Blog Archives

Yes, There’s a Meeting

Jeff Thompson Meeting for MeetingThe Planning Commission will have a pretty short meeting Tuesday, with only one item on the calendar. That, of course, is barring any lengthy comments from the public. There is also an ominous “presentation” by Elizabeth Binsack at the end of the evening regarding an unnamed subject.

The sole item of interest is on the Consent Calendar and, unless someone pulls it for discussion, it will pass along with the approval of the previous meeting’s minutes. The item, a request for a Use Determination and Conditional Use Permit, would allow Golubitsky Fencing Center to establish a training facility in a light industrial business park on Edniger Avenue near Redhill.

I’m not sure why it needed a sales pitch but, the description of the facility discusses Golubitsky’s involvement with fencing and his awards which includes a silver medal at the Olympics. In any case, it’s a great addition to the recreational venues available to Tustinites and the location is appropriate.

That’s probably a good thing because they have been operating out of this facility for awhile now and the city apparently just caught up with them. The location requires a CUP because “fencing” doesn’t appear in the city codes as an allowable activity (how short sighted). In any case, the city seems to like the idea hence the placement on the Consent Calendar.

Hot on the heels of the recent opening of the new El Camino Cafe in the Del Rio Building in Old Town Tustin, the city has finally released the draft Commercial Design Guidelines for the Cultural Resources District. If you are a glutton for punishment, the 194 page document can be found here. Remember, I warned you.

According to the introductory letter, the guidelines will be used for property preservation and development within the overlay district. It will also:

…provide enhancement or appendix for other city codes for features such as:

  • Business identification signs to help preserve and enhance the character of Old Town Tustin.
  • Tips for energy efficiency to promote sustainability in your project or property.
  • Ideas for landscaping on private property and the public right of way, and suggestions for improving the overall street environments.
  • Photos and graphics that help explain improvements that can be made to properties.
  • Resources and websitelinks to make it easier to find additional information.

Overall, having a comprehensive set of guidelines is important, particuarly to Old Town residents and businesses. Historically, however, city staff has taken a heavy hand toward anything that doesn’t meet their own personal standard of how the area should look. In addition, the city has a history of showing favoritism to certain residents and businesses. These folks have either been influential because of their standing in the community (not necessarily a bad thing) or their political contributions (a bad, bad thing).

Evidence the fact of the city’s real intent is in the draft guidelines. At one point in the introduction, the dissertation reads:

The Guidelines are intended to serve as a “yardstick” against which proposed projects may be measured. The Guidelines are not intended to be strict development standards as are found in the Zoning Ordinance. It is recognized that not all design principles or criteria may be workable or appropriate for each project, but all applicable projects are encouraged to follow the Guidelines to the greatest extent possible. Therefore, they may be interpreted by the City with some flexibility when applied to specific projects.

This, of course, gives the city an out in regard to how forcefully they will enforce the guidelines against individual businesses. In other words, if you are in, you are in – if you are out, you can kiss your project goodbye.

And, the issue comes to the forefront in regard to “new infill development”. Albeit, there are few lots in the business district in Old Town that are vacant, we do have some. A recent example is the Del Rio building that was built on the old Riteway Dry Cleaners. That lot had a business and an apartment on the rear of the lot. When the new owners wanted to develop the lot, they asked for a business on the first floor with a residence on the second floor (presumably owner-occupied). The city nixed the plan, saing that further contaminant testing would be required than was already accomplished. It should be interesting to see if they require the same depth of testing for the proposed restaurant and living quarters being built on the old auto parts store lot next to Mrs. B’s.

So, will the public or local business owners chime in on the draft plans? They should as this document will (or shold) be used to regulate future business and building in Old Town Tustin. This is probably the most important step toward reahbilitation of the area that should be as viable as the historic downtowns of Fullerton and Orange. And, it’s all in the hands of a (so-called) trusted few.

On the Planning Commission Agenda – February 25, 2014

paperbag guy

Only Known Photo of Sam Altowaiji

Jeff Thompson 2

Jeff Thompson

There is not much happening on the Planning Commission agenda this week. After last week’s near riot at the Tustin City Council meeting, the city staff are probably thankful for a little boredom.  There are no public hearings but city staff will present the draft of the Commercial Design Guidelines for the Cultural Overlay District.

The Agenda Item states the draft is ready to be released on the city website and to stakeholders for a 30 day review period. Interestingly, the city does not consider the local residents of Old Town to be stakeholders. As this is our area of town, one would think they are interested in what the city intends to do with it, commercially or otherwise. Of course, the residents of the area have never been much of a consideration for the Community Development Department.

We only have a copy of the memo to the Planning Commission to go on as well. Apparently, the city didn’t think enough to include any presentation or the guidelines handbook itself. So, we’ll just have to wait until the city updates their website.

If the memo gives us any hint, the design guidelines are established to keep a sense of continuity in Old Town (a good thing) while allowing a degree of flexibility in design and use of materials. The handbook will also address “adaptive reuse” where a historic structure is repurposed for another use. This sort of happened at the Utt Juice Building where the original structure was torn down and live/work lofts were built. Some of the brick used in the original structure was reused in the facade of the new building. Hey, at least it is something.

In any case, the CDG is also supposed to go hand in hand with the RDG (Residential Design Guidelines). Maybe after this, they can finish up the second structure issue.

The only other item on the agenda, this week, is the 2013 General Plan Annual Report for the MCAS Tustin Specific Plan. The plan is required to be approved by the city council and staff are asking for permission to send it along. This is a routine item but, in case you haven’t seen it before (or your a glutton for punishment)  you can access is here. Warning, it is 213 pages long.

That’s it for the week. Congratulations to Sam and Jeff for their reappointment. It’s no real surprise and one wonders, if the incumbents were re-applying, why they bothered extending the timeframe for folks to apply to the commission. A lot of good applicants in the field that had their bubble burst thinking they might have a shot. That’s politics.

On The Planning Commission Agenda – January 14, 2014

Credit:  Norroen-Stjarna deviantart.com

Credit: Norroen-Stjarna deviantart.com

Out the gate for 2014, the Tustin City Planning Commission doesn’t have much on their plate for the actual meeting. Two public hearings, that I doubt will engender much discussion, head up the agenda. It is what happens before the regular meeting that may allow the Commissioners to earn their stipend this week.

Finally, We Can Agree On Something

It may be hard to believe but, the city of Tustin and the Tustin unified School District finally agree on something. Prior to the Planning Commission Meeting, the PC will meet as the Board of Appeals to hear an appeal from  the Irvine Company concerning school tax assessments.

The Irvine Company is building apartments on parts of the MCAS base and was sent a bill by the city regarding school fee assessments. The Tustin Building Official assessed the developer almost $2.3 million dollars for a multi-building apartment complex that includes in its square footage calculations, entry corridors and storage areas.
The Irvine Company inquired about the fee assessment and how the city went about calculating fees. Tustin responded by saying the fees were within statute and standard city practice:

The 2009 International Building Code defines a “Walkway, pedestrian” as providing “a connection between two buildings.” In addition, Section 1107A.23W of the 2010 California Building Code states that “a walkway is a surface pedestrian way, not contiguous to a street, used by the public.” The corridors proposed with the Legacy Villas development provide access to and egress from the proposed apartment units, are located within the perimeter of the exterior walls, and are not open to the atmosphere above. The listed exception for a walk or “walkway” is not the same as an interior corridor.

The city went on to say that statutory code allows them to interpret space for calculation purposes in accordance with their common practice. That is to say, they can do it pretty much the way they always have. To back that up, they gave an example of how they calculated the space with another apartment complex and, because the developers did not complain, it must have been right.

The Irvine Company fired back with an appeal, saying that the city was reading the statutes wrong. Essentially, the developer’s argument is that the interior corridors should be treated as “walkways” and that the city’s interpretation of the state code conflicts with the plain language intent:

“‘Assessable space,’ for this purpose, means all of the square footage within the perimeter of a residential structure, not including any carport, walkway, garage, overhang, patio, enclosed patio, detached accessory structure, or similar area.”

Essentially, the developer argues that the legislature, through statutory language, limits assessment to living space.

Irvine Company lawyers also attacked the question of the city’s determination of what is assessable through its “standard practice”. The developer states that the city belief that its standard practice” for determining assessment allows them to supersede state law when that part of the statute really only allows them to follow a standard practice in the application of their ministerial duties of collecting the assessments, not determining what can be assessed.

It is no surprise that Tustin Unified School District has weighed in on the matter, although we wonder why the Irvine Company asked them to.  In what in court would be called an “amicus brief”, the district chimed in saying the city is correct in their interpretation of the law. Laughably, the district chooses to determine the legislature’s  intent when they wrote the statute:

…the Company argues that the above-listed areas share the common attribute that they “are not areas people live in” therefore, the Legislature intended that all non-livable areas should be excluded from “assessable space.” This is incorrect. If that was truly the Legislature’s intent, it could have easily defined “assessable space” to mean the spaces people lived in. Instead, the Legislature listed specific areas to be excluded.

Well, it’s obvious the writer doesn’t read many legislative Bills when they are introduced. Much of the language coming from the California Senate is vague, usually in an effort to be all-inclusive. What winds up in the finished product is usually after multiple amendments in a further attempt at clarification (that usually fails).

Judging from the fact the current Planning Commission is made up of cronies of the Tustin City Council, you can bet that plenty of folks have put their heads together on this. Of the two primary issues at hand. Tustin’s “standard practice” as interpreted by the Irvine Company should be relatively simple to resolve. Unfortunately, it is this type of thinking, that state law can be superseded at the whim of the city, that often gets them in trouble. The Community Development Department has not had a good track record when opposition is mounted.

I would take no bets on the issue of interpreting “walkways”. The Irvine Company makes a good argument that, basically, only livable areas designed for actual occupation should be included in school fee calculations. When they are not backed by constituent passion (like gun control), legislators have a habit of ballparking issues in generalities, hoping the details will work themselves out. Sometimes that works, sometimes not. Tustin, for its part, has historically relied on their past practice or “standard practice”, as they call it here, to justify their actions. If anything, it should be an interesting fight. I am willing to bet this will wind up in court where the city is sure to spend tax dollars defending a questionable issue.

And the school district? Well, they had nothing to lose by chiming in on the city’s side. After all, it is in their best interest as they will reap the benefit of a successful action by Tustin. The difference is over $500,000 in school fees. That can buy a lot of iPads.

On The City Council Agenda – November 5, 2013

Hidden Agenda ClipartWith only one public hearing item on the agenda, the upcoming meeting of the Tustin City Council has no hidden surprises for the us particularly since the one potential controversy will be postponed again until later this month.

The Closed Session lists the usual suspects in conference with legal counsel for  two each items of exposure and initiation of litigation. One item under consideration of particular interest is the Department of Finance case that has been pending for several weeks.

The bulk of the Closed Session will consist of real property negotiations, mostly for MCAS property. It includes discussions with the Tustin Unified School District. It seems the friction between the two has been eliminated and the city and district are moving past Heritage.

The city is also negotiating with the US Army Reserve Center to complete a land swap that would free up the land next to the District that is currently housing the reserve center. We can see the city’s reasoning but, after visiting the center during the recent Veteran’s Stand Down, we’d be hard pressed to see why the Army would want to give up nice buildings on frontage property without some hefty compensation.

On the Regular Meeting agenda, three presenations are scheduled. One of these is from Lisa Telles of the Transportation Corridor Agencies. We figure anything she has to say, she will be preaching to the choir. This city council continues to buck the majority opinion in this county regarding the proposed Foothill Extension as well as OCTA’s revival of the toll road idea for the 405 Freeway carpool lanes.

The sole Public Hearing item on the agenda is a run-of-the-mill ordinance adoption for the California Building Code. With few exceptions, the city generally follows the state guidelines on code matters. Those exceptions center mostly around the low rainfall and hot climate we find ourselves in. The limitations center on building materials suitable for the area (think untreated wood shingles, for one).

As we said, the sole item of possible controversy on the agenda has, once again, been postponed until November. Item 4, City Treasurer Appointment, will be continued to the next meeting supposedly to allow staff to continue their research and review.

The city treasurer’s position has been vacant since the death of George Jeffries in April. City Finance Director, Pamela Arends-King was appointed interim treasurer at the time. We have been in favor of Arends-King taking over the duties of Treasurer but not at a rate and benefit increase amounting to over twice what was paid Jeffries. Parker’s previous recommendation of an $8,000 raise of the finance director to take over what is, arguably, a minimal addition of duties, is absurd. The city recently raked the line staff employee union over the coals, demanding takeaways and offering virtually no raises. Parker continues to reward high level management with the savings, lavishing newly retitled positions and raises for their fealty.

At the October 1 meeting, Parker offered another alternative that was not in the staff report. That would be to incorporate the Audit Commission as another “set of eyes” for city investments. This seems a wise thing to do, although as Parker pointed out, city’s are highly restricted in their investment lattitude since the Orange County Bankruptcy days.

It’s curious that Parker fibbed to the public and the city council when remarking that the city would save money by keeping the City Treasurer’s job in-house. How do you do that and give your crony an $8k raise? Apparently, even Councilmember Gomez is content with this raid of public funds as she made no mention of it at the October meeting.

Of the Regular Business items, the item regarding Commissioner Interviews and Appointments Process may initiate substantial discussion. However, it is the item before that, the Second Amendment to Amended Orange County Fire Authority Joint Powers Agreement, that should raise a few eyebrows.

On its face, the proposed amendment seeks to establish equity payments between OCFA member cities that belong to the Structural Fire Fund (paid through property tax) and Cash Contract Cities (such as Tustin). What the agreement glosses over is the issues between Irvine and OCFA.

Earlier this year, the city of Irvine sought refunds of money paid, declared its intent to withdraw from OCFA in 2020 and establish its own fire department. According to an article in the OC Register, the city felt it was being overcharged by $35 million dollars a year. OCFA says it is closer to $18 million. The rift has caused concern for the Authority as both sides say that Irvine’s participation is vital to the financial health of OCFA.

Even the players appear a bit shaky as they are also asking for authority to seek court approval of the amendment.

In any case, Tustin could be the beneficiary of equity payments in some years. And, as we all know, our city council loves money regardless of the consequences or where it came from.

Closed Session

Conference with Legal Counsel – Exposure & Initiation of Litigaton, 2 items each.

Conference with Real Property Negotiatiors – Multiple Lots on MCAS, Two Parcels w/TUSD, Tustin Housing Authority parcel on Newport Avenue, Land swap with US Army Reserve.

Joint Regular Meeting

Public Hearing

1.  Ordinance 1435 Amending Certain Chapters of Building Code Related to California Building Standards With Recommended Exceptions.

Consent Calendar

4.  City Treasurer Appointment – (recommend continuance to November 19th)

Regular Business

5.  Second Amendment to Amended OCFA Joint Powers Agreement.

6.  Commissioner Interviews and Appointment Process – Establish a subcommittee process for selecting potential commissioner candidates.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 326 other followers