Monthly Archives: May 2012
With no official city meetings of any kind to note, it has been a slow week. So, we are relegated to providing you with a few public notices.
Annual Street Fair and Chili Cookoff
I hope you will join the 30,000 or so chili aficionados in Southern California for the largest, one day chili cookoff in the United States on June 3, 2012, starting at 11 am. We have been going to the Chili Cookoff held in Old Town Tustin as long as they have been running one. Each year it gets bigger and better, thanks to the city staff behind the curtain that put this event on every year. This year, as in the past, there will be a record number of chili contestants vying for both the Peoples Choice as well as the official judges who will award the trophies and prizes for best chili in accordance with the International Chili Society.
Notice of Street Repairs
Right after the Chili Cookoff weekend, R.J. Noble Construction Company will be working on sidewalk and asphalt repair in the Old Town area. We spoke to the city of Tustin Project Manager, Eric Loke, about the project. He said this is an annual issue and that, this year, Main Street will be receiving much needed repairs. He assured me that traffic will continue to flow and inconveniences will be held to a minimum. He did say that driveways where rehab work is going on may be inaccessible for periods of 3-4 hours at a time but notice would be given beforehand. Folks from out of the area should note that temporary “No Parking” will be enforced in areas where work is being conducted. If you need further information, call Eric at (714) 573-3175. As with all of the staff at City Hall, he is very willing to answer your questions.
The only question I have is, will the city rehab the sidewalk in front of the Hughes Manor to include the original roll on the side of the walk? Perhaps our friends at the Tustin Preservation Conservancy can answer that when the work is complete.
If you have been reading Our Town Tustin over the past few months, you know that we have been highly critical of the involvement of the Tustin Community Foundation in the administration of the Community Development Block Grants. Since 2007, the TCF has been designated the “Citizen Participation Committee” for this program. That means, they are pretty much allowed to recommend what community programs will be allocated funding for each period of the block grant.
Our issue, of course, has been that Erin Nielsen, wife of Tustin Mayor John Nielsen, is the Executive Director of the Tustin Community Foundation, a paid position from what we understand. That raised alarms with us and, judging by the amount of email we have received over the last few months on the issue, many in the community. It also caused the TCF to issue a curt notice in their latest newsletter that the TCF does not “manage” CDBG funds. While technically, that may be true, in practice it is hard to believe the majority of input is not made by TCF as the “Citizens Participation Committee.”
In an email/voicemail discussion with Tustin Community Development Director, Elizabeth Binsack, she explained that the TCF is charged with holding one of two public hearings and then, based on those hearings, they make a recommendation to the City Council on how those funds should be managed. To be fair, the City Council is not required to abide by the recommendations of the TCF. In fact, the City Council, according to Binsack, holds the second of the two public hearings themselves. So, anyone not getting the recommendation from the TCF has another chance at a slice of the pie with the city council, right? Except, there is this relationship between the Executive Director of the TCF and the Tustin Mayor which, we find it hard to believe would not have some influence on the decision making process. And, while Binsack did say the city council has occasionally gone against the recommendations made by the TCF, she did not offer any examples where that has happened.
Prior to April, 2007, CDBG fund allocations were recommended by a Citizens Participation Committee consisting of various leaders of other city committees, commissions and two at-large members. This was amended by the city council to designate the TCF as the CPP for all public service projects. And, while John Nielsen had not been elected to the council at that time, he was a planning commissioner for the city and had certainly made his intentions to run for city council known by then. Oh yeah, and the planning commission had a representative on the CPP when John was a commissioner.
So, does the Tustin Community Foundation “manage” Community Development Block Grant funding? The short answer is, no. They do not actually have hands on management of the funds. However, their role in the decision-making process is much more integral. They hold so-called public hearings and take input from community representatives. They then make recommendations that, by the city’s own admission, are almost always followed. This takes us back to ethics and conflict-of-interest issues.
In a previous post, we wrote:
What is a problem is the fact that Mayor John Nielsen’s spouse, Erin Nielsen, is the Executive Director of the TCF. I checked with my political rabbi concerning any conflicts of interest regarding this issue. What he told me was, while their may be no specific conflict of interest that rises to the level of a violation, there is certainly the perception of one anytime there is a direct relationship between entities such as this.
And, if the perception issue is not bad enough, it is about to get worse. Guess who’s coming to dinner?
Both former Tustin Mayor Chuck Puckett and Alan Bernstein have declared their intention to run for Tustin City Council. Chuck Puckett, has ethical baggage of his own that involves negligee shows and city credit cards (at least he shopped locally) during his last tenure on the city council and was, until recently, listed as President of the TCF Board of Directors. We notice he no longer has a position on that board. Somebody must have mentioned the baggage that would carry.
Bernstein, on the other hand, is a friend of former Mayor, Jerry Amante and actually lives in his neighborhood. He also recently received an exemption for his daycare business to allow more children at the home. It is safe to assume that Amante has the ear of Bernstein and is probably well established in the shadow government of Tustin.
But, the real issue remains. How long will John Nielsen be allowed by the community to exercise decision making over CDBG funding with his wife, Erin, at the helm of the organization that has the most influence? It would be a simple matter for the good mayor to recuse himself from all votes regarding this portion of the CDBG funds, thereby giving him clean hands on the issue. The question is, will he work for the betterment of Tustin through ethical decisions or will he continue to exercise control over the issue, ehtics be damned?
We would like to know what you think on this issue. Your comments are welcome and can be made anonymously under any name. Your email is not published and, to the extent the law allows, this blog will never divulge your name or other identifying information without your permission. First time commenters are moderated only to limit spam and OTT has no control over that matter (it’s a software thing). We will not edit comments and will publish them as written (spelling counts here). So, comment away.
I just got back from my fishing trip and my mailbox is abuzz with the news. First, I got a comment from reader “Cedar Grove Loses” who said the City Council caved on the T-Mobile lawsuit. If you remember, we wrote about T-Mobile’s multi-faceted attempt to install a cellular site at Cedar Grove Park. After several years of design reviews, in which a site that was originally meant to house multiple cell company equipment, the Tustin Planning Commission lamely went against the wishes of the community and approved the design review. The issue was promptly appealed to the Tustin City Council who, in a moment of clarity, voted to deny the review. Of course, Hizzoner, Jerry Amante, blasted the rest of the council, sans his hitman, Al Murray, for not taking T-Mobile’s money and running. Well, Jerry was never much in touch with the real residents of Tustin, right? And, we did tell you that T-Mobile would pay a small fortune in lease fees so that Jerry could re-fund the reserves which he drew down to buy toys for the city council? In Al’s defense, at least he was concerned about the safety aspect, even though we thought it a bit overreaching.
In any case, T-Moblie, after complaining about those mean people in Tustin Ranch that they attempted to appease with multiple design reviews, said they would plant their cell tower on the puiblic right-of-way where the city would have no say. They inferred they intended to make it really ugly, too, just to spite the area residents. Of course, they lied. Their next stop was in Federal Court where they filed a lawsuit, alleging the city could not prevent the inevitable.
And, apparently, they were right. Or, at least, the city was not willing to do the right thing and oppose the lawsuit any further. Funny how they will squander money on lawsuits they can’t possibly win against the school district, but will readily roll over when the Feds come a knockin’.
On May 8, 2012, settlement and stipulation documents were filed with the Federal Court. They became effective when the judge signed them. What the stipulation order says is that the city council’s denial of the design review is moot and the planning commission’s approval under Resolution No. 4163 stands as if there had been no appeal. This effectively allows T-Mobile to continue with the licensing process. It does not necessarilly mean they will get approval. Not only must they obtain the proper licensing, they must comply with all of the requirements of Resolution No. 4163. Also, this may re-open pending design reviews in other neighborhood parks.
Now, all of this is disconcerting, I admit. It looks grim for the folks in Tustin Ranch who fought long and hard to keep this monstrosity out of their parks. It is even more disconcerting that we are talking about a third-rate cellular carrier whose total income is dwarfed by the Big Three.
But, how can one explain the fact that the City of Tustin, who touts their transparency and even has a “Transparency in Government” web page, did not issue a press release or even post a comment on their website or through their social media campaigns on Facebook and Twitter. Even worse, the litigation, which had shown up on the city council agenda since its inception, suddenly disappeared and no action on, what was apparently a closed session item, was reported by the city attorney. Could it be because Hizzoner, still pulling the strings of city staff who willingly do his bidding, did not want it publicized for fear the citizens of Tustin Ranch might rise up again and cause them problems before T-Mobile could get to work? After all, the stipulation order became effective on May 8, 2012. The important date here, however, is June 17, 2012, which is the time limit for the city to rescind all the denials and allow construction to begin. There is no denying that the city hoped to have T-Mobile placated and in construction mode before the citizens of Tustin Ranch could storm the council chambers.
All is not lost. There is a lot of leeway for the city to act, or more precisely, not act. The residents of the area, should be vocal in making their opinion on just how underhanded the city acted in this matter and their apparent attempt to prevent the opposition in Tustin Ranch from discovering the acquiescence of the city council in this matter. A good time to do that would be on Friday between the hours of 3:30 pm – 5:00 pm which Mayor John Nielsen has established “office hours“. We suggest you call first as he may be MIA this week. On the chance that he is not, perhaps someone will ask him why he caved on an issue he felt strong enough to support in public and why the city attempted to hide the issue from the public. If you cannot make it to his office, you can always email him and the other councilmembers. Their email addresses can be found here. Just don’t expect to get an answer. We have been trying to get them to answer us by email for months with no success.
Thanks again to “Cedar Grove Loses” for letting us know just how much our city council thinks of the residents of our town Tustin.