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On The Planning Commission Agenda – February 24, 2015

Hidden Agenda ClipartUpdated 2/23/15 10:00 pm – 

Tuesday’s Planning Commission meeting agenda has only five items on it with two of those being routine Consent Calendar issues. Unless someone raises an issue with the 2014 General Plan Report, it should sail through on the vote.

Less likely to just sail through without comment is the Public Hearing, Item 3, Code Amendment 2015-01 – Second Residential Units in the Cultural Resource District. Two years ago, the city held community workshops on modifying second unit and guest home ordinances in Old Town Tustin. It looked like they would continue working on the matter when, suddenly, the project was dropped. The city’s response to inquiries was, “the study will be completed sometime but it is not a priority.” Huh.

So, the project languished for another year after workshops that more than 40 people attended. Supposedly, another workshop was held in 2013 but we can’t find any record of that or who may have attended. The project foundered again until the city revived the issue without warning or notice for this meeting.

In all, the proposed ordinance will eliminate the construction or remodeling of accessory buildings into guest rooms. At the same time, many of the former restrictions on 2nd units will be lifted, including that of minimum lot size. The proposed ordinance would also:

  • Eliminate maximum lot coverage (formerly 30% of rear and side yards)
  • Require one garage or carport parking spot
  • Maximum size limited to 50% of primary dwelling not exceeding 600 square feet

Everything else would remain the same as the existing ordinance for 2nd units. Current, legal guest houses would be allowed to continue with the same restrictions (including the dreaded deed restriction) or, if they conform to the new ordinance, would be allowed to be reclassified at the owner’s option.

The down side, of course, is the probable increase in traffic and population in Old Town. The proposed ordinance would allow 149 more properties in Old Town to construct 2nd units. It’s doubtful that many folks are clamoring for building permits, though. So, the impact would likely be minimal.

In any case, it would help to eliminate the embarrassing situation the city found itself in a few years ago when the Community Development Department, doing then Mayor Jerry Amante’s bidding, attempted to deconstruct apartments built behind a home on Pacific St. The resulting rancor soured many Old Town residents on the city and their nanny-state attitude. It didn’t help that the city spent thousands of taxpayer dollars on their vendetta.

In an about face, the city has worked with the residents of Old Town to craft a workable ordinance that will enhance property values, increase income to the city through property tax values, and allow property owners to enhance their properties with minimal interference from the city. That’s a win-win situation. Thanks, Elizabeth.

Under Regular Business, we mistakenly thought Item 4, Tustin Historic Register Nomination, was the first of the city pioneer busts to be erected. A little closeer look, of course, reminded us of the historic plaque program and the Tustin Historic Register.

The nominee for the plaque designation this time is the home at 178 North C Street. Known as the “Knapp House“, the home was constructed in 1920 and is listed in the Register as a California Bungalow. It is a beautiful house and a treasure in our Old Town area. If you haven’t seen it, it’s worth the walk over to C Street. Heck, make an evening of it and wander over to Morey’s Place on El Camino for dinner.

According to supporting documents, the Knapp sisters lived at the residence, the last one passing away in 1975 at the age of 96. It seems we have some long-lived residents here. Must be the water.

The final item on the docket is Item 5, Withdrawal of CUP and Design Review for an antenna farm that would have been located in a storage facility near Tustin Ranch Road. Verizon Wireless had been planning a new cellular antenna when they suddenly decided to drop the application. Not sure why.

If you live in the Old Town area or have an interest in our Cultural Resources District, you may want to join the party on Tuesday at 7 pm just to make sure “new” items don’t make their way into the proposed 2nd unit ordinance.

We spoke with a few residents this evening who are concerned about the 2nd unit ordinance. If the Planning Commission thought it would be an easy night, they better cancel any after meeting plans. I get the feeling there will be plenty said during public comment from both sides of the issue.

On The City Council Agenda – Tuesday February 3, 2015

Unless items are pulled from the Consent Calendar for discussion, Tuesday’s Tustin City Council meeting should be fairly short. Of course, short is a relative term when it comes to this council, who often discuss issues of little or no relevance just to hear themselves speak. If you doubt my words, watch the “councilmember comments” for thHidden Agenda Cliparte complete rundown of where they’ve been.

The Closed Session has the usual suspects but is also populated with a number of, what appear to be, associated claims. Stephanie Loy, Laura Hernandez, Jose Franco, Kaitlyn Kim and Jessica Ma filed claims late last year with the city.

Management Works has filed the first claim of the year. Management Works is the property manager for the Park Magnolia Apartment Homes on on Tustin Village Way off Williams Street. Gangs are prevalent in the area, so it should be interesting to see what the claims are and to see if they are actually related. I don’t usually take the time to visit the city clerk’s office but this may be worth the effort.

Most items on the Consent Calendar are routine. It is good to see the city recognizing their support of veterans by renaming the soon-to-be Tustin Legacy Park to Veterans Sports Park. This 33 acre park will encompass sports fields that include softball, football and soccer fields. There will also be a Veterans Memorial which the city is asking for help from the community on. Plans for the park can be seen here.

Item 5, Grant Application for Housing Related Parks Program, is a request to apply for another parks grant related to affordable housing. Frontier Park has already benefited from a previous grant and city staff believe there will be more money availbable this time around. Most grants like this require matching local funding. According to the staff report, this one does not.

You can expect quieter disruptions during underground street work should Item 9, Purchase of Hydro Excavator, be approved. The machine selected by the public works department would be quieter and less disruptive when having to dig underground. Of course, it all comes at a cost of nearly half a million dollars but, hey. It’s budgeted for.

The final item of the Consent Calendar and one that should certainly be discussed, would establish another “limited term” position, this time for a Principal Plan Check Engineer. Reading the brief agenda item would lead us to believe this is project specific. I wonder how many of Elizabeth Binsack’s other limited term positions she has asked for still work for the city? I’m actually surprised to see this since City Manager Jeff Parker has the apparent authority to hire anyone he wants, anytime he wants.

The sole item under Regular Business may take some time to discuss, as it should. The Mid-Year Budget Review should raise some eyebrows just for the (un)expected requests for reserve funds. Regardless of the fact we may be above reserves (Parker should be willing to tell us), it is ridiculous that reserve funds are being used mostly for items that should have been accounted for properly.

Except for comments on their reported whereabouts by the individual councilmembers, that would appear to be it for the week. We’ll let you know if they have anything interesting to say.

Shades of Things to Come?

DullsvilleBarring emergencies, the Tustin City Council and Planning Commission will not meet again this year. In fact, the city has closed shop until after the new year. Hopefully, the police department will see a calm end of the year and we won’t see any firey crashes or folks too unhappy with their Christmas gifts.

Although the year passed quickly, we did have our fair share of problems. I don’t think the folks on Nisson Road will forget the sudden gathering of SWAT vehicles and cops looking for an armed suspect in a shooting near their apartment buildings.

In February, Tustin PD responded to a domestic violence call at apartments in the same area and were confronted by an armed suspect. The suspect was subsequently shot and killed, triggering protests both in the streets and in the city council chamber. Lawsuits have been filed and the DA is investigating. However, under their policy, the results of the investigation may never be known.

City fathers also had problems with the Orange County DA’s ill-conceived Sex Offender statute. After it failed to pass the smell test with the courts, various cities -including Tustin- quickly moved to repeal their ordinances that were mostly fashioned after the county’s. To date, nothing has taken it’s place. Oh, don’t worry. The state has laws the police can continue to enforce that will protect your children….and probably better than anything our used-car-salesman DA could come up with.

Our new Chief of Police, Charlie Cellano, may think he stepped into it. Fortunately, he is a veteran of the Tustin PD and (presumably) knew what he was getting into when he took over from Scott Jordan. The new chief was sworn in in February. You may not have noticed because, as he revealed to me in an interview, he has a rather unique style of management that encourages officers to work with residents. His “Coffee with a Cop” program has officers meeting and greeting at local coffee shops in an effort to make them look more approachable. Now, if we could just get the city council from showing up and trying to steal the show.

Police did make the city safer for us all when, sometime in October, they contained a rampaging Emu that had escaped it’s pen in Old Town Tustin. The police report claimed their was no threat or danger to public safety but, you know how those Emus are when they get riled. Rumor had it some officers were later asking for beak-proof vests but that hasn’t been substantiated.

And, of course, those of you who are into fantasy baseball, the new year continues to hold hope for the Angels moving to Tustin. Earlier in the year, team owner Arte Moreno broke off talks with Anaheim about renewal of their stadium lease. Moreno then made a big show of holding talks with other cities, including Tustin. The city council finally revealed they were in discussion with the owner about the move. Their attempt to laugh it off has been squelched by the continued Closed Session discussions with Moreno’s front corporation, Pacific Coast Investors.

I wouldn’t hold my breath. Moreno could be trying to put pressure on Anaheim. He has also spoken with Irvine, a more likely relocation of the team. If he is serious about making a move, he will most certainly demand a new tax-payer paid stadium out of the deal. That would put pressure on a city known better for its hometown neighborhoods than its entertainment prowess.

Old Town Tustin has also received renewed attention by the city. Normally, given the Community Develpment Department’s previous hatred of the area, I would tell you to be afraid, be very afraid. But, it seems our CDD Director, Elizabeth Binsack, has changed her stripes and is now looking to revitalize the area. A series of city sponsored outreach meetings have sparked interest by the residents and businesses of Old Town.

The ambitious plan includes making it easier to build on residential lots by changing the status of “granny flats” and apartments. As well, the city commissioned a study and a series of community meetings to engender support for an Old Town revitalization effort. The city has held two such meetings over the year and plans to hold at least one more.

Of course, part of this effort is due to cost. The effort is likely to cost the city a bundle of money, should proposals be realized. And, the likely increase in tax base from the sales will not dissuade Binsack from seeking further underwriting either through taxes or bond issues. Good luck with that.

So, although we had a few stumbles as we draw our city out of the depths of recession, things are looking brighter as we look ahead. It’s hard to believe our town now numbers over 78,000 residents. That’s an increase of 20,000 since I moved here in 1995. And we aren’t done yet. Since city manager Jeff Parker took back the reins of master developer of the Tustin Legacy, develpment of new tracts, homes and apartment buildings has taken off. Next year shows no signs of abatement.

While we’re at it, we’ll give kudos to Jeff Parker for his overall management of the city. While we can be (and are) harsh critics of individual issues that may come up, Parker and this city council led by Al Murray, have done a pretty good job of keeping the city on track through some pretty scary times. Let’s hope they keep it up.

And whichever way they go, we’ll be there putting their feet to the fire. Happy New Year.

On The City Council Agenda – April 1, 2014

ambulance-chasers3This Tustin City Council didn’t leave me much to work with this April Fool’s Day. In fact, the Closed Session is likely to take longer than the Regular Session this week. The Closed Session also had a last minute add-on to discuss the performance evaluation of City Manager Jeff Parker. For what it’s worth, we think he has done a pretty good job other than his almost constant dipping into reserves to pay for items that should have shown up on the budget. Don’t expect discussion in the Regular Session as it has not been agendized.

The rest of the Close Session consists of the usual suspects. Two each items of Initiation and Exposure to Litigation. These have been there awhile along with the case between the Tustin Successor Agency and the State Department of Finance.

Three new liability claims for the group to vote no on. Katharine Saetang, Rogelio Preciado and Camille Kramer can get their attorney on as the city council rarely accepts a damage claim. Should there be a breakthrough, we’ll let you know.

Likewise, discussions with the Tustin Unified School District continue. When we last spoke to officials over at TUSD, they had been trying to determine a way to open Heritage School as had been promised. The current use is for a continuation school and administrative offices (last we heard). There have been rumors the school would co-open for regular school even though they might not have the required number of students. This is on the heels of the recent approval for 327 homes on the base property although we’re not sure how that will affect it. The closed session item may discuss this but there is also the prospect of opening another school or two on the base property which is more likely in line with this week’s topic.

Two items on the Consent Calendar stand out. Item 3, would approve the plans and specs for the Williams Street Storm Drain Project and send it out to bid. The project is CEQA exempt, according to the staff report as it replaces current drains. Depending on how you read this, they have budgeted from $550,000 to $750,000 (someone tell Doug Stack about transparent government).

Item 4 is a request to appropriate undesignated reserve funds to improve land owned by the city and leased to Tustin Auto Center merchants for storage of excess vehicles. Our concern, of course, is the appropriation of reserve funds for something that, perhaps the merchants themselves should be paying for. The request or subsequent approval should come as no surprise as the city justifies any raid of reserve funds by using the Janet Nguyen “free money” concept.

Item 6 of Reglar Business is a first reading of an ordinance relating to recycling of construction debris. The ordinance will eliminate specifics that have had to be revised yearly since the inception of CAL GREEN by the state and, instead, will invoke language referencing state law. Security Deposit amounts, apparently, will be determined later.

A late entrant to the Regular Business session is Item 7, an update on the county ambulance RFP. Earlier this year, the state ripped the OCFA on their ambulance selection process. Most of it appears to be paperwork related but there has been a question of some contract cities not selecting the top-ranked ambulance services which would void liability claims to the state.

Part of the issue concerns a fee for Advance Life Support when county paramedics are called to a transport scene. County Supervisor Shawn Nelson called the fee an insult and Supervisor John Moorlach likened it to double taxation saying, “Why am I being charged twice, when I’m paying for the whole infrastructure?” Todd Spitzer, Supervisor for Tustin, didn’t have much to say about the fee itself but did think Supervisors should sit on the panel that will review the ambulance companies (like they don’t have enough work).

In any case, it does not appear to be a call by the city itself as to which company will service Tustin. Perhaps Al Murray will be able to shed a little light on the issue.

That’s it for the week. As usual, we will report on anything interesting that may happen at the meeting.

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