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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.

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.

Tustin Approaches the Fiscal Cliff

fiscal-cliff-congress(This article appears in the January 10, 2013 edition of the Tustin News – ed.) You could hardly pick up a newspaper or turn on a news broadcast these past few weeks without hearing about the Fiscal Cliff the country is facing. Here in Orange County, many cities, including Tustin, are facing their own fiscal cliff of sorts.

According to an Orange County Register story, the state recently demanded “that 19 Orange County cities and the county itself turn over a combined $263 million in unused funds previously earmarked for low- and moderate-income housing.”

“Some cities have already paid up, including Anaheim and Buena Park,” the article says. “Others are fighting the demand, saying the state’s calculations are wrong.”

Tustin’s share of that is $14.3 million dollars. The deadline to turn over the money was December 13th. Although there has been no mention of it on the agenda, the city has taken steps to return or justify the retention of the funds.

Tustin City Manager Jeff Parker said that at the time of the state’s request, $7.5 million dollars remained in the redevelopment fund with no foreseeable plans for use by the city. It has already been returned to the state.

The remaining $6.5 million dollars has been handed over to the state under a protest procedure, he said. Hopefully, that money will be returned as it had been earmarked for low and moderate income housing on the MCAS property.

Councilmembers Chuck Puckett and Beckie Gomez, and Mayor Al Murray did not return calls for comment.

What if the state refuses to return the money? “We may file a lawsuit against the state relative to the $6.5 million,” Parker said.

That could, at least give them a bit of breathing room and, face it — thanks to the long running lawsuits against Tustin Unified School — they are getting to be experts at frivilous litigation.

One thing is for sure: Paying the funds back could be a real financial problem for the city, although Parker assured me the bulk of the $6.5 million was paid out of land use funds with just a small amount coming from the General Fund reserves. He maintains that reserves are still above 20 percent.

At the beginning of this year, then-mayor John Nielsen promised to keep city reserves above 15 percent. It is quite possible that goal will be just a pipe dream when the state is through.

On the Agenda, March 6, 2012

Not much afire at the Tustin City Council Meeting this week. Some issues to wind down the now defunct Redevelopment Agency. We were wondering how the city was going to incorporate the 5 RDA employees back into the city structure. From the last meeting, it appears they will continue to be housed in the “annex” building, an office suite across the street from City Hall. There are a couple of items on the agenda addressing issues of the new oversight board. Eyebrows should be raised over the proposed makeup of that board.

Closed Session

An exposure to litigation and initiation of litigation, two cases each, head up the closed session agenda. Of course, we have our existing litigation in reference to Tustin Unified School District and T-Mobile West. The Tustin News ran an interesting piece Sunday regarding the T-Mobile litigation and litigation between Orange County cities and wireless companies in general. The issue at hand with Tustin has to do with opposition to  proposed wireless systems in Cedar Grove Park. The design review was given a final thumbs down in January and T-Mobile subsequently sued the city.

The litigation between the city and TUSD has gone on for too long. The city made a lame offer to settle the lawsuits which would have done nothing to resolve the issues at hand. We understand that the oldest of the lawsuits is scheduled to go forward in April. Hopefully, our new city manager, Jeff Parker, will get both sides to listen to reason and settle this beforehand.

Open Session

Presentation, Quiet Zone, OCTA – One of our favorite local politicians, Orange Mayor, Carolyn Cavecche, will be offering a presentation on Railroad Quiet Zones that have been established throughout Orange County. While I miss the sound of the horns from the trains, I imagine folks living closer to the railroad crossings are quite happy. We look forward to hearing what Mayor Cavecche has to say.

Public Hearing
Item 1 on the open agenda is a Public Hearing on a draft ordinance that would affect the way Zoning Districts are referenced in the Zoning Code. The Planning Commission adopted the necessary resolution at their last meeting to send this forward to the council. Unfortunately, we understand that no one testified publicly about this proposed ordinance during the Planning Commission meeting. Our issues are, of course, with the substantially added wording that appears to have come about in the aftermath of the Fairbanks issue.

Consent Calendar

Urban Areas Security Initiative Grant – Tustin will share in a federal grant money given to Santa Ana for the Urban Areas Security Initiative. Money from this grant can be used for training and equipment to assist cities in “building and enhanced and sustainable capacity to prevent, protect against, mitigate respond to and, recover from acts of terrorism.” We are near one of the top choices for terrorism, Disneyland, after all (I kid you not).

Item 5 is a request to approve plans for battery backup for traffic signals along Irvine Blvd. A great idea and glad to see our town working on this effort to reinforce the infrastructure.

Item 7 Consultant Services Agreement with Willdan Homeland Solutions – Willdan is a top trainer for homeland security in the state and across the country. Their specialty is integrating services between federal, state and local governments in the event of major disasters or incidents. It is good training that will serve the police department and our top city staffers well. A bit expensive at $40,000 or so but we are told it is well worth it.

Item 10 Appointment of Oversight Board Members by Tustin Mayor should be pulled for discussion but it probably will not. The three good old boys are already in agreement that Councilmember Jerry Amante should take the oversight position for the Successor Agency to the former RDA. Becky Gomez has shown that she is not willing to suffer the wrath of the three kids so there may be no opposition. On the other hand, we anticipate more fuel for the fire as Jerry will be up to his usual self-serving…self. Other members are appointees from the OC Board of Supervisors, Flood Control District, Community Colleges and TUSD. These should be interesting meetings that we will keep you apprised of.

11. Set Interview Date for Commission Seats – This would be the Planning and Community Services Commissions. I hope interested parties got their applications in. I would like to see both Jeff Thompson and former Mayor, Chuck Puckett stay on. Overall, both have shown they identify with the values of Tustin residents and Jeff lives in Old Town so we value his opinion when it comes to this valuable resource.

Regular Business

Item 13. Second Reading and Adoption of Ordinance, Planning Commission Authority – Another action required due to the demise of the RDA. Authority being taken over by the Planning Commission is logical and we recommend the City Council adopt the ordinance.

That’s it for this week in our town Tustin. Just enough action on the dais to keep things interesting. We will report on any items of issue (or fireworks from the dais) as they occur.

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