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On The City Council Agenda – January 20, 2015

Hidden Agenda ClipartUnless the councilmembers suddenly get an urge to actually discuss something, it looks like it will be a fairly short meeting of the Tustin City Council on Tuesday. Councilman Bernsein, are you back yet? Chuck missed you.

The Closed Session, which begins at 5:30 PM, hosts the usual suspects. Several discussions regarding existing or potential litigation include a long standing case, now an appellate case, between the city’s old Redevelopment Agency and the Department of Finance. And, while the city attorney decided to keep the wraps on the case, we’ve been able to surmise it involves several million dollars of disputed RDA funds. It turns out the parties reached an agreement in December and we should soon see this issue drop off the radar.

Redevelopment agencies were dissolved by law back in 2011. Unfortunately, as is the usual case with a half-baked legislature, they only did half the job and made up for it by creating, so-called “successor agencies”. Much of this was in the middle of the state attempting to remain solvent by grabbing as much tax money from cities and counties as possible. This, of course, generated millions of dollars in business for lawyers which, I’m sure, our city attorney is happy to keep going as long as possible.

Most of the Regular Session items are on the Consent Calendar. Perusing the Demands and Payroll, the only item of interest is the apparent high cost of our mylawyercontract city attorneys at Woodruff, Speadlin & Smart. Perhaps City Attorney David Kendig is trying for partner. Total cost of our attorney services this month is $17 thousand and change. That’s apparently in addition to the $34 thousand plus the lawyers charged for Successor RDA work and other legal fees hidden sprinkled throughout the report. You’ll have to be the judge of whether we are getting our money’s worth.

Most of the other items on the agenda are routine business and we doubt they will generate much discussion. Item 6, Long Range Property Management Plan and Item 7, Amend and Reinstate the Working Capital Loan, etc., are two more pieces to the puzzle left by the RDA. We know the city council would love the legislature to reinstate the RDAs in California. Like most cities, they have been dragging their feet and crossing their fingers in hopes of resurrection. With any luck, they will run out of excuses and money to play with and disappear completely before that happens.

Two items will round out the Regular Business. Item 8, Comprehensive Annual Financial Report for Fiscal Year 2014 is the annual financial analysis of the city. I’m not much for numbers but you can read the report here. The short version is here.

Item 9, Commission Vacancies, lists the expiring terms of the Planning, Community Services and Audit Commissions. There are three terms expiring on each. Most of these carry a tidy stipend for a bit of community service. As soon as they are posted, we’ll let you know (along with who has applied).

That’s it for this meeting. We’ll let you know if anything interesting happens…..or anyone shows up for the meeting.

By the way, welcome back Chief Cellano.

On the City Council Agenda – January 6, 2015

Hidden Agenda ClipartHappy New Year to all.

Let’s be glad we still live where the city council is willing to at least give the appearance of listening to the residents of its community. In Los Angeles the city council has come under fire by community activists for letting in too much efficiency to the public forum.

On the home front, this week’s agenda is brief and pretty much to the point. Only the usual suspects inhabit the Closed Session Agenda and even the sole Public Hearing Item on the Regular Agenda is pro forma for this time of year. I will say, looking at staff reports on other items, it appears the city council and Angels owner, Arte Moreno, are close to finishing up a deal on Legacy Property. I doubt it will be for the new stadium, however (did I hear a collective sigh from the dais?).

The Supplemental Law Enforcement Services Grant is a regular January agenda item required by the feds to obtain funding under Citizens Option for Public Safety (COPS). The Chief, or acting chief, is asking for authorization to use the proceeds to staff a crime analyst position for the ninth year. Nothing new here, move along.

Item 4, Destruction of Records, is always a sore point with me. The city supposedly went to an electronic format for the storage of records awhile back. No mention of it here so, we don’t know if the records that are being requested for destruction will be saved electronically. Perhaps the council will care enough to ask.

Item 5, Selective Traffic Enforcement Program, is asking to use the proceeds from another grant for the purchase of replacement equipment. 5 LIDAR (think laser speed detection) units as well as various equipment for DUI enforcement are included. Again, nothing special……except…..

It seems the request memo was signed by Steven Lewis, “Acting Chief of Police”. So, where’s Chief Cellano? I sent an email to City Manager Jeff Parker who has not responded. No mention of any personnel action on the agenda…..hmmmm.

The only other item on the agenda, under Regular Business, is a request for a temporary sign program at the Tustin Legacy. At a cost of nearly $300 thousand dollars, the city council might want to consider an investment in permanent signage instead. This is especially true since, according to the Agenda Report, “staff will be returning with a permanent sign program in the near future…”. I love how the city manager’s staff love to spend other people’s money to make themselves look good.

Shades of Tammany Hall

smoking-460x307Yup, the smoke-filled backrooms behind bars have not faded into the distant past. At least, not here in Orange County.

Yesterday, the ever-declining-in-viable-news Orange County Register reported that shadow politics is alive and well here in the Real OC. If you’ve ever wondered how Tustin City Mayor Chuck Puckett arrives at his decision to deny appoint a fellow councilman a seat on a meaningful political committee or board (think OCTA), he has help.

Every year in November, representatives of the various city councils meet in conference to decide who will be added to what sitting boards. These boards and committees run everything from water and sewage, to transportation (think OCTA again), to even library boards. In fact, membership on almost any oversight board that is not directly elected by the good citizens of Orange County, is likely to be filled here, (now, try not to laugh) in the murky depths of the shadow government.

And, they’re in trouble.

Apparently, this super-secret cabal met November 13th at the Hilton to see who would sit where. And, it seems the Orange County Board of Supervisors is not happy about certain alleged Brown Act violations and they have called the cities out to rectify the situation. Specifically, the BoS is unhappy with the failure to give proper notification of the meeting, as required by law. The answer, of course, is to rescind all appointments and set a new, properly noticed meeting.

The “City Selection Committee” is actually the responsibility of the Clerk of the Orange County Board. So, one would think the whole thing would  be watched closely to make sure all the t’s are crossed and the i’s dotted. Unfortunately, as this political body is prone to do, they sluff off the tough jobs to others, providing little or no oversight, assuming it will run itself. And, when things fall apart or as in this case laws are violated, they do their best to blame others.

In this case, the other is the “League of California Cities” which had been coordinating the the meeting for years until Orange County left the LCC for the “more conservative” ACC-OC. You see, whenever the local government doesn’t like the way things are going, they just pick up their ball and go to another sandlot. They apparently don’t think the public cares enough about day-to-day politics to notice. After all, they’ve been getting away with it this long, haven’t they? And, in the case of starting the ACC-OC, they weren’t going to have the rest of California tell Orange County how to run their show.

The apologists at the Register tried to tone down the violations by saying that not everyone in the room was aware of the apparent transgressions. Then Tustin Mayor, Al Murray, reportedly asked if the meeting had been noticed and he received an affirmative answer. Technically speaking they were right. The meeting had been noticed – to the city council and other political bodies. It just hadn’t been notice to the general public, as required by the Brown Act. Methinks Al, being a retired cop and all, should have investigated further.

At stake here is hundreds of thousands of dollars in stipends and benefits. Oh, you didn’t think that just because you all voted stipends for the city council out of existence they still didn’t get perks, did you? Don’t be silly. Of course there is still money to be made – and lots of it. All paid by you and me, the taxpayers of this county.

For example:

  • Al Murray, OCTA Board of Directors – $5,900 (2013)
  • John Nielsen, OC Sanitation District – $4,921 (2013)
  • Chuck Puckett, Transporation Cooridor Agency – $4,829 (2013)

I’ve written about this in the past when the (of) late Jerry Amante (who also made a heck of a lot of money in stipends) was mayor.

Of course, there are plenty of non-compensated board positions to be had as well. Otherwise, where would the conservative bastion stick their liberal counterparts and enemies of the (Republican) state? Case in point: Beckie Gomez, who has a somewhat perennial seat on the library board and a few other non-prestigious and unpaid committees. Republicans like John Nielsen and Chuck Puckett are not about to go against the tide and nominate liberal members of the council to paying (and influential) positions. Never mind that Gomez refused to take benefits when offered by the city when Nielsen and his cronies continued to gobble them up.

Of course, this leads us to question our own backroom politics. Prior to attending the November meeting Murray, who was mayor then, had to have some guidance on choosing the right man….er, person… for each board assignment. He certainly didn’t do it in a vacuum. So, where on the list of meetings for the past year, is the one where committee assignments were discussed in public? Going back through the archives, there is no record of a “pre-assignment” meeting. You don’t think our own city council would have violated the Brown act (again), do you? Maybe we’ll put a call in to Chuck or Al and ask them.

As a result of the outing by the OCR, the Clerk of the Board of Supervisors, Susan Novak, told the Register she would be taking over the duties as the committee’s recording secretary. She also said a new meeting would be set up after the holidays to re-appoint members to the various boards. Care to bet who will not be nominated to a paid board position? A hint: she’s a she.

On the City Council Agenda – December 16, 2014

Hidden Agenda ClipartThere were no surprises in the recent off-year elections. Al Murray and Beckie Gomez were re-elected to their respective posts as were the TUSD incumbents. It is disappointing to see that not much has changed since the days of Il Duce Amante and his reign of terror over the city.What I am talking about, of course, is the obvious disrespect the good ol’ boys show the only female on the dais by not electing her Mayor for at least one term. It not only shows their true color as chauvinists but borders on discrimination as they are all cut from the same political cloth. Fortunately, the Mayor’s post, in this city, is largely ceremonial with the setting of the agenda probably the most important task. Yet, the Funtastic Four could not see fit to give up even that small amount of power to a woman.

That said, we’ll congratulate Mayor Chuck Puckett to his (re-)ascension to the throne. Anyone care to guess who the next mayor will be?

In closed session tonight, the council will have opening discussions on upcoming labor negotiations with city unions. After the fabulous way they treated the upper crust management last year, everyone should be expecting a reasonable raise. City negotiators lamented the low sales tax return and the high cost of running the city last year, using it as an excuse to not cut a square deal with the employees. That excuse has run its course. We’ll see if the employees are willing to take a stand for a raise this year.

Likewise, in closed session, the city has several property negotations to discuss. This includes a property swap with the Tustin Unified School District. Also under discussion is property negotiations with Arte Moreno’s group, Pacific Coast Investors. The line item says, “Price and Terms of Payment”. Let’s hope it is not for the new Angels-of-Anaheim-at-Tustin stadium. And what is the status of those negotiations, anyway?

First up on the Regular Session, after the usual opening prayer and Closed Session report, is a presentation to Tustin Community Foundation from the website, Great Nonprofits. TCF has been named a Top Rated 2014 charity by them. It’s nice but doesn’t really mean much. Great Nonprofits appears to base their selection on consumer reviews. Think Yelp for charities. I read a few of the more than three pages worth of “reviews” and find them…..well, contrived.

There is a great article on a more believable charity oversight website that sheds some light on the GNP website and their review model. Charity Watch had this to say about their process:

At first, this may seem like a good idea. After all, consumers commonly use reviews on sites like Yelp and Trip Advisor to help them choose restaurants and hotels. What is wrong with using crowdsourced reviews to help donors pick nonprofits?

One problem is that reviewing nonprofits is far more complex than reviewing consumer products and services. When a customer at a restaurant pays for a meal, he can smell, taste, and experience it. In contrast, when a donor gives to a charity, he pays for goods or services that someone else receives. His review is often not based on any firsthand knowledge of the quality or efficiency of the charity’s programs.

As an example, Charity Watch points out that the Childhood Leukemia Foundation received a “nearly perfect score” from GNP while their own website rated it an “F” because and in-depth look at their finances revealed dismal performance in areas that count. And, while Doctors Without Borders received an “A” rating from Charity Watch, GNP gave it a mere 3.5 stars (out of 5) due to two poor reviews, neither of which was of a significant issue pertaining to their actual performance. Neither Charity Watch or Charity Navigator rate TCF. Charity Navigator does not rate charities with less than a million dollars in revenue.

Oh, and of the 32 reviews, 30 of which are five star, only one is from a recipient. The rest are written by volunteers, board members and others with significant ties to TCF. Curiously, two reviews from volunteers rated the foundation as only four star. What’s up with that?

Now, we’re not saying Tustin Community Foundation is a poor choice. On the contrary, TCF has done some nice things here in Tustin. What we are saying is, awards from questionable sources might better be forgotten than noted in a public city council meeting.

On the Consent Calendar:

Item 5, Establish Prima Facie Speed Limits on City Streets, is the result of required studies by the state. Streets are required to be surveyed for appropriate speed limit changes in order for the city to continue to use radar and other traffic control methods. Eleven streets have been designated for increased or establishing speed limits. Interestingly, sixteen segments, including most of Newport Avenue North of Irvine Boulevard, have recommendations to lower the limit. The rest will be unaffected. Some of these changes are in rather unobtrusive locations so, make sure you remain aware lest you be stopped by one of Tustin’s Finest.

Item 11, Community Development Department Office Reconfiguration, is really an item that could wait until next year. The darling of the City Council, Elizabeth Binsack, is requesting an additional $68,000 in her coffers to accomplish the remodel which, quite frankly, should not be coming out of additional reserves. This sort of smacks of the Jerry Amante iPad debacle (where are those iPads, anyway?) where funds were allocated for a folly. Expect this item, as well, to be approved without comment. It’s nice to be the apple of someone’s eye.

Under Regular Business, several items stand out for discussion. The first is Item 14, Local Appointments List which publishes for the first time, the list of appointment to OCTA, the Water and Sewer Boards, as well as a slew of other paid and non-paid appointments. The Mayor has an opportunity to redeem himself and his cronies by appointing their arch-nemesis to at least one important (and paying) board position (not that the Library Board isn’t important). He could but don’t expect him to. Chuck has never been one to rock the city boat.

Other Regular Business items include a grant application to the National Endowment for the Arts to assist in funding the Tustin Pioneers Recognition Program and the transfer of city owned property to the Orange County Rescue Mission.

The Tustin Pioneers Recognition Program, if you recall, would allow the city and certain organizations to recognize important historical figures of Tustin’s rich history. The perceived method would be the erection of a bust of the noted individual in or near the location related to that person. An interesting idea, especially if you can get someone else to pay for it. It’s questionable whether that should be the taxpayer, however.

The city is looking at selling two four-plex apartment buildings it owns to Orange County Rescue Mission. The $533,000 price tag is probably well below market value but is the original cost to the city. The city also derives nominal rent they will be foregoing. The tradeoff is helping at-risk veterans. And, although the city will carry the loan for the property at a nominal three percent, the note will diminish so that OCRM will, in effect, owe nothing on the proeprty. The only issue would be that the property was initially purchased by the city for the extension of Newport Avenue to the south. Should that project ever come to fruition (we’re banking on a “no” from the other property owners), the city will take the property back.

So, there you go. It’s good to be back in the saddle…..er, back at the keyboard. We look forward to another year of mediocrity from the Tustin City Council as we forge ahead into another year. May you all have a Happy Christmas and/or Chanukah and a prosperous new year.

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