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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.

On The City Council Agenda – September 2, 2014

CSHSRA Barrel Racing Champion, Heather Eckman

CSHSRA Barrel Racing Champion, Heather Eckman

A fairly brief agenda greets our intrepid Tustin City Council this Tuesday after their brief hyatus. Hopefully, during their time off, they enjoyed the great production of Peter Pan put on by the Tustin Area Council on Fine Arts through their Broadway in the Park program. I had the pleasure of volunteering for TACFA (security, of course) which let me see firsthand just how much work and effort is put into presenting a professional play to the community.

Prior to the Regular Session, the councilmembers will convene at 5:30 to discuss the Ultra-Double Secret Closed Session items. Among them, notably, is the labor negotiations for so-called unrepresented managers and executives. I don’t know if we will see anything come of this tonight (we should – everyone has had weeks to prepare). Expect it to remain as low key as possible as the city council eventually awards juicy raises to their executive cronies. All this will be possible, of course, because the rank and file continue to get the short end of the stick, even while the city improves financially.

Other items on the Closed Session include the usual Legal Counsel issues and Real Property Negotiations for three sets of property. I assume these are all on the MCAS property even though the city insists on clouding addresses with lot and tract numbers when most of these now have street addresses attached to them.

In the Regular Session, the presentations are liable to take up as much time as the rest of the agenda. One of these, Heather Eckman, Barrel Racing, is to recognize the hard work of a young equestrian who took the top spot in Barrel Racing in the California High School Rodeo Association and went on to compete in the National High School Rodeo Finals In Rock Springs, Wyoming, this year. According to the records on the NHSRA website, the Beckman High School Sophomore came in a strong 12th place among nearly 100 competitors. Her time was only one and a half seconds behind the winner. Congratulations, Heather, for your outstanding work.

It should be interesting to see how the Tustin Housing Authority conducts a meeting and annual report all within the confines of the Consent Calendar. In fact, we’re not even sure it’s legal. Nonetheless, that’s how they plan to do it. So, if you have something to say about the THA, stay on your toes or it could slip past you.

Also on the Consent Calendar is the replacement of a variety of city vehicles that have reached the end of their natural lives. The vehicles include field trucks and autos used for parking control. According to the staff report, the vehicle purchases have been budgeted for.

Two items on the Regular Business Calendar will round out the evening. Both items will be to give final approval over construction projects. I’m glad to see the city council rejected city staffs’ proposal some time ago to forego council approval of construction projects. I think it is important the public be kept aware when projects like this are completed. Having it come formally before the city council keeps it in the public spotlight and keeps things above board.

As I said, short and sweet. It should be interesting to see how longwinded some of the councilmen get when reporting their activities.

Addendum

Hey, if you are looking for something to do tomorrow morning, come on down to Classic Burger on Tustin Village Way between 8 and 9 am for Chief Charlie Cellano’s second Coffee with a Cop. The first CWAC (hmmm…maybe not such a great acronym) was held a few weeks ago at Kean’s Coffee and was a huge success. The meet and greet is a great way to get to know your local police officers who patrol your area. You have questions? They have answers.

Also on the ticket for tomorrow is the dedication and grand opening of the Bocce Ball courts at Peppertree Park. The courts are part of an improvement grant and will add another facet to Tustin’s world-class recreation facilities. The ribbon cutting will be a 5 pm with remarks offered by Mayor Al Murray. The new courts are located adjacent to the Senior Center.

 

On The City Council Agenda – July 15, 2014

Hidden Agenda ClipartJudging from the length of the agenda, this week’s Tustin City Council meeting is liable to go a tad longer than the 52 minutes of the last meeting. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Closed Session goes into overtime.

The city council is still discussing the performance evaluations (and probably salary adjustments) for the City Attorney and the City Manager. I’m not sure why they have David Kendig under Public Employment as he is a contract employee placed there by the city’s attorneys, Woodruff, Spradlin and Smart. If they are unhappy with Kendig’s performance (face it, he’s no Doug Holland), they only need to make a call.

First up under Presentations is our old friend TyRon Jackson. Jackson is being honored for his Operation Warm Wishes project. Jackson is active with the homeless community as well as Tustin at-risk youth. His efforts have helped hundreds of families and kids in the Tustin-Santa Ana area and this award is well-deserved.

On the Consent Calendar, the city council will be asked to approve a $24 thousand dollar expenditure for Willdan Homeland Solutions to provide tech support for the annual Emergency Operations Center exercise. Not much money but one wonders about the justification for single sourcing the contract.

I hope one of the councilmembers will pull Item 5, Resolution for Completion of the Newport Bike Trail, for comment. I have ridden a lot of bike trails in the county over the years and I always thought the Newport trail was a pretty good one. The new trail is absolutely beautiful and functional. If you haven’t ridden it, it’s worth the trip. The contractor came in $53 thousand under budget, to boot. Pat yourselves on the back, city council.

I take issue with the John Wayne Noise Abatement Quarterly Report, however. The noise level at Columbus Tustin School was reportedly well below government thresholds. Perhaps they should move the monitoring station to my house where it is considerably louder. It should be noted, the city council took the easy way out by supporting the extension to the operating agreements, supposedly for fear it would open a can of worms. Note to Al Murray: sometimes you just have to take a stand on principle.

Hopefully a member of the public with some sense will bring up discussion of Item 11, Comment Letter Draft on the Bay Delta Conservation Plan. In short, the city council is supporting the governor’s ill proposed effort to tunnel under the Delta to provide water directly from the Sacramento River to Southern California. Never mind we have been stealing their water since the 1930’s the proposal laughingly purports to be a conservation effort for the Delta when, in fact, it is likely to do the opposite. The city, which obtains nearly half it’s water by theft, is jumping on the Governor’s band wagon. I wonder if they see a value in his high speed rail project as well?

The final item on the agenda is a request for travel by Councilman Chuck Puckett to attend the re-accreditation ceremony of the Tustin Police Department. I haven’t asked but I presume Chief Celano (who should have the department webmaster remove the “interim” from his page on the TPD website) will be attending as well. Congratulation, once again, to Chief Celano and the men and women of the Tustin Police Department.

I have a feeling this will be a council meeting worth watching. And, as it seems the Orange County Register is slowly crumbling into the dust, I may be your only source for true, accurate and highly biased information. That means I will have to step up my efforts. I think I can, I think I can…

On The City Council Agenda – May 20, 2014

Hidden Agenda ClipartUnless we run into another protest in chambers, this week’s Tustin City Council meeting should be fairly short. In fact, the Closed Session, which starts at 5:30  may be longer than the public forum.

The Closed Session has the usual items on it including multiple litigation issues. Two new claims from Russell Taitz and Southern California Edison will also be considered. Surprisingly, there are no real estate issues to bother them tonight. That’s because they completed multiple deals with developers and the Army Reserve for a land swap at their last meeting.

The Regular Session Agenda is headed up by presentations to students and teachers alike. Shelby Van Raes will be recognized for the Student Writing Contest while Joy Wardlaw and Jennifer Morrow will be recognized as Teachers of the Year. Congratulations to all.

One noteworthy item on the consent calendar is the purchase of electronic citation devices for the police department. Reading the staff report, it appears the department is being forced into the program due to changes in the court system. Cost is $110,000 that will be pulled from appropriate funding. Although the cost is substantial, this project is long overdue. To date, only three cities use electronic citations in a pilot project. The courts are forcing the issue but cities will benefit in a variety of ways in eliminating manual processing and more accurate ticketing. It will also make for efficiency in the police ranks, most of whom have better things to do than spend their time writing tickets.

Another issue on the Consent Calendar that begs discussion is the contracting out of processing and collecting administrative citations. It’s unfortunate the Republican hand has convinced everyone that contracting services is the best way to run city government. Judging from the cost, an in-house staff could probably handle this part-time at less cost. We can’t ascertain that for sure as staff have conveniently left off the amount of revenue realized from administrative citations. As with the business license issue awhile back, however, Community Development Director Elizabeth Binsack doesn’t appear interested in having her staff do grunt work.

The sole item under Regular Business is the second reading of an ordinance that would keep keep some Tustin codes relating to construction consistent with  California Green Building Standards Codes by incorporating them through reference. The ordinance will lessen the need for repeated changes caused by changes in California law.

That’s the end of the council’s regular business. Unfortunately, at the last meeting, nearly all of the councilmembers delayed the requisite reading of their community activities due to the protesters. That means an inordinate amount of time may be spent listening to the combined diatribe. The good news? The Podiatrist Councilman did get to list his off last meeting. So, his list may not be as long. I did notice he looks up occasionally from his notes nowadays. Perhaps he took a few public speaking lessons.

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