Our good mayor, Jerry “Boss Tweed ” Amante, was in fine ranting form during Tuesday’s city council meeting. Of course, prior to that, he had to make sure the public knew just how much he respects our Veterans, particularly those members of Post 227 of The American Legion. Our good mayor has not always had such a congenial relationship with our local veterans organizations or, for that fact, many of the local civic organizations he deals with as leader of our community. There was a time, in fact, that The American Legion was not welcome at city council meetings. That seems to have passed, as their color guard regularly shows up these days to “post the Colors”.
Tuesday was no different. But, when dealing with the Tustin City Council one should, as they say, expect the unexpected. The other day Our Town Tustin wrote about the Tuesday city council agenda and the fact the cellphone project in Cedar Grove Park was scheduled to be axed as part of the consent calendar.
Lo and behold, Boss Tweed Amante decided to pull the item for discussion. Now, understand, a lot of people have had a lot to say over a couple of seemingly innocuous flagpoles. And, it wasn’t like the project was doomed from the start. The design review has been going on for a few years. The issue, of course, is the folks living in the area don’t really want the tower in any way, shape or form in their neighborhood park. Apparently, Jerry doesn’t seem to get that. And, there appear to be adequate alternatives to the proposed site.
Jerry came out swinging. He complained that the poor, mistreated, applicant had submitted multiple design reviews, costing thousands of dollars, all of which had received objections from the community. He complained about the fact that both a co-locatable site and the current single facility site had been rejected. He complained about how badly the citizens of this community were treating their “business partners” in forcing them to develop multiple plans and spend hundreds of thousands of dollars in doing so, all for naught. Jerry went as far as to say that the community was being illogical (I guess gullible didn’t work here) because they had rejected both a co-locatable site and a single use site. Of course, what he failed to mention is that the two proposals were completely different in design, in different areas of the park and that T-Mobile, in an effort to appease the opposition, went from co-locatable to single user facility. But, that’s Amantilogic for you. Remember, at the last meeting Jerry proclaimed that, “…I can’t explain to you how your cellphone works in those faraway places. I don’t even understand how the little people get in my television.” Well, he is a lawyer, not an electrical engineer.
The real reason for Jerry’s ire was obvious. Jerry was angry the Tustin rabble had the nerve to complain about a business deal that they were largely kept out of the loop on. That is the cellular master plan that was developed years ago. ATS, who makes a living talking communities like ours into letting cellular companies put up cell sites where they please regardless of how they may affect the aesthetics or the well-being of the community, was miffed. Jerry went on to say how hundreds of thousands of dollars were spent on developing this site and it now seemed to be wasted. And, by his own admission, there is a lot of money at stake here for both the city in rental fees as well as the cellphone operators in income. So, the real reason behind Jerry’s rant was because the local rabble had caused his business buddies to waste money developing cell site plans that would not come to fruition. I heard the number at about $200,000. Say, isn’t that the “risk” part of business that Republicans always like to talk about? Oh, and to put this in perspective, T-Mobile’s earnings last year was 1.3 billion dollars, according to Cnet News. Verizon, by the way, earned 35 billion dollars.
Jerry’s hit man, Al Murray, chimed in about public safety aspects and how the poor folks in the area would not be able to make emergency phone calls. Of course, he must not have been listening at earlier meetings when it was found that there were a very few number of people that would be affected by this because almost no one uses T-Mobile (in comparison to the big three) and the primary reason for the cell site was to provide overall coverage to transient users, not homeowners who decided to dump their landline telephone service. Newsflash, Al. Jerry’s a lame duck politician. You should spend less time being his yes man and more time trying to develop relationships with the left side of the dais.
Jim Nielsen stepped into the fray, risking a slapdown by Hizzoner by siding with the good folks of Tustin Ranch. In his milktoast way, Jerry’s black ops guy, rightfully pointed out that, taking the opposition to the Cedar Grove Park cell site and trying to say that would change policy or the cellular plan for the rest of the city, was overreaching. He went even further to say that Jerry’s characterization of the issue was misleading. Oh, come on, John, use the favored word here. Jerry was being disingenuous.
Of course, the slapdown came. “I think it’s not misleading at all,” rants a red-faced Hizzoner, “I Think it’s exactly what you are communicating to the public”. Which public, Jerry, your business buddies who stood to make millions off this venture or the resident public of Tustin Ranch who would have to live with the giant twin toothpicks in their park? He went on to blather about how the very first plan that came up under “our” plan is being rejected. He went on to cite the applications of two more cell cites scheduled for environmentally sensitive parks. Oh, did we tell you there are hefty rental fees to be paid to the city by the cellular providers should these sites be approved?
You see, the only one here who didn’t get it was Jerry. I won’t comment much on Al because he appeared to be too wrapped up in his iPad to really understand what is going on unless Jerry explained it to him. His total input consisted of repeatedly asking the ever present question, what would happen in an emergency? Well, probably the same thing that happens in any emergency. A hundred or so cellphone calls would be received by Tustin PD dispatch and OCFA Dispatch and emergency personnel would arrive to save the day. That wasn’t hard now, was it, Al? If you are that concerned about it, ask T-Mobile to put a cell site in your back yard.
The swan song was when the representative for T-Mobile, Joe Thompson, stood up at the podium (after the question was called by Deborah Gavello) and lamented how the big, mean City of Tustin enticed him and his company into bringing his state-of-the-art cell sites to the city with promises of working together in perfect harmony to overlay the city with cellular coverage from his third rate company. It looked as though he was about to cry at the podium as he complained about the whole $200,000 dollars squandered in an effort to provide much needed services to those ingrate, “dishonest”, Tustinites. He went on to babble about speeding tickets in 1926 and other issues that did not pertain to the actual issue: that the residents did not want a cell site in this particular location. He also made the obligatory threat to move his cell site to public lands and, in the meantime, none of the 30 or so T-Mobile custmers who might have been affected by this cell site, would get a signal. Obviously, he must have been one of Jerry’s business buddies because he just didn’t get it either.
So, in the end, Gavello got her question called. The Council voted. And, to most everyone’s surprise, the design review was voted down, 3-2 with Nielsen voting with the left side of the dais. Hmm. This is getting to be a habit. So, you may see the T-Mobile guy cruising the streets of Tustin, looking for a new site to put his flagpoles….I mean, cell site. Keep walking and don’t look him in the eye.
By the way, Jerry, the flagpoles wouldn’t have really looked like flagpoles. Take a look at the design drawings. I have never seen a flagpole with an antenna screen hanging off the top…unless it was actually a cell tower in disguise.
Don’t be in a hurry to get to the Tustin City Council meeting tonight. The Close Session looks like a marathon. I am not sure they will make it out by 7pm. Depending on how you read it, they may be looking at either two or four new possible lawsuits. Most of the rest of it will be taken up with discussions with real property negotiators for Crossroads Church, the Army Reserves, and three others. Of course, I am always interested in why we are purchasing property in Anaheim and Aliso Viejo. I am sure it has something to do with the redevelopment agency.
The other two items on the closed session agenda are, of course, the lawsuits between the City and the Tustin Unified School District. I was advised today that the original lawsuit, brought by TUSD over the grading permits, is scheduled to go to trial in November. I won’t hold my breath on the date. I will keep you posted.
What I am really excited about is the last item, I. PUBLIC EMPLOYEE APPOINTMENT pursuant to Government Code Section 54957(b) – City Manager. Is it possible the search committee has finally found someone willing to come to work for this Council? Let’s hope so. It would be nice to have someone take over for our retired, interim manager and send him packing. Although I am sure, with a little brainstorming, they can come up with a new title and let Bill continue to work for the city as a double dipper as well.
As we get into the regular agenda, I would like to tip my hat to my good friend, Deacon Martin Ruiz, of St. Cecilia Catholic Church. Deacon Ruiz is also the Catholic Chaplain for Orange County Juvenile Hall where he ministers to our lost youth. He is one of the kindest and most joyful men I know. It is nice to see that he will be giving the invocation for the evening’s meeting. We all know they can use a little help from up above. And Deacon Ruiz is just the go-between they need.
Item number 2 is a public hearing on a “Design Review”. I love the names the staff give these agenda items. This is item has to do with the proposed cellphone towers to be located at Cedar Grove Park. I know there are people out there that are concerned about the health aspects of having a cellphone tower near their home. All I can say is, you can’t have your cake and eat it too. This item has been hanging around for way too long. Except for the fact that it will be a single user tower (T-Mobile), there really shouldn’t be an issue with this. Tustin suffers from poor cell reception in a lot of areas (like my house). The cell site will be asthetically pleasing, so I am led to believe. The Council should make a decision, one way or the other. Our Town Tustin recommends passage.
City staff and negotiators, along with the respective employee unions should be commended in coming to agreement on fair and equitable employee contracts that will help the city maintain solvency in future years. Agenda Item 10 proposes an amendment to the contracts for employees that will create (or recreate) a new, lower tier for both public and public safety employees in the city. It was a tough call that needed to be made.
Item 14 brings back the issue that Jerry Amante spoke of last Council meeting regarding Council stipends and benefits. Specifically, Amante asked for information regarding a ballot measure that would turn over the question of pay and benefits for council members to the citizens of Tustin. However, that is not what the staff came up with. The accompanying agenda report discusses a ballot measure that, if approved, would eliminate council stipends and beneifts. That is not exactly what Jerry said. Perhaps the staff shoujld spend more time listening to the video of the meeting.
While we are not big on city councilmembers receiving health and dental benefits, we do believe that stipends are necessary to compensate councilmembers, in part, for their time and service to the community. To eliminate stipends altogether may cause a problem when only the most well-to-do among us can serve. To that end, certainly a referendum should be placed on the ballot to allow voters to determine stipend amounts, if any. How? That deserves further discussion. But, we have plenty of time until the next election.