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.
That said, there are a few items of interest on the calendar including closed session items that relate to the sale of several parcels of MCAS property. Item 12 on the Open Session Calendar also concerns Tustin Legacy as a request for extension for negotiations is considered.
Item 6 on the Consent Calendar is a request to adjust lot lines in Tustin Marketplace to accommodate a new restaurant. It is not much concern unless you eat at In-n-Out, in which case you’ll be happy to know the adjustment will provide a longer drive-through lineup.
Item 8 should be pulled from the Consent Calendar for discussion. Remember PARS? That was the early retirement plan the city council approved last year that was supposed to save the city big bucks by giving an incentive to employees to retire early. Besides the cost of the retirement of 43 personnel, the idea was to eliminate and restructure staff to bring on further savings. We wonder, then, how they can justify employee raises and the addition of new executive employees, in this case a Deputy City Manager, as a cost saving measure. A new classification of Principal Management Analyst is also being considered at a cost of $107 thousand dollars a year.
It looks like everyone gets a bump in salary as new classifications come into play in Human Resources with a Human Resources Manager ($117,200 p/yr), and three new classifications in the Public Works Department which will gain a Deputy Director of Public Works – Engineering (141,000 p/yr), a Deputy Director Public Works – Operations ($135,600 p/yr), and a reward….er, modification to the Water Services Manager salary (129,840 p/yr). One has to wonder where the savings will be from.
The Open Session Calendar has a few interesting items as well as both the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report for last year and the Mid-Year Budget Review are both up for discussion.
The CAFR holds no real surprises other than the city attempting to justify spending of reserves due to the overall decrease in revenue from the demise of Redevelopment Agencies. The auditor does report two “material mistatements” regarding the dissolution of the redevelopment agency. They also recommend the adoption of a formal purchasing policy. The CAFR does show economic recovery in our fair city in the form of sales tax increase of the previous year. That trend should continue. I’m no accountant and won’t provide any analysis but, if you want to see it for yourself, you can find it here.
The Mid-year Budget Review is not looking so rosy. There are a total of nine requests to pull money from city funds to pay off unforeseen costs on projects. This includes seven appropriations from various reserve funds for a total of $626,798. We wonder how Team Tustin, who ran on fiscal conservancy, will justify the additional expenditures from reserves. On the bright side, the city reports an increase of $1.5 million in sales tax over what was projected. Let’s see if that pans out. According to the report, the General Fund Balance Reserve will still be above the minimum %20.
Conference with Legal Counsel, Initiation and Exposure to Litigation, 2 each.
Liability Claim – Andrew Cawood, Claim No. 12-31
Conference with Real Property Negotiators – O.C. Propertiy Co., Standard Pacific Homes, Regency Centers, various parcels on Tustin Legacy
Item 3 – Quarterly Investment Report – the City of Tustin and the Successor Agency for the Tustin Community Redevelopment
Item 6 – Adopt Resolution No. 13-02 – Approve lot line adjustment No. 2012-03 Bonefish Restaurant & In-n-Out Burgers
Item 7 – Approval of Plans and Specifications – Authorize advertisement for bids for park playground equipment and installation at Cedar Grove Park
Item 8 Amend the City’s Classification and Compensation Plans – Reflects new classifications and raises for other positions
Regular Business Items
Item 9 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report 2011-2012
Item 10 Fiscal Year 2012-2013 Mid-year Budget Review – Appropriation of additional reserve funds and funds from the CFD for bond debt service
Item 11 Resignation of Commissioners Upon Running for City Council – Discussion of the requirement of all city commissioners filing papers to run for city council to resign their commission seats. Council could also discuss any change in the ordinance for future elections. The recommended action would have the city attorney prepare a resolution to clarify timing of replacement procedures.
The last item could be host to an interesting discussion. Concilman Chuck Puckett was requiired to resign last year upon filing his papers for the city council election. Could this indicate a change in attitude?
After nearly three years of threats, court appearances and dirty pool, the Tustin Unified School District and the city of Tustin have settled their differences. The trial, scheduled to begin today, was narrowly averted when the two sides agreed to sit down one last time in an effort to mend fences and mediate their problems. A brief joint press release was issued shortly thereafter:
TUSTIN, Calif. – The City of Tustin and the Tustin Unified School District are pleased to annunce that they have reached an amicable resolution of the litigation regarding the City’s review of TUSD’s grading and drainage plans.
The two agencies are pleased to announce the case has been resolved, and agree that the resolution of the case benefits both of the agencies and the public.
The press release is a bit underwhelming. The city and school district first began having problems in 2010 during a construction at Heritage School and Tustin High School over the inspection and approval of grading plans. The city demanded the school district submit their plans for the schools to the city’s planning department. The school district originally submitted their plans “as a courtesy” but subsequently withdrew them and refused further submittals saying they were not required to obtain permits, grading or otherwise, from local authorities for construction. When it was rumored the city would physically halt any further grading efforts, possibly with arrests, the school district filed the first of a series of lawsuits.
The city quickly filed a countersuit and, later, another separate suit against the school district in an effort to halt a change in use of the new Heritage Elementary School built on the old MCAS base property. That lawsuit was heard last year in Riverside Superior Court where the judge chided the city for filing what amounted to a retalatory lawsuit against the school district. The school district won handily and focused its efforts on the original lawsuit which had, by then, been continued twice.
The lawsuit was also a contentious point of the Tustin City Council elections. Candidates sparred back and forth with then Mayor John Nielsen attempting to back pedal from his previous hardcore stand against the school district, saying that he favored resolution of the lawsuit. Candidate Allan Bernstein publicly called for term limits for school board members. The third member of “Team Tustin”, Chuck Puckett, was the only cool head among them, joining Tracy Worley and David Waldram, a Tustin High school teacher, in calling for reconciliation and resolution to the issues. Worley and Waldram both believed the entities’ differences were the result of a personality conflict between the school district and councilman Jerry Amante.
The Orange County Register, which broke the story on-line last night, said there is a 10 page agreement outlining how the two sides will handle future school construction for the next 15 years. Among other things, the school district agrees to submit grading plans and pay plan check fees for grading only. No other permit or construction fees will be paid to the city. In return, the city agreed to limit their comments and checks to two submittals. According to the story, there are no plans coming up for future upgrades to schools that would require plan checks by the city.
Both sides agreed to publish a joint press release. No other information came from the city other than a comment by Mayor pro tem Chuck Puckett who told the Register, “All I can say is we’re happy with the agreement.” We think it satisfies both parties and the residents of
Tustin. We’re extremely pleased with it.”
All we can say is, it’s about time. The lawsuits were the fruit of former councilmember Jerry Amante’s reign of terror in the city. When news of the tiff between the city and school district first arose, it became clear to most of us it was a power struggle by the little dictator to maintain control over all things in the city. And, while the Register maintains the cost of the lawsuit was just over $1.5 million dollars, Our Town Tustin received information the total cost of all the lawsuits (including the previously settled Heritage lawsuit) was over $2 million dollars and counting.
So, did the recent change in staff and councilmembers have anything to do with the settlement? Most certainly the exit of Amante could only help matters. The addition of veteran councilman Chuck Puckett was a plus, in our opinion. Previous discussions with him on the issues led us to believe he would press for a settlement if elected.
Ed Connor, the attorney for Tustin Unified School District also applauds City Manager Jeff Parker and Schools Superintendent Greg Franklin, who both came on board their respective agencies in 2011, for directing the lawyers to “stop banging heads and to get this resolved.” Parker, who appeared to walk softly around Hizzoner Amante, seems to have become more of the manager Tustin needs under the new regime. We look forward to seeing more of that aspect of him.
The new year has started off with a bang. A somewhat bland city council has taken their first bull by the horns and, applying commonsense, has hammered out an affable agreement to the benefit of all. Maybe it is not just the economy that is turning around.
“PACs linked to trash hauler supported local political campaigns”
That is the headline of a story on the OC Watchdog that reports thousands of dollars being funneled to local political candidates by Political Action Committees “with links” to CR&R, the trash hauler for many municipalities, including the city of Tustin. In all, more than $30,000 was spent to support candidates. Of that, then mayor John Nielsen received $7,000 while his cronies, Chuck Puckett and Allan Bernstein are reported to have received $2,000 each.
From the Watchdog:
One PAC gave $7,000 to the campaign of Tustin councilman John Nielsen who voted in 2010 to approve an amendment to an existing contract requested by the trash hauler, according to the forms. The PAC also contributed $2,000 apiece to support the campaigns of Allan Bernstein and Charles “Chuck” Puckett, Tustin council candidates who were not members at the time of the 2010 vote.
“It’s not illegal, but in my mind it just shows the influence of campaign money on the governmental process,” said Bob Stern, president of the Center for Governmental Studies. And, while CR&R’s lobbyist claims “these tiny amounts of dollars don’t buy anybody”, we would point out that $7,000 is about what it cost for one of those hit pieces Nielsen’s other allies, OCBIZPAC, financed against Nielsen’s political foes.
In reply to the report, John Nielsen said that he votes in the best interest of Tustin. “My only allegiance is to the voters and residents of Tustin.” Maybe. But, is it coincidence that Nielsen, in 2010, voted to change the terms of CR&R’s contract to eliminate their obligation to build a buyback recycling center? That vote occurred in March and was part of a deal that, in return from eliminating the buyback center, the waste company would distribute mulch to the community and take on other financial responsibilities previously assumed by the city. The supposed reasoning was the plethora of recycling centers located at supermarkets. I guess you’ll have to decide who got the better deal.
One thing we’ll agree with, John wasn’t influenced to vote one way or the other. However, it could very well have been payback by CR&R for his vote and insurance for future votes.
By our accounting, there are 5 years left on the CR&R contract. Expect to see, over the next few years, a ratcheting of contributions around the county where the waste conglomerate has a financial interest. It has always been our opinion that the measure allowing for long term trash contracts such as this was a scam foisted on an unwary public that relied a little too much on their city leaders to do the right thing. The Watchdog’s story seems to contradict Nielsen’s “coincidence” theory. And, with Nielsen’s buddies also getting a piece of the action, one has to wonder what other “contractual changes” CR&R may be planning in the future.