Category Archives: Tustin City Council

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 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 City Council Agenda – January 6, 2015

Hidden Agenda ClipartHappy New Year to all.

Let’s be glad we still live where the city council is willing to at least give the appearance of listening to the residents of its community. In Los Angeles the city council has come under fire by community activists for letting in too much efficiency to the public forum.

On the home front, this week’s agenda is brief and pretty much to the point. Only the usual suspects inhabit the Closed Session Agenda and even the sole Public Hearing Item on the Regular Agenda is pro forma for this time of year. I will say, looking at staff reports on other items, it appears the city council and Angels owner, Arte Moreno, are close to finishing up a deal on Legacy Property. I doubt it will be for the new stadium, however (did I hear a collective sigh from the dais?).

The Supplemental Law Enforcement Services Grant is a regular January agenda item required by the feds to obtain funding under Citizens Option for Public Safety (COPS). The Chief, or acting chief, is asking for authorization to use the proceeds to staff a crime analyst position for the ninth year. Nothing new here, move along.

Item 4, Destruction of Records, is always a sore point with me. The city supposedly went to an electronic format for the storage of records awhile back. No mention of it here so, we don’t know if the records that are being requested for destruction will be saved electronically. Perhaps the council will care enough to ask.

Item 5, Selective Traffic Enforcement Program, is asking to use the proceeds from another grant for the purchase of replacement equipment. 5 LIDAR (think laser speed detection) units as well as various equipment for DUI enforcement are included. Again, nothing special……except…..

It seems the request memo was signed by Steven Lewis, “Acting Chief of Police”. So, where’s Chief Cellano? I sent an email to City Manager Jeff Parker who has not responded. No mention of any personnel action on the agenda…..hmmmm.

The only other item on the agenda, under Regular Business, is a request for a temporary sign program at the Tustin Legacy. At a cost of nearly $300 thousand dollars, the city council might want to consider an investment in permanent signage instead. This is especially true since, according to the Agenda Report, “staff will be returning with a permanent sign program in the near future…”. I love how the city manager’s staff love to spend other people’s money to make themselves look good.

Shades of Things to Come?

DullsvilleBarring emergencies, the Tustin City Council and Planning Commission will not meet again this year. In fact, the city has closed shop until after the new year. Hopefully, the police department will see a calm end of the year and we won’t see any firey crashes or folks too unhappy with their Christmas gifts.

Although the year passed quickly, we did have our fair share of problems. I don’t think the folks on Nisson Road will forget the sudden gathering of SWAT vehicles and cops looking for an armed suspect in a shooting near their apartment buildings.

In February, Tustin PD responded to a domestic violence call at apartments in the same area and were confronted by an armed suspect. The suspect was subsequently shot and killed, triggering protests both in the streets and in the city council chamber. Lawsuits have been filed and the DA is investigating. However, under their policy, the results of the investigation may never be known.

City fathers also had problems with the Orange County DA’s ill-conceived Sex Offender statute. After it failed to pass the smell test with the courts, various cities -including Tustin- quickly moved to repeal their ordinances that were mostly fashioned after the county’s. To date, nothing has taken it’s place. Oh, don’t worry. The state has laws the police can continue to enforce that will protect your children….and probably better than anything our used-car-salesman DA could come up with.

Our new Chief of Police, Charlie Cellano, may think he stepped into it. Fortunately, he is a veteran of the Tustin PD and (presumably) knew what he was getting into when he took over from Scott Jordan. The new chief was sworn in in February. You may not have noticed because, as he revealed to me in an interview, he has a rather unique style of management that encourages officers to work with residents. His “Coffee with a Cop” program has officers meeting and greeting at local coffee shops in an effort to make them look more approachable. Now, if we could just get the city council from showing up and trying to steal the show.

Police did make the city safer for us all when, sometime in October, they contained a rampaging Emu that had escaped it’s pen in Old Town Tustin. The police report claimed their was no threat or danger to public safety but, you know how those Emus are when they get riled. Rumor had it some officers were later asking for beak-proof vests but that hasn’t been substantiated.

And, of course, those of you who are into fantasy baseball, the new year continues to hold hope for the Angels moving to Tustin. Earlier in the year, team owner Arte Moreno broke off talks with Anaheim about renewal of their stadium lease. Moreno then made a big show of holding talks with other cities, including Tustin. The city council finally revealed they were in discussion with the owner about the move. Their attempt to laugh it off has been squelched by the continued Closed Session discussions with Moreno’s front corporation, Pacific Coast Investors.

I wouldn’t hold my breath. Moreno could be trying to put pressure on Anaheim. He has also spoken with Irvine, a more likely relocation of the team. If he is serious about making a move, he will most certainly demand a new tax-payer paid stadium out of the deal. That would put pressure on a city known better for its hometown neighborhoods than its entertainment prowess.

Old Town Tustin has also received renewed attention by the city. Normally, given the Community Develpment Department’s previous hatred of the area, I would tell you to be afraid, be very afraid. But, it seems our CDD Director, Elizabeth Binsack, has changed her stripes and is now looking to revitalize the area. A series of city sponsored outreach meetings have sparked interest by the residents and businesses of Old Town.

The ambitious plan includes making it easier to build on residential lots by changing the status of “granny flats” and apartments. As well, the city commissioned a study and a series of community meetings to engender support for an Old Town revitalization effort. The city has held two such meetings over the year and plans to hold at least one more.

Of course, part of this effort is due to cost. The effort is likely to cost the city a bundle of money, should proposals be realized. And, the likely increase in tax base from the sales will not dissuade Binsack from seeking further underwriting either through taxes or bond issues. Good luck with that.

So, although we had a few stumbles as we draw our city out of the depths of recession, things are looking brighter as we look ahead. It’s hard to believe our town now numbers over 78,000 residents. That’s an increase of 20,000 since I moved here in 1995. And we aren’t done yet. Since city manager Jeff Parker took back the reins of master developer of the Tustin Legacy, develpment of new tracts, homes and apartment buildings has taken off. Next year shows no signs of abatement.

While we’re at it, we’ll give kudos to Jeff Parker for his overall management of the city. While we can be (and are) harsh critics of individual issues that may come up, Parker and this city council led by Al Murray, have done a pretty good job of keeping the city on track through some pretty scary times. Let’s hope they keep it up.

And whichever way they go, we’ll be there putting their feet to the fire. Happy New Year.

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