It is going to be a pretty boring election season in the city of Tustin this year. Either everyone in Tustin is too busy to worry about the political bent of the city council (they are all Republicans) or they are happy with the way things are going. Face it, it has been a slow two years around Our Town Tustin, ever since Boss Tweed Amante left. John Nielsen has settled down and become less interested in city politics. Our old friend Chuck Puckett has returned to the dais along with newbie Alan Bernstein whom we hope will learn eventually to look up from his notes once in awhile (wing it, Alan).
It is hard to believe that four years have gone by since Mayor Al Murray and Councilwoman Beckie Gomez were first elected. Both came to the dais under the ominous shadow of Jerry “Boss Tweed” Amante, who held a firm grip on the city, issuing edicts and offering regular rants against his detractors. The Liberal OC often referred to him as “Il Duce” both on and off the record. And, Amante never got it. He hated the residents of Tustin (where he resides), hated the women he was forced to share the dais with and loved his dogs. When Jerry was around, there was always something to write about. When he left…. well, things got a bit more boring.
That, of course, has been good for Tustin. After Amante’s departure, the city council was able to clear their collective head and get down to the mundane business of running the city. And, except for the occasional powerplay by City Manager Jeff Parker or Community Development Director Elizabeth Binsack, the city has run pretty smoothly on their watch. About the only real issue over the past four years is the epitomal collapse of the old town area when a CUP was granted to the boys at Wilcox Manor to run a
convention center wedding venue. That controversy (assisted by yours truly) outlined what is wrong when politicians who have a direct benefit from a business, help that same business to make money at the expense of others’ privacy and well-being.
All this leads us to the latest news from the city. As I said in the beginning, either no one cares or no one knows. Al Murray and Beckie are the only ones to file nomination papers for Tustin City Council. As such, they will run unopposed, meaning you can save yourself a trip to the polls unless the other issues we’ll bring up over the next few months matter to you.
Regardless of my criticism, I have always liked Al and Beckie. Al is a retired police captain from Irvine and his most pressing decision since he has been in office is where to have coffee (usually Keane’s, usualy with cops). That’s not to say he can’t make a decision. He just hasn’t had to since he has been in office. Originally an Amante yes man, Murray has a great quality of getting along with just about everyone, admirer and detractor alike. And, he is pretty darn good at calming a collective angry crowd. And when the stuff hit the fan, during one of the most infamous crime sprees to hit Orange County, he was the man every mayor wished they could be in time of crisis.
It has been my pleasure to know Beckie Gomez over the past few years. A closet Republican, she has shown a willingness to work with everyone on the council (including Jerry) even though the council has consistently refused to give her any of the cherished paid board or committee positions. Little did they know Gomez is quite happy with her Library Board appointment. Gomez has demonstrated that she is interested in the welfare of Tustin chiefly as a place to live and secondly as a place to do business. During Amante’s frequent rants, she proved to be a calming influence even when Nielsen and Palmer were also ganging up on their nemesis, Deborah Gavello. If she did not always back Gavello’s play, it was because she had a direction of her own to follow.
So, what will the future bring to Tustin? Perhaps, over the next two years, more mediocrity. Barring an infield play by Arte Moreno or the collapse of the pending cemetery deal at the Great Park, the MCAS property is all but disposed of. I am sure there will be controversy over the fate of the blimp hangars to jazz things up a bit. As the city is showing its age, perhaps it’s about time the city council took the Old Town Tustin bit out of Elizabeth Binsack’s mouth (before she finds a way to bulldoze it completely) and take a good hard look at revitalizing the downtown area. Both Fullerton and Old Town Orange have experienced a renaissance with myriad antique shops and second hand resellers replaced with chic restaurants and venues that draw a diverse crowd. Downtown Tustin’s time has come and, without the past controversy to impede them, this city council could make a lasting mark on the place we all love.
One rumor in the wind: Will John Nielsen, who has had his share of personal and public controversy while in office, choose to resign during his term as we have heard he may? That would open some interesting avenues, and some of those have the Amante smell.
The Closed Session has the usual items on it including multiple litigation issues. Two new claims from Russell Taitz and Southern California Edison will also be considered. Surprisingly, there are no real estate issues to bother them tonight. That’s because they completed multiple deals with developers and the Army Reserve for a land swap at their last meeting.
The Regular Session Agenda is headed up by presentations to students and teachers alike. Shelby Van Raes will be recognized for the Student Writing Contest while Joy Wardlaw and Jennifer Morrow will be recognized as Teachers of the Year. Congratulations to all.
One noteworthy item on the consent calendar is the purchase of electronic citation devices for the police department. Reading the staff report, it appears the department is being forced into the program due to changes in the court system. Cost is $110,000 that will be pulled from appropriate funding. Although the cost is substantial, this project is long overdue. To date, only three cities use electronic citations in a pilot project. The courts are forcing the issue but cities will benefit in a variety of ways in eliminating manual processing and more accurate ticketing. It will also make for efficiency in the police ranks, most of whom have better things to do than spend their time writing tickets.
Another issue on the Consent Calendar that begs discussion is the contracting out of processing and collecting administrative citations. It’s unfortunate the Republican hand has convinced everyone that contracting services is the best way to run city government. Judging from the cost, an in-house staff could probably handle this part-time at less cost. We can’t ascertain that for sure as staff have conveniently left off the amount of revenue realized from administrative citations. As with the business license issue awhile back, however, Community Development Director Elizabeth Binsack doesn’t appear interested in having her staff do grunt work.
The sole item under Regular Business is the second reading of an ordinance that would keep keep some Tustin codes relating to construction consistent with California Green Building Standards Codes by incorporating them through reference. The ordinance will lessen the need for repeated changes caused by changes in California law.
That’s the end of the council’s regular business. Unfortunately, at the last meeting, nearly all of the councilmembers delayed the requisite reading of their community activities due to the protesters. That means an inordinate amount of time may be spent listening to the combined diatribe. The good news? The Podiatrist Councilman did get to list his off last meeting. So, his list may not be as long. I did notice he looks up occasionally from his notes nowadays. Perhaps he took a few public speaking lessons.
At 43 minutes, last week’s Tustin City Council meeting was the shortest of the year and one of the shortest on record. Even Mayor Al Murray joked about reaching the business and committee reports in record time. The Presentation of Colors by The American Legion Post 227 preceded by Furhan Zubaini, Darul Falah giving the invocation and a quick lesson on Islam took up a good portion of the regular session.
A great presentation on the life of Tustin resident Evelyn Furtsch Ojeda, who turned 100 years old, was made. This lady, an Olympian in her younger years, has led a remarkable life that was told in a silent PowerPoint presentation. Evelyn is the oldest living Gold Medalist of the 1932 Olympics. It is folks like her that make Tustin the great town it is. Happy Birthday, Evelyn!
The sole Public Hearing Item on the allocation of Community Development Block Grant funding was continued, at staff request, to the May 6th city council meeting.
Item 5, Extension of Lease Agreement for Operation of the Food/Beverage Concession at Tustin Sports Park, was pulled from the Consent Calendar at Councilwoman Gomez’ request. The rest of the Consent Calendar, including the award of construction projects on Warner and Armstrong Avenues, was passed without comment.
The food and beverage concession issue began with a presentation on the concession itself. According to the presentation, the concession has had a difficult history with three operators attempting to fulfill lease agreements. The current operator, Express Sports Cafe, took over in October 2000 and has operated the concession ever since. The presentation included the challenges now facing the concession operators including the ability of sports park patrons to order takeout food delivered to the park Really? Has anyone ever done that?
A bigger challenge is the fact the concession does not have a grill and cannot make the simplest of foods such as hot dogs and hamburgers, let alone anything exotic like a bratwurst. Other so-called challenges include the time honored tradition of bringing a picnic lunch to the game. The presenter then wasted time telling us what we already knew – Tustin Sports Park is used for sports. All in all, the presentation could have been shortened to about 30 seconds. But, some people like to hear themselves talk.
In the end, Councilwoman Gomez still had to ask her questions regarding the closing of the concession for fundraising activities. It was pointed out in the presentation that local groups could ask the concession to close so they could have fundraisers, presumably during tournaments and games. Gomez asked how that would work. Her concern was, of course, that the concessionaire makes a living off the sales of the concession and would lose money when closed. It was explained that any group asking to close the concession stand so they could run a fundraiser is required to pay a $200 per day fee to the owner. Satisfied with the answer, Gomez joined the Amigos in voting in favor of the lease renewal.
With no reports from staff, the Mayor dove right into council comments. I won’t bore you with the details other than to tell you that the Podiatrist Councilman reported the fantasy group, ACCOC, is drafting pension reform policy based on the “excellent” negotiations they held in Tustin. If by excellent they mean how badly they screwed their rank-and-file employees while taking “excellent” care of the executive management, then yes, it was excellent.
There is no Planning Commission meeting tonight. I apologize for being AWOL this past week but, as you can see, not much happened anyway.
Well, there is one thing worth mentioning. We noticed lame duck Councilmember John Nielsen was absent – again. This from the guy who joined Hizzoner, Jerry Amante, in lambasting former Councilwoman Deborah Gavello for her every absence. I guess once you’ve sung your swan song, you don’t worry the details. As far as we are concerned, Nielsen continues his history of doing nothing on the Tustin City Council, whether he is present or not.
Recently we wrote about State Senator Leland Yee’s arrest by the FBI on corruption and gun running charges. In a late-breaking revelation, we have discovered a Tustin Connection to Lee, also known as “Uncle Leland” and his chief proponent, Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow, a known San Francisco gangland figure.
Yee, who was arrested last week, has been discovered to have orchestrated several trips to local restaurants in Tustin. The purpose of the trips were unclear but appear to have implicated local politicians in a web of money-laundering and political chicanery.
Notable in the affidavit used to issue the arrest warrant for Yee and others tied to the conspiracy was a reference on page 168 to a political “consultant” known in the document only as “Uncle Jerry”. The affidavit details meetings between Yee, “Shrimp Boy” and “Uncle Jerry” in a local teppan house to discuss an airsoft gunrunning operation run by “Uncle Jerry”. “Uncle Jerry ” proposed furnishing airsoft rifles and ammunition to Yee and his cohorts in exchange for becoming Yee’s chief houseboy from OC. The suspect has previously received awards from the Tustin City Council as an “agent of change” for his work toward rescuing abandoned Springer Spaniels and retraining them as lap dogs for the homeless. “Uncle Jerry” is also reported to have ties to the famous Hop Sing Tong operating as far north as Virginia City, Nevada.
A search warrant was reportedly served on the residence of the suspect who had been hiding his operation by claiming he breeds Springer Spaniel dogs in his garage. And, although the suspect has often been seen riding around in borrowed vintage vehicles with a brown and white dog on his lap, there are no reports by the city of Tustin for a kennel license. As added cover, his wife allegedly trains dogs in local parks. Again, no business license or other documentation has been provided by the city to verify this.
When agents searched the suspect’s home, they found several hundred high-end, automatic airsoft rifles and handguns with the orange tips removed. At least a hundred thousand rounds of ammunition were also located in dog crates with false bottoms. An OCFA Hazmat team and the OCSD bomb squad were called in to remove the pooh-covered weapons.
Another section of the affidavit detailing the Tustin operation revealed a connection to current city government officials. An undercover FBI informant allegedly met with a cohort and former colleague of “Uncle Jerry” on several occasions. Al “Starbucks” Murray allegedly had lattes and chocolate croissants with the suspects where “Uncle Jerry acted as an intermediary. The undercover informant, known only as “The Podiatrist”, does not specify what the conversation was about although he alleges several dollars and two rewards were transferred to Murray’s Gold Starbucks card after the meeting.
Yee has been released after posting a half million dollar bail. “Uncle Jerry” was reportedly arrested and offered $100 if he would choose to stay out of jail. His dog, however, was impounded and is being housed in protective custody at the Orange County Animal Shelter. Murray has not been charged.
We will keep you up to date as details become known. However, if you have not figured it out by now, perhaps you should look at the date and do not hold your breath for further information.