binsack.

In any case, I expect our fair city to be shy one more business supplying dubious “therapeutic massage”. While there are a few spas and independent massage therapists in Tustin offering legitimate services, there are at least as many the city should go after for illicit trade. Maybe Chief Celano can get a volunteer to run a sting operation and flush out the sex trade.

We always like a good laugh and this week’s meeting should provide a few. I’ll let you know if there is anything noteworthy to report.

Oh, if you want to look at the pictures, guys, they can be found in the staff report here.

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