Barring 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.
This 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.
The regular agenda begins with a Public Hearing on a reuse of the old Acorn Naturist building. Applicants are asking to reconfigure the use to all offices on the upper floor and retail use on the first floor of the building. Outwardly, there should be no difference to the casual person looking at the building. The Community Development Department is recommending the changes that will include the payment of $240 a year for 4 public parking spaces. This allows the owner to comply with parking regulations without coming up with new spaces.
The only other significan item on the agenda is the request by the Community Development Department to release the draft commercial design guidelines for public review. As usual, Elizabeth Binsack has failed to recognize that anything occurring in the Old Town area impacts the residents. The sole concern of the city is from the business community and how they will react to the guidelines. Hopefully the Tustin Preservation Conservancy as well as the Historical Society will have some say in critiquing the draft.
Assuming the Planning Commission gives the go ahead, the draft guidelines should be available to the public starting in early April. Look for it on the city website. Once they are published, a link will be provided on the blog. We encourage everyone in Old Town, as well as the rest of Tustin, to take a look and provide input to the Planning Commission.
The last item on the agenda is a summary of projects, updating the January “Year in Review” report. Several project will be discussed including the Del Rio building that is currently finishing construction on the old Riteway Cleaners parcel, as well as the Vintage Lady historic building which burned down some time ago. Local historical architect Nathan Menard worked on plans for both buildings. Locals will be distressed to hear the required bathrooms for the Wilcox Manor are nearing completion. Of good news is the resurfacing of the parking structure behind Rutabegorz Restaurant.
That’s it for a short week. Reports from staff will keep the meeting at an intolerable length. At least our commissioners will earn their stipend.
At first, we thought there may be no Planning Commission meeting on Tuesday. A quick second look shows there to be a one-item agenda that may or may not go quickly. That’s because it brings up the resolution denying the design permit for a number of U-verse boxes AT&T has been trying to install in our town for, at some estimates, 15 years.
More than 10 years ago, AT&T applied for the installation of nearly 100 utility boxes in the city. The original application was turned down and the project languished in the halls of Ma Bell for several years until another, more serious attempt was made in 2005. Calling these “upgrades”, somewhere along the way the city discovered that much -if not all- of the installations were actually going to house new equipment that would include computers and fiber optic equipment for the U-verse technology AT&T invented to bring fiber optic quality internet and TV to the public. Back then, the boxes would all be above ground and a bit bigger than the current SAI boxes that house the copper wire phone and internet equipment we all see around town.
We don’t know if it was the aesthetics or the tacitcs that soured the Community Development Department. We do know that, when city staff discovered the switch, they were quick to deny the application as it had been presented. And, once again, the project lay (mostly) dormant. Fast forward to November, 2013.
At the November 12th hearing, AT&T made an application to install 25 VRAD boxes around the city to further their U-verse environment in the city. For more than an hour and a half, Leslie Monty, an engineer who represents AT&T fielded questions and answered commission concerns. Well, sort of. If we may digress: If Ma Bell wants to sell the product, they need someone who is prepared and unafraid to speak in front of a crowd bigger than say, five people. Monty’s discussion was less than adequate and amounted to AT&T’s opposition to any changes to their original application.
She did say that AT&T was opposed to painting the cabinets because, supposedly, the beige and green the cabinets are normally painted to aid in dispersing heat (so, why do the new VRAD boxes have AC built in) and that their technology did not allow for underground installation, another request from the city.
She later came back and said that any underground installation would require an access area that would be significantly larger than the underground vault itself and, if I heard right, would require an upper structure anyway to house the AC. She couldn’t answer why other utilities seemed to have overcome that problem and maintained that underground units were incompatible with their current technology.
Further questioning revealed the underlying issue: money, of course. The cost of placing utilities in underground vaults is, to no one’s surprise, more expensive than setting ugly boxes above ground in front of peoples homes.
Now, the city did say that only 4 of the boxes had to be underground. It was just a preference for the other boxes. Those four boxes were eliminated from the revised project presented in January of this year. At that meeting, the commissioners were looking for ways to get this project approved as it would offer another choice to consumers. But, they were pretty unified that a project would not go through if it impacted the aesthetics of the community.
Several of the commissioners, particularly Ryder Smith the self-appointed nerd on the dais, asked about camouflaging the boxes with art work as has been done in Santa Ana and other
communities. The city does have a goal to establish a public art program in the future and wanted an option to at least make the boxes more presentable than the beige and green globs we are used to seeing.
Oh, no, that wouldn’t be possible. According to AT&T’s Monty, the technology has not reached far enough to allow proper cooling, even with an AC unit, unless the boxes are painted an ugly beige or green color. And, even if they could be, the boxes which are supposedly painted with anti-graffiti paint, would no longer be warrantied.
We swear, we are not making this up.
In the end, the commission voted to deny the design review for the VRAD cabinet project in its entirety. The chief concerns came down to AT&T’s opposition to complying with design guidelines that had been established years ago and that they were well aware of. Added to that were concerns over resident objections. As Commissioner Lumbard said, “I know our residents are not going to be pleased when there’s a box in front of their house or, in front of the store they’d like to go to or on the side of the street where they park their car.”
Of real concern to us at Our Town Tustin is the makeup of the 3-2 vote of denial. It seems that Commissioners Jeff Thompson and Ryder Smith decided the boxes would be OK. In fact Thompson, adding minor and inconsequential changes, made a motion to adopt the original design review. Stating that he believed AT&T when they said that underground technology for the equipment cabinets just wasn’t there, he readily moved the item. And, although Chair Steve Kozak seconded the motion, he later withdrew it, saying he only seconded it for purposes of discussion.
The reason we bring this up is because there are two Planning Commission seats open for appointment by the city council. One of those is Thompson’s. And, although he has applied for reappointment, we wonder if he has not outlived his usefulness on this influential panel. Over the past couple of years we have noticed he has not had the best interests of the residents in every issue that has come before the planning commission. This is not the first time he has danced a soft shoe in trying to accommodate a business or utility. He continuously worked to compromise the untenable Wilcox debacle and other recent issues in Old Town, even though he is a resident there. Jeff’s best qualification for the seat is his civil engineering background. We would argue, however, that is what the Community Development Department is for. In our opinion, it is time for a change.
Next stop, should AT&T choose, the Tustin City Council where, presumably, AT&T has friends…