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On the City Council Agenda – March 3, 2015

highway robberyWelcome to the Monday morning edition of Our Town Tustin. It was a quiet weekend around the home office. We were originally supposed to cook in the American Legion Riders annual chili cookoff but the impending (but never appearing) rain kept us at bay.

And, this morning, we awakened to some disturbing news just outside our city limits. The El Zocalo Mexican Steakhouse on Tustin Avemue and First Street was the scene of a shooting. The suspects and victims were arguing when at least one suspect pulled a gun and began blasting. Patrons of the steakhouse subdued the suspect and held him for police. According to Channel 5 news, one person died at the scene and four people were sent to Western Medical for treatment.

The Tustin City Council should have a fairly easy week with a light agenda. On the Closed Session, The city council will look at three Liability Claims -Sara Barba, Joseph Lujan and Rudy Gomez. The city is also in discussion with the School District over MCAS land. It’s unclear whether it is the land swap deal they were working on.

Besides the usual items on the Consent Calendar, Item 6 – Rename the Future 31.5 Acre Tustin Legacy Park, would ask the city council to rename the future sports park to Veterans Sports Park at Tustin Legacy. We’ve been following the progress of the proposed Veterans Memorial at the park for the past few weeks.

Renaming this sports park will allow the city to name the future linear park the Legacy Park. We think it is a nice touch and probably deserves some special recognition from the city council. Just don’t let the two-face John Nielsen talk about it. His past record, aligning with Jerry Amante, shows he has little care about our veterans beyond using them to further his own political agenda.

In other business on the Consent Calendar, City Hall will be getting a new HVAC system at the cost of $250,000. According to the staff report, the money was budgeted during this fiscal year.

The sole item under Regular Business is Item 6, Water Deposit Policy and Adoption of Resolution No. 15-10. This resolution will allow the Tustin Water Department to collect additional deposits from those they deem as deadbeats.

Now, I can’t remember how much of a deposit our household paid when we moved in to Tustin. I’m not sure if they still have my money or not. The current fee structure for deposits is, basically, “first and last month”. In other words, if your average water bill is $100, you would pay a $200 deposit with a $50.00 minimum required.

Under the proposed structure, the new deposit schedule could cost a customer from one to two-and-a-half times their average bill. In addition, if a customer fails to pay on time twice in a two year period, they will be required to furnish the maximum deposit.

Of course this new fee structure, which city staff claim will protect the city, will actually hurt the most vulnerable among our residents. Those with little or no credit will be hurt the most while the well-to-do get away with a returned, minimal deposit. So, how is this helping the city to accomplish any goal?

Well, there is one. The deposits are held by the city and may be invested. So, the City Treasurer will get to play with your money while they while away their time at the stock market. In the meantime, folks who struggle to pay their water bill each month, much less a long term deposit, will have their money tied up for at least two years. That’s real customer service for you.

Hopefully, the city council comments will be short and sweet so we don’t have to listen to them drone on about their exciting time at other community meetings. If they do, just remember that, in almost every case, they are touting their ability to make money from their positions as councilmembers, through the stipends they receive for the extracurricular activity.

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 17, 2015

For once, there is not much on the Closed Session agenda for the upcoming Tustin City Council meeting on Tuesday. Don’t expect any report from the city attorney. At the meeting two weeks ago, everyone on the dais attempted to dodge the bullet when a speaker, during public comments, brought up noise and traffic at the Wilcox Manor. The Mayor Puckett couldn’t foist it off on the police chief fast enough. The good news is, Silent Mike and Lindburgh have been complying with the terms of their conditional use permit  and Tustin PD reports no glaring discrepancies. In fact, there have been only three complaints, all apparently resolved.

The sole Public Hearing on the Regular Agenda is Item 1, Community Development Block Grant 2015-20120. This year, the city is required to submit the 5 year Consolidated Plan that identifies community needs and proposals for funding.

The draft list prepared by city staff is pretty extensive and includes parks, parklets and expansion of Old Town parking. It also includes street and infrastructure improvements and rehab.

Some of the more interesting proposals include economic development of Tustin, particularly the Old Town area. A lot of time and effort by staff has recently been put into developing a plan of sorts for the development of Old Town. Unfortunately, until there is some movement by principal property owners, it’s doubtful there will be much more construction taking place. Still, its good to see the city finally paying attention to our legacy.

All currently funded projects previously selected for this three year period by the Tustin Community Foundation will continue to receive CDBG money.

There is not much on the Consent Calendar to be concerned about. Most items are administrative and recurring. Item 7, Renewal of Field Services 4/10 Work Schedule, is a renewal of a pilot project from the past few years for field service personnel to work 4/10 schedules during daylight savings time. This is a union negotiated item that should probably become permanent.

Item 8, Approval of Operator Services Agreement for Carnival Rides- The previous agreement with Shamrock Shows expired and the city is preparing to sign with Brass Ring Amusements for rides and concessions. The new agreement also pushes more money into city coffers with the city’s take beginning at 25% of gross receipts. It’s interesting to note the city now requires background checks on all carnival employees due to an issue a few years back.

Brass Ring Amusements, by the way, is pretty well established and is scheduled to run more than 15 California fairs this year. So, expect a quality ride.

Under Regular Business, the city is finally going to utilize the event center they established at the old Regal Theater in the Tustin Market Place. Item 9, Recommendation of the City Use of 12 Events at the Community Center, recommends 12 city sponsored events to be held at no charge to the city.
The ad hoc committee of Councilmembers Gomez and Nielsen came up with a list of spine-tingling events that will include (in no particular order) a talent contest, a youth film festival and a new (did I say free?) place to hold the State of the City Address.

The final item on the agenda is Item 10, Formation of Veterans Advisory Committee/Commission. Normally, I would be cheering the formation of anything for veterans. But, this is a topic brought up by none other than, Mayor pro tem, John Nielsen. There are a couple of reasons for concern.

First, is Nielsen’s apparent collaboration with his ally, former councilman Jerry Amante. Amante, if you recall, had a feud with The American Legion Post 227 that subjected them to some humiliation and all but eliminated the color guard ceremonies that were being held in council chambers each month.

That rift between the Legion Post Commander and the city council began as a small tiff when, way back in 2001, Legionnaires came to the rescue by reviving their post and touching off the first (in a long time) Veterans Day parade down El Camino Real. I witnessed the buildup and slow degradation of what was hailed by the OC Board of Supervisors at the time as “Orange County’s Veterans Day Parade”, into a less substantial day in the park due mostly to the hostility of the city council toward veterans. I’m not even sure there is a celebration in Tustin anymore.

Should we mention their one-time desire to do away with the blimp hangars?

A second reason for suspicion -and that ties in handily to vet loving by John- is the rumor recently making the rounds that John Nielsen may make a run for the California Assembly. Normally, I would dismiss a notion like this as someone’s idea of a nightmare on Elm Street. That is, until I heard it from two distinctly different sources, one of whom does not live in the city.

So, is Nielsen simply paying homage to veterans in order to regain some traction here on the home front? Certainly, he has lost interest in any business the council conducts, as it is apparent he has been treading water, at least since the election. We did email Nielsen on his intentions but he has, so far, refused to respond to us.

One other item of note, Old Town residents received a Notice of Publice Hearing on a code amendment. The hearing, to be held February 24, 2015 at 7 pm (Planning Commission Meeting), will be to hear public comment on a proposal to change second residence requirements. The proposed amendments would eliminate “accessory guest rooms” or what most of us would call, “granny flats”. in lieu of establishing new guidelines for 2nd residential units on lots. If you can only go to one meeting, this may be the one.

Veterans Need Not Apply (Or Die)

Veterans-CemeteryTuesday’s Planning Commission meeting has been cancelled for lack of interest agenda items. That doesn’t mean we can’t have a meeting, however. Don’t forget, the Parks and Recreation Commission is holding a design forum for a veterans memorial this afternoon beginning at 4:30 pm in the city council chambers. It should be interesting to see how many show up on a Monday afternoon a half hour before the normal close of a business day. Thanks for the planning, staff.

Wed to the idea of a Veterans Memorial at the appropriately renamed Veterans Memorial Park, is a veterans cemetery for Orange County. Initially proposed by veterans and opposed by NIMBYs, then assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva was instrumental in bringing legislation that would pave the way for a veterans cemetery “somewhere” in Orange County.

That “somewhere”, of course was a plot of land on the former MCAS base now being bulldozed for subdivisions and not-so-great parks. a 105 acre parcel of land has been identified on the property to be developed as a potential final resting place for the county’s many veterans who have settled here.

It didn’t take long, however, for the opposition to rear its collective ugly head. What was surprising is the tactic they took.

As far back as October of last year, a local blog urged the city of Irvine to relocate the proposed cemetery anywhere but…..Irvine. Well, OK, they just didn’t want it next to their house as they had paid lots of money for their property and they were afraid a veterans cemetery would lower their home value. But, except for cool places like Musick Honor Farm and alleged contamination near proposed high schools, Irvine is mostly neighborhoods. And parks. And technology centers.

On the Talk Irvine forum, one of the discussions which appeared last year, was on the location of the veterans cemetery. That discussion, begun in July of last year has recently been renewed with the appearance of an anti-veterans cemetery petition. The pro and anti cemetery discussion has mostly centered around Feng-Shui, Asian Culture and….property values. And, while many of the contributors have supported the building of a veterans cemetery, quite a few thank the veteran in one sentence and then, in the same sentence, denounce the idea of a final resting place for them.

Another Irvine blog, run by and for the Asian community, also makes a deal out of Asians, housing and cemeteries. This blog could be largely discounted as other blog entries clearly mark it as a special interest section.

Now, it seems, there is a petition circulating in Irvine that would set signatures to paper in an effort to stop the project. We were unable to obtain a copy of the petition but our friends at The Liberal OC did.

The petition relies on scare tactics and misinformation to lure people into signing it. Among other misleading statements the petition says:

2. ….Most of the residents lived (sic) next to the cemetery are Asians. In Asian culture it is taboo to place a cemetery next to homes or close to urban area (sic).

While the “taboo” issue is debatable, what is not debatable is the fact that the largest Vietnamese community in the United States lives in and around (and also utilizes) Westminster Memorial Park. In fact, one section of the park is dedicated to the Asian community and specifically respects their culture.

3. Many Irvine residents did not know about this cemetery until October, 2014.

Well, the proposed cemetery has been in the works for several years, thanks to The American Legion District Commander, Bill Cook, and others. It was in the news and there were meetings, including a meeting with the author of the Bill authorizing the cemetery Sharon Quirk-Silva. In fact, it was hard not to hear something about it.

4. In the next 100 years, the development of the west Coast (sic) of the United States will be largely supported by the Asian investment and immigrants.

Really? So, Latin America and Europe will have less influence than Asia? While we all drive Asian cars, this statement is a bit presumptuous. But, say it was true. Does anyone honestly think the Chinese won’t invest in California, indeed the entire west coast, because there is a veterans cemetery in Irvine?

5. The cemetery will drive down home values and increase blight.

So, according to the petition authors, the Cypress-Los Alamitos-Rossmoor area is blighted because of Forest Lawn Cypress. North Santa Ana is blighted because they have two cemeteries across the street from each other. Orange Park Acres is blighted with low house prices due to Holy Sepulcher Cemetery, a double whammy because its run by the dreaded Roman Catholic Diocese. Even Corona del Mar property values have been drug down by the Pacific View Memorial Park because it is smack in the middle of their high-end housing. Wow. Who knew?

The petition closes by stating the proposed cemetery is in the wrong location because it is too close to homes, a high school and the urban center [I kid you not],veterans cemetery and at a highly populated area.

They go on to offer their help in “finding a better location to create a win-win situation.”

Newsflash, Irvine petition writer and your allies – There is no better location than a former Marine Air Base with deep ties (much deeper and longer than the Asian community) to Orange County. The El Toro Marine Base saw hundreds of thousands of veterans of every branch of service pass through its gates over the years. There is a fierce pride among the residents, veteran or not, in that legacy.

The petition author(s) talk about disrespect to the Asian community. What about the disrespect shown to the veterans through the circulation of this petition? As Sharon Quirk-Silva said on her Facebook Page, “Everyone is entitled to their own opinion….. To say that a veteran cemetery will cause blight is disrespectful.”

Veterans (including myself) have fought long and hard to establish a cemetery within the boundaries of Orange County. There are only two suitable locations for a cemetery, in my opinion. It’s unfortunate Tustin has chosen to haggle over a baseball stadium rather than a cemetery. They’d probably have a better chance of securing the latter.

I won’t pull the, “if you don’t like it, leave” card. I will say, let the majority prevail. In the current scenario, that looks like the pro-cemetery folks. Don’t worry, though. The cemetery is a long way from having the first hero buried there. You’ll have plenty of time to get used to it – or move.

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