Monthly Archives: November 2011

Tustin Remains #Unoccupied

Occupy Tustin Mask QuestionWell, the rain date for Occupy Tustin has come and gone with nary an occupier to show up. Judging from the way things seem to be going lately,this may not be a bad thing. Our friends over at the Liberal OC have had quite a bit to say about the movement as a whole and where it is going lately.

What concerns me most is that the movement is suffering from, well, lack of movement. Occupy, which appears to have started on Wall Street, swept into a nationwide campaign of protest representing the “99%”, those who presumably see what is happening to our country but have, so far, done nothing about it. They proclaimed to stand up against corporate greed and call for a change in the way the government operates in order to stop the migration of wealth to the wealthy at the fleecing of the middleclass. Their ranks were drawn from nearly every walk of life, every religion and every political party to come up with…. a broad representation of middle America.

But, as the movement has come to various cities throughout the nation, it has received vastly different and sometimes surprising responses from local governments. New York allowed the protesters to occupy Wall Street for a relatively long period of time. NYPD then attempted to move the protesters out using bright orange nets and pepper spray. That just moved them around. Recently, when NYPD did another roust, the @Anonymous twitter feeds were busy moving the protest to the Brooklyn Bridge.

The city of Sacramento has yet to allow Occupiers to camp out and has moved every encampment they have attempted to erect. In Oakland, it was unfortunate but expected, that Occupiers were joined by the perennial crowd that always seems ready to riot at a moments notice in that city. The resulting violence should have been expected. Adding to the confusion was an indecisive mayor who could not decide whether the city should align themselves with Occupy or oppose them as other cities had done. Mayor Jean Quan gave conflicting orders to the OPD and city staff that resulted in nothing but mass confusion and a plea from the Oakland Police Officers Association asking just exactly what she wanted from them. Well, if they had been listening, she wanted them to be nice while they billy clubbed and pepper sprayed their way through the masses. But, don’t hurt anybody. If there was one city in California that Occupy should have stayed clear of, it was definitely Oakland. even the Occupy movement rues that decision.

Los Angeles has been relatively nice about the whole thing. When they heard Occupy was coming to LA, they first unleashed their mounted patrol to discourage the masses. When the group moved onto Mayor Villaraigosa’s lawn, he then offered them farmland, a building and shelter beds for the homeless (didn’t they already have those?). That offer has since been rescinded (and, no, they didn’t get a pony either, as the Times suggested) and now the good Mayor has given orders to dismantle their tent town and move on. Watching Charlie Beck (doesn’t he remind you of Tom Selleck, or is it just me) on the news, squirming because you know he so wanted to send his riot-helmeted storm troopers in to quell the disgusting demonstration of Americans exercising their free speech rights, was quite interesting. One had to wonder if he feared an assassination attempt by Anonymous as he was surrounded by more bodyguards checking rooftops than the President has when he comes to town.

Of course, UC Davis was the ugliest scene to date. While protesters peacefully occupied the quad area of the college, the university police  quietly and efficiently went about dispensing pepper spray into the faces of the offending protesters. The populace were in an uproar. The dean was in an uproar. Even a chancellor or two were in an uproar. When I heard about this, I couldn’t help but remember the tree huggers in Humboldt County a few years ago who were pepper sprayed for trying to save a couple of trees. Of course, there was a little more to this than just what the Tweets and Facebook postings had. If you look at the video, these cops were in full riot gear, had flex-cuffs expecting mass arrests, and many had their billy clubs out. No wonder the dean was upset. Even most Republicans, who incorrectly dismiss the Occupy movement as a bunch of disgruntled liberals, were appalled at the police response. And the Board of Regents, apparently fearing physical attack, decided to meet in several different places Monday by teleconference. Hmmm. Brown act violation regarding notice and access?

Here in Orange County, we have seen a variety of responses to the Occupy movement. Recently, The Liberal OC wrote a couple stories on OccupyOC. Chris Prevatt wrote about the protest moving to South Coast Plaza, briefly, for Black Friday. A series of photos shows the group interacting with shoppers standing in line for their bargain-basement treasures. Most seemed amused, but I doubt if any felt the call to leave the line at Macy’s and go shop locally.

And therein lies the problem.

When the Occupy movement got rolling, everyone wanted to know what the message was they were trying to convey. The reply, in so many words, was that the 99 percent were suffering under the corporate greed, largely brought on by an inequality of laws designed to favor big business over people. Throughout the movement, the words have changed and specifics have been reasoned out, but the overall message has not wavered. Unfortunately, many cities, including Santa Ana, who has never embraced the movement and Irvine, who rolled out the red carpet for them, are now finding the occupiers are wearing out their welcome.

So, what does the movement need to do to keep the momentum going? For one, they need to do what everyone from Wall Street to Los Angeles has been telling them – solidify your message. Unfortunately, that may be their undoing as it would require some semblance of leadership coming forth and, as everyone knows the movement, by definition, has no leadership. And the minute it does form a leadership, it no longer resembles #Occupy.

They also need to come up with more ideas on how to involve people that does not take a lot of time out of their day. People don’t want to be inconvenienced when they protest (porta-potties are a downer, too). Remember Bank Transfer Day? It took a person maybe 20 minutes of their time to effect protest. Anyone who tells you that didn’t make BofA stand up and take notice is drunk or stupid. Sure, it was only a couple of hundred billion dollars in a trillion dollar market but, the sheer number of people who responded and moved their money to consumer friendly credit unions, based on what some @Anonymous protester in a Guy Fawkes mask was telling them, was startling, even to me.

In the meantime, the whole Occupy movement is beginning to look  like it will either fizzle or worse, become inconsequential. It is Christmas holiday time and they will have a tough time having their message heard above the toll of the Salvation Army bellringers and the atheist billboards shouting, “don’t believe it!”. If not, they may as well fold camp and unoccupy the USA.

Tustin’s New City Manager

New Tustin City Manager Jeff Parker

Photo From SGVTribune.com

I must admit, I am a bit late in getting this out to you. But, with Thanksgiving duties just barely completed and the Annual Christmas Tree (or is that Holiday Tree) lighting coming up, it has been a bit busy around here. Much more so than Tustin Tammany Hall where the Planning Commission has cancelled the December 6th meeting and the City Council (and probably the Planning Commission) has elected not to meet on December 20th.

So, I finally asked for, and received, a copy of the new City Manager’s employment contract. I must say, Jeff Parker, at the age of 55, comes with some nice credentials and his new salary reflects just how much the City Council must like the guy.

For starters, Parker will begin work on December 29, 2011. That is a very important date, as I will explain later. Suffice it to say, the city council was willing to pay a premium for Parker. When he does start work, he will come in at an annual salary of $248,000 per year. To put this in perspective, the city of Irvine pays its city manager $257,000 per year with roughly twice the population to contend with. You could go with physical size but, you would lose out there as well. Tustin is roughly one sixth the size of Irvine.  In fact, our new city manager comes in at about the same compensation as the city managers for Laguna Niguel (Pop. 62,979) and Fountain Valley (Pop. 55,313). As a study conducted by graduate students after the Bell scandal revealed, size doesn’t seem to matter when it comes to salaries for city managers. In fact, it appears to come down to “let’s make a deal.” As with most things Tustin, Jeff’s salary comes in around the middle of other cities in the Real OC.

In other compensation, I was not surprised to find that Jeff will get either a city owned car or a car allowance. I guess it depends on whether he sees himself in that new white Dodge Charger or not. He may be able to finagle a flashing blue light for the rear deck out of the deal as well.  No one is saying how much the car allowance would be if he decides to opt for that. I guess he has further negotiations to contend with, should he go that route. He also gets enhanced retiree medical benefits (assuming Jerry doesn’t fire him first) and the city will credit his leave account with 200 hours of leave time by the first of the year. After that, he gets the executive management usual of 248 hours per year. Well, that’s not too out of line. We are talking, of course, about a well-qualified individual that Jerry likes (so far). Jeff will also get up to two grand a year to maintain “current technology”. Huh. All this and he gets the city owned iPad too?

So, what about retirement? As I looked further, I found I had to locate the memorandum of understanding for the other executive managers to find out just what Jeff’s retirement would look like. And this is where his start date becomes important. You see, if Jeff were to start just 3 days later, say, on January 1, 2012, he would receive the new retirement benefit of 2%@60, meaning he could retire at age 60 with 2% of his salary for every year of service paid into CALPERS. This is the newly negotiated terms for miscellaneous city employee retirement.

But, because he will start on December 29th of this year, he will fall under the old 2%@55 system that is applicable to all non-safety employees starting before the end of this year. That is a substantial perk and one that the citizens of our fair city should be outraged about. In fact, it would be like giving Parker at least a 12% increase in his retirement and that is “spiking” in anyone’s book. On a salary of $248,000 per year, that comes out to nearly $13,000 more per year.

But, wait, there’s more.

Besides requiring Jeff (and all their executives, by the way) to pay only 4% of his CALPERS contribution, with the city paying the rest, the city also agreed to pay into a defined contribution plan the sum of $16,000 per year. This is roughly equal to a 6% bonus just for being a good guy. That’s on top of the 200 hours of vacation pay he gets up front and the city furnished car/car allowance. Oh, and by the way, paying 4% contribution into your retirement account is far below the actuarial cost of the retirement for most employees so he is getting a bargain there as well. We won’t complain too much, however, as it seems the  city pays a good portion of many of the city employees retirement contributions, including our friends in public safety. And, they are making headway to resolve this inequity through renegotiated MOUs.

So, is the city getting a bargain or are we getting screwed ala Amante and his wrecking crew? It seems all of the records for our previous manager, David Biggs, have been eliminated from the city’s website and a quick  check around the internet gives little indication of his salary at the time of termination. However, from his severance pay, we can deduce he was paid around the same amount as Jeff Parker will receive. Likewise, we can assume that benefits will be about the same (particularly for pension contributions).Jeff comes highly recommended by his previous employer, the city of Claremont. City Councilman Opanyi Nasiali described Parker as “a low-key kind of manager which is a credit to his managerial style. It’s our loss but I think Tustin is getting a good manager.”

And, from the looks of things, it seems that Parker may be around longer than Biggs. That is because he appears to be playing ball with Amante in regard to the Tustin Unified School District lawsuits. An olive branch, albeit a weak one, has been held out to the Superintendent, presumably with the new City Manager’s knowledge. Of course, we won’t get a response from the District until they meet in December. In any case, we won’t hold it against Jeff if he maintains that low key aspect for the next year, dodges any bullets tossed his way by Jerry’s hit man and waits for a new City Council before making any significant changes. We look forward to a time when Parker will be able to exercise the full authority of his position without having to look over his shoulder for Hizzoner.

Happy Thanksgiving

All of us here at Our Town would like to wish all of you in our town a very Happy Thanksgiving. Things have been tough the past few years for our Country. But, with the determination and willingness to work together, we are pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps and moving on. Even though we have much to worry about, we have much to be thankful for.

So, I hope you will pray to your Higher Power (the atheists may pray to their Inner Self) that we continue to recover. We have a responsibility not only to ourselves, but to the rest of the world, who still relies on us to be the light of freedom and democracy.

-Jeff-

Jerry’s Olive Branch Wilts

We received word today that the City of Tustin, ala Boss Tweed Amante, has extended an offer to settle the lawsuits between the city and the school district. Two lawsuits have been filed, one each by the city and the district. The first suit was brought by the school district in response to the city’s heavy-handed approach to the district’s refusal to submit to the authority of the city for construction issues. As a further response to that lawsuit, filed last year, the city changed its ordinance that had stood for years, allowing other government entities the ability to forgo the permitting process.

In the second suit, brought by the city in August of this year, Tustin claimed a “bait and switch” by TUSD when they built Heritage Elementary School. Due to the poor economy and the lack of development of the old Tustin MCAS, the district elected to move Hillview Continuation High School, along with some administrative offices, to the Heritage site rather than open as an elementary school. TUSD claimed the move was temporary, while the city of Tustin claimed a conspiracy in which this was the district’s evil plan all along and that the move would be more permanent. The truth lies somewhere in between as TUSD has not stated how long the site will house Hillview but contends that it will be moved back to the original site in North Tustin when construction is completed on the Hillview property.

The so-called olive branch held out by Boss Tweed Amante is not much. In fact, it is rather wilted from the start. What he and his henchmen propose is that both parties drop all lawsuits against each other, each side pay their own legal fees and costs to date and that the school district reopen Heritage in 2012 as the intended elementary school, presumably to service the Columbus Square residents who now must bus their children (according to Amante) to schools far away. Nice.

Apparently, Jerry wasn’t listening when the school district said the reason the elementary school didn’t open in the first place was due to the low population in the area. The school would have opened with 75 or so students when it required more than 300 to run the school even half way efficiently. Had TUSD not relocated the Hillview students so that construction could proceed, the school probably would not have opened at all. That, according to the school district, would have been a waste of facilities and would have led to quicker deterioration of the buildings through non-use.

In a letter, dated October 16th, Superintendent, Gregory Franklin, reiterated that the current uses for Heritage were temporary and that the school will reopen as an elementary school when development of the area resumes and there are adequate students. In that same letter, he put to rest Tustin’s contention that traffic and parking issues would be a problem, stating that most of the students were either dropped off or took the bus. This appears to be correct as there are no known parking issues at the school. Franklin also answered concerns of residents who questioned why some schools had opened with less than ideal student numbers.

I am all for the two sides putting down their swords and settling their differences out of court. Over a million dollars has been spent on legal fees by both sides that the taxpayer must foot the bill for. Although one of the lawsuits has been rescheduled to April of next year, a settlement would be preferable and less costly in the long run.

As of now, TUSD has not responded to the offer. It would be safe to assume, however, the offer will be rejected as the school district has made it clear that Heritage cannot open with the proposed population. Jerry knows this. So, that puts his motives for making the offer in question. And, if Franklin is smart, he has to wonder what Hizzoner has up his sleeve should TUSD decide to do what the city asks. Franklin should remember that Jerry never says what he means and he never means what he says. Rumor has it he fired his last City Manager, David Biggs, because Biggs had the audacity to suggest the city settle with the district. That cost the city taxpayers a princely sum in severance pay and benefits negotiated by our fiscally conservative mayor and his cronies on the dais. That makes this “offer” highly suspect.

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