The 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
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?
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.
P R E S S R E L E A S E
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Contact:
March 31, 2015 Lt. Robert Wright
On 08/09/14 at approximately 3:27 p.m. two male subjects entered a jewelry store in the 17400 block of 17th St. The subjects requested to look at jewelry. When the employee displayed the jewelry one of the subjects pointed a large caliber handgun at the employee. A second employee inside the business noticed the robbery occurring and retrieved a handgun then fired several shots at the suspects. The suspects fled the business in an unknown direction. There was no loss and it is not believed the suspects were injured by the gunfire. Additionally, none of the employees, or innocent bystanders were injured as a result of the incident.
An extensive area check was conducted and the suspects were not located at that time.
On 08/17/14 Tustin PD Detectives were able to identify one of the suspects involved in this robbery. Detectives located and arrested Christopher Titus (Age 24) at a residence in Bellflower. Titus was arrested without incident and booked into Orange County Jail for Armed Robbery.
The second suspect has yet to be identified and is still at large. The Tustin Police Department is asking for the public’s help to identify the second suspect. During the crime the at large suspect was seen wearing a red shirt, dark pants and a dark hat. Anyone with information regarding the identity of the second suspect or any further information regarding the case is encouraged to contact Sgt. Stephanie Nichols @ 714-573-3257.
Apologies for not doing my usual writeups on the latest Planning Commission meeting but tax day is rearing its ugly head and I want to stay ahead of the curb for once. My tax forms sent off, electronically of course, I can focus on our local issues. Here’s a recap of what has happened in the past few weeks.
Although there wasn’t much on the agenda, the March 17th Tustin City Council meeting went on longer than expected. A good chunk of it was taken up by a presentation by Police Chief Charles Celano. Celano who gave a “year in review” PowerPoint on the most recent activities and plans of his department.
Notably, crime is down thanks in large part to the CTAPS crime analysis program implemented under former chief Scott Jordan. In his typical low key style that I’ve come to like, Celano lauded both sworn and professional staff of his department and laid the blame for the general reduction in crime squarely on their backs. He delivered well-deserved praise for his people for their work.
Celano has had to weather his share of criticism in the past. It wasn’t too long ago outside rabblerousers invaded the city council chambers in an attempt to discredit the department. There were also attempts to turn low key events into high profile lawsuits (wonder if the plaintiff is the same Reznek from Huntington Beach fame).Those efforts have, so far, fallen far short due in large part to the professional efforts of the department.
Prior to the police presentation, citizens spoke during the public comment section of the meeting to garner support from the city council for a proposed Community Facilities District for the Columbus Square area of the Tustin Legacy properties. A sizable group of residents were in the chamber as one of them, Paul Callahan, spoke about the Heritage School situation.
As you recall, new residents are paying for a school they can’t use. Heritage Elementary School was supposed to open in 2011. When the school district finally announced the opening of the campus, it was to say they would be moving Hillview Continuation High School and Sycamore Adult School to the new digs.
That, of course, didn’t set well with the residents, who had moved there expecting to send their kids to local schools, or the Tustin City Council. The city council, which had a longstanding feud with the school district due largely to former councilman Jerry Amante and his puppet John Nielsen, wielded more taxpayer money by suing the school district again. Claiming the Columbus Square kids would have to go to other schools with predominantly minority populations, the city whined the residents were being cheated.
Someone should have mentioned the demographics to Nielsen and Amante before they shot their mouths off, not that it would have done much good. Nielsen, for his part, got up in a subsequent city council meeting and groused about being called a racist. Hey, if the shoe fits….
Since those dark old days, the city and the school district have kissed and made up. That was due in large part to Amante’s departure and Nielsen’s apparent inability to garner enough support to keep the fight going. The winners and losers were Tustin taxpayers.
All the while, though, the good folks at Tustin Unified School District were enjoying the public flogging of the city council, even as they plotted their own evil scheme against the residents by moving Hillview and Sycamore.
So, here we are in 2015 and the school district, no doubt feeling the pressure, has announced their intention to open the Heritage campus for its original purpose as an elementary school… in 2016. Yes, the district wants another year to get things as they should have been all along. I know it’s shocking but school district officials actually lied to the residents and taxpayers in the area when they said the Hillview move to Heritage was temporary. I mean, how long does it take to build a tennis court or two?
Apparently, it takes 5 years. Oh, and don’t expect Hillview to move out right away. We heard it through the grapevine that the school district has no intention of moving Hillview out before they open the site to elementary school age children. It will be a co-campus with both continuation high school students and elementary students sharing the grounds. We can’t find out for sure because the school PIO, Mark Eliot, has refused to answer our past emails (and, we gave up trying).
City Manager Jeff Parker shed some light on the issue at the end of the city council meeting.
“In part of that process was that we’ve already sent a letter to the school district saying we’re in line of thought that they move forward with the CFD [Community Facilities District]. A Community Facilities District is something that the school district actually forms, not the city. So, I wanted to make sure the public understands the process there.”
Parker wanted to make sure folks know who to blame in case something screws up. In following comments, he also made sure everyone knew the city remains a majority property owner in the area and, of course, it is the property owners who cast votes to form a CFD. That shouldn’t be too difficult to sell, even to the residents. They are, after all, desperate for a school they can actually use. Maybe the city should make the re-opening of Heritage as an elementary school exclusively, as a condition for their vote. In fact, that may be what the city is laying the groundwork for as Parker disclosed the working group that will “set the guidelines” for the CFD. In any case, don’t expect things to go that smoothly.
What they should be doing is working above board to insure the residents who desperately need these schools are informed. In reality, what will probably happen is the city attempting to influence the school district AGAIN in how they run their schools. Surely, transparency can’t be on their mind as the “committee” consists of TUSD and city officials with no representation from the affected residents. And, while I think it was underhanded of the district to actually pull the bait and switch the city earlier accused them of, it is just as reprehensible to believe the city should have any say in how schools are run. Leave that to the experts.
The last item, as a reminder, Linda Jennings of the Tustin Preservation Conservancy, appeared at the city council meeting to announce the formation of a GoFundme account for the restoration of the Jabberwocky. This Tustin landmark was restored from the ground up by the owner using local historic architect, Nathan Menard and other folks. There’s about $10,000 that was not covered by the insurance. Linda reminded folks they could help by donating whatever they could afford to the restoration effort by going to the Jabberwocky site (or see the link in our sidebar) . So far the effort has raised over $3,000 toward their goal.
Happy St. Patrick’s Day! I expect everyone to look a little Irish at the polls Tuesday. And, if you plan to drink beer, do me a favor and don’t let them put the food coloring in it to make it green. Real Irishmen don’t drink green beer.
It looks like another short session for the Tustin City Council Tuesday evening. I hope everyone takes the time to vote in the election to replace Mimi Walters for the California Senate. With any luck, we wil have a clear winner and forego another runoff election in May. That doesn’t necessarily mean we won’t have another election this year. If Don Wagner is elected, there will be yet another state office to deal with in his vacant Assembly seat.
The Closed Session Agenda is fairly short with the usual litigation issues up for discussion and only one real property negotiation for what looks like MCAS property.
Likewise, the Consent Calendar is short with only six items. Aside from the usual items, the city will ask for approval on:
Item 4 – Approval of Consultant Agreement with Risk Management Professionals Inc. to update the city’s Hazard Mitigation Plan. This is a pro forma requirement for federal funding. The plan is required to be updated every five years. The $29,000 cost has been budgeted according to the staff report.
Item 5 – Approval of Amendment to Joint Agreement for 800 Megahertz Countywide Coordinate Communications System. As far back as I can remember, even in the old days of the low band police radio system, the Orange County Sheriffs Department has provided communications services for virtually all police and county services. About 12 years ago or so, the county converted to an 800 Mhz system that was designed to provide cellular service similar to cellphones. It took a few years for the bugs to be worked out (there are still some, in my opinion) but, overall, the system seems to be working well. It is expensive though and Tustin is required to pay its fair share for services rendered.
That cost is $2.7 million dollars over a five year period, placing us 16th in highest cost out of 54 agencies that use the system. For our money we get new police consoles and new software for all our radios. The Chief uses cool terms like “P25 compliance” and “System Extension” to sell the city council on a system we have no choice but to support. And, the truth is, we do get our money’s worth. Today’s communications system is light years ahead of the old system used when I was chasing down police calls with my CHP surplus radio in my ’68 Charger. Ah, the good old days.
If there was a reason for attending the city council meeting this Tuesday, it would be to hear the sole item on the Regular Business Agenda.
Item 7 – Tustin Police Department Year in Review is the annual presentation to the community on how our police department is doing. Looking at the Power Point presentation Chief Celano has prepared, I would say they are doing a bangup job for us.
Some highlights inlcude:
- Continuation of Accredited Status with CALEA. Tustin is one of only three county departments and twenty statewide departments to gain accreditation.
- Exceeded crime reduction goals due to CTAP (crime analysis) implementation
- 176 DUI arrests
- 57 Felony gang arrests
Add to that the community efforts made by Chief Celano since taking office. His “Coffee with a Cop” program has been well received and he previously told me plans to continue the program. According to the presentation, Tustin is also looking at body-worn camera for its officers and upgrading the Emergency Operations Center.
We are fortunate to have a great police department that we can be proud of. Yes, there are outside detractors that have attempted to disrupt and discredit. Overall, the record speaks for itself. Celano has a great community philosphy that works well for a man who likes to maintain a low-key status.
As we said, it is a short evening, hardly worth going to city hall for. Of course, if you have cable TV, you don’t have to leave the comfort of your home. Now, if we could just get Councilman Bernstein to learn how to Tweet from the dais.
Don’t forget to vote. If you haven’t sent in your ballot, drop it in the mail today or drop it off at the local polling place to have it registered. I’ll be at the poll bright and early so I can vote on the way to work. That way, I get my cool “I voted” sticker.