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On The City Council Agenda – April 21, 2015

Where-s-the-Fire-The Tustin City Council will have a full plate at the Tuesday meeting beginning with the Closed Session. There are actually two Closed Sessions on the agenda with the last one taking place after the Regular session. The sole purpose will be discussion of labor negotiations for all represented and unrepresented employees. Let’s hope the city employees listen to their union reps this time and don’t screw themselves out of a raise (note: the recession is over).

Aside from the usual suspects on the Closed Session agenda, Item 4.1 Conference with Real Property Negotiators should be of particular interest to Old Town residents. The description indicates Habitat for Humanity is looking to improve the property at 140 South “A” Street. Most of us who live here know this is an eyesore on an eyesore. It is one of the few (are there any others?) empty lots in Old Town Tustin. The house was torn down years ago and the owners back then attempted to put up a shack which the city quickly took care of. Since then, it has sat empty, begging for a relocated house. I don’t know what Habitat has in store but I’m sure Elizabeth Binsack will keep them in line.In any case, it is good to see some action being taken on this lot.

After the usual presentations and fanfare, the city council has scheduled the first of two public hearings on the Code Amendment allowing Second Residential Units in the Cultural Resources District. This ordinance garnered a lot of attention during hearings by the Planning Commission. Sam Altowaiji just about blew a gasket over Elizabeth Binsack’s response to his demand to change the ordinance. Several residents spoke both for and against the ordinance.

Interestingly, Melissa Figge, who lives in Old Town and commented on a recent post about the ordinance, happened to come by my house as I was mowing my lawn (hey, it’s the only exercise I get) today. We had a nice conversation concerning the proposed ordinance as she was walking the neighborhood and distributing a flyer. The flyer was to inform residents of the Tustin Preservation Conservancy’s opposition to the ordinance and outlined their reasons. As someone who is on the other side of the street, I was interested in the arguments against.

What I really appreciated was the fact her flyer was well thought out and the Preservation Conservancy’s reasoning was clear. Just because we don’t happen to agree, doesn’t mean we can’t converse. We found ourselves in agreement on a couple of key issues, one being the parking. As a (little l) libertarian at heart, I find the city’s answer of “We’ll just issue permits” , abhorring. I already pay plenty of taxes that go to the maintenance of public streets. I should have the right to drive or park on them as I please. Melissa didn’t sound enthused about permits either. There has to be a better way.

In any case, both Melissa and I have the same message: If this issue is important to you, show up at the city council meeting and make your feelings known. They may have already made up their minds (well, everyone except Allan Bernstein) but, it wouldn’t be the first time an angry mob changed the minds of the city council.

The last item of note on the Regular Session is Item 15, Approve the Veterans Memorial Preferred Concept Plan. Now, to be clear, John Nielsen had nothing to do with this, no matter how much he tries to take credit for it. The memorial, long overdue, is a project the city sought input on from their natural stakeholders, the veterans themselves. And, there are plenty of them in Tustin. The city held two workshops and the project managers were very receptive to ideas they received. I think the finished memorial, to be placed at the recently renamed Tustin Veterans Sports Park, will be a jewel in Tustin’s crown.

Another important issue, although nothing the city can really do anything about, is Item 16, Resolution Opposing Assembly Bill 1217. This Assembly Bill seeks to reduce the number of the Board of Directors for the Orange County Fire Authority from 25 to 13. This, of course, means Al Murray would lose his lucrative position on the OCFA Board (What? You didn’t know he gets paid for that?). More importantly, it means Tustin would likely lose its voice on the board. While 25 members (one for each member city plus two from the OC Board of Supervisors) seems like a lot, it gives fair representation to a government district that would probably run amok on its own. The oversight is necessary and each member city should have its say on the board.

Moreover, as the staff report states, there is no history of problems or issues stemming from the size of the board. The new system, under this bill, would allow the Board of Supervisors an unfair balance of power, outweighing the population served. In addition, there could be undue influence in the selection process that could give the county an even larger edge. Why Tom Daly, a Democrat, is proposing such an idiotic scheme is beyond comprehension. Oh, wait, there is the politics of the matter. In any case, I hope the city council hasn’t fallen asleep by the time this issue comes up. They should be doing all they can to oppose this. Face it, the OC Board of Supervisors can’t even choose a reputable ambulance company to take care of us. Why would we trust them with oversight of OCFA?

As always, you are welcome to chime in on any of this. Just keep it civil. We’ll keep you posted on anything interesting.

Veterans Memorial Forum On Target

community parkIf you read this blog with any regularity (which we appreciate), you will recall our article announcing a Veterans Memorial Forum on February 6th. That forum, really a community workshop, gave the public the first taste of the proposed all-branch memorial to be located at the Veterans Sports Park complex.

I was pleased to see a number of veteran and non-veterans attending the meeting. Tustin Mayor, Chuck Puckett and Councilman Al Murray also attended in support of the project. And, although it made for a small and congenial group, the veterans made their voices heard. The city presented two possible proposals, one with an eagle atop an obelisk and another with military department flags surrounding a star.

Puckett at Design Forum resized

Mayor Puckett Speaking in Support

An advantage of the small crowd was the informality in which the meeting was held. Veterans from The American Legion Post 227 were present and gave their opinion on the proposals. And there was plenty of opinion to go around.

Suggestions ran the gamut from criticism of a “flag adorned” seating bench to asking why there would be no flags around the one design proposal. After a 45 minute open discussion, it was clear the design group had it’s task cut out for them in marrying the ideas presented into a unified memorial theme.

A few weeks later, on February 23rd, the public was invited to a second forum to see what the design team had come up with and to make some final suggestions.

Although an even smaller crowd appeared (I blame this on poor publicity by the city), about the same number of veterans were there.

A presentation of the final proposal (sorry, we don’t have a picture) drew ooohhhs and aaahhhhs from the group. The design team had come up with a beautiful design that incorporated many of the features of the two original proposals. And, while there was still some work to be done, the overall concept drew a round of applause from the group.

This Tuesday, one of the items on the Tustin City Council agenda is the renaming of the park that will host the veterans memorial from Legacy Park to the Veterans Memorial Park at Tustin Legacy. We, of course, endorse this move and the memorial itself as a way for the city to say thank you to its veterans past, present and future.

HeroesHallLogoNow, if that isn’t enough, the Orange County Fair Board recently received approval to go ahead with their Heroes Hall veterans museum. The museum will be housed in a World War II Army barracks that was very nearly demolished. Instead, it was moved to a new location on the fairgrounds and will house artifacts from Orange County’s military history. The fairgrounds, where the museum will operate, is a former Santa Ana Army Airfield that was used to train pilots and bombardiers. The museum, which won’t be ready before the fair season, will have a presentation for fairgoers this year. One of the main proponents for this museum is Fair Boardmember, Nick Berardino who manages the public employee union and is a Marine Vietnam Veteran.

With all our cities and county are doing to preserve the military history of our county, there are a number of detractors.

The city of Irvine is currently planning a state-sanctioned veterans cemetery to be located on the old El Toro Marine Corps Air Station. Former Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva introduced a bill last year that would make it possible to build that cemetery as a state VA project. Builders and devlopers quickly soured on the idea and attempted to derail the project by forcing it to the South County area.

Veterans, who number by the tens of thousands in Orange County alone, quickly rallied behind the project and effectively shouted down the opposition. While not calling them greedy directly, veterans pointed out the obvious: the old MCAS El Toro is the most natural location for a veterans cememtery.

Of course, the attacks have come anew. This time, a small contingency of the Asian community in Irvine is mounting opposition. Circulating a petition, the detractors are saying that most Asians are against having a cemetery, veterans or otherwise, in their neighborhood. So far, the campaign is going nowhere fast.

Claiming to have respect for OC Veterans, they go on to say how the human rights and “cultural tolerance” should trump common sense as to where to locate a cemetery to honor the county’s veterans. As we said, it is going nowhere fast with only 466 signators. There is also a Blogspot blog urging folks to attend the Irvine City Council meeting to address the issue. Perhaps our friends at The Liberal OC can tell us how many have spoken in opposition at the Irvine Council meetings.

It is pretty apparent that most people are proud of the military history and the vital role in protecting our country that Orange County has had over the years. With three major bases in the county during World War II and after, the military has left its stamp (and blimp hangars) on our land. And we want to hang onto that rich part of our history through memorials, museums and, yes, even cemeteries.

The planned memorial at the Tustin Veterans Sports Park will be our city’s contribution to this legacy. If you have the time and consideration, please email or call your city councilmembers. Their email addresses can be found here. Better yet, attend the next city council meeting and voice your support for the memorial.

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.

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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