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.
I never thought that is is where I’d settle down,
Thought I’d die an old man back in my hometown,
They gave me this plot of land,
Me and some other men,
For a job well done.
Arlington – Trace Adkins
By now, you have probably heard the news about a push for a veterans cemetery in Orange County. The idea isn’t new. Almost since the Marines left El Toro and Tustin, veterans have been pushing for a place to host their final rest. Unfortunately, most of it was just talk as politicians were too busy deciding which of their cronies would benefit from some of the most valuable land in the county. And, although some may have briefly discussed the idea in conjunction with the Great Park or other developments, the idea kind of fell into the background of discussions.
Recently, though, the idea of a veterans cemetery has been revived and is, in fact, gaining a lot of support both here and in Sacramento. On Saturday, I attended a meeting in Buena Park (lured by the prospect of a free pancake breakfast) hosted by Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva. Earlier this year, Quirk-Silva introduced a bill that would clear the way for the establishment of a state run veterans cemetery in Orange County. AB1453 was wisely written with the idea of powerful developers nixing the use of valuable property near the Great Park and allows for the establishment of a cemetery “somewhere” in the county.
This is important legislation as, without it, a veterans cemetery would likely not ever come to pass. That’s because the Feds have a corner on veterans cemeteries in the area. And, because there are open cemeteries within 65 miles of Orange County, they will not consider constructing one here. That leaves the Golden State to do the job, if they are willing – and they are.
Assemblywoman Quirk-Silva came to the breakfast meeting with an appetite and good news. AB1453, introduced in January of this year, sailed through the Assembly and is now going through the legislative process in the Senate. In fact, Senator Lou Correa’s Senate Veterans Affairs Committee passed the bill on June 24th and sent it to Senate Appropriations Committee with recommendation to the Consent Calendar. To date, there have been zero “no” votes on this bill.
In Orange County Board of Supervisor Todd Spitzer’s most recent missive, you would think the whole thing was his idea. Never one to miss an opportunity for self-aggrandizing, Spitzer has a photo of him and Veterans Advisory Council Chair, Bobby McDonald prominently displayed at the top of his weekly newsletter. He talks about how he is looking for a donation of more than a 100 acres and then goes on to suggest a location near Modjeska Grade Road (100.03 acres, to be exact) as a possibility.
The Third District is a natural fit to provide a home to a veterans cemetery because it has the canyons and a significant and substantial amount of the most open space in the vicinity of the Marine Corps Air Station El Toro,” Spitzer said. “It’s time to come together in the Third District to find a viable option. I’m inviting Orange County leaders in the Third District to get the word out that we are in search of a land donation of over 100 acres to build a veterans cemetery.
Notice Spitzer doesn’t mention the old Marine Corps base property as a viable location. Perhaps that’s because, according to the Liberal OC, developers are doing their best to deflect the idea. Five Points Homes, a large developer of the old base property, is not too keen on the idea. In fact, they made a presentation at the Irvine Ad Hoc Committee for a Veterans Cemetery and Memorial meeting in June to propose other locations around Orange County. Alternatives for them included the Tustin MCAS, Los Alamitos Joint Forces Training Base and the Seal Beach NWS. The one “ideal” space was curiously located in San Juan Capistrano, just off Interstate 5, about as far away from the Great Park as you can get.
Although there is no script to go along with the PowerPoint slides, one gets the idea: Great Park Bad, other spots (any other), good. Face it, who would want to have their kids grow up around a nasty old cemetery. And, just think of the drop in home prices.
Never mind that, according to reliable sources, Orange County is home to the highest number of veterans (and homeless veterans) in the nation. Never mind that Orange County had and still has a huge military presence and history with all services represented. About the only ones who don’t think placing a veterans cemetery at the Great Park is appropriate are those who desperately want the income that would be lost by establishing one.
We think MCAS El Toro is the most appropriate location to honor our veterans. The city of Tustin has wisely joined a majority of cities In supporting AB1453. It’s unfortunate that neither John Nielsen (who was more concerned his business cronies would have to pay more property tax) or Beckie Gomez thought enough to support it with an official resolution, opting for a letter instead. Now, what would have been great is if Chuck Puckett and Allan Bernstein would put as much effort in locating the cemetery at MCAS Tustin (near the blimp hangars would be good) as they are in getting Arte Moreno to relocate the Angels.
Surely, the time has come to bring this dream to fruition. Every veterans organization from the Orange County Veterans Advisory Council to The American Legion, to the Veterans of Foreign Wars are actively involved with this project. More than 200 veterans and interested persons showed up to hear Assemblywoman Quirk-Silva’s update on AB1453 and efforts to put this plan together.
Importantly, Quirk-Silva said AB1453 is just the beginning. Once the legislative authority has been granted, money still needs to be raised. Hope lies in the Feds who, although they won’t establish a cemetery here, will provide grant money to allow the state to establish and run one. Speaking as a veteran, I don’t really care one way or the other where the money comes from. The important thing is to honor our veterans by giving them a final resting place near their home. By rights, that resting place should be on, what The American Legion 29th District Commander, Bill Cook, called “Sacred Ground”.
It looks like this week’s meeting of the Tustin Planning Commission has been cancelled. So, let’s talk about what happened at last week’s Tustin City Council meeting. It was fairly short, at just over an hour, and half of it was taken up by the public hearing on an appeal for a massage parlor license.
As you probably recall, the Planning Commission tackled this issue a few weeks ago and denied a license for a “day spa” at a location where the cops had previously busted the business owners for prostitution. Day spa, by the way, seems to be the euphemism for massage parlor. It’s unfortunate because legitimate spas have a hard time overcoming the stigma attached to this.
The City Council heard the appeal and I was surprised at, not only the number of people that spoke in favor of this appeal, but also who spoke. Prior to discussion by the public was a presentation by city staff on the prostitution bust last year of the previous business as well as testimony by one of the Tustin PD officers who investigated the massage parlor in a sting operation. It was so cool when the cameras were diverted so the undercover officer couldn’t be identified. I would have opted for altering his voice as well just in case he ever works on phone sex stings.
Surprisingly, one of the first to speak in favor of the appellant was the owner of the building where the massage parlor planned to do business. Mary Ann Miller and her husband both attended the meeting to decry the way the city was treating the applicant. Miller made sure everyone knew her husband is not only a businessman in Tustin but also a former city councilman who “sat in those seats up there”. She also made sure to mention how she has also been involved in the community they live in. In her own words, she stated she and her husband are fine, upstanding citizens of Tustin.
Miller went on to say that her building has had a spa tenant for the past ten years and never had a problem….at least that she heard about. She said she would check the landscaping and other maintenance issues but, apparently, it wasn’t until recently that she went to enter the building using her key and found the locks changed. Huh. She stated that she never once heard anything about “the prostitution issue”.
Miller stated she was confronted by the building owner from next door who she claimed to know well (except the person didn’t know her) and was asked if she was the madame of the massage parlor. “I didn’t even know what she was talking about”, claimed Miller. She went on to lament how her and her husband were being found guilty without a trial and they knew nothing about the prostitution.
According to Miller, the city is holding that against them as they attempt to rent the building out to the new spa business. Complaining that their livelihood is at stake, saying that she interviewed the new prospective tenants, she has found them to be of good character and decided they wouldn’t be involved in prostitution like the former tenants.
Too bad she didn’t read my blog or she might have seen how the new tenants of good character are tied directly to the old, disreputable tenants.
It’s interesting our state legislators are about to wrestle with this problem – again.
According to Capitol Alert, cops and cities are hoping the legislators will work out the kinks in massage parlor regulation that is scheduled to sunset soon. A sunset oversight committee of the business and professions committees will review the upcoming debate over the California Massage Therapy Council that was created to assist in regulating the industry. Unless action is taken, the Council will discontinue and massage licensing will revert entirely to local control.
Since it was created, the CMTC has certified and licensed massage practitioners and given general oversight to the industry. The idea was to eliminate the “bad” elements and legitimize the practice. By and large, the industry backed the CMTC hoping for some continuity in regulation that, up to then, had been mostly ineffective
The new regulations and licensing established by the CMTC do not seem to have worked as advertised and now, many in the industry as well as the League of California Cities is asking legislators to restore some local control. That’s because businesses that utilize massage therapists certified by CMTC are not subject to the same scrutiny as those who don’t. So, all a massage business has to do is to hire “legitimate” therapists or have their own certified and then have them do what they want them to.
Unfortunately, that doesn’t solve the problem in an industry driven by sex slavery or who employ those who are forced into prostitution for financial need. These are the stark realities that the legislature has, so far, chosen to mostly ignore.
So, forgive me if I have little concern for the Millers financial plight.
Others, mostly on the Miller’s side, spoke in favor of the appellant even though it was clear there was a tie with the previous owners who had been busted for prostitution. And, while I heard everyone saying give her a chance, what I really heard was the jingle of coin in the background, telling me the real reason for supporting a shady business such as this.
Now, the real kicker was when the spokesperson for the appellant stood up at Councilperson Gomez’ invitation and lamented how the poor appellant (who did not speak because she doesn’t speak English very well) was the victim of the previous owner who told her everything was fine. It cost her $80 thousand to find out it wasn’t fine. So, by their way of thinking, Tustin should approve the license. Hey, I know Tustin is reported to be a business friendly town but…..
It took the City Council all of three minutes to deny the appeal and uphold the denial. It would have gone faster but John Nielsen had to take a page from the Jerry Amante playbook and do a little grandstanding about a subject he obviously knew nothing about.
In other business, the city council discussed the lease for the new fire station 37 which will take the place of the old fire station on Service Road. Questions regarding response time from the new station to the old areas traditionally served were answered and everyone was reassured that they would continue to receive great service from our fire department. Interestingly, Councilman Nielsen asked that the item be pulled from the Consent Calendar for discussion and then recused himself. We had previously opined that he had just bought or rented a place on the base, pending his divorce. Hopefully, he won’t keep us in suspense much longer.
The only other noteworthy item (in our opinion) on the calendar was to approve the construction of the Bocce Ball courts at Peppertree Park. It will cost almost $117 thousand but the smiles on our seniors faces as they roll those colored balls will be priceless.
It was a reasonably quiet hall for Tuesday’s city council meeting. Part of that was due to the fact that neither Councilmember Beckie Gomez or John Nielsen was in the house. I suspect more of it was due to the boring nature of the agenda items, however.
With two councilmembers absent, there weren’t enough backs around to pat for Public Hearing Item No. 1. This item is one of the biggest residential developments to date on the MCAS property. And, while everyone was buzzing about it, the mayor announced the (yes) vote on the item would be postponed until the next meeting when all members of the council could be here.
The second hearing item on the CDBG funds was a non-issue with almost no discussion and a quick vote to accept. Likewise, with the consent calendar where, if Gomez had been there, we might have seen the police vehicle purchase pulled for some type of discussion. At least this moves one of Mayor Murray’s goals to enhance public safety (more on that later).
Who’s Got the Money?
The regular session highlights included a report on the CAFR. Finance Director, Pamela Arends-King gave the city council a bit of good news, letting them know the city is in the black due to sales tax and other revenue resources. She also let them know there were no audit findings. Maybe Pam is worth that extra 5% after all. Needless to say, the bewildered city council (remember, Beckie wasn’t there) had no questions or comment other than to thank the “team” for what they do.
For what it is worth, the Finance Department has done an outstanding job, although we suspect it is more to do with the city riding the economic recovery train than any magic coming form the cubicles. The finance department, giving the mid-year budget review also gave us good news concerning the economic recovery and its impact on revenue. Of course, what is taken in is spent. The best news was that reserves would not be dug into as deeply and the reserve funding would rise to 31 percent.
A significant item Tuesday, at least for those of us in Old Town Tustin, was the request to advertise for a consultant to develop what the city is currently calling a “commercial core plan”. We like it. Now Mayor Murray needs to remember that, regardless of how boring the meeting (and how few of the public are in the room), many of us watch on cable TV or the video and the presentations are often as important for the publicity they generate as informing the council. So, next time they want to do a presentation just say, “Oh, by all means…”
After listening to Elizabeth Binsack’s presentation, though, we wonder why they need a consultant. Binsack outlined a pretty comprehensive plan for the downtown area and it wouldn’t take much to flesh it out. The selected consultant would be required to work with a city staff steering committee, taking input from community focus groups and workshops. Sounds pretty in-depth and something that could be done in-house. Now, if they could just get going on the residential area with the second unit ordinance they promised.
We get it, Chuck
You know it is an election year. people start doing odd but obvious things to promote certain cronies for office. It’s no coincidence that Al Murray was unanimously elected Mayor by his peer for a second year. Mayor sounds slightly better than Councilman on the ballot.
And, we really didn’t need Chuck Puckett’s thirty second dissertation on how great Al is and what a wonderful speech he is going to give at the Mayor’s Inaugural Speech later this year, and how he just can’t wait for the State of the City speech… well, you get the drift. This is the most animated I’ve seen Chuck since he took office.
Murray himself is playing it safe. His recently stated goals for the coming year are about as non-committal as it can get.
Touching on what he will do for public safety and for seniors, he establishes a strong tie with both by building on what is already there. CALEA Accreditation was earned on former Tustin Chief Scott Jordan’s watch. It had been a long time coming and, frankly, the city council can do little to help. Let’s hope Interim Chief Celano is up to the task. If Murray really wanted to solidify public safety, he would push City Manager Jeff Parker into finding a permanent Chief.
The Senior Center at Peppertree Park is but one facet of what the city needs to help the senior community here in Tustin. Our city is growing, however, and a better aim might be to establish another center elsewhere in our town.
But, we will take the bocce ball courts, thanks.
Murray has not forgotten to let his business cronies know that he will be looking for support from them this year. Goal two is to improve and facilitate economic development through business attraction and retention. We love the goal. We just hate how some of it has been to the detriment of the residents over the past few years.
Murray has also stated that he wants to implement a transparent and sustainable community outreach (communication) program. Yes, a new website would be nice. What would be better is a Public Information Officer that will speak to the public, press and blogs, even when they don’t always have nice things to say about them. With a city manager that refuses to speak to anyone critical of city management (the city manager in particular), it is difficult to see how Murray intends to accomplish this. A bright, shiny new website will only go so far in establishing transparency and open government. A PIO who can take the occasional public hit would be better.
And while I am glad to see the Mayor wants to recognize our military history, perhaps he should start by asking former (and current) councilmembers why they did away with one of the finest Veteran’s Day parades, whittling it down over the years to a small celebration that, had it not been for our local American Legion Post 227, would have died even sooner. The city did everything in its power to quash any celebration of our military history. For several years, there was bad blood between the Legion leadership and the city. And, nothing has really been done to effectively change the situation.
Mayor Murray probably won’t have to worry. He is about as safe and sane as Red Devil fireworks. And, during his tenure, he has shown that he can stand up to the pressure of leadership. The devastation of the killing spree that wound up in Tustin last year was an example. Murray conveyed the collective despair of our city while keeping the public informed. And, except for the occasional bewildered look when the finance director drops a 40 page summary on his desk, he manages to take care of the city business. And, he doesn’t carry a stupid dog with him when he rides in parades.
We hear there will be no mudslinging from either of the two incumbents running this year. Whether that deal holds together will probably depend on who runs against them. But both Murray and Gomez are in a pretty safe place right now. Let’s just hope Nielsen stays too busy with his pending divorce to “help” Al.