Monthly Archives: October 2011

On the Agenda- November 1, 2011

Looking ahead to Tuesday’s agenda, there appears to be more and more issues coming under the “Closed Session” banner. Aside from the real property negotiations, there are three new claims to be considered as well as a host of existing claims. Interesting that the law allows them to place the names of claimants on the Agenda but not when litigation is initiated? And then, this afternoon, the OC Register shows up with the name of…. a claimant.  So, tell me again why it comes under closed session? In any case, the only items of real note are, of course, the lawsuits with Tustin Unified School District. Mayor Amante, fueled by his imaginary win over the Recall Amante group, will probably not be in a mood to listen to reason and settle. I understand that the oldest case is set for trial in November. We’ll let you know.

Under presentations, The American Legion Boy’s State winners will be awarded presentations by the City. This program allows young men (yes, there is a Girl’s State, too) to travel to Sacramento and learn, firsthand, about the political machine that drives our state. The idea is to expose these young men, about 500 from around the state, to politics and hopefully, get some of them interested in public service. Political education at it’s best, courtesy of The American Legion Post 227. Hopefully, more than one of these high schoolers will come back and run this city the way it should be run.

On the regular Agenda, the ordinance for body art facilities has come back to the City Council from the Planning Commission. The proposed ordinance which, for the first time, would allow tattoo parlors in the City of Tustin, is pretty rock solid. Both the Planning Commission and the Council took input from a handful of interested public including a young man from Long Beach who we are likely to see open the first tattoo parlor. Like it or not, the Council cannot put it off forever, regardless of how we all feel about tattoos. We recommend approval of the ordinance so Jerry can finally get that tattoo.

The Code Amendment clarifying the meaning of legal nonconforming uses and structures in the City of Tustin is the elephant in the closet. Unfortunately, the Planning Commission got tired of working with this early on and decided to pass it to the City Council despite concerns over how homeowners in Old Town Tustin would be treated. Although plenty of testimony by the public was taken, their concerns over how zoning and the building codes could be used together to determine virtually any structure in the old town section as illegal were not addressed. The ambiguity that was supposed to be clarified, remains. In the end, they decided to approve the ordinance 5-0 at the urging of city staff. And now it lands in the lap of the City Council. I hope this is one time when more  of the Council than just Deborah Gavello voice their concern over this issue before just placing the Jerry Amante seal of approval on the ordinance as this needs much more work than the Planning Commission has put into it. Opponents get two more shots after this, unless Boss Tweed Amante tries to push it through as an urgency issue. By the way, of the four letters in the attachments to the agenda report, not one agrees that the proposed ordinance will protect Old Town homeowners. Elizabeth, start your bulldozer.

There are a couple of items on the consent calendar worth mentioning.

One is the denial of the design permit for the cell towers-come-flagpoles at Cedar Grove Park. Fortunately, the city listened to the citizens of the area and agreed to scuttle this project. But wait, folks, don’t expect this to go completely away. Just because many homeowners in the area suggested the Fire Authority site as an alternative, doesn’t mean they will use it. And, if there is money to be made… did I mention lobbyists?

A second item on changing the policy to allow for the use of personal iPads for city business, clearly deserves a closer look considering the recent flap over iPads purchased by the City for the Tustin City Council. I, for one, would like to know if any costs for use of personally owned iPads for city business will be borne by the city. If there will be, how will that cost and use be tracked? In fact, when the city councilperson in question is no longer a city councilperson, how will we know that all sensitive city business has been erased from the tablet? You see, in the accompanying proposed iPad Policy that would now cover the use of personally owned tablets as well as city owned tablets, there is no provision for the personal iPad to be “scrubbed” or even given a cursory examination by the City IT folks to make sure there is no city sensitive information remaining on the outgoing councilperson’s iPad. For that matter, the current policy does not allow for regular examination of current members iPads by the IT department to ensure compliance with city policy.

Clearly, the best way to insure that city business stays with the city, is to leave personal iPads where they belong – off the council dais. Just as when an employer gives an employee a laptop for home use, it is not expected to be used for personal business, in most cases. The same should apply to the City Council or anyone employed by the city or appointed to city positions or boards. Then, they can take the already ambiguous policy and strengthen it with some solid language referencing IT checks and surveys. How about it, city council? Are you up to that task? We’ll let you know.

Finally, there is item 18, “City Manager Recruitment”. Oh, if only they would come back with a name. We thought we had one last meeting. Dare we hope?

Get Smart

I was at the Orange County Fair this year (where my homebrew IPA won 2nd place) and came across the display for Southern California Edison. They were touting their new Smart Grid and Smart Meters that they will eventually install in every residence and business in their service area. Of course, this includes Our Town Tustin. I had heard about the new meters and I was anxious to talk to one of the SCE representatives about them. He gladly explained the technology and how the meters would be able to be read remotely. More importantly, he said, I would be able to have real-time access to my electricity usage via the internet that would allow me to make real savings by shifting my own electrical loads to less demanding times of the day. Being a tech and gadget guy, that intrigued me. Unfortunately, he did not have an example of how that would work. Being a union man, I did ask how this would affect the traditional meter readers and would we see layoffs in that field. He reassured me that there would be no layoffs and that most of those folks would find jobs elsewhere with Edison.

I forgot to ask the representative one key question: Will SCE be able to turn my meter on and off without my consent or coming out to my house. So, I started doing some research and found that yes, indeed, they can. One of their on-line brochures at SCE.com discusses how, when a family moves into a new home, they can call the company and their electricity will be turned on remotely. Gosh, isn’t that neat? Now I am beginning to wonder if our friends who attended the most recent Planning Commission and City Council meetings were on to something. Are the new Smart Meters good business or are they really designed, as the Stop OC SmartMeters folks purport, to control our lives, spy on us and dig deeper into our pocketbooks?

In several recent comments on this forum, John Oetkin, commented that, “The people of Tustin need to be informed about smart meters and their dangerous effects. They are not smart, not green, not safe, and not legal.” He further stated to go to Stop Smartmeters website for further information. So I did stop by there and the  more local Stop OC Smartmeters as well. What I found on both sites concerned me. Not for what I read, but how the StopSmartMeter folks could possibly piece their own brand of misinformation together.

The three biggest issues the StopSmartMeter folks have seem to be with RF energy that the units transmit, the false claims of savings by the electric companies and the fact that they can “spy” on you. They claim that the RF energy is going to swamp our neighborhoods with RF and that everyone knows that is bad for the children and old folks.  They equate the amount of RF as that of cell phones however. And, I hate to tell these folks but, there is so much RF energy already in the air caused by cellphones, GPS, satellites, microwaves and radios that a little more coming from an electrical meter will not matter much. The truth is, they should be more worried about the microwave in their kitchen and the electromagnetic radiation that comes from high powered electric lines in their neighborhood. The RF energy emanating from the meter on the side of their house will not add much to the RF in the air already. Although I question the efficiency of using radios transceivers to transmit information and instructions (they could do this over the electric lines themselves), I don’t think I am going to worry about a little more RF leaking into an already saturated environment.

As far as savings go, I see electrical rates doing nothing but going up. The cost of producing electricity, like everything else nowadays, is getting more expensive. That cost will be passed on to the customer, like it or not. The Smartmeters, according to SCE, will allow residents to check their usage and, in time, receive real-time messaging about cutting back on power demands during peak loads to obtain extra savings. From the SCE website:

advanced meters will provide customers with new information and control over their energy use, putting additional downward pressure on costs.

Other potential savings include reduced labor costs due to remote meter reads, turn-ons, reduced infrastructure replacement costs as some peak usage is shifted to off-peak periods reducing stress on the power delivery system, and reduced need to purchase expensive wholesale power to address rapidly rising peak demand.

So, right from their website, one can tell quite a bit about SCE’s push for this new technology. This doesn’t seem to be rocket science. In fact, SCE touts the smartmeters as part of the Smart Grid system that the entire nation has gone to. It is a high tech answer to moving energy from location to location on the nation’s electrical grid automatically, according to load demands. What that means is, when the demand for energy is high in California but low in, say, Nebraska, the system will automatically adjust the load to send more electricity to California. Make sense? Apparently not to the StopSmartMeters folks. They say that claims to energy saving are false. Unfortunately, about the only whitepapers they could find to back their claim are from Reuters – Africa and a 2 year old website article that claims overcharging but, again, does not show any real proof. In fact, if I read these right, the reason most people don’t realize long term savings is because they get tired of playing the load-shifting game and go back to old habits of energy usage. I’m a cheapskate when it comes to utility costs, however, and I see this new access to my own energy usage as very beneficial. I would play that game to the max (no, honey, we can’t run the A/C until after 7pm….. you don’t mind getting up at 3 am to do the laundry, do you…).

So, the only other issue I see is the allegations of spying on their customers by the power companies and their selling of your data to other companies, like insurance companies. We can dispense with the latter as the legislature already already seen fit to prohibit the selling of customer data.

What about the spying part? While one source says the SmartMeters only collect raw energy usage and send it to the utility, the SCE website actually says quite a bit about how, in the near future, the meters will be able to communicate with “smart” appliances and thermostats and, with the customer’s permission, be able to “adjust” power levels according to load. Does that mean SCE can invade your privacy? It’s starting to sound like it. In fact, this isn’t sounding quite so benign after all.

The SmartMeters will be able to talk to a host of coming appliances and thermostats that the meters can interface with. They are supposed to help manage peak loads and assist the customer in cutting down on non-essential usage of appliances. If that is the case, then how can the SmartMeters only measure raw power? Wouldn’t the electric company have to know that you have your A/C set to 72 instead of the company mandated 78? How about when you are doing your laundry or watching TV? If the meters are that smart, they certainly are smart enough to send that information back to the company who could then use that information to automatically cut your power or shut off certain appliances. Does this start to sound more like 1984?

So, how willing are you to let a utility invade your privacy and run your life? This is not the only utility that does this, by the way. If you have a landline telephone, they can shut your phone service on and off automatically. They can, with a warrant from a secret court, record who you make phone calls to, the length of those calls and even record the phone calls themselves right from the comfort of their own office. Gone are the days of the phony lineman climbing the pole a block away from your house to run a tap. So, what keeps the electric company from invading your privacy?

The same thing that keeps the phone company from routinely tapping your phone – vigilance by customers and watchdog groups. Legislation that we must all keep up on to make sure our lawmakers are not selling us out. Even the StopOCSmartMeters.com folks who may  really be into conspiracy theories but, who have an interest in keeping their lives private and separate from an increasingly intrusive government.

As for me, I will allow the installation of the SmartMeter on my house. As I said, I am a gadget guy and this one really intrigues me. So, I am willing to be your guinea pig. But, if the electric company ever turns off my TV while I am watching Sons of Anarchy, I’ll be sure to report it to you.

Power to the People…

Revisiting #OccupyOC

Isn't Tustin Already Occupied?The other night, I finally stopped by the Irvine Civic Center to check out the latest in the @Occupy movement, OccupyOC or OccupyOCIrvine. There has been quite a bit written about a movement that started on Wall Street and has swept across America, with folks from every background joining in. Occupy Irvine was, apparently, the first in Orange County. But, there have been several other Occupy [insert city here] throughout the Real OC, including Fullerton, Garden Grove and Huntington Beach. In fact, there are over 10 Occupy cities in our fair county. Yes, there is even going to be an OccupyTustin on November 4th at 3pm in front of the Wells Fargo bank at Newport and Irvine Blvd.

Back to Irvine. I wanted to stop and talk to a few of these folks for myself and see what, if any, message they were trying to convey to the public. What I found was a small group of standard bearers (it was 11:30 pm) holding their ground until the next day when the larger group would get together again. They had been forced off the grass onto the sidewalk but everyone I saw seemed to be in great spirits. In keeping with the anonymous nature of the movement, I did not ask names. I did not seek anyone in particular out to speak with. I didn’t have to. Of the thirty or so folks who were out there, many of them came up to me when I pulled my motorcycle up on the side of the road next to them. Of course, the first thing I asked was, where are the cops?

One young man told me they had not had a police presence for the past day or two. That said a lot to me. This eclectic group of people were so peaceful and orderly, the police did not need to do much more than swing by once in awhile to check on them. They moved off the grass when told to and moved back on in the morning, when Irvine’s “parks” open back up for general use. So, what about the message? One young lady, the wife of a United States Marine, said it best I think, when she said, “I have no voice in this Country.”

Listening to a few of them speak, it was quite clear. The overriding theme was, “end corporate greed”. They specifically told me they were not looking for handouts. They were looking for a fair shake. While some did tout an increase in government services to the poor and elderly, most simply wanted to have the ability to make a life for themselves in spite of the fact that megacorporations, aided by the government, were working daily to make the rich richer and the poor poorer. That was a pretty clear message and one I could not disagree with. Of course, there were lots of signs up and everyone there was advertising some different aspect of the overall message. Once thing was clear – they were going to be around for awhile.

So, last Saturday, there was supposed to be a culmination of the Occupy Movement at the Santa Ana Civic Center area. Some reports had the group pegged at about 120 protesters. Pictures and reports from the OC Weekly showed quite a larger crowd in front of the Ronald Reagan Federal Building. The Santa Ana Police Department was so worried about this being a major riot, they called in the mounted patrol. At that site, four members of the protest group were arrested, cited and released for camping in the area after hours. The police had, apparently, explained the protesters would not be able to camp out after 8 pm. Interestingly, many of the homeless who inhabit the area stood (or laid) side-by-side with the protesters. One of them had it right on when he said, “They are protesting for me”.

Should you think the Occupy movement is just a bunch of disgruntled, out of work college kids, think twice. OccupyOCIrvine has seen as many as 1000 protesters and as few as 20 or 30, who are willing to brave the cold and the isolation of an Irvine thoroughfare in the middle of the night. As one Twitter feed said,

@execplatinum: #OccupyIrvine looks like a commercial for Abercrombie & Fitch, Juicy Couture and Mercedes Benz” lol. 99%=everybody but 1.

They are lawyers, doctors, blue collar workers, bankers, students and housewives who are fed up with the pending demise of Middle Class America.

The City of Irvine “accidentally” turned the sprinklers on them one night. Subsequently, they attended Tuesday night’s city council meeting where they respectfully stood their ground and won some concessions from the City Council to be able to stay on the grass and, in some way, camp. They had plenty of support from the community. Councilmember Steven Choi commended them for their actions, saying they should be proud of themselves. They did not come to riot, they came to stand up for the 99 percent. And, they seem to be doing a pretty good job of it.

Councilmember Larry Agran said, “This is a new kind of demonstration.” It is, Larry, it is. And, it may be here to stay.

Did the Planning Commission Violate the Brown Act?

Courtesy of Four ProvincesAs we reported on last week’s meeting of the Planning Commission, a tour of several areas of Tustin Legacy was made by the commissioners and some staff prior to the regular meeting. When the regular meeting of the planning commission convened, the tour was discussed briefly in general terms of how informative it was for commission members.

What was not mentioned was whether any business of the Commission was discussed. And, this is important because, whenever a majority of members of a local, publicly appointed or elected body convene for pretty much any reason, the meeting must be open to the public and the public must have an opportunity to be heard. This is true, even if no vote or action is taken. Now, you may be thinking, “It was a tour. What would they discuss?” They might be discussing their kid’s soccer game or school activities. But, what if they discussed zoning issues that might be coming up later that night? Or, what if they, as a group, decided Tustin Legacy should have different population densities than already approved?  What if they had discussed,  in camera, the entertainment permit for your restaurant? If these discussions, (with few exceptions) were held out of public view, our government might act very different toward the public. And, it is why we have open meeting laws.

Government Code 54950 to 54962, otherwise known as the Ralph M. Brown Act, governs meetings for local governments and local public agencies. Recently, Santa Ana was chastised for their failure to insure public access to their meetings. The Tustin City Council has policies in place to make sure the public’s concerns are heard for any matter in the council’s purview. We would like to think that city staff would insure city commissions are properly run as well.

The Planning Commission did notice the tour on the regular agenda published on the website. However, there was no accompanying agenda for the tour itself. We were not sure what mode of transportation the Commission used or if the public was invited to the tour. If they had been, would everyone have traveled together? Were there any reports or  writeups given to the tour group? We don’t know because the public was only told in an offhand manner that the tour would be conducted. This is not the first time I have discussed open meetings with the Planning Commission. Recently, they held a workshop in which issues pertaining to Old Town were discussed. There was apparently no video produced and it was weeks before minutes were placed on the city’s website. Fortunately, the city’s Public Information Officer, Lisa Woolery, previously assured me that minutes had been produced and would be available.

So, right after this tour occurred, I submitted a Public Information Request. Community Sevices Director, Elizabeth Binsack, called me on Friday to discuss the request. Essentially, she told me that the tour was noticed as required and it was open to the public. The Participants did, in fact, take a tour bus to the area. Accompanying the Commissioners on the tour were several city staff from Elizabeth’s department including, Dana Ogdon- Assistant Community Development Director, Justina Willkom-Principal Planner, Scott Reekstin- Senior Planner, David Kendig- City Attorney and Alex Rojas – TUSD — Assistant Superintendent. Knowing the rift between the city and the school district, Alex is a braver man than I. Elizabeth also advised:

As I indicated, we usually do one or two tours a year.  We will accommodate as many as we can on the bus.  It is on a first come first serve request.  This is why we place the approximate times for the designations on the Agenda so if those that cannot make it on the bus, want to follow or only want to go to a certain designation can do so.

I was also invited on the next tour which, according to Binsack, occure once or twice a year.

The agenda she provided was substantially different than the one that was posted on the city website and did, indeed, post the approximate times of all the stops. That was a cause for concern as I told our Community Development Director that there was no indication that the tour was public from the notice posted on the website. She agreed to look into it. In the packet of information she sent to me, there was a separate notice and agenda for the tour, a key factor in determining Brown Act violations. The agenda report provided to me consisted of a couple dozen photos, presumably of toured areas, and a recommendation to receive and file the report.

So, did a Brown Act violation occur? There were no separate minutes and a recording secretary did not attend the tour. However, it was plain from the material provided and the discussion Binsack and I had, that the tour was, indeed, open to the public on a first come first served basis on the tour bus. So, maybe some technical violation may have occured. We’ll leave it at that, for now, and see if they take our suggestions to heart.

Oh, and when I go on that next tour, I will be sure to bring my own caviar and water crackers. I wouldn’t want to be a burden on Tustin taxpayers.

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