Category Archives: Local Government
With 25 meetings, including those very special meetings where the public was not invited, the Tustin City Council is on the verge of calling it a wrap. I was about to bet my readers they would not hold a final meeting on December 18th but history shows this is the meeting they slap each other on the back for a job well done and pick each other (or mostly so) for mayor and mayor pro tem.
In the meantime, this week’s agenda starts off with the usual Closed Session Items. We notice that they have not apparently made much progress on any of these, particularly the issue with the Army Reserve Center swap that was a feature item in Regular Business exactly one year ago. At that time, the Army made it clear they were not interested in a swap and were quite happy with what they had. I guess everyone has their price. The city just hasn’t hit theirs yet.
Regular Business will start off with The American Legion Post 227 posting the colors. Their Color Guard, by the way, has won awards at The American Legion State Conventions in the past.
Under Public Hearing Items, the city will have the second reading and adoption of State Buildling Codes, a procedure that is mostly formality. As the city was having problems (again) with posting the video of the last meeting, I’m not sure if anyone even bothered to show up for this. In any case, staffers recommend passage.
The second item, is a routine funding for COPS. $100,000 is slated to be received by the department. No real changes to how the department intends to use the money for a Crime Analyst position and related software. Except for complaints by former councilmembers, most of us think the police department does a pretty good job of allocating resources where they are most needed.
Under Regular Business, the council will be asked to approve an amendment to the classification and compensation plans to award the Director of Finance, Pamela Arends-King, a whopping $8,000 raise for essentially doing what she has always done, manage the finances of the city. The staff are correct in their report that it will save the city money. But, considering the Finance Director was already probably checking the previous Treasurer’s work, did she really rate a raise, particularly when every other line staff took it in the short end during contract negotiations?
After the fiasco caused by the city’s use of a shady collection agency to catch business license scofflaws, the staff have come up with a proposed ordinance to exempt real estate agents from obtaining business licenses. The recommendation is to pass the ordinance on a single reading and be done with it. I guess they are hoping to sweep the whole issue under the rug.
The final issue at hand for our busy city council is to select the new mayor and mayor pro tem for the coming year. As usual, I have no doubt this years selections have been made and they do not include the sole female on the dais. That’s a shame because, out of all of the bodies on the city council, Beckie Gomez has proven to be the most level headed among the crew. But, intelligence and experience have no bearing here. The most likely candidate for Mayor is, of course, Chuck Puckett. Chuck has the experience although we suspect he will be about as effective as the current mayor in conducting city business to the betterment of our residents. At least Chuck returns our phone calls.
What we really have to worry about is that they will make the Podiatrist Councilman the
Podiatrist Mayor pro tem. That would leave him as heir-apparent next year. That is a scary thought…
What do the city of Carlsbad, the country of Saudi Arabia and Catalina Island have in common? They are all host to commercial water desalination plants. Saudi Arabia, in fact, obtains the majority of its water from the oceans. If Poseidon Water gets its way, they will have their foot in the door to do the same here in Orange County.
Poseidon Water, a major player in the water production industry, has been trying to build a desalination plant in Huntington Beach for the past 15 years. It looked like the process of permitting and planning was finally coming to a head with a recent hearing before the California Coastal Commission. Supposedly, these folks would have the final say as to whether Poseidon could go ahead with their plans.
The project has faced massive opposition from mainstream environmental groups such as the Sierra Club and Surfrider Foundation who say the project is a danger to marine life. One aspect of the proposal has the system using existing sea intakes which are soon to be outlawed by the state. So, even using those intakes would require a modification or change by the year 2020. The company has promised to review the issues raised at the hearing, attended by more than 300 people, and return with acceptable answers. “This project has taken us more than 15 years. we’re not going to just go away”, said Poseidon Vice President Scott Maloni.
Other environmental issues dogging the project concern location. Although the company is footing the bill for the initial construction through a so-called public-private partnership, they are relying on existing plant facilities for much of their infrastructure. The plant is slated to be built on the same property as the existing AES power generation plant. And, although their website claims they do not need the AES plant to generate their electricity needs, it is clear having ready made power nearby is an advantage. The Carlsbad facility which is operated by Poseidon is also built next to an electrical generation station. And, when the AES plant was scheduled to shutdown in 2018, we could presume the land would go to better uses (after cleanup). With Poseidon continuing to operate, the land would continue to be a blight on the coast.
In some ways, cost is as big a factor as the environment. Generating fresh water from seawater is power intensive and costly. According to Poseidon, who downplays the cost by putting it in terms of per-family, it will take 35 megawatts of power to run the desalinators. That’s a massive amount of electricity for the meager return from the plant. In fact, the single plant will supply only 8%% of the water needs of Orange County.
While that may seem like a significant amount, it will be at a significant cost to the consumer. Currently, water coming from conventional sources costs less than half the $2,000 per acre foot of desalinated water. Poseidon has a friend in local water companies to help them over the economic hurdle, however.
The Municipal Water District of Orange County is on board with desalination. “Continuing to invest in additional water sources such as ocean desalination, will be critical to both our
economy and sustaining Orange County’s growth,” touts their website, showing the same eight percent slice of the pie for desalinated water as Poseidon’s charts. If MWDOC contracts with Poseidon, Tustin, as a member agency, will have no choice but to foot the bill for the project. But, that’s OK because most of Tustin’s Councilmembers are on board with the idea even though many cities, including Los Angeles and Long Beach have shelved the idea of desalination in favor of cheaper and easier to obtain sources that include, (what will they think of next?) water conservation efforts. This isn’t surprising as the conservative majority of the council has long held that business interests, any business, take precedence over the needs and desires of the residents of our town Tustin.
MWDOC is also on board in other ways. They are a member of the Mesa Water District inspired CalDesal, a quasi-government inspired non-profit that promotes desalination efforts “in the Golden State”. Membership is limited to government agencies and water districts. Current membership, including MWDOC, is thirty-four. Associate members, almost all of whom are companies related to the water industry, number forty.
The economic risk, by the way, is with the consumer. If Poseidon is allowed to build their plant under current conditions, consumer agencies such as MWDOC have agreed to buy water from them regardless of whether they need it or not. That guarantee could cost consumers billions of dollars for up to 30 years. Thanks to lobbying efforts, the conservative board members of MWDOC and your city council have no problem spending your money to underwrite what should be a completely privatized effort. C’mon, where is that entrepreneurial spirit?
Although the California Coastal Commission has delayed their vote on the issue, it has not gone away and is not likely to, in the near future. Poseidon has vowed to return with answers to all of their questions and the MWDOC, as lead agency and promoter of desalination, will push to the end. At some point, it will be the Commission who must make the final decision. Some factions, such as Orange County Coastkeeper, an environmental group opposed to the project, have vowed to do what it takes to keep Poseidon from breaking ground.
It’s also interesting to note that the current Huntington Beach City Council, headed by Mayor Connie Boardman, attended the meeting to voice their opposition to the plant. Poseidon has promised 2,000 construction jobs, over a dozen permanent plant jobs and untold amounts of money coming into the city because of the project. Nonetheless, Boardman voiced the majority opinion of the city saying, “We wanted to make sure the costal commission knew the opinion of this city council was different.” Boardman would rather see investment in groundwater aquifiers which she sees as a better and less-costly alternative.
According to reports, there are more than a dozen desalination plants in the works along the coast. This could be the “energy” controversy of the 21st century much as nuclear energy was in the past. Although the ramifications may differ, the environmental concerns and future cost could make desalination yesterday’s buzzword.
Law Enforcement Phone Scams Soliciting Money
YORBA LINDA, CA – (November 19, 2013) – The Orange County Sheriff’s Department advises the public to be aware of phone scams involving subjects pretending to be law enforcement personnel. Several instances of this type of fraud have been occurring throughout Orange County.
On Tuesday, October 29 a male subject, fraudulently identifying himself as Lieutenant Mike Stevens with the Orange County Warrant Division, called Lorraine Johnson, 69, of Yorba Linda, and told her that an arrest warrant had been issued for her failure to appear in court on a traffic citation. Stevens told her the violation was captured by a traffic camera in Yorba Linda. He also told the victim there was a glitch in the system and the notice to appear in court was never mailed to her. Stevens told her the bail amount was $365 and that he could help her pay her bail. Stevens instructed Johnson to purchase a “MoneyPak” card and provide the card number to him so he could pay her bail. He also advised the victim to stay on the phone with him while she purchased the card just in case she was pulled over by a police officer. He said he could explain to the officer what she was doing so that she would not be arrested on the warrant.
A more recent case in Laguna Hills involved a victim being contacted on his cell phone and advised that he owed back taxes to the IRS. The caller fraudulently identified himself as Assistant Sheriff Mark Billings with the Orange County Sheriff’s Department and stated that he was working with the IRS to collect the debt. The caller told the victim that if he did not purchase $4000 in “MoneyPak” cards and give him the numbers, the SWAT team would be forced to raid his home and arrest him. The caller ID number on the phone call fraudulently indicated the call was coming from the Orange County Sheriff’s Department’s non-emergency phone number.
The public is advised that the Orange County Sheriff’s Department does not solicit by phone. If anyone receives similar, suspicious calls do not give out any personal information such as social security number, bank account numbers, etc. and report the call to the Sheriff’s Department at (714) 647-7000 .
We didn’t bother to post the agenda for the Planning Commission last week due to its brevity and lack of interest. The only item of note was an item on AT&T utility cabinets for servicing their U-Verse internet and cable-like system. It seems the city’s resolution of their video issues was short-lived as, a week later, the video is not up so we can’t report on the outcome. We’ll keep you posted.
Tuesday’s Tustin City Council meeting should be a bit more interesting with several items of interest, both on the Consent Calendar as well as the Regular Business Items.
Not much on the Closed Session for the City Attorney to report on even if there is any movement. There is one new item listed as existing litigation regarding the estate of an individual and the police department.
Police had previously declined to discuss the case publicly, stating potential litigation as the reason. TPD did have an encounter with the young man, nineteen year old Paul Quintanar, prior to the accident that took his life. No one has been charged in the incident.
There are also several continuing negotiations concerning MCAS property and swaps with both the TUSD and the US Army Reserve.
The Regular Meeting Agenda is headed by three presentations including one for outgoing Audit Commissioner Richard Hilde.
One glaring item on the Consent Calendar that may be pulled for discussion is Item 4, City Option to Retain or Delegate Authority for Award of Ambulance Contract. Currently, the city retains the authority and, judging from the issues the county is having with its ambulance services, it sounds like it might be a good idea for the city to retain that authority rather than delegate it to the County. The staff report indicates city staff feel the same way.
We’re not sure if Item 5, AB109 MOU on Realignement which would authorize a bank of overtime cash is just for purposes of obtaining what OC Supervisor Janet Nguyen calls, “free money”. AB109 involves the realignment of responsibilities of post-release supervision of prisoners to the community. Previously, most of this was handled by state parole agents. It is now handled almost exclusively by county probation officers.
In reading the agenda report for this item, we found the city has assigned a “Compliance Detective” to monitor the activities of released offenders. Of course, this is what the Orange County Probation Department, who has a full-time deputy probation officer assigned to Tustin, does. So, we’re not sure why the need for additional manpower in this area. We do recognize the detective also monitors sex and drug registrants, not a bad thing in our book.
Under Regular Business, city staff have finally answered all the questions the city council had when they last addressed a recommendation to appoint City Finance Director, Pamela Arends-King as the city’s Treasurer. As we’ve noted before, we endorse the idea of Arends-King being officially appointed to the position. We are opposed, however, to the hefty $8,000 increase in pay, particularly since the previous City Treasurer, George Jeffries, did the same job for half the amount.
The staff report indicates a savings to the General Fund and the Water Enterprise Fund of $19k but they provide no evidence, other than “because we said so”, of the savings. Where is the transparency to the public when calculating these so-called savings?
It seems Boss Tweed Parker is cementing his executive relationships at taxpayer cost.
Item 8, Business License Program, is a request by city staff to continue to use a questionable company to assist them in business license compliance. MAS, a company that has made a living off cities by making it a practice to offend the business owners, has a checkered history in collecting fees for errant businesses who have failed to obtain a license to operate in the city.
When the city first contracted with MAS to collect delinguent business license fees and taxes, we foretold the issues they would have. Businesses have reported harassment and unqualified accusaitons as they have been contacted by MAS representatives who have combed the city on a witch hunt for transgressors. The backlash to the city appears to be catching up with them as they back track on collections.
The proposed recommendation involves refunds and reassessments of the operations. What it should involve is a complete investigation into the business practices of the contractor to determine whether this is appropriate action for a city like Tustin, who purports to be business friendly, to be conducting.
To deflect attacks from the root problem, the staff report addresses the questions asked by the city council regarding business licensing for realtors. The city currently has a policy in place that seems adequate. Perhaps they should leave well enough alone and concentrate on MAS operations.
That’s it for this week’s meeting. We’ll try to keep you posted on any changes.
Conference with Legal Counsel -
Two items each Exposure to and Initiation of Litigation.
Existing Litigation – Marie Sales on Behalf of Paul J. Quintanar v. City of Tustin et al.
Confernence With Real Property Negotiators
MCAS properties, 14 lots, OC Property Company (Cushman Wakefield).
Price and Terms of Payment APN: 430-391-12, 430-391-09, and 430-391-03, Tustin Unified School District.
Property Address/Description 2345 Barranca Pkwy and 15 acres of the N/E corner of Red Hill Avenue and Warner Avenue – Army Reserve negotiating.
Regular Business Agenda
Item 4, City Option to Retain or Delegate Authority for Award of Ambulance Contnract.
Item 5, Master MOU Between City of Tustin and County of Orange for Public Safety Realignment and Post Release Community Supervision Authorized Expenditures.
Regular Business Items
Item 6, Approve Agreement with the City of Irvine, et al, to Fund the Peters Canyon Wash Channel Water Capture and Reuse Pipeline.
Item 7, Recommendation of the Finance Director’s Appointment as the City Treasurer.
Item 8, Business License Program.