Category Archives: Politics

Yes, There’s a Meeting

Jeff Thompson Meeting for MeetingThe Planning Commission will have a pretty short meeting Tuesday, with only one item on the calendar. That, of course, is barring any lengthy comments from the public. There is also an ominous “presentation” by Elizabeth Binsack at the end of the evening regarding an unnamed subject.

The sole item of interest is on the Consent Calendar and, unless someone pulls it for discussion, it will pass along with the approval of the previous meeting’s minutes. The item, a request for a Use Determination and Conditional Use Permit, would allow Golubitsky Fencing Center to establish a training facility in a light industrial business park on Edniger Avenue near Redhill.

I’m not sure why it needed a sales pitch but, the description of the facility discusses Golubitsky’s involvement with fencing and his awards which includes a silver medal at the Olympics. In any case, it’s a great addition to the recreational venues available to Tustinites and the location is appropriate.

That’s probably a good thing because they have been operating out of this facility for awhile now and the city apparently just caught up with them. The location requires a CUP because “fencing” doesn’t appear in the city codes as an allowable activity (how short sighted). In any case, the city seems to like the idea hence the placement on the Consent Calendar.

Hot on the heels of the recent opening of the new El Camino Cafe in the Del Rio Building in Old Town Tustin, the city has finally released the draft Commercial Design Guidelines for the Cultural Resources District. If you are a glutton for punishment, the 194 page document can be found here. Remember, I warned you.

According to the introductory letter, the guidelines will be used for property preservation and development within the overlay district. It will also:

…provide enhancement or appendix for other city codes for features such as:

  • Business identification signs to help preserve and enhance the character of Old Town Tustin.
  • Tips for energy efficiency to promote sustainability in your project or property.
  • Ideas for landscaping on private property and the public right of way, and suggestions for improving the overall street environments.
  • Photos and graphics that help explain improvements that can be made to properties.
  • Resources and websitelinks to make it easier to find additional information.

Overall, having a comprehensive set of guidelines is important, particuarly to Old Town residents and businesses. Historically, however, city staff has taken a heavy hand toward anything that doesn’t meet their own personal standard of how the area should look. In addition, the city has a history of showing favoritism to certain residents and businesses. These folks have either been influential because of their standing in the community (not necessarily a bad thing) or their political contributions (a bad, bad thing).

Evidence the fact of the city’s real intent is in the draft guidelines. At one point in the introduction, the dissertation reads:

The Guidelines are intended to serve as a “yardstick” against which proposed projects may be measured. The Guidelines are not intended to be strict development standards as are found in the Zoning Ordinance. It is recognized that not all design principles or criteria may be workable or appropriate for each project, but all applicable projects are encouraged to follow the Guidelines to the greatest extent possible. Therefore, they may be interpreted by the City with some flexibility when applied to specific projects.

This, of course, gives the city an out in regard to how forcefully they will enforce the guidelines against individual businesses. In other words, if you are in, you are in – if you are out, you can kiss your project goodbye.

And, the issue comes to the forefront in regard to “new infill development”. Albeit, there are few lots in the business district in Old Town that are vacant, we do have some. A recent example is the Del Rio building that was built on the old Riteway Dry Cleaners. That lot had a business and an apartment on the rear of the lot. When the new owners wanted to develop the lot, they asked for a business on the first floor with a residence on the second floor (presumably owner-occupied). The city nixed the plan, saing that further contaminant testing would be required than was already accomplished. It should be interesting to see if they require the same depth of testing for the proposed restaurant and living quarters being built on the old auto parts store lot next to Mrs. B’s.

So, will the public or local business owners chime in on the draft plans? They should as this document will (or shold) be used to regulate future business and building in Old Town Tustin. This is probably the most important step toward reahbilitation of the area that should be as viable as the historic downtowns of Fullerton and Orange. And, it’s all in the hands of a (so-called) trusted few.

On the Planning Commission Agenda – February 25, 2014

paperbag guy

Only Known Photo of Sam Altowaiji

Jeff Thompson 2

Jeff Thompson

There is not much happening on the Planning Commission agenda this week. After last week’s near riot at the Tustin City Council meeting, the city staff are probably thankful for a little boredom.  There are no public hearings but city staff will present the draft of the Commercial Design Guidelines for the Cultural Overlay District.

The Agenda Item states the draft is ready to be released on the city website and to stakeholders for a 30 day review period. Interestingly, the city does not consider the local residents of Old Town to be stakeholders. As this is our area of town, one would think they are interested in what the city intends to do with it, commercially or otherwise. Of course, the residents of the area have never been much of a consideration for the Community Development Department.

We only have a copy of the memo to the Planning Commission to go on as well. Apparently, the city didn’t think enough to include any presentation or the guidelines handbook itself. So, we’ll just have to wait until the city updates their website.

If the memo gives us any hint, the design guidelines are established to keep a sense of continuity in Old Town (a good thing) while allowing a degree of flexibility in design and use of materials. The handbook will also address “adaptive reuse” where a historic structure is repurposed for another use. This sort of happened at the Utt Juice Building where the original structure was torn down and live/work lofts were built. Some of the brick used in the original structure was reused in the facade of the new building. Hey, at least it is something.

In any case, the CDG is also supposed to go hand in hand with the RDG (Residential Design Guidelines). Maybe after this, they can finish up the second structure issue.

The only other item on the agenda, this week, is the 2013 General Plan Annual Report for the MCAS Tustin Specific Plan. The plan is required to be approved by the city council and staff are asking for permission to send it along. This is a routine item but, in case you haven’t seen it before (or your a glutton for punishment)  you can access is here. Warning, it is 213 pages long.

That’s it for the week. Congratulations to Sam and Jeff for their reappointment. It’s no real surprise and one wonders, if the incumbents were re-applying, why they bothered extending the timeframe for folks to apply to the commission. A lot of good applicants in the field that had their bubble burst thinking they might have a shot. That’s politics.

Not Just No But, HELL No!

Credit: The Liberal OC

Credit: The Liberal OC

Union Rejects County Offer

The doors on the Orange County Employees Association had barely closed at the end of Friday’s business day when the word went out by phone and email that members of the county’s largest public union had overwhelmingly turned down the Board of Supervisors’ “last, best and final offer”.

The rejection comes at the heels of the slim acceptance by the Association of Orange County Deputy Sheriffs, who voted to approve a contract that forces deputies to pay their fair share of county retirement costs.

OCEA Spokesperson, Jennifer Muir, said that county employees saw the offer for what it was – an attempt to bully them into accepting a bad deal against threats that, if they didn’t accept, politicians on the Board of Supervisors would make it worse for them in the future.

The Board of Supervisors proposed these cuts at the same time as they accepted a pay raise for themselves—a raise that just showed up on their paychecks and was awarded retroactively to July.And it happens at the same time as they continue voting to approve multi-million dollar contracts to their campaign contributors.

Supervisors Shawn Nelson and John Moorlach, a career politician with an eye on Federal Office, both said the offer was warranted by the $73 million dollars in property tax disputed by the state last year. Moorlach stated, “We’re dealing with a situation where the state has made our budget gong forward very austere.

What was not lost on either side was the fact that county managers would receive a 1.25 percent raise after going through mediation following the county’s last, best and final offer to that group. Also receiving a raise this year would be the Board of Supervisors themselves, who got an automatic 1.4 percent raise as their pay is set to that of judges. Although it was Governor Jerry Brown who set that in motion, it is the county that will pay for their raises through the General Fund.

Moorlach quickly set about doing damage control by publicly announcing his effort to see if he could turn down the raise. However, it is not likely to erase the fact that, for years, he refused to give up his county pension, saying he would wait until the law was changed before he would give it up. At the time, Supervisors’ pensions were funded one hundred percent by the county.

Both Nelson and Moorlach, the only Supervisors to respond to the union’s rejection, neglected to say the $72 million dollar property tax dispute they blamed for the no-raise offer, was the direct result of the Board’s failure to mitigate the dispute despite legal counsel to the contrary.

From a Voice of OC article:

When the county officials financed the billion-dollar bankruptcy in 1995, state officials allowed them to send a portion of their vehicle license fees directly to bond holders. But in 2007, when the county refinanced its debt, the legislative authorization for the special license fees was not included.

Despite warnings that the authorization should be quickly reestablished, county legislative leaders, lobbyists and staff did not act. The intercept, as its known, was not addressed in any subsequent county legislative platform or by the county’s main lobbyist, Platinum Advisors.

The general consensus at OCEA is, the real problem is the sour relationship the Republican Party keeps with the state legislature. Indeed, more than one Orange County Republican legislator has suffered the wrath of an unkind Democratic majority. Supervisor Todd Spitzer, a former Assemblyman, was forced into an office in the Capitol that is so small it is often referred to as “the doghouse”.

OCEA General Manager, Nick Berardino, was succinct in a written statement to union members. Saying corruption investigations and “pay-to-play tactics” caused the Board of Supervisors to target county workers who stood up to them and exposed corrupt practices. “It’s just like last year, when the Grand Jury issued reports about the “culture of corruption” in Orange County Government. The Board responded, he said, by attempting to cut their pay.

In his message, Berardino called for a cleanup of the corrupt practices and said that union members will stand with the Grand Jury and law enforcement agencies in cleaning up the county.

Berardino is also the subject of an assault investigation by the Santa Ana Police Department. County negotiating officials allege Berardino threatened and pushed a negotiator at the last bargaining session when the County’s ultimatum was delivered. Santa Ana Police are not forthcoming with information. OCEA says that no assault occurred and the County is grandstanding to bolster its position.

The next step for union members, who have not seen a raise in more than seven years, is mediation. If mediation does not result in a satisfactory agreement, arbitration will follow. A final resolution could be as much as a year off.

On the City Council Agenda – October 1, 2013

transparent governmentTwo Public Hearings head up the Tustin City Council meeting tonight. Prior to that, the dais will be treated to several presentations, including one for The American Legion Boys State Program made by The American Legion Post 227. We understand they fielded two candidates to Sacramento this year for a week of running a shadow government. Our personal opinion is they could do a much better job than our current crop of legislators.

The first Public Hearing will be to issue water revenue bonds in the amount of $15 million dollars. The money is ostensibly to be used for repair/replacement of the Simon Ranch Reservoir Booster Pump Station and Pipeline as well as the Tustin Avenu Well Replacement Project.

If we recall correctly, these items had been the subject of approved water bonds several years earlier when Deborah Gavello was around. It could just be a coincidence, however. Let’s not forget the city has allegedly been considering the purchase, either directly or indirectly, of desalinated water from the planned Poseiden Plant under negotiation in Huntington Beach. One has to wonder why anyone in this part of Orange County, with such a vast aquifer, would require water that reportedly will be selling for three times the price of local water.

One thing we agree with is the city’s consultants who have determined that, if you must issue bonds, this is a great time to do it, while rates are low.

The second Public Hearing will be on the City’s Housing Element Update. This is probably more technical than reality driven. A public workshop was held in April and the results have been incorporated into the proposed plan. Most of the response had been in the area of updating the plan for affordable and special needs housing. You can see the report here.

A couple items on the consent calendar should be pulled for discussion.

The first is Item 5, which calls for the electronic storage of records. It is a great idea and we are surprised out Community Development Director is just now thinking about it (although the last time the city got rid of records, they tried to use it against an Old Town Resident).

This deserves discussion if only for the fact that there is no indication the project went out to bid. Further, the item description is a bit confusing and it is unclear until one looks at the resolution whether it is for both the scanning and destuction (it is) or just the destruction of the documents. The report also states there is no fiscal impact. We seriously doubt ECS is providing their services for free. Likewise, it’s doubtful the city will just dump these records in the trash. Using a document destruction company will engender costs. And, have either been budgeted for or are funds expected to come out of reserves?

The city seems to be struggling with the strategic plan. Item 8 calls for a rejection of all recently received bids on the graffiti abatement contract. The reason? Staff can’t keep their records straight and allegedly put out obsolete data on the RFP.

The only other Item of note on the Agenda, is Item 9, Recommendation of the Finance Director’s Appointment as the City Treasurer. We previously said it would be a wise move for the city council to appoint the Finance Director, Pamela Arend-King, as the permanent Treasurer for the city. However, we do not see the minimal added duties as warranting an increase in salary of over $8 thousand dollars plus a commensurate boost in pension benefits.

If you remember, our former City Treasurer George Jeffries, a well-respected member of the financial and (Republican) political community, netted a salary of $4 thousand dollars a month for the exact same duties that Arends-King would be taking on as an addition to her “regular” duties.

There is no other justification for such a raise during this phase of the city’s economic recovery. It is also a slap in the face to the rank-and-file employees who just recently concluded a largely give-back contract with the city that resulted in zero pay raises for the majority of employees. Don’t look to this lazy city council to do anything but acquiesce to the will of the new Boss Tweed, Jeff Parker.

That’s it for the week. If this was too much doom and gloom for you, we will remind you that Tustin Tiller Days is coming this weekend at Columbus Tustin Park. Don’t forget the annual Tiller Parade down Main Street in Old Town Tustin. We will be in our usual place on our front porch ready to say hi to the good councilmembers. We wonder how many will be willing to face Our Town Tustin. C’mon, guys, we just want to say hi.

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