Anymore, it is not just the city of Tustin we have to worry about. With the recent failed court case, Orange County may be facing some serious challenges to its budget next year. The annual budget workshop is coming to town 10 am May 24th at the Board of Supervisors Hearing Room in the Hall of Administration, 333 W. Santa Ana Blvd., Santa Ana, California. This will be followed June 11th & 12th for Budget Hearings and the subsequent Budget Adoption on June 25th.
The official press release for the budget hearing process states:
You are invited to the 18th annual County of Orange Budget Workshop. Community members are encouraged to learn about the County’s budget process and anticipated issues. The County’s Chief Financial Officer and County staff will discuss:
- 2013-2014 Budget Overview
- Affordable Care Act
Dr. Michael Riley Director, Social Services Agency
This is your chance, as a resident, to have some input into the budget process. As we said, given this years bad news on the property tax take back by the state, many program and agency funding schemes may be up in the air. While no one wants to see lifeline programs shut down, they are often the first to go. That could have a drastic effect on the fragile economic recovery Orange County is seeing. The budget workshops are there for citizens to express their views on what available funds should provide for the county’s citizens.
The other day, we were riding down El Camino Real when we noticed construction workers walking around Jabberwocky… well, sort of. There wasn’t much of it to walk around since, sometime in the recent past, they tore down nearly the entire building, leaving only the facade up.
It’s unfortunate that the building, one of the oldest in Tustin, was burned so badly back in 2011 that many thought it would be lost completely to the annals of history and the collective memories of our local historians. But, as luck would have it, the building, originally a doctor’s office built around 1885, was saved from the wrecking crew. Well, some of it, anyway.
As you can see from the pictures, the entire building, save for the facade has been torn down. This was considered the safest way of preserving a piece of Tustin history while allowing the owners to also build a new up-to-code building that woud pass muster and Elizabeth Binsack’s code-busters. Architecural work was completed last year by local historic achitect, Nathan Menard. Menard is a well-known designer (or redesigner) of both historic buildings and newer buildings where the historical aspect of an area is important. His plans for the Jabberwocky continue that effort.
When I approached the bulding, I almost laughed out loud. This is the classic facade of the old western town with the unadorned building behind it. There isn’t much right at the moment. The construction is focusing on foundation right now and it gives one the idea of how large the building will be (it isn’t). I would say not much more than the old building itself although Nathan assured me it will be adequate for the owner’s needs.
And, what will the owner do? As far as I know, plans are to reopen the Vintage Lady, the store that was located there at the time of the fire. The owner has rented the store almost continuously to others since 1985 and lives in the home to the rear. The store, which has been determined to be historically significant due to the rare construction type, will probably never make it to the National Register. But, thanks to the owner’s perseverance and the help of Menarch Architecture, Tustin will continue to enjoy the Jabberwocky.
You may have noticed that I have been writing a few stories from around the county rather than about our town Tustin. That’s because, like many of you, I have been patiently waiting the production of the video for the May 7, 2013 meeting. Unfortunately, it looks as if we may be waiting quite awhile. As happened several months ago, the city has either delayed placing the video on their website, for some reason or, there were technical problems. My sources say that it is the latter. If the video does show up, we will report on it. In the meantime, here is the rundown of the upcoming Tustin City Council Special Council Meeting on May 13th as well as the regular Tustin Planning Commission on May 14th.
City Council Special Meeting
I’m not sure why the single item on the City Council Agenda was so urgent that our good councilpersons needed to fill an extra meeting to approve it. This is the same Item that appeared as Item 5 on the April 23, 2013 Planning Commission agenda last month. The Planning Commission did, with some amendments, approve the General Plan Amendment and Land Exchange Agreement between the city and South Coast Community College District. This is pretty much a straight land swap but it also calls for a new street that would add traffic to the area. The city of Irvine related their concern over the change in traffic patterns but were assured the Average Daily Trips would remain under the total that would trigger a new EIR. Of course, the residents in the Legacy may differ with that when the new street is built.
In any case, this appears to be pro forma and we are not really sure what the hurry was that a special meeting had to be called. Hopefully, the city will have repaired its video equipment before the meeting so we can all find out what the urgency was.
Planning Commission Meeting
It would appear the tour Community Development Director Elizabeth Binsack spoke of last meeting did not come to fruition. There have been no notices published on the city’s website as she said there would. Maybe before the next meeting.
Only one item of realy interest on the agenda tonight. That is a Public Hearing for a variance to construct an additional bedroom on an existing house without having to add additional garage facilities. The house is located in the neighborhood North of Irvine Blvd. and East of the 55 Freeway. Several remodeling and additions have been completed over the years and the staff are recommending, due to space considerations, approval of the variance. Unless there is some outrage by the neighbors, I doubt there will be much to discuss here.
The only other item on the agenda is the staff Summary of Projects
Mixed-use Hotel Project – It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that construction is well along on the new hotels near the Microcenter. This, to me, is the single biggest and most important project of the year, business-wise. Kudos to Elizabeth and her staff as well as the planning commissioners and the former city council for have a sense of vision when it came to this project. Several changes have been made to the original plans, all of which have been thoughtfully considered before approval. This project is not just a direct moneymaker but will generate income for the city and our businesses, indirectly, as well.
Goodwill Industries of Orange County – This project, a high-end secondhand store, met with opposition from former Councilwoman Deborah Gavello, who said she had issues with the type of store. In discussions with her, we found she had issues with Goodwill Industries (she’s not the only one). Staff are reporting the makeover of the store in Larwin Square is nearly finished and we look forward to seeing it open.
A new florist has opened its doors in an old florist’s habitat on the corner of El Camino Real. For years, we saw the dated florist shop as rather anachronistic, even for Old Town. We only shopped their once before taking our business elsewhere. The new shop, Elegant Hive Distinctive Flowers and Gifts opened last month with little fanfare. We look forward to a long future for the owners of this boutique flower shop.
Vintage Lady – The building nearly burned down last year. It has been a long process to restore this historic building. Old Town Tustin’s Nathan Menard contributed heavily in time and effort to getting this project going again.
Newport Avenue Bicycle Trail Reconstruction Project – OK, we have ridden this trail hundreds of times over the years and did not see a problem with it. But, if you want to make it look pretty, go ahead. It’s grant funded through OCTA funds.
Rawlins Reservoir – Construction of the replacement reservoir has begun and will be completed by the summer of 2013.
Tustin Legacy – Over 1000 apartments in three separate complexes are scheduled to be built in the next few years at the Legacy. As well, staff are reporting the Columbus Square neighborhood to be complete with the addition of 124 homes and townhomes that have been built and occupied (is it time for TUSD to reconsider reopening Heritage?). Additionally, the Fire Station 37 Relocation construction has been awarded to Erickson-Hall Construction Company. Groundbreaking took place in February. It will take about a year to complete.
The Bad – Graffiti. The city doesn’t say whether there is an upward or downward trend but reported 1634 incidents for the first four months of this year. From experience, I can tell you there is a surge in gang and tagging activity in Orange County. Tustin’s gang population is comparatively low but, remember, we live next door to the city with the highest number of gangs, per square mile, in Orange County.
This should make for a fairly quick night for our intrepid commissioners. Unless they have absolutely nothing to do with their private lives, I make the meeting at way under an hour.
Every time I think of the OC Board of Supervisors, I’m reminded of Mel Brooks’ “Blazing Saddles”. No, not the campfire scene, although I can understand why you would go there. I’m talking about the scene where Governor William J. Le Petomane is meeting with his advisors and insists everyone be as incensed as he is over the corruption in fictional Rock Ridge. Everyone around the table starts saying “harumph, harumph…”. That’s the reaction of the Supervisors as they received the bad news that most everyone else in Orange County already knew.
Wednesday, Superior Court Judge Robert Moss ruled against the county saying they illegally withheld more than $73 million in property taxes from the state. To make matters worse, the figure now looms at $140 million by the time this fiscal year is over. The Voice of OC did a pretty good job of outlining the problem in layman’s terms.
When the county financed its billion-dollar bankruptcy in 1995, state officials allowed them to send a portion of their vehicle license fees directly to bond holders. But in 2007, when the county refinanced its debt, the legislative authorization for the special license fees was not included.
Despite warnings that the authorization should be quickly reestablished, county legislative leaders, lobbyists or staff did not act. The intercept, as its known, was not addressed in any subsequent county legislative platform or by the county’s main lobbyist, Platinum Advisors.
In 2011, Brown’s budget staff discovered the omission and took back the money, prompting an intense reaction from county leaders. Assemblyman Jose Solorio sponsored last-minute legislation to fix the situation for the county, but it failed to make it through both houses of the Legislature.
You read right. The county ignored the problem even when the gaff was first discovered and then, when the state demanded the money to balance their own budget, county Democratic Assemblyman Jose Solorio tried to fix it with last-minute legislation. But, Sacramento Democrats took the opportunity to beat down one of the few Republican strongholds by refusing to pass the legislation in time. Without the legislation, loss of the money was a sure thing.
Nonetheless, the Board of Supervisors convinced Auditor David Sundstrom to withhold payment of property taxes from the state. The state promptly sued the county and the writing was on the wall. As with previous pension lawsuits involving the deputy sheriffs union and the retirement system, the Gang of Five ignored the obvious and argued that the intent to keep the status quo had always been there and so, they must be right (right about now, I am hearing John Moorlach jumping up and down while screaming epithets at Jerry Brown).
From the outset, nearly everyone in the county has warned them the court battle would be uphill. In reality, I don’t think anyone wanted to tell the county it had a zero chance but, in truth, that is what they had.
In a video briefing to public union employees, Orange County Employees Association General Manager, Nick Berardino, said, “It was, once again, county executives falling asleep at the switch,as they did during the bankruptcy, when they forgot to include the $73 million dollars state subsidy when they refinanced the bankruptcy funds.” Berardino did agree that the state is treating the county unfairly by requiring the repayment but also said the county did not do its job in protecting the funds to begin with. Berardino lamented that Supervisors are already ringing the layoff bell and laying the responsibility on the backs of the public employees to balance the budget. “The county did the same thing when it declared bankruptcy in 1994.”
Berardino is not the only one to publicly admonish the county for its lack of diligence. In an Orange County Register article published May 9th, Andrew Galvin alleges the local community colleges pleaded with the county in 2011 not to withhold the funds from the state. The money grab, according to them, would result in a serious shortfall of funds going to community colleges in the area. When the county continued the grab, the community colleges joined the state in the lawsuit.
So, when will the county ever get it right? If this were a trust owned by a private family, they would have fired their lawyers for giving them bad advice long ago. In the case of the Board of Supervisors, they have been led astray time after time and not only by county counsel, but attorney-come-chief-of-staff Mario Mainero as well as a plethora of hired gun law offices who, oftentimes while giving good advice, have been unsuccessful in turning the opinion of the Gang of Five.
I have no idea how much money has been spent, so far, by the Board of Supervisors on this debacle. Any amount, however, is too much when one considers how tight the budget is now. Unfortunately for the citizens of Orange County, the Gang of Five may be planning another play as they appeal the ruling to a higher court. In the best case scenario for them, the judge would delay the transfer of funds until the appeals court sides with the trial court. That would be a temporary fix at best. Eventually, the money would have to be repaid. What the Supervisors might want to look at is negotiating a payment schedule. Given the animosity the OC GOP has garnered in recent years in Sacramento, our Democrat governor may turn a deaf ear. Better get that checkbook out, John.