Category Archives: orange county

Webster Who?

Credit: Voice of OC

Credit: Voice of OC

Unless you are an avid local political junkie like me or one of the hundred or so readers that still subscribe to the Orange County Register, you may not know who Webster is. That’s Webster Guillory, former Orange County Assessor. For 16 years, until his defeat last year by Claude Parrish, Guillory collected and parsed out the various taxes from residents of Orange County.

Until last year, I can’t think of an election where he was seriously opposed. I mean, tax collector, while a well paying job, is not one most politicians vie for. It’s mostly a mundane managerial job supervising the folks that actually do the work. It’s also not all that controversial. So, why all the hubub lately?

It seems Webster was planning on retiring last year after 16 years on the job. That would have amounted to a dandy little retirement for the 70 year old who has the distinction of being the first African American to hold a county-wide elected office.

Instead, he decided to round out his retirement and, at the last minute, circulated nomination papers to enter the race one more time. And, that’s where his trouble began.

Allegedly, Guillory took out papers at the County Registrar and had an employee circulate them around the office. Other employees were asked (directed?) to sign off as he needed 20 signatures and time was running out.

All in all, Guillory is facing three felony counts resulting from the signature gathering. Additionally, but probably with no consequence, there is also the question of whether the signature gathering was done on county time as was alleged by employees of the former Assessor in a complaint filed last year with the Orange County DA.

According to the Voice of OC, Guillory’s preliminary hearing is scheduled for March 24th after being postponed due to scheduling conflicts. At that time, evidence will be presented to determine if a trial should be held. If Guillory is convicted, he faces over 4 years in prison. Well, actually, due to the way non-violent offenders are treated nowadays, he would more likely be the guest of Sheriff Sandra Hutchens. Maybe.

Veterans Need Not Apply (Or Die)

Veterans-CemeteryTuesday’s Planning Commission meeting has been cancelled for lack of interest agenda items. That doesn’t mean we can’t have a meeting, however. Don’t forget, the Parks and Recreation Commission is holding a design forum for a veterans memorial this afternoon beginning at 4:30 pm in the city council chambers. It should be interesting to see how many show up on a Monday afternoon a half hour before the normal close of a business day. Thanks for the planning, staff.

Wed to the idea of a Veterans Memorial at the appropriately renamed Veterans Memorial Park, is a veterans cemetery for Orange County. Initially proposed by veterans and opposed by NIMBYs, then assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva was instrumental in bringing legislation that would pave the way for a veterans cemetery “somewhere” in Orange County.

That “somewhere”, of course was a plot of land on the former MCAS base now being bulldozed for subdivisions and not-so-great parks. a 105 acre parcel of land has been identified on the property to be developed as a potential final resting place for the county’s many veterans who have settled here.

It didn’t take long, however, for the opposition to rear its collective ugly head. What was surprising is the tactic they took.

As far back as October of last year, a local blog urged the city of Irvine to relocate the proposed cemetery anywhere but…..Irvine. Well, OK, they just didn’t want it next to their house as they had paid lots of money for their property and they were afraid a veterans cemetery would lower their home value. But, except for cool places like Musick Honor Farm and alleged contamination near proposed high schools, Irvine is mostly neighborhoods. And parks. And technology centers.

On the Talk Irvine forum, one of the discussions which appeared last year, was on the location of the veterans cemetery. That discussion, begun in July of last year has recently been renewed with the appearance of an anti-veterans cemetery petition. The pro and anti cemetery discussion has mostly centered around Feng-Shui, Asian Culture and….property values. And, while many of the contributors have supported the building of a veterans cemetery, quite a few thank the veteran in one sentence and then, in the same sentence, denounce the idea of a final resting place for them.

Another Irvine blog, run by and for the Asian community, also makes a deal out of Asians, housing and cemeteries. This blog could be largely discounted as other blog entries clearly mark it as a special interest section.

Now, it seems, there is a petition circulating in Irvine that would set signatures to paper in an effort to stop the project. We were unable to obtain a copy of the petition but our friends at The Liberal OC did.

The petition relies on scare tactics and misinformation to lure people into signing it. Among other misleading statements the petition says:

2. ….Most of the residents lived (sic) next to the cemetery are Asians. In Asian culture it is taboo to place a cemetery next to homes or close to urban area (sic).

While the “taboo” issue is debatable, what is not debatable is the fact that the largest Vietnamese community in the United States lives in and around (and also utilizes) Westminster Memorial Park. In fact, one section of the park is dedicated to the Asian community and specifically respects their culture.

3. Many Irvine residents did not know about this cemetery until October, 2014.

Well, the proposed cemetery has been in the works for several years, thanks to The American Legion District Commander, Bill Cook, and others. It was in the news and there were meetings, including a meeting with the author of the Bill authorizing the cemetery Sharon Quirk-Silva. In fact, it was hard not to hear something about it.

4. In the next 100 years, the development of the west Coast (sic) of the United States will be largely supported by the Asian investment and immigrants.

Really? So, Latin America and Europe will have less influence than Asia? While we all drive Asian cars, this statement is a bit presumptuous. But, say it was true. Does anyone honestly think the Chinese won’t invest in California, indeed the entire west coast, because there is a veterans cemetery in Irvine?

5. The cemetery will drive down home values and increase blight.

So, according to the petition authors, the Cypress-Los Alamitos-Rossmoor area is blighted because of Forest Lawn Cypress. North Santa Ana is blighted because they have two cemeteries across the street from each other. Orange Park Acres is blighted with low house prices due to Holy Sepulcher Cemetery, a double whammy because its run by the dreaded Roman Catholic Diocese. Even Corona del Mar property values have been drug down by the Pacific View Memorial Park because it is smack in the middle of their high-end housing. Wow. Who knew?

The petition closes by stating the proposed cemetery is in the wrong location because it is too close to homes, a high school and the urban center [I kid you not],veterans cemetery and at a highly populated area.

They go on to offer their help in “finding a better location to create a win-win situation.”

Newsflash, Irvine petition writer and your allies – There is no better location than a former Marine Air Base with deep ties (much deeper and longer than the Asian community) to Orange County. The El Toro Marine Base saw hundreds of thousands of veterans of every branch of service pass through its gates over the years. There is a fierce pride among the residents, veteran or not, in that legacy.

The petition author(s) talk about disrespect to the Asian community. What about the disrespect shown to the veterans through the circulation of this petition? As Sharon Quirk-Silva said on her Facebook Page, “Everyone is entitled to their own opinion….. To say that a veteran cemetery will cause blight is disrespectful.”

Veterans (including myself) have fought long and hard to establish a cemetery within the boundaries of Orange County. There are only two suitable locations for a cemetery, in my opinion. It’s unfortunate Tustin has chosen to haggle over a baseball stadium rather than a cemetery. They’d probably have a better chance of securing the latter.

I won’t pull the, “if you don’t like it, leave” card. I will say, let the majority prevail. In the current scenario, that looks like the pro-cemetery folks. Don’t worry, though. The cemetery is a long way from having the first hero buried there. You’ll have plenty of time to get used to it – or move.

Will We Get The Caltrans Treat(ment)?

I-5 generic signBusinesses along the corridor of Interstate 5 through Tustin and Irvine beware. Meetings are being held for so-called public input for the proposed widening of the I-5 corridor through our town Tustin. The meetings are important to you for a variety of reasons.

Although the Orange County Transportation Agency is touting the project as a needed measure to relieve traffic on one of the most heavily traveled freeways in Southern California, the project is about more than just traffic.

To the south of us, cities and residents are struggling with the same issue with the widening of the I-405. Although the recent opening of the carpool flyovers between the 405, 605 and 22 freeways has helped in transitioning traffic in a safer manner, it hasn’t done much to change the overall flow which sees nearly 400,000 vehicles a day through some areas.

Three options were initially proposed for the widening of the 405. The first two involved adding lanes and carpool lanes to the existing highway. The third, touted by former councilman Jerry Amante who was the Tustin representative to OCTA at the time, was the creation of toll lanes (and the demise of carpool lanes). When the pubic outcry made it clear that toll lanes were not an option, the OCTA Board of Directors (mostly) back pedaled and settled on increasing the number of carpool and general purpose lanes, all of which would be free.

That wasn’t the end of it, however. In 2014 Caltrans, which has final say over virtually any freeway project, announced that toll roads were the only method that would improve traffic on the 405 through the county in a manner sufficient to satisfy the Feds. Members of the OCTA Board that favored toll lanes were overjoyed. Those that did not, including virtually every city along the proposed expansion, were not. OCTA, which had earlier promoted then disenfranchised themselves from toll lanes, quickly jumped back on the HOT train. At this point, OCTA fully supports the toll lane alternative which, by the way, would include the existing flyovers from the 605 and 22 freeways.

So, how does this affect the I-5 through Tustin?

Obviously, the same thing could, and probably would, happen to the I-5. For some reason, Caltrans believes that money losing, under utilized toll roads are the way to increase traffic through high impact areas. You can bet the writing is already on the sound wall for high occupancy toll (HOT) lanes. It stands to reason that, according to their logic, anything less would not serve the government public needs.

The push for HOT lanes is obvious. No matter how little income they generate, HOT lanes income goes directly to the government. In order to alleviate the concerns of the various city councils, OCTA will, no doubt, offer to share a sizeable chunk of the change generated with the affected cities. In Tustin, one only has to wave the carrot in front of a gullible city council to get their attention.

The real rub for many is the fact that we already paid for this expansion. M2 funding is supposed to pay for public highway improvements. Measure M funding paid for some of the first improvements with the Feds (read, your personal income taxes) making up the rest. The same is true for the I-405 proposed expansion as well as the I-5 proposal. During the I-405 discussions, it was clear taxpayers do not want to pay twice for the same road improvements.

Caltrans is interested in one thing and it has nothing to do with how you and I perceive traffic issues. Federal money is at stake in all of these projects. Most highway improvement projects rely on matching grants from the Feds. If Federal guidelines are not met, in this case regarding traffic flow, the state would find it difficult to fund major projects.

There is no doubt, though, that Caltrans sees the dollar signs as well. Toll roads seem like an attractive way of generating cash. After all, in the eastern and some midwestern states, toll roads are more common than free highways. But, easterners have grown up on toll roads. Californians have not been so “lucky”. In fact, toll roads were virtually non-existent until the 1990’s when State Route 91 implemented a public/private toll road system to charge for the privilege of travelling a 10 mile stretch of highway between Orange and Riverside Counties. That “partnership” has since devolved into a government function that has never made enough money to pay for the lanes it took over.

And that is the real issue that is coming before voters in Orange County. Caltrans, apparently with vested authority, will tell Orange County what to do with local taxpayer money by forming toll lanes on the I-405 – and the I-5 through Tustin. Public concerns be damned, you will pay twice to build a road most of you will never be able to use.

There is a possibility Caltrans could be thwarted in their efforts. It begins with us, however. By turning out in force at the upcoming meetings, residents of Orange County, particularly Tustin and Irvine, can tell the authorities that toll roads is not an alternative on a public highway. Yes, we need relief from the already overcrowded highway lanes traversing our city. But, those lanes should be paid for completely with Measure M funding that had already been approved for the projects, not with the “enhancement” of toll roads which will never pay for themselves but will certainly allow the elite of the county to travel unencumbered.

You can bet Al Murray, current Tustin representative to OCTA will be there. He needs to hear from Tustin and other Orange County residents how toll roads are not the answer. He needs to hear how he should be seeking the assistance of our state legislators to prevent or, at least provide oversight of, any proposed toll road  project. And Caltrans, which is sponsoring the meetings, needs to be told to keep their hands off our local tax money.

If this is a numbers game and numbers are the driving force, it should be obvious to everyone involved that toll roads are grossly underutilized, making zero real impact on traffic, existing or future. One only has to travel the 91 freeway during rush hour to see the negligent impact money-losing toll roads have on the morning commute. Toll roads benefit only one segment of population, the rich and famous who can afford it.

And, if anyone wants to look at the “success” of the 73/241/261 “private” toll road debacle, remember that the Transportation Corridor Agencies have refinanced bond measures multiple times to extend the payment schedule due to underutilization of those highways. So, why would it be different with the I-405 or I-5? If tolls are implemented, they are here to stay.

If there is a ray of hope. it is likely to be in the form of legislation, like then assemblyman Allen Mansoor’s in 2014 to block toll roads, at least on the I-405 and I-5. In order for that to happen, Orange County residents need to make it clear to their lawmakers (both local and at the state level) that toll roads are an unacceptable solution to the traffic problem. Again, that starts with attending the meetings and voicing a collective opinion.

There are two scheduled meetings for the I-5 project. The first was held January 26th in Irvine . The second meeting, on January 28th at 5pm is a bit closer at Tustin High School in the cafeteria, 1171 El Camino Real, Tustin. Judging from the locations, it seems OCTA, which is putting on the “informational” meetings, does not expect a huge crowd. They might be surprised, depending on the publicity these meetings receive.

Yes, this is the early stages of this project. Without early involvement by concerned citizens, however, OCTA may roll over again on the toll road issue. And, this time, they may have more ammunition in the form of the I-405 project.

Shades of Tammany Hall

smoking-460x307Yup, the smoke-filled backrooms behind bars have not faded into the distant past. At least, not here in Orange County.

Yesterday, the ever-declining-in-viable-news Orange County Register reported that shadow politics is alive and well here in the Real OC. If you’ve ever wondered how Tustin City Mayor Chuck Puckett arrives at his decision to deny appoint a fellow councilman a seat on a meaningful political committee or board (think OCTA), he has help.

Every year in November, representatives of the various city councils meet in conference to decide who will be added to what sitting boards. These boards and committees run everything from water and sewage, to transportation (think OCTA again), to even library boards. In fact, membership on almost any oversight board that is not directly elected by the good citizens of Orange County, is likely to be filled here, (now, try not to laugh) in the murky depths of the shadow government.

And, they’re in trouble.

Apparently, this super-secret cabal met November 13th at the Hilton to see who would sit where. And, it seems the Orange County Board of Supervisors is not happy about certain alleged Brown Act violations and they have called the cities out to rectify the situation. Specifically, the BoS is unhappy with the failure to give proper notification of the meeting, as required by law. The answer, of course, is to rescind all appointments and set a new, properly noticed meeting.

The “City Selection Committee” is actually the responsibility of the Clerk of the Orange County Board. So, one would think the whole thing would  be watched closely to make sure all the t’s are crossed and the i’s dotted. Unfortunately, as this political body is prone to do, they sluff off the tough jobs to others, providing little or no oversight, assuming it will run itself. And, when things fall apart or as in this case laws are violated, they do their best to blame others.

In this case, the other is the “League of California Cities” which had been coordinating the the meeting for years until Orange County left the LCC for the “more conservative” ACC-OC. You see, whenever the local government doesn’t like the way things are going, they just pick up their ball and go to another sandlot. They apparently don’t think the public cares enough about day-to-day politics to notice. After all, they’ve been getting away with it this long, haven’t they? And, in the case of starting the ACC-OC, they weren’t going to have the rest of California tell Orange County how to run their show.

The apologists at the Register tried to tone down the violations by saying that not everyone in the room was aware of the apparent transgressions. Then Tustin Mayor, Al Murray, reportedly asked if the meeting had been noticed and he received an affirmative answer. Technically speaking they were right. The meeting had been noticed – to the city council and other political bodies. It just hadn’t been notice to the general public, as required by the Brown Act. Methinks Al, being a retired cop and all, should have investigated further.

At stake here is hundreds of thousands of dollars in stipends and benefits. Oh, you didn’t think that just because you all voted stipends for the city council out of existence they still didn’t get perks, did you? Don’t be silly. Of course there is still money to be made – and lots of it. All paid by you and me, the taxpayers of this county.

For example:

  • Al Murray, OCTA Board of Directors – $5,900 (2013)
  • John Nielsen, OC Sanitation District – $4,921 (2013)
  • Chuck Puckett, Transporation Cooridor Agency – $4,829 (2013)

I’ve written about this in the past when the (of) late Jerry Amante (who also made a heck of a lot of money in stipends) was mayor.

Of course, there are plenty of non-compensated board positions to be had as well. Otherwise, where would the conservative bastion stick their liberal counterparts and enemies of the (Republican) state? Case in point: Beckie Gomez, who has a somewhat perennial seat on the library board and a few other non-prestigious and unpaid committees. Republicans like John Nielsen and Chuck Puckett are not about to go against the tide and nominate liberal members of the council to paying (and influential) positions. Never mind that Gomez refused to take benefits when offered by the city when Nielsen and his cronies continued to gobble them up.

Of course, this leads us to question our own backroom politics. Prior to attending the November meeting Murray, who was mayor then, had to have some guidance on choosing the right man….er, person… for each board assignment. He certainly didn’t do it in a vacuum. So, where on the list of meetings for the past year, is the one where committee assignments were discussed in public? Going back through the archives, there is no record of a “pre-assignment” meeting. You don’t think our own city council would have violated the Brown act (again), do you? Maybe we’ll put a call in to Chuck or Al and ask them.

As a result of the outing by the OCR, the Clerk of the Board of Supervisors, Susan Novak, told the Register she would be taking over the duties as the committee’s recording secretary. She also said a new meeting would be set up after the holidays to re-appoint members to the various boards. Care to bet who will not be nominated to a paid board position? A hint: she’s a she.

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