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…
You may have noticed that I have been writing a few stories from around the county rather than about our town Tustin. That’s because, like many of you, I have been patiently waiting the production of the video for the May 7, 2013 meeting. Unfortunately, it looks as if we may be waiting quite awhile. As happened several months ago, the city has either delayed placing the video on their website, for some reason or, there were technical problems. My sources say that it is the latter. If the video does show up, we will report on it. In the meantime, here is the rundown of the upcoming Tustin City Council Special Council Meeting on May 13th as well as the regular Tustin Planning Commission on May 14th.
City Council Special Meeting
I’m not sure why the single item on the City Council Agenda was so urgent that our good councilpersons needed to fill an extra meeting to approve it. This is the same Item that appeared as Item 5 on the April 23, 2013 Planning Commission agenda last month. The Planning Commission did, with some amendments, approve the General Plan Amendment and Land Exchange Agreement between the city and South Coast Community College District. This is pretty much a straight land swap but it also calls for a new street that would add traffic to the area. The city of Irvine related their concern over the change in traffic patterns but were assured the Average Daily Trips would remain under the total that would trigger a new EIR. Of course, the residents in the Legacy may differ with that when the new street is built.
In any case, this appears to be pro forma and we are not really sure what the hurry was that a special meeting had to be called. Hopefully, the city will have repaired its video equipment before the meeting so we can all find out what the urgency was.
Planning Commission Meeting
It would appear the tour Community Development Director Elizabeth Binsack spoke of last meeting did not come to fruition. There have been no notices published on the city’s website as she said there would. Maybe before the next meeting.
Only one item of realy interest on the agenda tonight. That is a Public Hearing for a variance to construct an additional bedroom on an existing house without having to add additional garage facilities. The house is located in the neighborhood North of Irvine Blvd. and East of the 55 Freeway. Several remodeling and additions have been completed over the years and the staff are recommending, due to space considerations, approval of the variance. Unless there is some outrage by the neighbors, I doubt there will be much to discuss here.
The only other item on the agenda is the staff Summary of Projects
Mixed-use Hotel Project – It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that construction is well along on the new hotels near the Microcenter. This, to me, is the single biggest and most important project of the year, business-wise. Kudos to Elizabeth and her staff as well as the planning commissioners and the former city council for have a sense of vision when it came to this project. Several changes have been made to the original plans, all of which have been thoughtfully considered before approval. This project is not just a direct moneymaker but will generate income for the city and our businesses, indirectly, as well.
Goodwill Industries of Orange County – This project, a high-end secondhand store, met with opposition from former Councilwoman Deborah Gavello, who said she had issues with the type of store. In discussions with her, we found she had issues with Goodwill Industries (she’s not the only one). Staff are reporting the makeover of the store in Larwin Square is nearly finished and we look forward to seeing it open.
A new florist has opened its doors in an old florist’s habitat on the corner of El Camino Real. For years, we saw the dated florist shop as rather anachronistic, even for Old Town. We only shopped their once before taking our business elsewhere. The new shop, Elegant Hive Distinctive Flowers and Gifts opened last month with little fanfare. We look forward to a long future for the owners of this boutique flower shop.
Vintage Lady – The building nearly burned down last year. It has been a long process to restore this historic building. Old Town Tustin’s Nathan Menard contributed heavily in time and effort to getting this project going again.
Newport Avenue Bicycle Trail Reconstruction Project – OK, we have ridden this trail hundreds of times over the years and did not see a problem with it. But, if you want to make it look pretty, go ahead. It’s grant funded through OCTA funds.
Rawlins Reservoir – Construction of the replacement reservoir has begun and will be completed by the summer of 2013.
Tustin Legacy – Over 1000 apartments in three separate complexes are scheduled to be built in the next few years at the Legacy. As well, staff are reporting the Columbus Square neighborhood to be complete with the addition of 124 homes and townhomes that have been built and occupied (is it time for TUSD to reconsider reopening Heritage?). Additionally, the Fire Station 37 Relocation construction has been awarded to Erickson-Hall Construction Company. Groundbreaking took place in February. It will take about a year to complete.
The Bad – Graffiti. The city doesn’t say whether there is an upward or downward trend but reported 1634 incidents for the first four months of this year. From experience, I can tell you there is a surge in gang and tagging activity in Orange County. Tustin’s gang population is comparatively low but, remember, we live next door to the city with the highest number of gangs, per square mile, in Orange County.
This should make for a fairly quick night for our intrepid commissioners. Unless they have absolutely nothing to do with their private lives, I make the meeting at way under an hour.