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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.

Coming Home

veterans cemeteryI 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.Quirk-silva

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”.

Veterans-CemeterySubhead

 

Cop Happenings

ChiefCelanoA couple of weeks ago, I had the pleasure of meeting our new Tustin Police Chief, Charles Cellano. Cellano was named the interim Chief immediately after Scott Jordan’s retirement in mid-2013. He was given a permanent appointment in February of this year.

During our conversation, the Chief reminded me of last weekend’s 18th Annual Tustin Police Department Open House and the upcoming “Coffee With a Cop” to be held this Wednesday at Keans Coffee.

Open the Doors

While we briefly attended the Open House, we were not able to stay long. However, we did run into a couple of our fine councilmen, the honorable Chuck Puckett and the honorable John Nielsen. Chuck admitted this is the earliest he has ever attended the event, usually opting for a late afternoon appearance. See what being a councilman does for you, Chuck? John looked quite relaxed, probably owing to that new wife of his.

The line for tours of the police station and the mobile command post were both quite long even before the first hour was up. I would say the only longer line was the one for hot dogs, graciously being handed out by volunteers. There was a great display of vintage army vehicles manned by a gentleman in period costume. And, while I did not get to see the demonstration, the police motorcycle unit was out in force to show off their skills.

Cop Talk

One of the things that excited Chief Cellano most is the upcoming Coffee With a Cop happening tomorrow at Keans Coffee. The Chief emphasized the informal nature of the event. This is the chance for Tustin residents, who may never otherwise have contact with our police, to sit down ever-so-briefly and speak about anything of interest to them. The event is only one of many planned around Our Town and is an effort by the chief to make sure Tustin PD remains accessible to the residents.

I could not let the discussion go much further without asking about the recent officer involved shooting. Cellano said that, despite repeated efforts to reach out to the family and protesters, no  one has stepped forward to take up his invitation of a meeting.

That is disconcerting as the family and others have attended multiple meetings of the city council, demanding justice and policy change. And, although the city, both Chief Cellano and City Manager Jeff Parker have offered to meet with them, they have, so far refused. That leads me to believe they have no real interest in seeing meaningful changes that they have the opportunity to be a part of. Instead, they would rather join the police-bashing bandwagon where their voices will be lost in the cacophony..

There are a few more events coming this year and the Tustin Police Department will be a large part of it. Of course, the Tustin Tiller Days and the accompanying parade could not happen without the organization of the police department. Which, by the way, is another thing about our Chief. He is obviously proud of the 97 sworn officers of the department –  he speaks just as proudly of the professional staff, the dispatchers, service officers and office personnel, as well as his small but fiesty cadre of volunteers. To hear him tell it, the official Accreditation of TPD would not be possible without them. We agree but as we’ve said before, it takes a good coach to get them there.

When asked about the volunteers, he said that most are recruited from the Citizens Police Academy held every year. The academy is a mini-introduction to police work in general and Tustin Police policies and procedures specifically. The sessions are held once a week (this time on Thursday evening) and include a variety of topics including police procedure and a ridealong. An academy is forming now, if you are interested. Yes, he asked me, but once you’ve been through the real thing, you’re not in a hurry to head back there. If you go, however, I guarantee you will come out with a new perspective of modern police work.

Too soon, our time was up and Chief Cellano and I parted company with an agreement to stay in touch.

Make sure, if you get a chance, to head over to Keans on Wednesday morning. If you do, make sure you say hi to me as well. If you’re a fan, I’ll shake your hand. If you’re a critic, well, I made you think.

 

Playing it Safe

Playing it safeIt 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 ScottAl Murray Stock 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.

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