Category Archives: Tustin City Commissions

Massage? Uh, Sure…….

massageWell, it was an interesting meeting of the Tustin Planning Commission last night. Wish I could have been there. This morning’s video was good for a laugh, anyway. Someone should tell Commissioner Ryder Smith the meeting is taped. The closeup of him chewing his cud on camera was priceless. Hope he isn’t running for councilman next year.

Well, I was wrong. I predicted a change-up of chair and pro tem. The commissioners, by obvious prior collusion, decided to keep Jeff Thompson and Austin Lumbard in their respective seats. Congratulations. Of course, Lumbard may be waiting until next year to be elevated to chair so he doesn’t have as long to embarrass himself before the city council elections.

I don’t know if the guy showing up with Lodestone Chiropractic owner Antoni Nguyen was a lawyer or not but he sure sounded like one. Denying Nguyen was running a massage parlor and stating that he had no employees, Mr. Dudeker (apologies on any misspelling) spent his time stumbling over words in an attempt to distance Nguyen from the independent contractor who blew the whistle on him in the first place. It took more than 20 minutes of questioning by Jeff Thompson (who missed his calling as an attorney) and the others to ferret out the real truth that Nguyen did lie on his application.

Probably the most compelling speaker to complain about the business activities was a 19 year old young lady who lives in the area. Saying that she and her friends had been approached numerous times by strange men who park in front of her house at all hours of the night, she asked the commissioners to do the right thing for the neighborhood and shut the business. And, they did. On a 5 to 0 vote, the commissioners upheld the staff recommendation to invalidate Nguyen’s business license.

Over the past few years, the city has been dealing more and more with massage parlor type businesses. While it can be difficult to discern legitimate businesses from sleazy parlor operations like the ones depicted on backpage.com, it is important for the city to continue to crack down on them when they can. And, our city has not done enough.

I can remember only one sting operation the police department has publicized in the past couple of years. In testimony over another massage parlor license about this time last year, an undercover officer told the city council he had been involved in a sting operation with an associated business. The discussion was pretty graphic and gave an understanding of just how sleazy and dangerous the massage parlor/sex trade business can be.

Our town Tustin, unfortunately, seems to have become a haven for “day spas”. I’m not saying they all run their operation with skimpy outfitted young ladies inferring sex upon payment is an option. But, at least some of them are. The city could be doing more to squelch these types of operation while allowing legitimate spas to conduct their business without this stigma hanging over their heads. No legitimate business is going to object to occasional, unannounced visits.

Last year, the governor signed a new law re instituting the California Massage Therapy Council as the governing board to certify massage therapists. A Certified Massage Therapist is required to undergo 500 hours of training to be certified. There are fingerprinting and background checks as well.

The CMTC has had its detractors, surprisingly, cities who want to keep more local control of massage therapists and businesses in the lucrative sex trade. Instead of objecting to the state certification, however, cities should embrace the state permitting system and look to tighten controls at that level. Any profession that requires the touching of hair, skin or other body parts, should undergo uniform requirements for certification. The city council-lauded Association of California Cities-OC, led by former police officer and Tustin Councilman Al Murray, could begin with asking for more stringent training and certification requirements.

While cosmetologists and barbers are required to undergo more than a year of full-time training, certified massage therapists are only required to take 500 hours and it may be “distance learning”, a euphemism for on-line school. Even manicurists are required to attend a 400 hour school in person. The ACCOC could create a policy venue to address this.

One of the most important arguments for state licensing and certification is the eradication of the sex trade. Like it or not, massage parlors are a breeding ground for slavery. If you think Tustin is immune, think again. That undercover officer who testified at the city council last year, gave a chilling indication that businesses that support the sex slavery are alive and well in our fair city. It’s time for our city and the police department to take another serious look and eliminate this blot on our community.

In the meantime, it might serve the city council to place a moratorium on massage parlor and day spa business licenses until they can figure out how to separate the legitimate provider from the sex slaver.

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On The Planning Commission Agenda – April 14, 2015

Wisam "Sam" Altowaiji Tustin Planning Commission

Wisam “Sam” Altowaiji
Tustin Planning Commission

This week’s meeting of the Tustin Planning Commission will be decidedly shorter than two weeks ago. Hopefully, Sam Altowaiji has come off his high horse and settled down again. At the last meeting, if you recall, he was pulled up short by Commmunity Development Director Elizabeth Binsack. Sam apparently thought that, as planning commissioner, he was Elizabeth’s boss. Sorry Sam, maybe you should confer with City Manager Jeff Parker for clarification about who runs what in the city. While you’re at it, ask him about the Brown Act and serial telephone meetings.

The first thing on the plate for the new/old planning commission is to elect their respective Chair and Vice-Chair. My bet is on Austin Lumbard to take the chair. Lumbard is reportedly (mostly by his dad) running for city council next year. It only seems natural that he demonstrate his leadership ability as chair of the planning commission. Hmmm. Let’s see, the affable but clueless Ryder Smith sounds like a good candidate for pro tem. But, the commisssioners may want to keep Jeff Thompson in there as he has experience with these sorts of things. The only bad thing about Jeff is he keeps recusing himself for anything that comes within 5 miles of Old Town.

Yes, like a bad penny, the resolution on Second Residential Units keeps coming back to haunt us. Fortunately, this time, it is just to rectify a staff mistake in numbering. With any luck, Altowaiji won’t attempt to turn this into another Binsack bashing.

The only other item of note on the agenda is a Public Hearing. Item 4, Appeal of Notice of Invalid Business License, should prove interesting if the owner shows up to defend himself.

Lodestone Chiropractic practices out of an office building on Irvine Boulevard. According to the staff report, the city became alerted to an irregularity in their business license when a massage therapist came in to obtain their business license as an independent contractor for “Lodestone Therapy”. It was noted then that the chiropractic business states on their license application they did not provide massage therapy services at their business. The ommission is what prompted a revocation of his license and this appeal.

Lodestone’s owner, Antoni Nguyen, defended his application by stating that he is a duly licensed chiropractor and, according to state law, massage is listed as a normal practice for chiropractors. So, Nguyen didn’t need to state that he offers massage therapy separately on the license.

Uh-huh……..

Well, I’ve been going to my chiropractor for 15 years and she also practices massage therapy. I think what the state had in mind was more in line with what she offers and how she offers it. Her massage is incidental to her chiropractic work and does not involve dressing up in skimpy outfits ala housemaid.

When the city looked into Nguyen’s business practices, they found a web ad on backpage.com for “Full Body Massage”, 7 days a week from 10am to 9pm. The accompanying photos show a young lady looking back over her shoulder while wearing a skimpy top. I seriously doubt she knows swedish massage techniques. As a matter of record, she is also not a licensed chiropractor.

Now, I don’t blame Nguyen a bit for taking the position he does in his appeal. State law specifically allows licensed chiropractors to provide massage as part of their therapy for a patient. But, the state law he cites is for licensing chiropractors, not their business. The city says he failed to note the massage therapy, provided by an independent contractor, on the license. This is pretty much a no-brainer. The length of the discussion, however, will depend on how much the commission wants to hear themselves talk as well as whether Altowaiji wants to somehow work this into another diatribe against Elizabeth Binsack.

In any case, I expect our fair city to be shy one more business supplying dubious “therapeutic massage”. While there are a few spas and independent massage therapists in Tustin offering legitimate services, there are at least as many the city should go after for illicit trade. Maybe Chief Celano can get a volunteer to run a sting operation and flush out the sex trade.

We always like a good laugh and this week’s meeting should provide a few. I’ll let you know if there is anything noteworthy to report.

Oh, if you want to look at the pictures, guys, they can be found in the staff report here.

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.

On The Planning Commission Agenda – February 24, 2015

Hidden Agenda ClipartUpdated 2/23/15 10:00 pm – 

Tuesday’s Planning Commission meeting agenda has only five items on it with two of those being routine Consent Calendar issues. Unless someone raises an issue with the 2014 General Plan Report, it should sail through on the vote.

Less likely to just sail through without comment is the Public Hearing, Item 3, Code Amendment 2015-01 – Second Residential Units in the Cultural Resource District. Two years ago, the city held community workshops on modifying second unit and guest home ordinances in Old Town Tustin. It looked like they would continue working on the matter when, suddenly, the project was dropped. The city’s response to inquiries was, “the study will be completed sometime but it is not a priority.” Huh.

So, the project languished for another year after workshops that more than 40 people attended. Supposedly, another workshop was held in 2013 but we can’t find any record of that or who may have attended. The project foundered again until the city revived the issue without warning or notice for this meeting.

In all, the proposed ordinance will eliminate the construction or remodeling of accessory buildings into guest rooms. At the same time, many of the former restrictions on 2nd units will be lifted, including that of minimum lot size. The proposed ordinance would also:

  • Eliminate maximum lot coverage (formerly 30% of rear and side yards)
  • Require one garage or carport parking spot
  • Maximum size limited to 50% of primary dwelling not exceeding 600 square feet

Everything else would remain the same as the existing ordinance for 2nd units. Current, legal guest houses would be allowed to continue with the same restrictions (including the dreaded deed restriction) or, if they conform to the new ordinance, would be allowed to be reclassified at the owner’s option.

The down side, of course, is the probable increase in traffic and population in Old Town. The proposed ordinance would allow 149 more properties in Old Town to construct 2nd units. It’s doubtful that many folks are clamoring for building permits, though. So, the impact would likely be minimal.

In any case, it would help to eliminate the embarrassing situation the city found itself in a few years ago when the Community Development Department, doing then Mayor Jerry Amante’s bidding, attempted to deconstruct apartments built behind a home on Pacific St. The resulting rancor soured many Old Town residents on the city and their nanny-state attitude. It didn’t help that the city spent thousands of taxpayer dollars on their vendetta.

In an about face, the city has worked with the residents of Old Town to craft a workable ordinance that will enhance property values, increase income to the city through property tax values, and allow property owners to enhance their properties with minimal interference from the city. That’s a win-win situation. Thanks, Elizabeth.

Under Regular Business, we mistakenly thought Item 4, Tustin Historic Register Nomination, was the first of the city pioneer busts to be erected. A little closeer look, of course, reminded us of the historic plaque program and the Tustin Historic Register.

The nominee for the plaque designation this time is the home at 178 North C Street. Known as the “Knapp House“, the home was constructed in 1920 and is listed in the Register as a California Bungalow. It is a beautiful house and a treasure in our Old Town area. If you haven’t seen it, it’s worth the walk over to C Street. Heck, make an evening of it and wander over to Morey’s Place on El Camino for dinner.

According to supporting documents, the Knapp sisters lived at the residence, the last one passing away in 1975 at the age of 96. It seems we have some long-lived residents here. Must be the water.

The final item on the docket is Item 5, Withdrawal of CUP and Design Review for an antenna farm that would have been located in a storage facility near Tustin Ranch Road. Verizon Wireless had been planning a new cellular antenna when they suddenly decided to drop the application. Not sure why.

If you live in the Old Town area or have an interest in our Cultural Resources District, you may want to join the party on Tuesday at 7 pm just to make sure “new” items don’t make their way into the proposed 2nd unit ordinance.

We spoke with a few residents this evening who are concerned about the 2nd unit ordinance. If the Planning Commission thought it would be an easy night, they better cancel any after meeting plans. I get the feeling there will be plenty said during public comment from both sides of the issue.

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