Monthly Archives: January 2013

Can We Get It In Four Part Harmony?

fat_lady_singsDid you hear it? Yesterday, the fat lady sang. And, with that, another chapter in the sordid history of the Tustin City Council is over.

After nearly three years of threats, court appearances and dirty pool, the Tustin Unified School District and the city of Tustin have settled their differences. The trial, scheduled to begin today, was narrowly averted when the two sides agreed to sit down one last time in an effort to mend fences and mediate their problems. A brief joint press release was issued shortly thereafter:

TUSTIN, Calif. – The City of Tustin and the Tustin Unified School District are pleased to annunce that they have reached an amicable resolution of the litigation regarding the City’s review of TUSD’s grading and drainage plans.

The two agencies are pleased to announce the case has been resolved, and agree that the resolution of the case benefits both of the agencies and the public.

The press release is a bit underwhelming. The city and school district first began having problems in 2010 during a construction at Heritage School and Tustin High School over the inspection and approval of grading plans. The city demanded the school district submit their plans for the schools to the city’s planning department. The school district originally submitted their plans “as a courtesy” but subsequently withdrew them and refused further submittals saying they were not required to obtain permits, grading or otherwise, from local authorities for construction. When it was rumored the city would physically halt any further grading efforts, possibly with arrests, the school district filed the first of a series of lawsuits.

The city quickly filed a countersuit and, later, another separate suit against the school district in an effort to halt a change in use of the new Heritage Elementary School built on the old MCAS base property. That lawsuit was heard last year in Riverside Superior Court where the judge chided the city for filing what amounted to a retalatory lawsuit against the school district. The school district won handily and focused its efforts on the original lawsuit which had, by then, been continued twice.

The lawsuit was also a contentious point of the Tustin City Council elections. Candidates sparred back and forth with then Mayor John Nielsen attempting to back pedal from his previous hardcore stand against the school district, saying that he favored resolution of the lawsuit. Candidate Allan Bernstein publicly called for term limits for school board members. The third member of “Team Tustin”, Chuck Puckett,  was the only cool head among them, joining Tracy Worley and David Waldram, a Tustin High school teacher, in calling for reconciliation and resolution to the issues. Worley and Waldram both believed the entities’ differences were the result of a personality conflict between the school district and councilman Jerry Amante.

The Orange County Register, which broke the story on-line last night, said there is a 10 page agreement outlining how the two sides will handle future school construction for the next 15 years. Among other things, the school district agrees to submit grading plans and pay plan check fees for grading only. No other permit or construction fees will be paid to the city. In return, the city agreed to limit their comments and checks to two submittals. According to the story, there are no plans coming up for future upgrades to schools that would require plan checks by the city.

Both sides agreed to publish a joint press release. No other information came from the city other than a comment by Mayor pro tem Chuck Puckett who told the Register, “All I can say is we’re happy with the agreement.” We think it satisfies both parties and the residents of
Tustin. We’re extremely pleased with it.”

All we can say is, it’s about time. The lawsuits were the fruit of former councilmember Jerry Amante’s reign of terror in the city. When news of the tiff between the city and school district first arose, it became clear to most of us it was a power struggle by the little dictator to maintain control over all things in the city. And, while the Register maintains the cost of the lawsuit was just over $1.5 million dollars, Our Town Tustin received information the total cost of all the lawsuits (including the previously settled Heritage lawsuit) was over $2 million dollars and counting.

So, did the recent change in staff and councilmembers have anything to do with the settlement? Most certainly the exit of Amante could only help matters. The addition of veteran councilman Chuck Puckett was a plus, in our opinion. Previous discussions with him on the issues led us to believe he would press for a settlement if elected.

Ed Connor, the attorney for Tustin Unified School District also applauds City Manager Jeff Parker and Schools Superintendent Greg Franklin, who both came on board their respective agencies in 2011, for directing the lawyers to  “stop banging heads and to get this resolved.” Parker, who appeared to walk softly around Hizzoner Amante, seems to have become more of the manager Tustin needs under the new regime. We look forward to seeing more of that aspect of him.

The new year has started off with a bang. A somewhat bland city council has taken their first bull by the horns and, applying commonsense, has hammered out an affable agreement to the benefit of all. Maybe it is not just the economy that is turning around.

Are Guns Really the Problem?

’Courtesy northwestfirearms.com

’Courtesy northwestfirearms.com

There is an intersting article on The Liberal OC regarding the publishing of CCW permit holders in Orange County. Now, before you push this article aside and run to the Lib, let me tell you they only published a few notable names such as Todd Spitzer and Deborah Pauly (scary, huh?). The gist of the article, apparently, is to show the good sense of our county sheriff in issuing CCW permits while, in some way, trying to equate the Second Amendment to the right to healthcare. While I respect the Lib writers’ opinions, I have to disagree on the issue they bring up. It should be noted The Liberal OC has published a series of articles on gun ownership and the Second Amendment. We are certainly not of the same opinion.

From the Lib article:

We think there are too many guns out there.  The overflowing crowds at this weekend’s gun show in Costa Mesa show Orange County’s appetite for automatic weapons is near insatiable.  We find it fascinating that the same people, the Tea Party Patriots, who so demanded President Obama’s birth certificate, find inquiries into background checks and licenses for firearms an invasion of privacy.  And while gun ownership is a right, so is the right NOT to own one.  When liberals state healthcare should be a right, we’re scoffed at by Libertarians and Conservatives who cling to their guns but fail to acknowledge getting sick is not a choice.

The current upsurge of law abiding citizens to seek firearms is typical anytime an incident such as Sandy Hook occurs and the sitting President and Congress start making noises of further gun control. In the past few days, it has become apparent all the President’s men (and women) are using recent events to push for stricter gun control. Of particular interest is the push to ban “assault style” weapons. That is because they feel it is the easiest “in” to obtaining stricter controls on weapons in the hands of citizens. I am not sure why the writers at The Liberal OC thought that California would be excluded from the run on guns. And, it is not just in that bastion of Republicanism,  Orange County. I suspect it would be difficult to find an assault style weapon (which California already bans most of anyway) for a reasonable price at a store or a gun show. The number of attendees at last week’s gunshow, by the way, was roughly double the norm, based solely on my estimate as an occasional attendee.

Plainly speaking, it is asinine to equate the right to own firearms to the “right” to healthcare. Show me where, in the US Constitution there is a Constitutional right to healthcare? And, please don’t quote the purusit of happiness, etc. That doesn’t fly as it does not enumerate healthcare as a right. There has never been a significant court case, to my knowledge, that even addresses the issue. That leaves healthcare, until the new mandates come in, left largely to the individual. In reality, however, most anyone -indigent or not- has access to basic healthcare. And, it remains to be seen whether the so-called Obamacare will grant any higher access than the current system, at least here in California, already does (I admit, I am no expert in managed care or socialist medicine).

On the other hand, the right to keep and bear arms has been tested and proven, by the highest court in the land, that it is an individual right, not just a state’s right to “keep” a militia armed and ready. That would be the Heller Decision that was quoted by their article, later addressed for the individual states by the McDonald Decision.

So, according to the article we have approximately 409 persons living or working in the county who possess a CCW permit. Add to that another thousand or so off duty peace officers and another thousand or so retired peace officers, all of whom are authorized by law to carry a firearm. In all, there are about 45,000 CCWs authorized by various entities throughout the state of California and probably another 100,000 or so people that are further authorized by law. Still a paltry number in comparison to a population of 38 million.

There is no doubt that California has the most stringent (overall) gun laws on the books. The Brady Bunch gives CA an A+ on their firearms report card. And crime is down, particularly violent crime (unless you look at the Register’s headlines yesterday). Yet, 39 states in the United States have “shall issue” CCW laws that allow any law abiding citizen to obtain a CCW for self-defense. A few states do not require a permit to openly carry a firearm. Arizona and Alaska come to mind. One state, Vermont, does not even have a permit system. Their law says if you have a firearm and want to carry it, do so as long as you are legally allowed to. California is one of only nine “may issue” states where the discretion is left up to the issuing authority.

In Texas, which is a “Shall Issue” state, there are about 123,000 licenses for concealed carry. The population is just under 26 million. That would be only 0.4% of the population. I think other states would probably be about the same. Oh yeah, crime is down across the nation, too.

What is missing here is, how many law abiding, CCW holding citizens actually get into trouble because of their firearms? The Violence Policy Center has a few statistics, although they don’t break them out the way they should be. Let’s just take them at face value for the moment.

From May, 2007 to the present, there were 14 law enforcement officers killed by CCW holders. Of those, one permit was expired and at least two others should not have legally been allowed to carry due to prior convictions or mental illness. There were another 484 deaths caused by CCW permit holders across the country. Only three of those, during the reporting time, were by California permit holders. Oh, wait…. that would be one by a CCW permit holder and two by a security guard licensed to carry his firearm openly on duty (it pays to read these reports rather than just look at the numbers).

Aside from the confusion by the report writers of who exactly is a CCW holder, a closer look would show that many of these permit holders should have been denied a permit that was, nonetheless, issued. And, that says much toward the apathy of law enforcement and the bureaucracy to actually enforce the current laws on the books.

In one case in Washington State, the perpetrator’s family told the authorities years before the incident where he killed 5 people before turning the gun on himself, that Ian Stanwicki was mentally ill. His father told reporters, “The response to us was, there’s nothing we can do, he’s not a threat to himself or others, or we haven’t had a report of it, or we haven’t had to pick him up—call us when it’s worse. And now it’s too late—much worse now, six people are dead.” So, even when authorities are notified that something is amiss (this is not an isolated incident in the VPC report), they sometimes do not take appropriate action.

Add to that the relatively few firearms deaths compared to the number of owners and permit holders and one has to wonder, if the sensationalism the press makes toward each incident were absent, would there still be such a loud call from the anti-gun folks?

Why don’t we address the real culprit, mental illness. Because, one thing I noticed while perusing the VPC report is the high number of mentally ill people that should not have been allowed to possess a firearm at all, much less obtain a CCW permit, had current law been enforced. Certainly, in the mass shootings over the years, the perpetrators displayed outward signs of mental illness or had been previously convicted of domestic violence or other crimes. All of these would have precluded someone from owning firearms in most instances and, in all instances, from obtaining a CCW permit. Until we address the real cause of these heinous acts, mental illness and an apathetic attitude toward enforcing current laws, we will continue to occasionally see them, stricter gun laws or not.

Foothill High School to Host Annual Knights Dinner Theater

Knights on the Radio

February 12-16, 2013

Tickets on Sale January 28th or buy on-line

Knights Radio 1

(Yes, this is a shameless and blatant advertisement for a program my daughter will be in – ed.) If you are a Foothill High School parent, particularly if (like me) you are the parent of a kid in one of the many music programs the school sponsors, you have already heard of the annual dinner theater the choir program puts on at the school. Last year, the public was treated to “Knights on Broadway”, a stunning production with featured singers and a great ensemble that captured the lights and excitement of Broadway. Showcasing excerpts from a variety of hit Broadway shows past and present, the students and faculty produced a professional, polished show with a highly reasonable price tag.

This year is no different as the cast and crew present “Knights on the Radio”. I can’t tell you much about it, other than it is one of three themes the music program Knights Radio 2rotates through over a three year period (the other two being Movies and the aforementioned Broadway). From their website:

The Knights Dinner Theater runs for one week every spring, and rotates around the themes Broadway, Radio, and Movies. Most students in the choral program view it as the highlight of the year, and willingly put in dozens of rehearsal hours in order to produce the best show possible. The show grants students the opportunity to experience what it’s like to perform in a professional-grade production.

Combining the efforts of dedicated parents, alumni, and all choirs, the production develops a strong sense of camaraderie within the program. Knights Dinner Theater has become extremely popular at Foothill and throughout the community, and Knights on Broadway 2012 was the best show to date, attracting over 1,000 guests. With top-notch music, dining, and entertainment, this experience is not to be missed!

Knights Radio 3If my daughter’s frustrations and temperament are any indication, this year’s show will likely be outstanding in both content and artistry. Many of the kids belonged to the Dickens Carolers who performed numerous times over the Christmas Season. All of the choir programs, from Madrigal Singers to the Beginning Women’s Ensemble will be participating. I can tell you from experience the food and entertainment are worth many times the ticket price.

So, come on out for a nice evening, a good dinner and some great entertainment. The kids will perform and the parents and teachers will be serving a catered dinner (don’t you feel relieved it won’t be cafeteria food served by the lunch lady?)

Will I See You In September?

creepy houseThe first meeting of the year for the Tustin City Council proved my prophesy that new blood will create new stories for Our Town Tustin. After a benign but professional  presentation of the American Flag by Tustin American Legion Post 227, the new city council wasted no time in showing their true colors. Things got so busy on the dais, I think councilmember Beckie Gomez expected to see a Shriner car full of clowns driving around.

It started with the Oral Communications portion of the agenda when Tustin resident  Chad Ortley asked the city council whether there was some new policy to allow “a party type facility in residential neighborhoods. My contention is the code only allows those types of uses in a commercial zoning district. But, some members of the public are not sure whether there’s been an exception to allow non-profits and, if so, how many persons would be able to attend that event and how often. So, I think it would be beneficial to receive clarification on that for staff purposes and, if that is the case, something the city wishes to allow, at least some members of the public would appreciate clarification…”

At that point, Councilman Chuck Puckett interrupted the speaker to say that he would have to recuse himself from the discussion. Although Ortley said he was speaking only in generalities and not to a particular situation, Puckett quickly surmised the topic was specifically about the Wilcox Manor and the efforts of the owners to turn it into a for-profit events center. What happened next, though, was comical to watch.

The city attorney was asked for his opinion. Surprisingly, he did not bring up the FPPC ruling and told the Puckett he should actually recuse himself, “given how related the two are, I’d probably advise you to recuse yourself.” Faster than a clown puts on greasepaint, councilmen John Nielsen and Allan Bernstein both yelled out, “I need to do that as well!” They then scrambled to see who could leave council chambers the quickest.

Of course, this left the dais without a quorum and city attorney Kendig was quick to state that it presented a “new issue” in that there was no longer enough councilmembers to carry on business. In order for any discussion to take place, the three members who recused themselves would have to draw straws to see which one would come back to the dais. The attorney left to fetch the three while Ortley finished his comment on the subject. The question arises as to what the three councilmembers who recused themselves discussed outside the council chambers. After all, they did have a quorum. (it also begs the question of how drawing straws would eliminate a conflict of interest if it would bring one of the conflicted back for the discussion).

A few minutes later, the two of the Three Amigos returned and took their seats. Not for long, however. When Kendig returned to council chambers, he observed that, since Ortley had finished his commentary, it was appropriate for the councilmen to return to the dais and that straws need not be drawn after all. The podiatrist councilman must have made a pit stop as it took him a little longer to get to his seat, necessitating the good mayor leaving the dais to retrieve him. Perhaps he got lost in the mens room.

So, Bernstein finally shows up with a bewildered look on his face and Murray takes up where he left off at Public Hearing Item No. 1… the Conditional Use Permit for Wilcox Manor. Believe it or not (you can believe it, you read it here), that engendered an entirely new round of who had to leave and who had to draw straws to see who got to stay. In the end, Kendig decided they did not need to draw straws unless further action needed to be taken. However, everyone would have to leave the the dais. Al Murray, who I am sure was right at home amidst this Keystone Cops scene, put it succinctly when he said, “It’s almost like musical chairs, ladies and gentlemen.”

So, why did all of this take place? Probably for the same reason -the real reason- the owners of the Wilcox Manor asked for a continuance on the hearing in the first place. A little bird whispered in their ear.

During the past year, Puckett, Bernstein and Nielsen have all held fundraisers at the Wilcox Manor. These fundraisers were held gratis, unless one looks at it (as we have) that the use of the facility was a contribution in kind. Although no money passed hands (except for Nielsen, who received money from the Wilcox Trust), it was obvious from the beginning that Lindburgh McPherson and Michael Demoratz, the owners, intended the use of their facility as a pay-for-play in order to obtain a favorable ruling from the city council on their CUP application. McPherson and Demoratz rallied the troops during an October Planning Commission meeting. The commissioners, looking for a way out, set up conditions that one might say were designed to protect the neighborhood but, when it came down to it, were designed really to discourage the boys from pursuing their plan. It very nearly did when it was discovered that McPherson and Demoratz had not exactly told the truth in their application concerning the parking issues. They were also less than thrilled with the conditions placed on them by the planning commission. In an effort to quash nearly all the conditions, they appealed to the city council, a group that had a somewhat vested interest in the operations of the manor as an events center.

When the issue first came up before the city council in November, 2012, the boys abruptly asked for a continuance, leaving their supporters, most of who had come from outside the city, flat. They also published a letter trashing some of the city’s notable residents. In one missive, they accuse Linda Jennings, president of the Preservation Conservancy, of allegedly making up commercial web pages promoting the Wilcox Manor as an “events venue”. Jennings has denied having anything to do with the websites and claims her opposition to the events center is personal, not as a member of the Conservancy which, she says, has taken a neutral stand on the issue.

It is interesting to note that Nielsen first recognized this as an issue when he attempted to recuse himself during the November meeting. Nielsen’s stated reason for recusal was that his wife, Erin, was the director of the Tustin Community Foundation, which holds fundraisers at the manor. However, as we mentioned, there were other issues as well. David Hunt esq., the same lawyer that currently represents McPherson and Demoratz, told him then that the purpose for postponing the vote was so that Nielsen would not have to, “face multiple issues you are faced with.” That would be like that money he took from the Wilcox Trust.

Councilmember Gomez, for her part, only wanted to finish the matter. She said that she had been speaking with a number of the neighbors of the Wilcox Manor who were concerned that, if the issue was not resolved, they would continue to hold events as they had been doing in the past. She was concerned that this had been going on for a year without resolution. The boys weren’t there but their mouthpiece, once again, showed up to muddy the waters.

David Hunt esq. effectively side-stepped the question by saying, “My clients don’t have any intention of doing anything that’s inconsistent with the current zoning between now and whenever the hearing is, ultimately, on the conditional use permit.” He went on to say how the regretted asking for a continuance but “they don’t have any intention of doing anything inconsistent with their current zoning and use.” You might take those words at face value but, he is a lawyer after all. And, lawyers are paid to muddy the water as much as possible. Just ask Kendig. Elizabeth Binsack, spoke plainly and said that, as long as they keep it non-commercial (we would claim that any organized business use, even a non-profit business, is commercial) and under 500 attendees, they could pretty much do as they pleased. So, what Hunt was really saying was that the boys will not hold events with 500 people but they still plan to hold events for non-profits. Good news for all those folks that showed up for the hearing to support the boys, even if they came for nothing.

So, why September 17, 2013? Is that a year from the last time Nielsen, Puckett or Bernstein held a fundraiser there? Is that the date of the check from the Wilcox Trust to the “Vote for John” campaign? That would certainly make more sense than the “personal and business issues” the Wilcox boys contend are the reason. Of course, there is also the issue of adequate parking. When the previous alleged parking arrangements were allegedly quashed by that concerned citizen, it became obvious that Lindburgh and Michael were not exactly being truthful, even with Community Development Director, Elizabeth Binsack. Rumor has it they have been all over town, attempting to work a deal. The latest story has them approaching the chamber of commerce looking for a spare parking lot.

Although many of us had hoped to see a workable resolution to the Wilcox problem, it appears we will have to entertain ourselves for another 8 months or so before we see what happens. Lest Nielsen, Puckett and Bernstein think the citizens of Old Town Tustin will forget, they can be sure we will be there to remind all of the relationship between Wilcox and the Three Amigos.

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