Category Archives: Politics

Oooops!

sorryEvery once in awhile, we make a boo boo which our readers are more than happy to point out.

In this case, we erred slightly when we told you that Melissa Figge of the Tustin Preservation Conservancy was going through the neighborhood, passing around flyers on the Conservancy’s opposition to the code amendment for second units appearing on Tuesday’s city council agenda.

Linda Jennings of the Conservancy Board emailed me to state, emphatically, the flyer did not say the Conservancy opposed the ordinance. “The flyer only says that we want everyone to hear the proposal and express their opinion”, she wrote.

Going back over the flyer, it does say just that at the bottom of the flyer. And, nowhere does it flatly state the Conservancy is opposed to the ordinance. However, it does outline a variety of issues that the ordinance would affect such as parking density and rental income for owners of second units.

If I were to read this without having a conversation with Melissa or anyone else from the Conservancy, I would infer (as I did) the Conservancy is opposed to the ordinance. To be fair, however, I’ll take Linda’s word for it that the Tustin Preservation Conservancy merely wants those living in Old Town to be informed and to speak their mind at the city council meeting.

So, did they?

Who knows? The city, which has had their share of problems with their video system managed to recess before the presentation by city planner Scot Reeskin and did not restart until Councilman John Nielsen started blathering about mother-in-law houses. I’m sure John was trying to get a point across. He just wasn’t doing a very good job of it.

Once again, Linda Jennings came to the rescue saying there were about 50 folks from OTT. Only a few spoke, with most of them against the ordinance. Linda said, “One mother was very moving, talking about why she moved here and how she doesn’t want to see it change.”

I also heard Lindburgh McPherson of the Wilcox Business Plaza in the West OTT spoke….in favor of it, of course. McPherson, and his buddy Silent Mike, are all for anything that will ruin the flavor of Old Town if it will make a buck for someone.

Councilman Nielsen did manage to blurt out his feelings on the parking issue, one that most of us have a concern about. But, it was Councilwoman Beckie Gomez who took it a step further by saying the parking in Old Town is already something the city should be looking at even without this ordinance. Calling it a dangerous situation, Gomez called for more parking enforcement and further resolution to the parking problems Old Town is experiencing.

Gomez also clarified what she thought was a misconception that the affordable housing mandate was being laid on the backs of Old Town residents. Saying the city is addressing the issue in different parts of the city, she inferred that was not the case. I’m not sure if whe misunderstood the issue or wanted to make sure they were being fair.

It was the city that raised the affordable housing mandate in the ordinance. The inference was clear that this was part of the ordinance. But the mandate is citywide, not just for Old Town. And if, as Gomez says, the city already has affordable housing in other parts of the city, why would it even be necessary to address it at all in Old Town, one of the most unaffordable areas? Old Town owners will charge a premium for the privilege of living in their historical district. I seriously doubt anyone would accept an affordable housing mandate on their second unit.

Gomez also pointed out that, if more than a few owners decide to build second units, it would definitely affect the character of the historical district, a concern shared by most of us.

After extended discussion with the city staff, the council voted to continue the item until a time when the staff could figure out parking and other issues associated with it. I’m not sure where that puts the status of the ordinance as normally there would be two readings and a vote to enact. But these folks, in an effort to not create liability on themselves, have to make even the easiest ordinance difficult. What this really told me is that no palms have been greased, ala the OC Business Council and John Nielsen. Perhaps they are waiting for someone to show up with money in hand.

In other business, the city council voted to approve the Veterans Memorial Preferred Concept Plan. This presentation by city staff went off without a hitch and councilmembers got a nice view of the concept.

Allan Bernstein commented that the inclusion of a Purple Heart Memorial at the park was absolutely imperative. We agree. We were also surprised that Allan could say the entire thing without glancing at his notes (or was that the Dodger score on his iPad?).

City Manager Jeff Parker Let us know exactly what and who is behind the drive for Assembly Bill 1217. This bill would reduce the number of members on the OCFA Board and give the County a larger say while reducing the same in cities like ours. Assemblyman Tom Daly, a well known lacky for the public unions, is carrying water for the Orange County firefighters union who hope to have more access to the Board (read influence during negotiations), according to Parker.

Parker said that every city who is a member of the board has opposed this measure. That is, except for Santa Ana, which would get an automatic vote at the table. Some omen, Jeff. Saying the city managers and city councils were trying to send a message, Parker essentially said the state has no business getting into the workings of a local district. Well, looking at Daly’s history with unions, it is no wonder why he is sponsoring this bad bill. The city council voted to send their own message by opposing the measure.

Veterans First and Last at Tustin City Council Meeting

It’s always a pleasure to see The American Legion Post 227 post the Colors at the Tustin City Council Meeting. I’m a former member of their post and know each of them. I am humbled to call them brothers in arms. At the April 7th meeting the kids from the Tustin Boys and Girls Club were also on hand to sign the Pledge of Allegiance in ASL. Very cute.

As expected, the Closed Session Report made no mention of the consultation with Chief of Police Celano on the listed threat to public services or facilities. The City Attorney, David Kendig, did say that the three claims against the city were all denied. We’ll let you know if we find anything juicy to report.

Along with the opening ceremonies, there were several speakers including the Boys and Girls Club. A PowerPoint presentation gave a brief history of the 50 year alliance of the Boys and Girls Club and the city.

Jim Palmer of the Orange County Rescue Mission also presented a video on the Veterans Task Force and discussed veterans services in Orange County. The professional video features several veteran residents of the Mission’s Village of Hope and how they have been helped by the organization. It’s a great video. We liked it so much, we included it here.

Of course, this segued into councilman John Nielsen’s current pet project listed as Item 7, Formation of Veterans Advisory Ad-hoc Committee. Nielsen first proposed this committee or commission last month and asked city staff to look into its formation. Given Nielsen’s former dislike for anything veteran, I was immediately suspicious. And, while I laud the city’s newfound partnership with veterans organizations, I still have to wonder if Nielsen doesn’t have ulterior motives aimed toward higher office. I’m not sure what all another committee can do above what the Orange County Veterans Task Force already does but, I am all for anything for our veterans.

So, Nielsen gets his wish and the ad-hoc committee will be formed. Prior to the vote, he had to say what he outlined as the logical progression, citing a USC study and specifically naming as members city council and the Orange County Rescue Mission. I don’t think the significance of former councilman Jim Palmer running that organization was lost on anyone in the room.

The big question is, how will any committee or commission formed by the Tustin City Council affect veteran affairs in our part of the county. Lacking any funding source for programs to fill in those “holes” Nielsen talked about, the commission is likely to go no further than discussion. That may be the point. In fact, I predict this committee will continue, at least in name, until November 2016 and then quietly fade away.

On The City Council Agenda – April 7, 2015

Hidden Agenda ClipartThe Closed Session business on this week’s Tustin City Council may take longer to shuffle through than the Open Session. The Closed Session will be split with the city council re-convening for labor negotiations discussions at the end of the Regular Meeting.

One interesting item on the Closed Session Agenda is a consultation with the chief of police regarding a threat to public services or facilities. It’s hard to imagine anyone seriously considering harm to our sleepy little town’s civic structure. Of course, labor negotiations are commencing….

Three liability claims and the usual real estate negotiations round out the Closed Session.

Although a Public Hearing on the Community Development Block Grant consolidated plan and action plan head up the Regular Session, I doubt there will be much discussion. This was supposed to be the second required public hearing on the report. Staff have apparently not had enough time to do what they do. So, they are asking for a continuance.

There is not a lot on the Consent Calendar either, save for Item 6, Third Amendment to Contract with CR&R Incorporated.

The waste and recycling police are at it again with another rate increase. I am not and will never be a fan of, what I believe robber baron tustinis, one of the worst waste management companies a city ever had the displeasure of being stuck with. Their equipment, although supposedly “green”, is frequently broken down and the trash bins they use are of the worst quality (I’ve had three of them break). Nonetheless, they provide their fair share of campaign funding to the City Council and their aspirants. So, don’t expect anything besides a quick 5-0 vote to accommodate them. There are some ancillary items city staff are also recommending that might be of interest. You can read the staff report here.

The sole item under Regular Business is the establishment of a Veteran’s Advisory and Ad Hoc Committee. This is John Nielsen’s baby and, as we previously opined, a ploy for him to try and get back in good graces with the veterans in the city. Let’s not forget that there are strong indications that Nielsen intends to run for the legislature. We previously wrote about his anti-veterans collaboration with Amante.

Now, it seems, he is smart enough to know he needs the veterans on his side. Perhaps this and the recent applause for the Veterans Memorial will get him back in their good graces.

As I said, the labor negotiations discussions follow the Regular Session. Don’t expect to hear anything on their outcome for a few weeks. The increases in tax receipts, however, bode well for the rank-and-file employees if they don’t cave (against the reported advice of their negotiators) like they did last time.

Welcome to the Police State, Tustin Style

doomacracyThe first order of business for the Planning Commission a couple of weeks ago was to install the “new” commissioners whose terms had previously expired. What? You didn’t know there were expiring terms? Well, that’s because, thanks in large part to retired Irvine police officer and current Tustin Councilmember Al Murray, there was no announcement.

At the February 3rd meeting of the city council, Murray decided it was too much of an inconvenience, given the fact he had already made up his mind to vote for the incumbents, to actually advertise for and interview other aspiring candidates to the Planning Commission. “You know, we’ve gone through this process quite a bit and, one of the things we should consider is we have really, really good people on the current commissions and we entertain people in the community to go through somewhat rigorous interviews and, in many cases, we reaffirm who’s on there.”  Going on to claim he heard that the process was futile for most and they would lose heart, he apparently felt the kindest thing to do was save them the heartbreak.

Alan Bernstein, who hasn’t had an original thought since he was elected to the city council, quickly chimed in with some diatribe about how everything is wonderful in the city of Tustin so, we don’t need to bother with a longstanding policy. Mayor Chuck Puckett quickly agreed, breathing a sigh of relief he wouldn’t have to come early to the next city council meeting just to interview a bunch of wannabes.

Unsurprisingly, Councilwoman Beckie Gomez spoke out against maintaining the status quo of simple re-appointment. Saying that there are always applicants in numbers for available positions, she wanted the opportunity to interview and examine applications for the best persons for the job.

The biggest shock of the evening was Councilman John Nielsen agreeing with Gomez that the process is necessary. Nielsen recalled recent history where incumbents had, in fact, been ousted in favor of new applicants. He also correctly stated that applicants have a tendency to become involved with civic affairs in other venues such as the Tustin Community Foundation (hmmm…). Wow. John and I actually agree.

After a lengthy 8 minute discussion on the issue, a motion was made by Puckett (I guess, hoping to take the heat off Murray) to forego city policy and fairness in favor of cronyism. The motion was quickly seconded by Bernstein. The split vote, with Nielsen and Gomez dissenting, was cast and that’s why you didn’t get your notice on commission openings.

Puckett was on hand at the next Planning Commission meeting to re-appoint three commissioners, Austin Lumbard, Steve Kozak and Ryder Smith. Now I might want to point out that, while not all planning commissioners are future candidates for the city council, it has been heard around town (mostly by his dad shooting off his mouth) that Austin Lumbard will be running for a seat. That would be the seat of termed out Mayor pro tem John Nielsen next year. You may want to keep this bit of information close as you read further.

With no public speakers on hand to liven things up, the commissioners moved on to regular business. Most of the items were routine including the approval of a new Old Town home for the historic register.

A Design Review on the request by the owners of the restored Jabberwocky building caused Jeff Thompson to leave the dais as he is a resident of Old Town. The review was prompted by the expiration of a prior agreement to use the city’s fee-based common street parking. The only discussion was when Ryder Smith, who obviously hasn’t paid attention to previous discussions on the subject, asked about the $60 per space cost. That initiated a full and complete (and boring) discussion of the why’s and wherefores of the fee-based parking. A 4-0 vote took care of the matter.

The only other item on the agenda and, by far the most important for Old Town residents, was the public hearing on a code amendment that would change the ordinance on second residential units.

The presentation by staff on the ordinance was simply a reiteration of the last public hearing on the issue. If you recall (or

The only known photo of Sam Altowaiji

The only known photo of Sam Altowaiji

look at my writeup), that hearing resulted in more work for the planning commission as former city staffer and current commissioner Altowaiji asked to accommodate the large property owners by slicing them out of the deal. That initiated a lengthy discussion that led to several failed votes and a final vote to continue the item until this meeting.

Scott Reeskin, a Senior Planner with the city, explained all of this in the most current presentation. The suggestions were all over the place and, in the case of Altowaiji, reflected his obvious sense of elitism by indicating he favored an enhanced ordinance for lots 12,000 square feet and over. Now, mind you, Altowajai nearly recused himself because of his realty holdings and his wife’s realty business that often find them in Old Town.

So, what was City Planner Scott Reeskin’s reply to the commission’s meddling suggestions?
Phfffffffffthththththtttttttttttt!!!!!

Citing state law on affordable housing and the requirements to keep any structures in Old Town “compatible” with the neighborhood, Reeskin’s presentation basically said the suggestions would not fly. He then chided the council, advising them to remember their role and responsibility in maintaining the Cultural Resources District.

Reeskin pointed out the cold, hard facts. Either of the alternatives to the current proposal would result in as many as two times the residential increase of the original proposal made by Binsack’s staff. While Reeskin was at it, he backed up his first punch by slapping down the commission’s idea that maybe the standards should be set citywide. Of course, that would initiate a major study and possibly affect the Cultural Resources District itself. Did they really want to do that?

Altowaiji was clearly perturbed at city staff for not taking his suggestions to heart. “Not allowing the lots with 12,000 the right to build as the right to build today is… not providing flexibility [read elitist status], is reducing their flexibility of doing what they needed to do.” So, perhaps that perceived conflict of interest reared its ugly head after all.

Altowaiji then went on to disrespect the Tustin residents who, at the earlier public hearing, voiced their opinions on the ordinance. Saying their opinions were “all over the map”, Altowaiji ranted that staff statistics were not realistic and that only two properties had even applied for second residential units.

At this point, I wondered if Altowaiji could hear himself speaking.

If Altowaiji’s ranting wasn’t enough, Elizabeth Binsack felt she had to justify/explain/excuse her staff for not coming up with the alternatives Altowaiji demanded at the last meeting. She did it quite deftly by shifting blame back to the commissioners who, she said, couldn’t agree on the original proposal.

What it came down to, she said, is city staff were confused about exactly what the commissioners wanted so they came back with the same proposal with ramifications of changing the proposal so they could see the error of their ways.

I don’t blame her. We were confused, too.

So, Altowaiji complained further, alleging discussions that did not occur at the last meeting. He then proposed a “phone” meeting, that smacks of violating the Brown Act, that would have cleared this up. Binsack, being nice but also showing that she was also getting ticked off, explained how that could not occur.

“I apologize if we missed the mark”, she said through clenched teeth. “We intended to correctly and professionally respond to what you asked for”. I have to say, that is the closest I’ve seen to Binsack losing it.

Future wannabe councilman Lumbard responded by explaining how he had trouble looking at more than one option at a time so he would rather not get into another long-winded discussion…..probably over something he had zero interest in anyway.

Another ten minutes of discussion and Altowaiji reiterating his elitist remarks, this time with the inference that anyone that didn’t like his motion was an idiot, a motion was made on the original proposal (with some recommendations to the council thrown in) by Commissioner Lumbard and seconded by Commissioner Kozak. The vote was 3-1 to send it on to the city council.

This is probably the most entertainment I’ve had since Jerry Amante left office. Watching another Little King rant and rave brought back memories. And the look on Elizabeth Binsack’s face as she patiently explained her position, well, it was like an old MasterCard commercial. It’s nice to know there are still hot topics to occasionally write about here in our town Tustin.

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