Category Archives: politics

On the City Council Agenda – December 16, 2014

Hidden Agenda ClipartThere were no surprises in the recent off-year elections. Al Murray and Beckie Gomez were re-elected to their respective posts as were the TUSD incumbents. It is disappointing to see that not much has changed since the days of Il Duce Amante and his reign of terror over the city.What I am talking about, of course, is the obvious disrespect the good ol’ boys show the only female on the dais by not electing her Mayor for at least one term. It not only shows their true color as chauvinists but borders on discrimination as they are all cut from the same political cloth. Fortunately, the Mayor’s post, in this city, is largely ceremonial with the setting of the agenda probably the most important task. Yet, the Funtastic Four could not see fit to give up even that small amount of power to a woman.

That said, we’ll congratulate Mayor Chuck Puckett to his (re-)ascension to the throne. Anyone care to guess who the next mayor will be?

In closed session tonight, the council will have opening discussions on upcoming labor negotiations with city unions. After the fabulous way they treated the upper crust management last year, everyone should be expecting a reasonable raise. City negotiators lamented the low sales tax return and the high cost of running the city last year, using it as an excuse to not cut a square deal with the employees. That excuse has run its course. We’ll see if the employees are willing to take a stand for a raise this year.

Likewise, in closed session, the city has several property negotations to discuss. This includes a property swap with the Tustin Unified School District. Also under discussion is property negotiations with Arte Moreno’s group, Pacific Coast Investors. The line item says, “Price and Terms of Payment”. Let’s hope it is not for the new Angels-of-Anaheim-at-Tustin stadium. And what is the status of those negotiations, anyway?

First up on the Regular Session, after the usual opening prayer and Closed Session report, is a presentation to Tustin Community Foundation from the website, Great Nonprofits. TCF has been named a Top Rated 2014 charity by them. It’s nice but doesn’t really mean much. Great Nonprofits appears to base their selection on consumer reviews. Think Yelp for charities. I read a few of the more than three pages worth of “reviews” and find them…..well, contrived.

There is a great article on a more believable charity oversight website that sheds some light on the GNP website and their review model. Charity Watch had this to say about their process:

At first, this may seem like a good idea. After all, consumers commonly use reviews on sites like Yelp and Trip Advisor to help them choose restaurants and hotels. What is wrong with using crowdsourced reviews to help donors pick nonprofits?

One problem is that reviewing nonprofits is far more complex than reviewing consumer products and services. When a customer at a restaurant pays for a meal, he can smell, taste, and experience it. In contrast, when a donor gives to a charity, he pays for goods or services that someone else receives. His review is often not based on any firsthand knowledge of the quality or efficiency of the charity’s programs.

As an example, Charity Watch points out that the Childhood Leukemia Foundation received a “nearly perfect score” from GNP while their own website rated it an “F” because and in-depth look at their finances revealed dismal performance in areas that count. And, while Doctors Without Borders received an “A” rating from Charity Watch, GNP gave it a mere 3.5 stars (out of 5) due to two poor reviews, neither of which was of a significant issue pertaining to their actual performance. Neither Charity Watch or Charity Navigator rate TCF. Charity Navigator does not rate charities with less than a million dollars in revenue.

Oh, and of the 32 reviews, 30 of which are five star, only one is from a recipient. The rest are written by volunteers, board members and others with significant ties to TCF. Curiously, two reviews from volunteers rated the foundation as only four star. What’s up with that?

Now, we’re not saying Tustin Community Foundation is a poor choice. On the contrary, TCF has done some nice things here in Tustin. What we are saying is, awards from questionable sources might better be forgotten than noted in a public city council meeting.

On the Consent Calendar:

Item 5, Establish Prima Facie Speed Limits on City Streets, is the result of required studies by the state. Streets are required to be surveyed for appropriate speed limit changes in order for the city to continue to use radar and other traffic control methods. Eleven streets have been designated for increased or establishing speed limits. Interestingly, sixteen segments, including most of Newport Avenue North of Irvine Boulevard, have recommendations to lower the limit. The rest will be unaffected. Some of these changes are in rather unobtrusive locations so, make sure you remain aware lest you be stopped by one of Tustin’s Finest.

Item 11, Community Development Department Office Reconfiguration, is really an item that could wait until next year. The darling of the City Council, Elizabeth Binsack, is requesting an additional $68,000 in her coffers to accomplish the remodel which, quite frankly, should not be coming out of additional reserves. This sort of smacks of the Jerry Amante iPad debacle (where are those iPads, anyway?) where funds were allocated for a folly. Expect this item, as well, to be approved without comment. It’s nice to be the apple of someone’s eye.

Under Regular Business, several items stand out for discussion. The first is Item 14, Local Appointments List which publishes for the first time, the list of appointment to OCTA, the Water and Sewer Boards, as well as a slew of other paid and non-paid appointments. The Mayor has an opportunity to redeem himself and his cronies by appointing their arch-nemesis to at least one important (and paying) board position (not that the Library Board isn’t important). He could but don’t expect him to. Chuck has never been one to rock the city boat.

Other Regular Business items include a grant application to the National Endowment for the Arts to assist in funding the Tustin Pioneers Recognition Program and the transfer of city owned property to the Orange County Rescue Mission.

The Tustin Pioneers Recognition Program, if you recall, would allow the city and certain organizations to recognize important historical figures of Tustin’s rich history. The perceived method would be the erection of a bust of the noted individual in or near the location related to that person. An interesting idea, especially if you can get someone else to pay for it. It’s questionable whether that should be the taxpayer, however.

The city is looking at selling two four-plex apartment buildings it owns to Orange County Rescue Mission. The $533,000 price tag is probably well below market value but is the original cost to the city. The city also derives nominal rent they will be foregoing. The tradeoff is helping at-risk veterans. And, although the city will carry the loan for the property at a nominal three percent, the note will diminish so that OCRM will, in effect, owe nothing on the proeprty. The only issue would be that the property was initially purchased by the city for the extension of Newport Avenue to the south. Should that project ever come to fruition (we’re banking on a “no” from the other property owners), the city will take the property back.

So, there you go. It’s good to be back in the saddle…..er, back at the keyboard. We look forward to another year of mediocrity from the Tustin City Council as we forge ahead into another year. May you all have a Happy Christmas and/or Chanukah and a prosperous new year.

On The Planning Commission Agenda – September 9, 2014

old town tustin signIt’s party time in Tustin. At least, the Tustin Planning Commission will be making a determination for another community facility in the Tustin Marketplace tonight during a public hearing.

Edwards Theaters recently vacated the building on the Tustin side of the Marketplace. The area, according to the staff report, is 23,000 square feet. The city decided we need a building in the area and has negotiated an agreement with the Irvine Company that will allow the building to be used for anything from staff meetings to quinceneras.

The agreement would also allow further development of the remaining area as well as eliminate fees the Irvine Company has chaged in the past for two other retail centers in the area.

We’re not sure whether the city actually needs another community center (to be called the “City of Tustin Community Center at the Marketplace”. We haven’t heard anyone from the east side of town complaining about a lack of facilities and, quite frankly, the city shouldn’t be in the business of creating and maintaining rental space.

That said, the amendment to the agreement does appear to make it easier for other retail areas to be developed. Fees charged are consistent with other facililties the city operates and the city will be given use of the the facility for community events without cost.

The only other item on the agenda is a second Public Hearing for a zone change and Conditional Use Permit. The parcel in question is the small respite park located on El Caminor Real south of Main Street. The parcel is owned by the citty and the front third of it has been used as a small park since 2007.

This park is a gem of Old Town and the only ones who should have any complaint, if any, would be the property owners on either side. One question that should be asked is, what will the city use the remaining 100 feet of land behind the park for? It seems odd the city wouldn’t find a use for it. We can think of at least one – a community garden that locals could grow vegetables in. Such use would be consistent with the respite park.

So, another exciting week in the City of Tustin. With the approval of the first public hearing, the city should have its hands full planning events for the new community center. It should be interesting to see what kind of events will find their way there.

On The City Council Agenda – September 2, 2014

CSHSRA Barrel Racing Champion, Heather Eckman

CSHSRA Barrel Racing Champion, Heather Eckman

A fairly brief agenda greets our intrepid Tustin City Council this Tuesday after their brief hyatus. Hopefully, during their time off, they enjoyed the great production of Peter Pan put on by the Tustin Area Council on Fine Arts through their Broadway in the Park program. I had the pleasure of volunteering for TACFA (security, of course) which let me see firsthand just how much work and effort is put into presenting a professional play to the community.

Prior to the Regular Session, the councilmembers will convene at 5:30 to discuss the Ultra-Double Secret Closed Session items. Among them, notably, is the labor negotiations for so-called unrepresented managers and executives. I don’t know if we will see anything come of this tonight (we should – everyone has had weeks to prepare). Expect it to remain as low key as possible as the city council eventually awards juicy raises to their executive cronies. All this will be possible, of course, because the rank and file continue to get the short end of the stick, even while the city improves financially.

Other items on the Closed Session include the usual Legal Counsel issues and Real Property Negotiations for three sets of property. I assume these are all on the MCAS property even though the city insists on clouding addresses with lot and tract numbers when most of these now have street addresses attached to them.

In the Regular Session, the presentations are liable to take up as much time as the rest of the agenda. One of these, Heather Eckman, Barrel Racing, is to recognize the hard work of a young equestrian who took the top spot in Barrel Racing in the California High School Rodeo Association and went on to compete in the National High School Rodeo Finals In Rock Springs, Wyoming, this year. According to the records on the NHSRA website, the Beckman High School Sophomore came in a strong 12th place among nearly 100 competitors. Her time was only one and a half seconds behind the winner. Congratulations, Heather, for your outstanding work.

It should be interesting to see how the Tustin Housing Authority conducts a meeting and annual report all within the confines of the Consent Calendar. In fact, we’re not even sure it’s legal. Nonetheless, that’s how they plan to do it. So, if you have something to say about the THA, stay on your toes or it could slip past you.

Also on the Consent Calendar is the replacement of a variety of city vehicles that have reached the end of their natural lives. The vehicles include field trucks and autos used for parking control. According to the staff report, the vehicle purchases have been budgeted for.

Two items on the Regular Business Calendar will round out the evening. Both items will be to give final approval over construction projects. I’m glad to see the city council rejected city staffs’ proposal some time ago to forego council approval of construction projects. I think it is important the public be kept aware when projects like this are completed. Having it come formally before the city council keeps it in the public spotlight and keeps things above board.

As I said, short and sweet. It should be interesting to see how longwinded some of the councilmen get when reporting their activities.

Addendum

Hey, if you are looking for something to do tomorrow morning, come on down to Classic Burger on Tustin Village Way between 8 and 9 am for Chief Charlie Cellano’s second Coffee with a Cop. The first CWAC (hmmm…maybe not such a great acronym) was held a few weeks ago at Kean’s Coffee and was a huge success. The meet and greet is a great way to get to know your local police officers who patrol your area. You have questions? They have answers.

Also on the ticket for tomorrow is the dedication and grand opening of the Bocce Ball courts at Peppertree Park. The courts are part of an improvement grant and will add another facet to Tustin’s world-class recreation facilities. The ribbon cutting will be a 5 pm with remarks offered by Mayor Al Murray. The new courts are located adjacent to the Senior Center.

 

Keeping the Status Quo

Dullsville-Snooze Alert-

It is going to be  a pretty boring election season in the city of Tustin this year. Either everyone in Tustin is too busy to worry about the political bent of the city council (they are all Republicans) or they are happy with the way things are going. Face it, it has been a slow two years around Our Town Tustin, ever since Boss Tweed Amante left. John Nielsen has settled down and become less interested in city politics. Our old friend Chuck Puckett has returned to the dais along with newbie Alan Bernstein whom we hope will learn eventually to look up from his notes once in awhile (wing it, Alan).

It is hard to believe that four years have gone by since Mayor Al Murray and Councilwoman Beckie Gomez were first elected. Both came to the dais under the ominous shadow of Jerry “Boss Tweed” Amante, who held a firm grip on the city, issuing edicts and offering regular rants against his detractors. The Liberal OC often referred to him as “Il Duce” both on and off the record. And, Amante never got it. He hated the residents of Tustin (where he resides), hated the women he was forced to share the dais with and loved his dogs. When Jerry was around, there was always something to write about. When he left…. well, things got a bit more boring.

That, of course, has been good for Tustin. After Amante’s departure, the city council was able to clear their collective head and get down to the mundane business of running the city. And, except for the occasional powerplay by City Manager Jeff Parker or Community Development Director Elizabeth Binsack, the city has run pretty smoothly on their watch. About the only real issue over the past four years is the epitomal collapse of the old town area when a CUP was granted to the boys at Wilcox Manor to run a convention center wedding venue. That controversy (assisted by yours truly) outlined what is wrong when politicians who have a direct benefit from a business, help that same business to make money at the expense of others’ privacy and well-being.

All this leads us to the latest news from the city. As I said in the beginning, either no one cares or no one knows. Al Murray and Beckie are the only ones to file nomination papers for Tustin City Council. As such, they will run unopposed, meaning you can save yourself a trip to the polls unless the other issues we’ll bring up over the next few months matter to you.

Regardless of my criticism, I have always liked Al and Beckie. Al is a retired police captain from Irvine and his most pressing decision since he has been in office is where to have coffee (usually Keane’s, usualy with cops). That’s not to say he can’t make a decision. He just hasn’t had to since he has been in office. Originally an Amante yes man, Murray has a great quality of getting along with just about everyone, admirer and detractor alike. And, he is pretty darn good at calming a collective angry crowd. And when the stuff hit the fan, during one of the most infamous crime sprees to hit Orange County, he was the man every mayor wished they could be in time of crisis.

It has been my pleasure to know Beckie Gomez over the past few years. A closet Republican, she has shown a willingness to work with everyone on the council (including Jerry) even though the council has consistently refused to give her any of the cherished paid board or committee positions. Little did they know Gomez is quite happy with her Library Board appointment. Gomez has demonstrated that she is interested in the welfare of Tustin chiefly as a place to live and secondly as a place to do business. During Amante’s frequent rants, she proved to be a calming influence even when Nielsen and Palmer were also ganging up on their nemesis, Deborah Gavello. If she did not always back Gavello’s play, it was because she had a direction of her own to follow.

So, what will the future bring to Tustin? Perhaps, over the next two years, more mediocrity. Barring an infield play by Arte Moreno or the collapse of the pending cemetery deal at the Great Park, the MCAS property is all but disposed of. I am sure there will be controversy over the fate of the blimp hangars to jazz things up a bit. As the city is showing its age, perhaps it’s about time the city council took the Old Town Tustin bit out of Elizabeth Binsack’s mouth (before she finds a way to bulldoze it completely) and take a good hard look at revitalizing the downtown area. Both Fullerton and Old Town Orange have experienced a renaissance with myriad antique shops and second hand resellers replaced with chic restaurants and venues that draw a diverse crowd. Downtown Tustin’s time has come and, without the past controversy to impede them, this city council could make a lasting mark on the place we all love.

One rumor in the wind: Will John Nielsen, who has had his share of personal and public controversy while in office, choose to resign during his term as we have heard he may? That would open some interesting avenues, and some of those have the Amante smell.

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