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Death and Taxes

courtesy of the Back Pew

courtesy of the Back Pew

Apologies for not doing my usual writeups on the latest Planning Commission meeting but tax day is rearing its ugly head and I want to stay ahead of the curb for once. My tax forms sent off, electronically of course, I can focus on our local issues. Here’s a recap of what has happened in the past few weeks.

Police Highlights

Although there wasn’t much on the agenda, the March 17th Tustin City Council meeting went on longer than expected. A good chunk of it was taken up by a presentation by Police Chief Charles Celano. Celano who gave a “year in review” PowerPoint on the most recent activities and plans of his department.

Notably, crime is down thanks in large part to the CTAPS crime analysis program implemented under former chief Scott Jordan. In his typical low key style that I’ve come to like, Celano lauded both sworn and professional staff of his department and laid the blame for the general reduction in crime squarely on their backs. He delivered well-deserved praise for his people for their work.

Celano has had to weather his share of criticism in the past. It wasn’t too long ago outside rabblerousers invaded the city council chambers in an attempt to discredit the department. There were also attempts to turn low key events into high profile lawsuits (wonder if the plaintiff is the same Reznek from Huntington Beach fame).Those efforts have, so far, fallen far short due in large part to the professional efforts of the department.

Who’s Fault?

Prior to the police presentation, citizens spoke during the public comment section of the meeting to garner support from the city council for a proposed Community Facilities District for the Columbus Square area of the Tustin Legacy properties. A sizable group of residents were in the chamber as one of them, Paul Callahan, spoke about the Heritage School situation.
As you recall, new residents are paying for a school they can’t use. Heritage Elementary School was supposed to open in 2011. When the school district finally announced the opening of the campus, it was to say they would be moving Hillview Continuation High School and Sycamore Adult School to the new digs.

That, of course, didn’t set well with the residents, who had moved there expecting to send their kids to local schools, or the Tustin City Council. The city council, which had a longstanding feud with the school district due largely to former councilman Jerry Amante and his puppet John Nielsen, wielded more taxpayer money by suing the school district again. Claiming the Columbus Square kids would have to go to other schools with predominantly minority populations, the city whined the residents were being cheated.

Someone should have mentioned the demographics to Nielsen and Amante before they shot their mouths off, not that it would have done much good. Nielsen, for his part, got up in a subsequent city council meeting and groused about being called a racist. Hey, if the shoe fits….

Since those dark old days, the city and the school district have kissed and made up. That was due in large part to Amante’s departure and Nielsen’s apparent inability to garner enough support to keep the fight going. The winners and losers were Tustin taxpayers.

All the while, though, the good folks at Tustin Unified School District were enjoying the public flogging of the city council, transparent governmenteven as they plotted their own evil scheme against the residents by moving Hillview and Sycamore.

So, here we are in 2015 and the school district, no doubt feeling the pressure, has announced their intention to open the Heritage campus for its original purpose as an elementary school… in 2016. Yes, the district wants another year to get things as they should have been all along. I know it’s shocking but school district officials actually lied to the residents and taxpayers in the area when they said the Hillview move to Heritage was temporary. I mean, how long does it take to build a tennis court or two?

Apparently, it takes 5 years. Oh, and don’t expect Hillview to move out right away. We heard it through the grapevine that the school district has no intention of moving Hillview out before they open the site to elementary school age children. It will be a co-campus with both continuation high school students and elementary students sharing the grounds. We can’t find out for sure because the school PIO, Mark Eliot, has refused to answer our past emails (and, we gave up trying).
City Manager Jeff Parker shed some light on the issue at the end of the city council meeting.

“In part of that process was that we’ve already sent a letter to the school district saying we’re in line of thought that they move forward with the CFD [Community Facilities District]. A Community Facilities District is something that the school district actually forms, not the city. So, I wanted to make sure the public understands the process there.”

Parker wanted to make sure folks know who to blame in case something screws up. In following comments, he also made sure everyone knew the city remains a majority property owner in the area and, of course, it is the property owners who cast votes to form a CFD. That shouldn’t be too difficult to sell, even to the residents. They are, after all, desperate for a school they can actually use. Maybe the city should make the re-opening of Heritage as an elementary school exclusively, as a condition for their vote. In fact, that may be what the city is laying the groundwork for as Parker disclosed the working group that will “set the guidelines” for the CFD. In any case, don’t expect things to go that smoothly.

What they should be doing is working above board to insure the residents who desperately need these schools are informed. In reality, what will probably happen is the city attempting to influence the school district AGAIN in how they run their schools. Surely, transparency can’t be on their mind as the “committee” consists of TUSD and city officials with no representation from the affected residents. And, while I think it was underhanded of the district to actually pull the bait and switch the city earlier accused them of, it is just as reprehensible to believe the city should have any say in how schools are run. Leave that to the experts.

The last item, as a reminder, Linda Jennings of the Tustin Preservation Conservancy, appeared at the city council meeting to announce the formation of a GoFundme account for the restoration of the Jabberwocky. This Tustin landmark was restored from the ground up by the owner using local historic architect, Nathan Menard and other folks. There’s about $10,000 that was not covered by the insurance. Linda reminded folks they could help by donating whatever they could afford to the restoration effort by going to the Jabberwocky site (or see the link in our sidebar) . So far the effort has raised over $3,000 toward their goal.

On The City Council Agenda – March 17, 2015

Bernstein LeprechaunHappy St. Patrick’s Day! I expect everyone to look a little Irish at the polls Tuesday. And, if you plan to drink beer, do me a favor and don’t let them put the food coloring in it to make it green. Real Irishmen don’t drink green beer.

It looks like another short session for the Tustin City Council Tuesday evening. I hope everyone takes the time to vote in the election to replace Mimi Walters for the California Senate. With any luck, we wil have a clear winner and forego another runoff election in May. That doesn’t necessarily mean we won’t have another election this year. If Don Wagner is elected, there will be yet another state office to deal with in his vacant Assembly seat.

Closed Session

The Closed Session Agenda is fairly short with the usual litigation issues up for discussion and only one real property negotiation for what looks like MCAS property.

Consent Calendar

Likewise, the Consent Calendar is short with only six items. Aside from the usual items, the city will ask for approval on:

Item 4 – Approval of Consultant Agreement with Risk Management Professionals Inc. to update the city’s Hazard Mitigation Plan. This is a pro forma requirement for federal funding. The plan is required to be updated every five years. The $29,000 cost has been budgeted according to the staff report.

Item 5 – Approval of Amendment to Joint Agreement for 800 Megahertz Countywide Coordinate Communications System. As far back as I can remember, even in the old days of the low band police radio system, the Orange County Sheriffs Department has provided communications services for virtually all police and county services. About 12 years ago or so, the county converted to an 800 Mhz system that was designed to provide cellular service similar to cellphones. It took a few years for the bugs to be worked out (there are still some, in my opinion) but, overall, the system seems to be working well. It is expensive though and Tustin is required to pay its fair share for services rendered.

That cost is $2.7 million dollars over a five year period, placing us 16th in highest cost out of 54 agencies that use the system. For our money we get new police consoles and new software for all our radios. The Chief uses cool terms like “P25 compliance” and “System Extension” to sell the city council on a system we have no choice but to support. And, the truth is, we do get our money’s worth. Today’s communications system is light years ahead of the old system used when I was chasing down police calls with my CHP surplus radio in my ’68 Charger. Ah, the good old days.

Regular Business

If there was a reason for attending the city council meeting this Tuesday, it would be to hear the sole item on the Regular Business Agenda.

Item 7 – Tustin Police Department Year in Review is the annual presentation to the community on how our police department is doing. Looking at the Power Point presentation Chief Celano has prepared, I would say they are doing a bangup job for us.

Some highlights inlcude:

  • Continuation of Accredited Status with CALEA. Tustin is one of only three county departments and twenty statewide departments to gain accreditation.
  • Exceeded crime reduction goals due to CTAP (crime analysis) implementation
  • 176 DUI arrests
  • 57 Felony gang arrests

Add to that the community efforts made by Chief Celano since taking office. His “Coffee with a Cop” program has been well received and he previously told me plans to continue the program. According to the presentation, Tustin is also looking at body-worn camera for its officers and upgrading the Emergency Operations Center.

We are fortunate to have a great police department that we can be proud of. Yes, there are outside detractors that have attempted to disrupt and discredit. Overall, the record speaks for itself. Celano has a great community philosphy that works well for a man who likes to maintain a low-key status.

As we said, it is a short evening, hardly worth going to city hall for. Of course, if you have cable TV, you don’t have to leave the comfort of your home. Now, if we could just get Councilman Bernstein to learn how to Tweet from the dais.

Don’t forget to vote. If you haven’t sent in your ballot, drop it in the mail today or drop it off at the local polling place to have it registered. I’ll be at the poll bright and early so I can vote on the way to work. That way, I get my cool “I voted” sticker.

On the City Council Agenda – March 3, 2015

highway robberyWelcome to the Monday morning edition of Our Town Tustin. It was a quiet weekend around the home office. We were originally supposed to cook in the American Legion Riders annual chili cookoff but the impending (but never appearing) rain kept us at bay.

And, this morning, we awakened to some disturbing news just outside our city limits. The El Zocalo Mexican Steakhouse on Tustin Avemue and First Street was the scene of a shooting. The suspects and victims were arguing when at least one suspect pulled a gun and began blasting. Patrons of the steakhouse subdued the suspect and held him for police. According to Channel 5 news, one person died at the scene and four people were sent to Western Medical for treatment.

The Tustin City Council should have a fairly easy week with a light agenda. On the Closed Session, The city council will look at three Liability Claims -Sara Barba, Joseph Lujan and Rudy Gomez. The city is also in discussion with the School District over MCAS land. It’s unclear whether it is the land swap deal they were working on.

Besides the usual items on the Consent Calendar, Item 6 – Rename the Future 31.5 Acre Tustin Legacy Park, would ask the city council to rename the future sports park to Veterans Sports Park at Tustin Legacy. We’ve been following the progress of the proposed Veterans Memorial at the park for the past few weeks.

Renaming this sports park will allow the city to name the future linear park the Legacy Park. We think it is a nice touch and probably deserves some special recognition from the city council. Just don’t let the two-face John Nielsen talk about it. His past record, aligning with Jerry Amante, shows he has little care about our veterans beyond using them to further his own political agenda.

In other business on the Consent Calendar, City Hall will be getting a new HVAC system at the cost of $250,000. According to the staff report, the money was budgeted during this fiscal year.

The sole item under Regular Business is Item 6, Water Deposit Policy and Adoption of Resolution No. 15-10. This resolution will allow the Tustin Water Department to collect additional deposits from those they deem as deadbeats.

Now, I can’t remember how much of a deposit our household paid when we moved in to Tustin. I’m not sure if they still have my money or not. The current fee structure for deposits is, basically, “first and last month”. In other words, if your average water bill is $100, you would pay a $200 deposit with a $50.00 minimum required.

Under the proposed structure, the new deposit schedule could cost a customer from one to two-and-a-half times their average bill. In addition, if a customer fails to pay on time twice in a two year period, they will be required to furnish the maximum deposit.

Of course this new fee structure, which city staff claim will protect the city, will actually hurt the most vulnerable among our residents. Those with little or no credit will be hurt the most while the well-to-do get away with a returned, minimal deposit. So, how is this helping the city to accomplish any goal?

Well, there is one. The deposits are held by the city and may be invested. So, the City Treasurer will get to play with your money while they while away their time at the stock market. In the meantime, folks who struggle to pay their water bill each month, much less a long term deposit, will have their money tied up for at least two years. That’s real customer service for you.

Hopefully, the city council comments will be short and sweet so we don’t have to listen to them drone on about their exciting time at other community meetings. If they do, just remember that, in almost every case, they are touting their ability to make money from their positions as councilmembers, through the stipends they receive for the extracurricular activity.

On The City Council Agenda – Tuesday, February 17, 2015

For once, there is not much on the Closed Session agenda for the upcoming Tustin City Council meeting on Tuesday. Don’t expect any report from the city attorney. At the meeting two weeks ago, everyone on the dais attempted to dodge the bullet when a speaker, during public comments, brought up noise and traffic at the Wilcox Manor. The Mayor Puckett couldn’t foist it off on the police chief fast enough. The good news is, Silent Mike and Lindburgh have been complying with the terms of their conditional use permit  and Tustin PD reports no glaring discrepancies. In fact, there have been only three complaints, all apparently resolved.

The sole Public Hearing on the Regular Agenda is Item 1, Community Development Block Grant 2015-20120. This year, the city is required to submit the 5 year Consolidated Plan that identifies community needs and proposals for funding.

The draft list prepared by city staff is pretty extensive and includes parks, parklets and expansion of Old Town parking. It also includes street and infrastructure improvements and rehab.

Some of the more interesting proposals include economic development of Tustin, particularly the Old Town area. A lot of time and effort by staff has recently been put into developing a plan of sorts for the development of Old Town. Unfortunately, until there is some movement by principal property owners, it’s doubtful there will be much more construction taking place. Still, its good to see the city finally paying attention to our legacy.

All currently funded projects previously selected for this three year period by the Tustin Community Foundation will continue to receive CDBG money.

There is not much on the Consent Calendar to be concerned about. Most items are administrative and recurring. Item 7, Renewal of Field Services 4/10 Work Schedule, is a renewal of a pilot project from the past few years for field service personnel to work 4/10 schedules during daylight savings time. This is a union negotiated item that should probably become permanent.

Item 8, Approval of Operator Services Agreement for Carnival Rides- The previous agreement with Shamrock Shows expired and the city is preparing to sign with Brass Ring Amusements for rides and concessions. The new agreement also pushes more money into city coffers with the city’s take beginning at 25% of gross receipts. It’s interesting to note the city now requires background checks on all carnival employees due to an issue a few years back.

Brass Ring Amusements, by the way, is pretty well established and is scheduled to run more than 15 California fairs this year. So, expect a quality ride.

Under Regular Business, the city is finally going to utilize the event center they established at the old Regal Theater in the Tustin Market Place. Item 9, Recommendation of the City Use of 12 Events at the Community Center, recommends 12 city sponsored events to be held at no charge to the city.
The ad hoc committee of Councilmembers Gomez and Nielsen came up with a list of spine-tingling events that will include (in no particular order) a talent contest, a youth film festival and a new (did I say free?) place to hold the State of the City Address.

The final item on the agenda is Item 10, Formation of Veterans Advisory Committee/Commission. Normally, I would be cheering the formation of anything for veterans. But, this is a topic brought up by none other than, Mayor pro tem, John Nielsen. There are a couple of reasons for concern.

First, is Nielsen’s apparent collaboration with his ally, former councilman Jerry Amante. Amante, if you recall, had a feud with The American Legion Post 227 that subjected them to some humiliation and all but eliminated the color guard ceremonies that were being held in council chambers each month.

That rift between the Legion Post Commander and the city council began as a small tiff when, way back in 2001, Legionnaires came to the rescue by reviving their post and touching off the first (in a long time) Veterans Day parade down El Camino Real. I witnessed the buildup and slow degradation of what was hailed by the OC Board of Supervisors at the time as “Orange County’s Veterans Day Parade”, into a less substantial day in the park due mostly to the hostility of the city council toward veterans. I’m not even sure there is a celebration in Tustin anymore.

Should we mention their one-time desire to do away with the blimp hangars?

A second reason for suspicion -and that ties in handily to vet loving by John- is the rumor recently making the rounds that John Nielsen may make a run for the California Assembly. Normally, I would dismiss a notion like this as someone’s idea of a nightmare on Elm Street. That is, until I heard it from two distinctly different sources, one of whom does not live in the city.

So, is Nielsen simply paying homage to veterans in order to regain some traction here on the home front? Certainly, he has lost interest in any business the council conducts, as it is apparent he has been treading water, at least since the election. We did email Nielsen on his intentions but he has, so far, refused to respond to us.

One other item of note, Old Town residents received a Notice of Publice Hearing on a code amendment. The hearing, to be held February 24, 2015 at 7 pm (Planning Commission Meeting), will be to hear public comment on a proposal to change second residence requirements. The proposed amendments would eliminate “accessory guest rooms” or what most of us would call, “granny flats”. in lieu of establishing new guidelines for 2nd residential units on lots. If you can only go to one meeting, this may be the one.

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