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On The City Council Agenda – April 21, 2015

Where-s-the-Fire-The Tustin City Council will have a full plate at the Tuesday meeting beginning with the Closed Session. There are actually two Closed Sessions on the agenda with the last one taking place after the Regular session. The sole purpose will be discussion of labor negotiations for all represented and unrepresented employees. Let’s hope the city employees listen to their union reps this time and don’t screw themselves out of a raise (note: the recession is over).

Aside from the usual suspects on the Closed Session agenda, Item 4.1 Conference with Real Property Negotiators should be of particular interest to Old Town residents. The description indicates Habitat for Humanity is looking to improve the property at 140 South “A” Street. Most of us who live here know this is an eyesore on an eyesore. It is one of the few (are there any others?) empty lots in Old Town Tustin. The house was torn down years ago and the owners back then attempted to put up a shack which the city quickly took care of. Since then, it has sat empty, begging for a relocated house. I don’t know what Habitat has in store but I’m sure Elizabeth Binsack will keep them in line.In any case, it is good to see some action being taken on this lot.

After the usual presentations and fanfare, the city council has scheduled the first of two public hearings on the Code Amendment allowing Second Residential Units in the Cultural Resources District. This ordinance garnered a lot of attention during hearings by the Planning Commission. Sam Altowaiji just about blew a gasket over Elizabeth Binsack’s response to his demand to change the ordinance. Several residents spoke both for and against the ordinance.

Interestingly, Melissa Figge, who lives in Old Town and commented on a recent post about the ordinance, happened to come by my house as I was mowing my lawn (hey, it’s the only exercise I get) today. We had a nice conversation concerning the proposed ordinance as she was walking the neighborhood and distributing a flyer. The flyer was to inform residents of the Tustin Preservation Conservancy’s opposition to the ordinance and outlined their reasons. As someone who is on the other side of the street, I was interested in the arguments against.

What I really appreciated was the fact her flyer was well thought out and the Preservation Conservancy’s reasoning was clear. Just because we don’t happen to agree, doesn’t mean we can’t converse. We found ourselves in agreement on a couple of key issues, one being the parking. As a (little l) libertarian at heart, I find the city’s answer of “We’ll just issue permits” , abhorring. I already pay plenty of taxes that go to the maintenance of public streets. I should have the right to drive or park on them as I please. Melissa didn’t sound enthused about permits either. There has to be a better way.

In any case, both Melissa and I have the same message: If this issue is important to you, show up at the city council meeting and make your feelings known. They may have already made up their minds (well, everyone except Allan Bernstein) but, it wouldn’t be the first time an angry mob changed the minds of the city council.

The last item of note on the Regular Session is Item 15, Approve the Veterans Memorial Preferred Concept Plan. Now, to be clear, John Nielsen had nothing to do with this, no matter how much he tries to take credit for it. The memorial, long overdue, is a project the city sought input on from their natural stakeholders, the veterans themselves. And, there are plenty of them in Tustin. The city held two workshops and the project managers were very receptive to ideas they received. I think the finished memorial, to be placed at the recently renamed Tustin Veterans Sports Park, will be a jewel in Tustin’s crown.

Another important issue, although nothing the city can really do anything about, is Item 16, Resolution Opposing Assembly Bill 1217. This Assembly Bill seeks to reduce the number of the Board of Directors for the Orange County Fire Authority from 25 to 13. This, of course, means Al Murray would lose his lucrative position on the OCFA Board (What? You didn’t know he gets paid for that?). More importantly, it means Tustin would likely lose its voice on the board. While 25 members (one for each member city plus two from the OC Board of Supervisors) seems like a lot, it gives fair representation to a government district that would probably run amok on its own. The oversight is necessary and each member city should have its say on the board.

Moreover, as the staff report states, there is no history of problems or issues stemming from the size of the board. The new system, under this bill, would allow the Board of Supervisors an unfair balance of power, outweighing the population served. In addition, there could be undue influence in the selection process that could give the county an even larger edge. Why Tom Daly, a Democrat, is proposing such an idiotic scheme is beyond comprehension. Oh, wait, there is the politics of the matter. In any case, I hope the city council hasn’t fallen asleep by the time this issue comes up. They should be doing all they can to oppose this. Face it, the OC Board of Supervisors can’t even choose a reputable ambulance company to take care of us. Why would we trust them with oversight of OCFA?

As always, you are welcome to chime in on any of this. Just keep it civil. We’ll keep you posted on anything interesting.

Veterans First and Last at Tustin City Council Meeting

It’s always a pleasure to see The American Legion Post 227 post the Colors at the Tustin City Council Meeting. I’m a former member of their post and know each of them. I am humbled to call them brothers in arms. At the April 7th meeting the kids from the Tustin Boys and Girls Club were also on hand to sign the Pledge of Allegiance in ASL. Very cute.

As expected, the Closed Session Report made no mention of the consultation with Chief of Police Celano on the listed threat to public services or facilities. The City Attorney, David Kendig, did say that the three claims against the city were all denied. We’ll let you know if we find anything juicy to report.

Along with the opening ceremonies, there were several speakers including the Boys and Girls Club. A PowerPoint presentation gave a brief history of the 50 year alliance of the Boys and Girls Club and the city.

Jim Palmer of the Orange County Rescue Mission also presented a video on the Veterans Task Force and discussed veterans services in Orange County. The professional video features several veteran residents of the Mission’s Village of Hope and how they have been helped by the organization. It’s a great video. We liked it so much, we included it here.

Of course, this segued into councilman John Nielsen’s current pet project listed as Item 7, Formation of Veterans Advisory Ad-hoc Committee. Nielsen first proposed this committee or commission last month and asked city staff to look into its formation. Given Nielsen’s former dislike for anything veteran, I was immediately suspicious. And, while I laud the city’s newfound partnership with veterans organizations, I still have to wonder if Nielsen doesn’t have ulterior motives aimed toward higher office. I’m not sure what all another committee can do above what the Orange County Veterans Task Force already does but, I am all for anything for our veterans.

So, Nielsen gets his wish and the ad-hoc committee will be formed. Prior to the vote, he had to say what he outlined as the logical progression, citing a USC study and specifically naming as members city council and the Orange County Rescue Mission. I don’t think the significance of former councilman Jim Palmer running that organization was lost on anyone in the room.

The big question is, how will any committee or commission formed by the Tustin City Council affect veteran affairs in our part of the county. Lacking any funding source for programs to fill in those “holes” Nielsen talked about, the commission is likely to go no further than discussion. That may be the point. In fact, I predict this committee will continue, at least in name, until November 2016 and then quietly fade away.

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.

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