The city apparently fixed the video problem they had with the May 7th meeting and the video is finally up for viewing. We’ll let you know if we find anything interesting that we haven’t already reported on. We are wondering if the issues had to do with their recent changeover to allow direct downloading of the video, something we applaud as a step toward a more open government.
May 21st could be a busy day for the city council. The Closed Session, which begins at 5:30 pm, makes no mention of labor contracts. Negotiations have been in progress for the past couple of weeks. Most of the employees in the city are represented by the Orange County Employees Association. The grapevine tells me the city may be looking for increased pension payments as they are in a hurry to catch up the unfunded liability. City employees belong to CalPERS, not the County pension system, OCERS. Too bad. OCERS is doing quite well at this time, even though the OC Board of Supervisors would like the voters to think otherwise.
Most of the Closed Session will discuss property negotiations on the MCAS base. The fact they are discussing terms is a good sign the development of the base is finally picking up. As we said before, the best thing the last city council could do was to make the city its own master developer for purposes of developing and selling the property. It seems when that occurred, development picked up drastically.
The Open Session begins with presentations to Hewes Kids, OCFA Fire Chief Keith Richter and the National Student Leadership Council of SADD. Chief Richter was recently awarded the Fire Chief of the Year Award by the Metropolitan “Metro” Fire Chiefs Association. Undoubtedly, the city council will bestow a certificate or two on him as well.
Two items on the Consent Calendar deserve discussion. The first is the contract with the Orange County District Attorney to prosecute violations of city code. The DA provides prosecution for the city for any violation of state law without cost (the people vs. etc. etc…). Violations of city ordinances, on the other hand, must either be handled by the city attorney or the district attorney under contract. Now, I could really slam the ineptness of the city attorney here but his law firms expertise is in government not criminal law. So, he is off the hook.
The DA has proposed a contract with a reasonable rate increase ($150 p/hr Attorney & ($84 p/hr Clerical) that we doubt the city could find elsewhere. The indication is the OCDA’s services are rarely needed and the contract is based on use rather than time. It is interesting to note the burden of deciding prosecution remains with the DA rather than the city. This is the same as it would be for any felony prosecution.
Item 4, Asset Capitalization Threshold, should also be pulled for discussion. There is a (very) brief discussion on the issue in the staff report that outlines the issue. The economy has outgrown the previous amounts used for capitalization of short and long term assets. City staff are proposing new thresholds but, we question how they came up with those numbers. In fact, judging the economy from a consumer standpoint, we wonder if the new thresholds may be too low considering the skyrocketing cost of infrastructure constructions nowadays.
The final item on the consent calendar is the Quarterly Investment Report. Since the passing of George Jeffries, responsibility for investment of city funds has been delegated to Finance Director, Pamela Arends-King. We’ll reserve judgment as this is her first time out. Suffice it to say the funds are intact.
While most of the Regular Calendar consists of Second Readings of various ordinances affecting MCAS property, one item stands out as a bit of good news for homeowners.
The Approval of Issuance of Special Tax Refunding Bonds should be good news for some homeowners in the Tustin Legacy. About 563 homeowners will see their Mello-Roos lowered by a tax refunding bond. If you are a glutton for punishment, read the 232 page staff report that details the background and refunding of the money. Of course, all of this assumes the economy will continue to improve, a hedgy bet at best.
A second reading will also be heard on amending an ordinance to allow city commissioners to remain on their commissions until such time as they are elected to city office or replaced by the city council. This change will not only bring the city in line with most other cities policies in Orange County, it actually makes sense. One item of contention at the March meeting when this was first discussed was commissioner compensation. If we had to guess, we would say the current city council is not happy with the way the previous council screwed them in regard to compensation.
When Jerry Amante first proposed the voters have a say in compensation, it was clearly a tactic to hurt Councilwoman Deborah Gavello, whom he considered his arch nemesis. That he could care less about the city and future councilmembers, who largely foot the bill for their own expenses, was obvious. By shaming them into compliance, he convinced John Nielsen and Al Murray, both of whom were on the council at the time, into voting to place an ill-conceived ballot measure before the voters that eliminated compensation for city councilmembers. This has placed an undue financial burden on all of them and could hurt the city when it comes time to find otherwise qualified candidates for office.
Seeing the damage it has done so far has apparently caused the Gang of Four to reconsider compensation and not do the same thing to city commissioners. This makes the city commission seats, as influential as they are, a more palatable choice for those who choose to serve the city in a volunteer basis.
The final item, as usual, is the Legislative Report. Staff are recommending support for several bills in Sacramento.
The first, AB229, is specifically geared toward creating tax districts and, in Tustin’s case, on former military base property. Essentially, when redevelopment agencies went away last year, it left Tustin in limbo regarding financing of infrastructure on base property. They joined other government entities who had former base properties in legislation that would allow them to continue to operate similarly structured enterprises. This is, of course, an end run around the demise of redevelopment agencies and is actually RDAs on steroids. We have to wonder why Democrats continue to give gifts of bad public policy to the Republicans.
We do agree with the city’s opposition to AB667 which would require an Economic Impact Report in “economic assistance areas”. This is essentially a “rent control” for businesses that would require a superstore, such as Wal-mart, to study the economic impact on small businesses in a city before they would be allowed to build a superstore. On its face this is protectionism at its worst and should be defeated. What makes this bill even more ominous is the fact the city could be allowed to conduct the so-called study itself, leaving business development even more prone to corruption than it already is. The fact is, there are already enough impediments to business, big and small, that no more should be required by law. Two previous bills like 667 were vetoed by the governor. Support and opposition are typically aligned with unions and business.
Likewise, we agree with the city in their opposition to SB323 which would exclude tax exemptions for private non-profit organizations whose membership requirements exclude certain classes of citizens. SB323 is clearly aimed at the Boy Scouts who continue to exclude gays from their organization. In doing so, the author of the bill, Assembly Speaker John Perez, who is openly gay, is willing to chance the disbanding of other organizations that cannot meet the strict definitions of membership in their organization. This is nanny state government at its worst. Better the BSA debate should remain in the public opinion arena rather than rely on implementation of socialist laws that serve a narrow purpose.
That’s it for the week. If you attend the meeting this week, drop me a line and give me your thoughts.
I am so glad the city is kind enough to videotape and publish the city council meetings so I can sit in the comfort of my own home to wade through the thicket of self-congratulatory muck. Besides, since the departure of Boss Tweed Amante and Deborah Gavello, the meetings have been decidedly dull. Nonetheless, as we recover from our accident, I felt obliged to report on Tuesday night’s meeting.
First things first. The meeting was attended by our newly crowned Miss Tustin, Shea Marie Frates, and part of her court. Mayor Al Murray presented them with a congratulatory certificate and the few in attendance gave them a round of applause. Good Luck, ladies, you may need it. Now, I admit, even the thought of Miss Tustin receiving a certificate would not get me to come to the meeting in person. But, then, neither would the rest of the meeting which was pretty run-of-the-mill.
I was glad to see Item #6, Approval of Agreement with Municipal Auditing Services, pulled. The main question I had which, apparently did not bother anyone on the council, was why this contract, potentially worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, was not put out to bid. It seems the firm was found the usual way by a bunch of finance people discussing it at a finance officer association meeting (I can see that conversation). The contract, which is open-ended and has no renewal date, calls for MAS to get a 40% cut of profits from scofflaw business owners who do not pay their license fees on time. Claiming this was a standard fee, supposedly justifies not going out to bid.
And your city council does not seem to care about the potential for abuse of our business community by a bunch of cut-throat collection agents. Doing a bit of due diligence, it was not hard to come up with those who are not so satisfied with MAS’ collection techniques. Even Councilmember Gomez, who pulled the item for discussion, wasn’t concerned about abuse and, instead, asked simply about how far back a business would be penalized for not obtaining a license (5 years plus 3 years penalties, in case you are wondering).
None of the other Consent Calendar items I suggested to be pulled for discussion were but Councilmember John Nielsen asked that Item 8, concerning a resolution to accept dedication of property in Tustin Legacy for streets, be discussed. Could it be he is planning or has already purchased his new home? We heard that, sometime after the election, he finally stopped cohabitating with his estranged wife and was living down by the Legacy. In any case, Nielsen asked the item to be pulled due to a potential conflict. That at least adds credibility to his residency here in the city, something that more than a few of my readers have questioned.
The 5 Year Strategic Plan was next up for discussion. The city contracted with Management Partners last year to develop a 5 year strategic plan that would guide the city in all aspects of governemt. I don’t recall the cost for this report but the result was, decidedly, non-specific to Tustin. The plan is a generic document that, save for inserting the name Tustin in appropriate places, could have been purchased or plagiarized from multiple sources on the net. The glad handing and pats on the back from the councilmembers was pretty interesting to watch. Councilmember Beckie Gomez was the only one to give credit where it was due: with the executives and staff that actually helped put the report together.
Now, regardless of the resulting report, I will give then Mayor John Nielsen credit for coming up with a laudible idea for a strategic plan. Although not a new one, it was refreshing for the city of Tustin, which has been wracked by bureaucrats intent on imposing their idea of what the city should be on Tustin residents, to now add what amounts to driving instructions to the mix. Although the plan is generic in structure, it is a start. My main concern, that Mayor Al Murray brought up in his remarks, is how the city will now define the term “transparency”. To date, the city believes all they have to do to remain transparent is post a page of financial information on their website. Will they now take the word to heart or will they continue to conduct business behind the smoke and mirrors effects that have become the hallmark of city government? Time will tell whether they actually use this document as a benchmark or toss it in the trashcan when it become too difficult to follow.
An interesting presentation was made by City Attorney David Kendig during discussion of Item 12, Removal of Commissioners from Office Upon Running for City Council. It seems, we are the only ones who require the resignation of a commissioner who files papers for city council office. Kendig pointed out that, although there has been a rule regarding this and commissioner term limits since 1972, the latest rule has only been in effect since 2007.
Although Kendig outlined a variety of actions the city council could take on the matter, including one we favor that would allow a commissioner to continue serving until and if he or she is elected to the city council, his report focused on a staff recommendation that would make no changes to the current policy but provide a specific method and timeline for selecting a replacement. After a twenty minute discussion which included Councilmember Gomez complaining that the policy addresses only the Planning Commission and not other city commissions, and John Nielsen not seeing the point of removing commissioners at all, the Podiatrist Councilman was called upon to comment and utterly failed to comprehend the issue.
Then the real issue arose. Councilmember Gomez asked the question of why, since the city council no longer receives stipends, the city commissiners continue to recveive compensation. Nielsen’s lame excuse that the city council received benefits as well, so the issue is “apples and oranges”, didn’t really fly. According to him, it was a “transparency” issue and referred to the financial statements candidates are required to file as proof there are no conflicts.
Now Al Murray, who hasn’t had an original thought since he joined the city council, agreed with Nielsen regarding the financial statements and went even further to say that it was incumbent on all of them as public officials to state any conflicts of interests. Sure….except, that did not prevent any of the Three Amigos from receiving financial assistance from the Orange County Business Council or its other entities trying to pass themselves off as concerned citizens during the boys most recent bid for city council.
Gomez gained an ally after the Podiatrist Councilman woke up and figured out what everyone was talking about. But, even though he agreed that commission stipends needed a second look, his comments regarding integrity were laughable. Let’s not forget this is the guy who, during his bid for city council, posted a Facebook photo showing him on the city council dais underneath the city logo looking, for all intents and purposes, like he was a sitting councilman. Likewise, he was seen running around last year’s Chili Cookoff sporting a campaign button with the city logo on it and, underneath in small letters the disclaimer, “candidate”. In any case, he needs to go back to reading his notes so he can complete a sentence.
In the end, the vote was 4-1, with Councilmember Gomez dissenting, on a motion made by Nielsen to change the ordinance to allow commissioners continue to sit until such a time as they are actually elected to the city council.
We had hoped for some interesting stuff during the councilmember comments but were, instead, treated to a drudging monologue about the Podiatrist Councilman’s trip to various water and sewage treatment plants (At least he went back to reading off his notes rather than trying to wing it). I only got through part of it before moving on to Councilmember Gomez who is much more interesting to listen to.
My apologies for not staying up to date for the past week. I am still recovering from inuries sustained in a traffic accident. The plastic surgeon did a great job (I look just like Sean Connery) and I have the firefighters at Station 21 as well as the accident investigators and motor officers of Tustin PD to thank for their timely response. As I am on the mend, I’ll get back into the swing of things.
The Tustin City Council faces their longest and probably busiest agenda of the year so far. Let’s just hope the Podiatrist Councilman can keep up without an iPad.
Rather than the usual closed session preceding the regular meeting, the council will hold a special meeting at 4:30 pm to interview candidates for three open seats on the Planning Commission. Election and appointments will also be conducted.
I just spoke with the city clerks office who informed me that 18 candidates have filed for the three open seats. All the commissioners whose seats are up have filed for reappointment. In order to allow enough time for interviews, the city pushed back the interviews for the other commissions to late in March. Let’s hope 2 hours is enough time.
Although the incumbents are heavily favored in this match, the city council could decide to bring in fresh faces that are not aligned with the old guard. It is the current commission sans Chuck Puckett which, amidst local opposition, approved a heavily modified CUP for the Wilcox Manor. That modified CUP was appealed directly to the city council where a number of councilmen have admitted conflict of interest. This lack of the planning commission to handle their own issues is, to our mind, an excellent reason to choose new blood.
The Regular Meeting of the Tustin City Council will commence at 7:00 pm beginning with presentations and pubic hearings.
The Public Hearing concerns the annual evaluation and acceptance of the Action Plan for the Community Development Block Grant prepared by staff. At stake is $590,000 in funding. No action is expected on the item other than to hear testimony from interested parties.
A major issue sure to come up is the us of the Tustin Community Foundation as the manager of the CDBG funds. Erin Nielsen, director of the Tustin Community Foundation, is the wife of Councilmember John Nielsen. Nielsen earlier this year recused himself from discussion on the Wilcox Manor CUP referencing his relationship to TCF and their fundraising activities at the Wilcox. Erin Nielsen, for her part, receives about $32,000 a year according to court documents. When we reported on this conflict last year, there were conflicting statements made by the city and the TCF concerning their exact role in the management of these funds. When we accused the parties of collusion, TCF issued a curt statement in their newsletter saying they do not “manage” the funds. That was sort of backed up by Community Development Director, Elizabeth Binsack, who said the purpose of having two hearings was to give those who did not qualify the first time around, another chance for a slice of the pie. As we stated then, however, we found it hard to believe the TCF wasn’t in fact, the manager of the funds.
Add to this a whole slew of conflicts of interest. While the relationship of the Nielsen’s is enough, Mayor pro tem, Chuck Puckett, is a past president of the TCF Board. And, Planning Commissioner Steve Kozak, who has applied for re-appointment to the commission, is a current member of the board. Who else? How about Linburgh McPherson, co-owner of the Wilcox who is currently listed as their Vice-president, Resource Development, a catchy title for the chief fundraiser.
In any case, if the city council really wants to show they no longer favor the TCF arrangement (and, why should they since our two protagonists are reportedly divorcing) they could return to the previous process of having a Citizens Participation Committee to handle administration of the funds. The council may well take a different direction considering the staff report makes no mention of TCF.
Although councilmembers may wish to pull items from the Consent Calendar, most items appear to be routine or, at the least, have funding attached. The synchronization of signals on First Street/Bolsa Avenue is a multi-jurisdictional project requiring funding from all participants. Tustin’s part is $42,000 and, if it helps traffic flow, is well worth it.
Perhaps Mayor Al Murray will pull Item 9, an agreement to transfer ownership of Ari, one of Tustin’s police canines if only to give him proper recognition for his retirement. He has served the TPD for over 6 years and I am sure his service will be missed. His current handler, Officer Eric Kent, will take possession and provide him a great home with, what we hear, a couple of other family dogs. Good luck in retirement, Ari. TPD’s newest canine, Elko, will have big shoes….uh, paws to fill.
We are not sure if the Community Development Department is trying to pull (another) fast one with Item 10. They bring up some “minor” changes to the guidelines for hearing officers for administrative citations. We approach this with natural suspicion since things have gone mostly south for Binsack and her crew after the Fairbanks prevailed in their property rights case. And, it is always suspicious when staff are unwilling to show you the draft. So, why even bring the issue up? There is little doubt the city wishes to stack the deck in their favor for future administrative hearings. Keep your eyes peeled for this one.
Item 11, on the Regular Business Agenda, a request for travel by the Podiatrist Councilman, bears discussion. The Association of California Cities-Orange County, a renegade association created by local entities for what they saw as a lack of interest in Orange County’s problems by a larger state organization, is sending a joint delegation with the Orange County Business Council (who donated to Bernstein and his two councilmen buddies) on a political junket to Sacramento. We would have an issue with this type of travel anytime the city is facing budget shortfalls as it currently is. But, as luck would have it, Mayor Al Murray is also attending on OCTA’s dime, making this an absolutely unnecessary for crony Bernstein on the Tustin taxpayer dollar. Why do we need two delegates attending this junket? Or, as it is a joint endeavor by ACCOC and OCBC, why isn’t OCBC, who will surely benefit the most from the meeting, footing the bill? All of this when the city council delves into reserves to balance the budget. We got rid of city council pay but other perks still remain. I bet you they won’t be staying at the Best Western or eating at McDonalds.
Item 12 should be of particular interest to folks living or thinking of living in the Legacy. This item, without apparent need of approval from residents, creates another Community Facilities District to levy more taxes on homeowners who choose to buy in the area. Mello-Roos has been the favored method of obtaining funding for infrastructure for the MCAS property and has been the subject of much argument as to whether folks are getting their money’s worth for taxes paid.
As we said before the Closed session, with the usual suspects, will come after the Regular Session to facilitate the Planning Commission interviews. The main item of interest is the commencement of labor negotiations for all line staff and public safety employee unions.
Public Hearing Items
Community Development Block Grant Subrecipients Performance Evaluation and Potential Reallocation of Funds
Approve Plans and Specifications re: Roadway and Sidewalk Repair – The annual plan for the repair of roads and sidewalks within city limits. Authorizes City Clerk to advertise for bids.
Approve First Street/Bolsa Avenue Sginal Synchronization – Authorizes agreement with OCTA and several cities plus expenditure of $42,000 for Tustin’s share of project.
Agreement to Transfer Ownership of Police Canine Ari – Caretaker Officer to pay the city $1 for transfer.
Request for Travel Approval – To allow Councilmember Bernstein funding for travel to Sacramento for ACCOC/OCBC joint junket.
Approve Creation of Community Facilities District 13-01 – Authorizes city manager to petition for creation of CFD on parts of Tustin Legacy property.
Second Reading and Adoption of Ordinance No. 1426 – Approves Specific Plan Amendment 2012-002 re minor text amendments of the MCAS Tustin Specific Plan.
Conference with Legal Counsel – two each, initiation and exposure to litigation.
Labor Negotiations – TMEA, TPMA, TPOA, TPSSA and unrepresented employees.
It didn’t take long for the newly seated city council to stir things up and create a little controversy while violating the Brown Act at the same time. Tuesday’s Tustin City Councill meeting demonstrated their ignorance when it comes to conducting city business. Of course, John Nielsen wasn’t there to guide them and it was left up to Mayor Murray to carry the ball. We did not expect much from Murray and that is what we got.
Chad Ortlieb, an Orange city planner and Old Town Tustin resident who previously spoke on the subject of the Wilcox Manor, showed up during public comments to complain about the apparent gross errors of the Fab 5 in handling the continuance of the Wilcox Manor CUP application last meeting. If you recall at last month’s meeting, Ortlieb appeared to question whether any type of event center was appropriate for the Old Town residential neighborhood. His discussion at that meeting generated a flurry of activity on the dais as councilmembers, looking like Keystone Cops, raced for the door saying they had to recuse themselves from any discussion. It also raised with us, at the time, the question of why the item would be continued for eight months. It was pretty obvious to us the reason the councilmembers were in such a hurry to exit the dais.
So, Ortlieb came back this month to ask the question we have wondered all along: Why an eight month delay? He also asked a few other questions concerning the validity of the application itself and whether city staff were playing footsie with the applicants to accommodate them. To their credit, this time the city council remained in their seats. From Ortlieb:
The rights of Tustin residents to have the council decide the continuance of the Wilcox Manor project were violated. At one point, in the meeting, councilmember Gomez asked the city attorney. ‘Does this item require action?’ The city attorney’s response was, ‘No. It’s already been agendized as continued’. Staff did not have the right to remove the continuance from the council’s consideration. The consideration is exclusively the council’s purview. If you want to take a look at Government Code section 94955, I think that’s a good starting point. But, to ask the question, can the city council continue something to a date, but have staff continue it for the council without any direction by the council? The answer is, no. Had the project been advertised differently, without staff saying it’s continued, a different public attendance and public participation could have resulted. The council had the right to deny the continuance request and even a right to make a decision on the project at that meeting. For the record, I don’t believe that a continuance to September is reasonable. Confusing matters is that, even though there was no quorum, the council, applicant representative and staff all conducted council business and spoke regarding the project. But, nobody else from the public was extended that opportunity. One of the attorneys present should have noticed the lack of a quorum. Also, just to pose the question, why did the applicant attorney show up if the matter was continued automatically by staff?
Ortlieb goes on to say the project should be re-noticed and advertised to the public with the city council subsequently deciding what, if any, extension will be allowed. He went on to say that the use [as a non-profit venue] was never allowed in the type of zoning the residence is in to begin with. He also stated that staff should never have considered the CUP as the type of venue is not allowed. “Staff should not be allowed to set land use policy of this magnitude even for a non-profit use.” Ortlieb further said the consideration by the city council was improper in the first case. Even though the original CUP went before the city planning commission, the applicants substantially changed the application request before it landed in front of the city council. That, according to Ortlieb, meant the application should have gone before the planning commission one more time.
Of course, we agree. As we had pointed out, Linburgh McPherson and Michael Demoratz, the trustees and owners of the Wilcox Manor, have misled the city during this entire adventure. They originally told the planning commission they had set up off-site parking when, in fact, they had done nothing of the sort. They amassed huge support at the planning commission meeting last year by busing in representatives from non-profits that had used the facility. The trouble is, most of those non-profits were from outside of the city where parking, trash and crowds would have no impact on them. The fact that several councilmembers have directly benefited from the use of the facility for fundraising as well, was not lost on the many residents who reside near the Manor.
The primary issue at this point was whether the staff had the right to automatically continue a matter before the council, on behalf of the council. We don’t think they did. We never got a good look at the audience for last month’s meeting but it seems to us that, even if one person who wished to speak was there, they should have been given that opportunity before a continuance was granted. Eight months is a long time for a continuance and, quite frankly, it appears as though the city council majority (we won’t count Gomez in this) was hoping that the lapse in time would allow them to return a favorable vote for the owners without raising eyebrows. To that effect, the city attorney bumbled his way through some sad explanation that it would be right for the councilmembers to recuse themselves, thereby eliminating the ability to act on the matter, but that one of the conflicted could subsequently return to the dais after drawing straws. How could there not still be a conflict for that councilmember? Better to have required a new application.
Ortlieb was left standing at the podium as the good Mayor thanked him for speaking and sent him packing. It should be interesting how concerned citizens react when the CUP is brought before the city council in September. As we told you before, we aren’t going anywhere and we plan on reminding our readers when the issue comes up again. At the very least, the city council should take a hint and refuse to hear the highly-modified CUP application when it comes before them. What should really happen is the applicants should be directed to start from ground zero with the city planning commission. The planning commission, of course, should research the issue as we believe Orlieb is correct in his assertion that the type of events McPherson and Dmoratz have been holding, have been illegal all along.