Category Archives: Tustin City Commissions
You may have noticed that I have been writing a few stories from around the county rather than about our town Tustin. That’s because, like many of you, I have been patiently waiting the production of the video for the May 7, 2013 meeting. Unfortunately, it looks as if we may be waiting quite awhile. As happened several months ago, the city has either delayed placing the video on their website, for some reason or, there were technical problems. My sources say that it is the latter. If the video does show up, we will report on it. In the meantime, here is the rundown of the upcoming Tustin City Council Special Council Meeting on May 13th as well as the regular Tustin Planning Commission on May 14th.
City Council Special Meeting
I’m not sure why the single item on the City Council Agenda was so urgent that our good councilpersons needed to fill an extra meeting to approve it. This is the same Item that appeared as Item 5 on the April 23, 2013 Planning Commission agenda last month. The Planning Commission did, with some amendments, approve the General Plan Amendment and Land Exchange Agreement between the city and South Coast Community College District. This is pretty much a straight land swap but it also calls for a new street that would add traffic to the area. The city of Irvine related their concern over the change in traffic patterns but were assured the Average Daily Trips would remain under the total that would trigger a new EIR. Of course, the residents in the Legacy may differ with that when the new street is built.
In any case, this appears to be pro forma and we are not really sure what the hurry was that a special meeting had to be called. Hopefully, the city will have repaired its video equipment before the meeting so we can all find out what the urgency was.
Planning Commission Meeting
It would appear the tour Community Development Director Elizabeth Binsack spoke of last meeting did not come to fruition. There have been no notices published on the city’s website as she said there would. Maybe before the next meeting.
Only one item of realy interest on the agenda tonight. That is a Public Hearing for a variance to construct an additional bedroom on an existing house without having to add additional garage facilities. The house is located in the neighborhood North of Irvine Blvd. and East of the 55 Freeway. Several remodeling and additions have been completed over the years and the staff are recommending, due to space considerations, approval of the variance. Unless there is some outrage by the neighbors, I doubt there will be much to discuss here.
The only other item on the agenda is the staff Summary of Projects
Mixed-use Hotel Project – It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that construction is well along on the new hotels near the Microcenter. This, to me, is the single biggest and most important project of the year, business-wise. Kudos to Elizabeth and her staff as well as the planning commissioners and the former city council for have a sense of vision when it came to this project. Several changes have been made to the original plans, all of which have been thoughtfully considered before approval. This project is not just a direct moneymaker but will generate income for the city and our businesses, indirectly, as well.
Goodwill Industries of Orange County – This project, a high-end secondhand store, met with opposition from former Councilwoman Deborah Gavello, who said she had issues with the type of store. In discussions with her, we found she had issues with Goodwill Industries (she’s not the only one). Staff are reporting the makeover of the store in Larwin Square is nearly finished and we look forward to seeing it open.
A new florist has opened its doors in an old florist’s habitat on the corner of El Camino Real. For years, we saw the dated florist shop as rather anachronistic, even for Old Town. We only shopped their once before taking our business elsewhere. The new shop, Elegant Hive Distinctive Flowers and Gifts opened last month with little fanfare. We look forward to a long future for the owners of this boutique flower shop.
Vintage Lady – The building nearly burned down last year. It has been a long process to restore this historic building. Old Town Tustin’s Nathan Menard contributed heavily in time and effort to getting this project going again.
Newport Avenue Bicycle Trail Reconstruction Project – OK, we have ridden this trail hundreds of times over the years and did not see a problem with it. But, if you want to make it look pretty, go ahead. It’s grant funded through OCTA funds.
Rawlins Reservoir – Construction of the replacement reservoir has begun and will be completed by the summer of 2013.
Tustin Legacy – Over 1000 apartments in three separate complexes are scheduled to be built in the next few years at the Legacy. As well, staff are reporting the Columbus Square neighborhood to be complete with the addition of 124 homes and townhomes that have been built and occupied (is it time for TUSD to reconsider reopening Heritage?). Additionally, the Fire Station 37 Relocation construction has been awarded to Erickson-Hall Construction Company. Groundbreaking took place in February. It will take about a year to complete.
The Bad – Graffiti. The city doesn’t say whether there is an upward or downward trend but reported 1634 incidents for the first four months of this year. From experience, I can tell you there is a surge in gang and tagging activity in Orange County. Tustin’s gang population is comparatively low but, remember, we live next door to the city with the highest number of gangs, per square mile, in Orange County.
This should make for a fairly quick night for our intrepid commissioners. Unless they have absolutely nothing to do with their private lives, I make the meeting at way under an hour.
As expected, much of the evening at city hall last night was spent fawning over a couple of former planning commissioners who, we presume, are moving on to greener pastures. Both Ken Eckman and Fred Moore a couple of the only paid gigs in city service as they either termed out or decided on their own to move on.
The rest of the evening was spent with the commissioners hearing themselves talk, congratulate staff for the great job they always do and repeat nearly everything said in the various presentations.Unfortunately for them there were not many folks in the audience this time around as no one really cares if the staff want a berm to protect the street view aesthetics in front of a new Starbucks.
Speaking of, however, one of our newest commissioners, Ryder Smith (oh, I’m going to have fun with that name over the next two years), brought up a very good concern about the proposed drive-thru Starbucks at the new hotels.
His concern was over the traffic coming South on Newport in front of the complex heading to the freeway on-ramp. “If anything, it’s potentially a near term risk for this development during the 3 to 6 o’clock traffic because it backs up along that street..” He went on to say that he did not know how the installation of a traffic signal will affect the situation.
We, of course, brought up the same concern in our last post. There really did not seem to be much discussion on the issue as the staff, seeing sale tax revenue before their eyes, quickly blew it off and there was no more discussion before the vote. Smith seemed to think it was outside the purview of the Planning Commission. Really? If the Planning Commission can’t discuss this or bring their concerns to staff, why are they meeting, Ryder? We’ll chalk it off to his being a newbie but hope he mans up in the future.
Most of the rest of the evening was spent discussing the General Plan Amendment for the MCAS that would include an agreement for a new street to accommodate the college district. The new street generated some discussion by Jeff Thompson on the increase in traffic caused by the addition of a new backbone street. Staff scrambled to allay the fear of the commissioners over the 10,000 trips that would be generated in the area. After listening to the discussion, I am not sure why there was no opposition from the folks who live in the Legacy over the number of trips. In any case, staff appeared to satisfy the Thompson’s concerns over this and the land use as a whole as he, along with the other kids voted to approve.
At the close of the meeting, Elizabeth Binsack announced there may be a tour before the next regular meeting and that it would be properly noticed. At one time, I was invited by the city’s former public information officer, Lisa Woolery, to sit on the bus with them. That was, of course, before we had our falling out and before Lisa, who has since taken a job with Wells Fargo, had her falling out with the city. Perhaps Elizabeth will extend the same courtesy. I promise to be nice.
It’s good to be back in SoCal. We spent a long weekend in the gold country last week for a convention and apologize for the lack of articles. It has been a busy week around the nation and locally as well. We’ll try to catch up on things this week.
Locally, the Tustin Planning Commission will begin the evening with a workshop beginning at 6 pm. According to the agenda, the “Housing Element” is intended to provide various updates and input to the Housing Element including an update schedule and discussion of public participation. It’s interesting neither a staff report or copy of the presentation is attached to the workshop agenda. It is, however, supposed to be available at the Community Development Department during business hours.
On the regular meeting agenda, beginning at 7 pm, there are three public hearings. Prior to that, however, the boys have to hand off proclamations and certificates of appreciation to former commissioners Ken Eckman and Fred Moore. We join the rest of the commissioners in saying thanks and so long. Both Moore and Eckman are Amante holdovers and it is probably just as well they move on. In the grand scheme of things, they neither helped nor hindered progress in our fair city. Both of them readily caved on the most important issue of the past year, the Wilcox Manor debacle. So, the loss of their expertise is no big loss.
At first glance, I thought the first Public Hearing item was a repeat of the April 9th hearing on a fitness gym on Chambers Road. A second glance made me realize this is another fitness gym intending to do business in the same area. This particular business has actually been around awhile but they are looking to expand into a larger location. The location under consideration already houses another fitness type of business so this should pretty much be a no-brainer for the commissioners. The only question is, how long will we have to hear these folks talk to themselves over petty issues regarding the project that they will, undoubtedly, approve.
The second Public Hearing of the evening is for a Conditional Use Permit for a Starbucks that will be located in the complex with the new Marriott and Fairfield Inn hotels behind Microcenter and adjacent to the freeway. The Starbucks will have a drive-thru and they are also asking for modifications to the signage. Issues of concern seem to be the aesthetics of the drive-thru which will be located on the front side of the building facing Newport Avenue. The staff feel the addition of a berm with shrubs will hide the cars (as if anyone wold really care) from the street view. My concern would be that the planned que only holds 12 cars. Does staff really think that is enough for a rush hour at Starbucks? I seriously wonder how many of the staff drink coffee? I foresee cars lined up on Newport to get in the place. Seriously, this should not be a factor in determining whether the use should be allowed. It fits with the retail aspect of the overall project and, if a bush or two allays the staff concerns then approval is in order.
The final Public Hearing is on General Plan Amendment 2013-001. It seems the South Coast Community College District would like to add a new local street on their part of the MCAS property. It would also make substantial changes to the plan by allowing private, non-educational uses and increasing allowable building square footages in the Education Village. A land exchange is also in the works. The considered work was enough to cause the city to prepare an addendum to the Environmental Impact Report.
So, there you have it. Not a whole lot to pique our interest but enough to keep the band of brothers busy for a couple of hours as they justify their stipends. Maybe the crew can get the new fitness folks to give them a few freebies. I see more than one pot belly peeking out from the dais.
Just a couple of items on the Tustin City Planning Commission agenda this week. One of them, however, could engender quite a bit of discussion. That is, unless the commissioners choose to, once again, violate the Brown Act (with the city attorney’s blessing, of course). More on that later.
First up is a Public Hearing for a Conditional Use Permit to use an existing warehouse as a commercial gym. Spectrum Fitness is planning a small, personal trainer type facility in a warehouse area of the city. The proposed use is a gym catering to “small group high intensity workouts”. The facility would be open early morning until mid-evening. The area, located on Chambers Road, west of the freeway near Tustin Ranch Road, is rife with warehouse and manufacturing facilities and noise should not be a problem. The applicant expects 16 attendees per class and classes run about an hour at a time. the staff report assures the Planning Commission of adequate parking and required facilities to accommodate the gym. According to the report, the project is exempt from CEQA. It looks like a good fit for the community. Let’s hope the folks on the Planning Commission think so as well.
The second item is also a Public Hearing on Ordinance 1429, Zoning Code Update. This is the same item on the February 26th agenda and I still have the same concerns regarding the minor text amendments “that would incorporate policy practice into the Zoning Code.” The cited example was the requirements in policy for guest quarters to have a deed restriction recorded. Again, the lack of transparency is appalling but not surprising for this bunch. Apparently, I was not the only one to express concern as Chad Ortlieb submitted a letter of concern at the March 12th meeting. That meeting also generated discussion among the commissioners including Jeff Thompson and Fred Moore, who stated emphatically the comments and concerns raised by Ortlieb be thoroughly reviewed and considered even though the comment period had closed. Moore apparently took issue with the staff splitting hairs on the comment period closing a scant couple of hours before Ortlieb got his letter in.
Ortlieb, who is a former city planner with Tustin and currently works for the city of Orange, has expressed concern over the city’s handling of the Wilcox debacle. He has been a more vocal opponent of the plans to turn the historic manor into a three ring circus for the benefit of outside non-profit organizations who have little stake in how the planned commercialization would affect the Old Town neighborhood. In his letter to the city, he accuses the Planning Commission of violating the Brown Act in not allowing the proposal to be fully discussed in a public hearing as he was cut off when attempting to speak at the February 26th meeting.
The staff report includes an almost line by line response to Ortlieb’s allegations. One of those is the city attorney’s response to the alleged Brown Act violation. The city attorney defends the commissioner’s actions by saying they have a right to place reasonable regulation for each speaker (we’ll note that is not each individual, but all speakers in general – something Ortlieb pointed out). Kendig’s explanation drones on into how the courts have upheld these regulations and then says, emphatically, there was no Brown Act violation. Of course, the only trouble with this is whether the spirit of the law or the letter of the law was violated. So much for open and accessible government. But, then, we know Kendig has no problem with the public being involved with the legislative process – as long as it doesn’t interfere with people who run the show.
Oh, and lest you think the city is not planning on destroying Old Town, page 4 of their response indicates they have already made up their mind:
Wilcox Manor applicants requested a CUP for outdoor event uses. They did so under a special provision and because the site is within the Cultural Resource (CR) District and Single Family Residential (R`) District…. the Tustin City Council may consider a proposed non-listed use of a property within the CR District when the use supports the purposes of the CR District… The Planning Commission recommended approval of the requested use to the City Council with conditions.
Uh, huh. Also, with the whole-hearted approval of Community Services Director, Elizabeth Binsack, who’s department has gone out of their way to appease the owners of the Wilcox. That, presumably, is in support of the majority faction of the city council, all of whom have received direct and indirect support by use of the facilities for political fundraising.
So, let’s see how the commissioners handle the issues and whether they will pass the ordinance with the unsubstantial amendments made by city staff. I should note that most of Ortlieb’s concerns have been blown off in the latest staff response. It remains to be seen whether Thompson’s and Moore’s concerns were genuine or just whitewash for the public. I see the paintbrush coming out.