Category Archives: politics

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.

On The Planning Commission Agenda – January 27, 2015

planning commission puzzleUnless the public comes out in force demanding to be heard, it’s doubtful the Tustin City Planning Commission will spend much time on the dais Tuesday. The only item of interest is Item 2, presumably a public hearing item as it occurs before the “Regular Business” header.

Item 2 is a Conditional Use Permit application to establish a pawn shop within the confines of an existing jewelry and watch store. The applicant, PJ Javansir, it the reported owner of the establishment, located in the Gateway Village strip mall on the northeast corner of Edinger and Redhill.

The shop will be limited to the pawn of jewelry items (we’ll see how long that lasts) that the store would normally handle in sales. There is no change in the form or design of the shop itself and it looks as though it would just be an extension of their regular business. In its usual verbose style, the city describes the project here. Let’s hope the presentation isn’t as long.

The only other item on the agenda is the Community Development 2014 Year in Review. The review, which can be seen here, is the annual summary of activities by the Community Development Department. They have had quite a year of activity mostly having to do with future planning.

A highlight of the report is the Downtown Commercial Core Plan, where new and remodel construction took place as well as the initiation of discussions with the community on revitalization of Old Town Tustin. The plan envisions a pedestrian plan to encourage people to visit the area.

Unfortunately, the city has apparently put the residential portion of this plan on the back burner as no further effort has been made to address resident issues. More than a year ago, the city was courting old town residents in an effort to update housing and building rules pertaining to outbuildings. That project was quickly placed ont he back burner as it would result in no change in the income stream.

On the other hand, even if only half the plans of the “visionaries” come through on the commercial core effort, the city could see substantial increases to its tax base. Of course, that effort requires the cooperation (and money) of the businesses that make up the old town (and surrounding) area. Thus, the push to “sell” the concept to the business community.

That’s it for the week. Don’t forget the upcoming election to replace Mimi Walters. We’ll have something to say and a recommendation for the vote coming soon.

On The City Council Agenda – January 20, 2015

Hidden Agenda ClipartUnless the councilmembers suddenly get an urge to actually discuss something, it looks like it will be a fairly short meeting of the Tustin City Council on Tuesday. Councilman Bernsein, are you back yet? Chuck missed you.

The Closed Session, which begins at 5:30 PM, hosts the usual suspects. Several discussions regarding existing or potential litigation include a long standing case, now an appellate case, between the city’s old Redevelopment Agency and the Department of Finance. And, while the city attorney decided to keep the wraps on the case, we’ve been able to surmise it involves several million dollars of disputed RDA funds. It turns out the parties reached an agreement in December and we should soon see this issue drop off the radar.

Redevelopment agencies were dissolved by law back in 2011. Unfortunately, as is the usual case with a half-baked legislature, they only did half the job and made up for it by creating, so-called “successor agencies”. Much of this was in the middle of the state attempting to remain solvent by grabbing as much tax money from cities and counties as possible. This, of course, generated millions of dollars in business for lawyers which, I’m sure, our city attorney is happy to keep going as long as possible.

Most of the Regular Session items are on the Consent Calendar. Perusing the Demands and Payroll, the only item of interest is the apparent high cost of our mylawyercontract city attorneys at Woodruff, Speadlin & Smart. Perhaps City Attorney David Kendig is trying for partner. Total cost of our attorney services this month is $17 thousand and change. That’s apparently in addition to the $34 thousand plus the lawyers charged for Successor RDA work and other legal fees hidden sprinkled throughout the report. You’ll have to be the judge of whether we are getting our money’s worth.

Most of the other items on the agenda are routine business and we doubt they will generate much discussion. Item 6, Long Range Property Management Plan and Item 7, Amend and Reinstate the Working Capital Loan, etc., are two more pieces to the puzzle left by the RDA. We know the city council would love the legislature to reinstate the RDAs in California. Like most cities, they have been dragging their feet and crossing their fingers in hopes of resurrection. With any luck, they will run out of excuses and money to play with and disappear completely before that happens.

Two items will round out the Regular Business. Item 8, Comprehensive Annual Financial Report for Fiscal Year 2014 is the annual financial analysis of the city. I’m not much for numbers but you can read the report here. The short version is here.

Item 9, Commission Vacancies, lists the expiring terms of the Planning, Community Services and Audit Commissions. There are three terms expiring on each. Most of these carry a tidy stipend for a bit of community service. As soon as they are posted, we’ll let you know (along with who has applied).

That’s it for this meeting. We’ll let you know if anything interesting happens…..or anyone shows up for the meeting.

By the way, welcome back Chief Cellano.

On The Planning Commission Agenda – January 13, 2015

agenda-clipartAfter a month long hyatus, the Tustin Planning Commission is taking it easy for their first meeting of the year. The December 9th meeting had only three real items of discussion and they breezed through those in just over 30 minutes. The only reason it took that long was due to the discussion over sign variances on the Legacy property.

The lengthy discussion concerned temporary signs for 800 acres of property involving commercial and personal real property. The city staff, thinking they were going to breeze through this were taken by surprise by the concerns Commissioner Sam (may I call you Sam?) Altowaiji had over size and number of signs. Eventually, the remaining commissioners (two of them recused themselves) approved the ordinance.

Of course, one of the reasons they were able to breeze through the agenda was because they “suggested” going through without presentations. I’m not sure if that sat well with the city staff or if they were relieved they didn’t have to do another dog and pony show for an otherwise empty house while Jeff Thompson pretended to look fascinated. As was pointed out, the staff reports attached to the published agenda have all the information.

Let’s hope they remember that in future meetings.

Community Development Department Director Elizabeth Binsack did report on the Second Community Core Workshop, saying the turnout was very good (it was, I was there) and they received a few comments and suggestions they are considering. The consultants they hired to put this together have done a nice job on the inclusiveness tact.

Barring unforeseen presentations, Tuesday night’s planning commission meeting should go just about as quick as December’s. Only one public hearing is scheduled for a Conditional Use Permit.

Item 2, Conditional Use Permit 2014-22, would establish a dance studio on Bentley Circle near Walnut and Tustin Ranch Road. Actually the applicant, South Coast Performing Arts, has been in Tustin at the Ralphs Shopping Center on Irvine Blvd. since 2005. Business must be good.

The application and report look pretty in-depth save for a couple of items the commissioners should be asking about.

First, the city seems to put an incredible emphasis on environmental health. This building has been used, since 1979, for industrial application. The last use prior to this was as an electronics manufacturer. In my experience, electronics involved a lot of nasty chemicals and solvents for cleaning. Still, no testing or CEQA required before allowing children into the area?

The other item, and I admit it is a small one, is the inclusion of a “homework” room in the plans (right in the middle, Elizabeth). It sounds like this may be used when parents drop their kids off early or pick them up late ala (not-so-) free babysitting. Have those bodies been included in the max number of people at the facility? Just asking, and maybe the commissioners should, too.

That should be it for the week. Hopefully, the commissioners won’t want to spend a lot of time on their personal holiday antics. I’m not sure I want to hear about green bean casseroles gone awry.

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