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On the City Council Agenda – December 16, 2014

Hidden Agenda ClipartThere were no surprises in the recent off-year elections. Al Murray and Beckie Gomez were re-elected to their respective posts as were the TUSD incumbents. It is disappointing to see that not much has changed since the days of Il Duce Amante and his reign of terror over the city.What I am talking about, of course, is the obvious disrespect the good ol’ boys show the only female on the dais by not electing her Mayor for at least one term. It not only shows their true color as chauvinists but borders on discrimination as they are all cut from the same political cloth. Fortunately, the Mayor’s post, in this city, is largely ceremonial with the setting of the agenda probably the most important task. Yet, the Funtastic Four could not see fit to give up even that small amount of power to a woman.

That said, we’ll congratulate Mayor Chuck Puckett to his (re-)ascension to the throne. Anyone care to guess who the next mayor will be?

In closed session tonight, the council will have opening discussions on upcoming labor negotiations with city unions. After the fabulous way they treated the upper crust management last year, everyone should be expecting a reasonable raise. City negotiators lamented the low sales tax return and the high cost of running the city last year, using it as an excuse to not cut a square deal with the employees. That excuse has run its course. We’ll see if the employees are willing to take a stand for a raise this year.

Likewise, in closed session, the city has several property negotations to discuss. This includes a property swap with the Tustin Unified School District. Also under discussion is property negotiations with Arte Moreno’s group, Pacific Coast Investors. The line item says, “Price and Terms of Payment”. Let’s hope it is not for the new Angels-of-Anaheim-at-Tustin stadium. And what is the status of those negotiations, anyway?

First up on the Regular Session, after the usual opening prayer and Closed Session report, is a presentation to Tustin Community Foundation from the website, Great Nonprofits. TCF has been named a Top Rated 2014 charity by them. It’s nice but doesn’t really mean much. Great Nonprofits appears to base their selection on consumer reviews. Think Yelp for charities. I read a few of the more than three pages worth of “reviews” and find them…..well, contrived.

There is a great article on a more believable charity oversight website that sheds some light on the GNP website and their review model. Charity Watch had this to say about their process:

At first, this may seem like a good idea. After all, consumers commonly use reviews on sites like Yelp and Trip Advisor to help them choose restaurants and hotels. What is wrong with using crowdsourced reviews to help donors pick nonprofits?

One problem is that reviewing nonprofits is far more complex than reviewing consumer products and services. When a customer at a restaurant pays for a meal, he can smell, taste, and experience it. In contrast, when a donor gives to a charity, he pays for goods or services that someone else receives. His review is often not based on any firsthand knowledge of the quality or efficiency of the charity’s programs.

As an example, Charity Watch points out that the Childhood Leukemia Foundation received a “nearly perfect score” from GNP while their own website rated it an “F” because and in-depth look at their finances revealed dismal performance in areas that count. And, while Doctors Without Borders received an “A” rating from Charity Watch, GNP gave it a mere 3.5 stars (out of 5) due to two poor reviews, neither of which was of a significant issue pertaining to their actual performance. Neither Charity Watch or Charity Navigator rate TCF. Charity Navigator does not rate charities with less than a million dollars in revenue.

Oh, and of the 32 reviews, 30 of which are five star, only one is from a recipient. The rest are written by volunteers, board members and others with significant ties to TCF. Curiously, two reviews from volunteers rated the foundation as only four star. What’s up with that?

Now, we’re not saying Tustin Community Foundation is a poor choice. On the contrary, TCF has done some nice things here in Tustin. What we are saying is, awards from questionable sources might better be forgotten than noted in a public city council meeting.

On the Consent Calendar:

Item 5, Establish Prima Facie Speed Limits on City Streets, is the result of required studies by the state. Streets are required to be surveyed for appropriate speed limit changes in order for the city to continue to use radar and other traffic control methods. Eleven streets have been designated for increased or establishing speed limits. Interestingly, sixteen segments, including most of Newport Avenue North of Irvine Boulevard, have recommendations to lower the limit. The rest will be unaffected. Some of these changes are in rather unobtrusive locations so, make sure you remain aware lest you be stopped by one of Tustin’s Finest.

Item 11, Community Development Department Office Reconfiguration, is really an item that could wait until next year. The darling of the City Council, Elizabeth Binsack, is requesting an additional $68,000 in her coffers to accomplish the remodel which, quite frankly, should not be coming out of additional reserves. This sort of smacks of the Jerry Amante iPad debacle (where are those iPads, anyway?) where funds were allocated for a folly. Expect this item, as well, to be approved without comment. It’s nice to be the apple of someone’s eye.

Under Regular Business, several items stand out for discussion. The first is Item 14, Local Appointments List which publishes for the first time, the list of appointment to OCTA, the Water and Sewer Boards, as well as a slew of other paid and non-paid appointments. The Mayor has an opportunity to redeem himself and his cronies by appointing their arch-nemesis to at least one important (and paying) board position (not that the Library Board isn’t important). He could but don’t expect him to. Chuck has never been one to rock the city boat.

Other Regular Business items include a grant application to the National Endowment for the Arts to assist in funding the Tustin Pioneers Recognition Program and the transfer of city owned property to the Orange County Rescue Mission.

The Tustin Pioneers Recognition Program, if you recall, would allow the city and certain organizations to recognize important historical figures of Tustin’s rich history. The perceived method would be the erection of a bust of the noted individual in or near the location related to that person. An interesting idea, especially if you can get someone else to pay for it. It’s questionable whether that should be the taxpayer, however.

The city is looking at selling two four-plex apartment buildings it owns to Orange County Rescue Mission. The $533,000 price tag is probably well below market value but is the original cost to the city. The city also derives nominal rent they will be foregoing. The tradeoff is helping at-risk veterans. And, although the city will carry the loan for the property at a nominal three percent, the note will diminish so that OCRM will, in effect, owe nothing on the proeprty. The only issue would be that the property was initially purchased by the city for the extension of Newport Avenue to the south. Should that project ever come to fruition (we’re banking on a “no” from the other property owners), the city will take the property back.

So, there you go. It’s good to be back in the saddle…..er, back at the keyboard. We look forward to another year of mediocrity from the Tustin City Council as we forge ahead into another year. May you all have a Happy Christmas and/or Chanukah and a prosperous new year.

On The City Council Agenda – September 2, 2014

CSHSRA Barrel Racing Champion, Heather Eckman

CSHSRA Barrel Racing Champion, Heather Eckman

A fairly brief agenda greets our intrepid Tustin City Council this Tuesday after their brief hyatus. Hopefully, during their time off, they enjoyed the great production of Peter Pan put on by the Tustin Area Council on Fine Arts through their Broadway in the Park program. I had the pleasure of volunteering for TACFA (security, of course) which let me see firsthand just how much work and effort is put into presenting a professional play to the community.

Prior to the Regular Session, the councilmembers will convene at 5:30 to discuss the Ultra-Double Secret Closed Session items. Among them, notably, is the labor negotiations for so-called unrepresented managers and executives. I don’t know if we will see anything come of this tonight (we should – everyone has had weeks to prepare). Expect it to remain as low key as possible as the city council eventually awards juicy raises to their executive cronies. All this will be possible, of course, because the rank and file continue to get the short end of the stick, even while the city improves financially.

Other items on the Closed Session include the usual Legal Counsel issues and Real Property Negotiations for three sets of property. I assume these are all on the MCAS property even though the city insists on clouding addresses with lot and tract numbers when most of these now have street addresses attached to them.

In the Regular Session, the presentations are liable to take up as much time as the rest of the agenda. One of these, Heather Eckman, Barrel Racing, is to recognize the hard work of a young equestrian who took the top spot in Barrel Racing in the California High School Rodeo Association and went on to compete in the National High School Rodeo Finals In Rock Springs, Wyoming, this year. According to the records on the NHSRA website, the Beckman High School Sophomore came in a strong 12th place among nearly 100 competitors. Her time was only one and a half seconds behind the winner. Congratulations, Heather, for your outstanding work.

It should be interesting to see how the Tustin Housing Authority conducts a meeting and annual report all within the confines of the Consent Calendar. In fact, we’re not even sure it’s legal. Nonetheless, that’s how they plan to do it. So, if you have something to say about the THA, stay on your toes or it could slip past you.

Also on the Consent Calendar is the replacement of a variety of city vehicles that have reached the end of their natural lives. The vehicles include field trucks and autos used for parking control. According to the staff report, the vehicle purchases have been budgeted for.

Two items on the Regular Business Calendar will round out the evening. Both items will be to give final approval over construction projects. I’m glad to see the city council rejected city staffs’ proposal some time ago to forego council approval of construction projects. I think it is important the public be kept aware when projects like this are completed. Having it come formally before the city council keeps it in the public spotlight and keeps things above board.

As I said, short and sweet. It should be interesting to see how longwinded some of the councilmen get when reporting their activities.

Addendum

Hey, if you are looking for something to do tomorrow morning, come on down to Classic Burger on Tustin Village Way between 8 and 9 am for Chief Charlie Cellano’s second Coffee with a Cop. The first CWAC (hmmm…maybe not such a great acronym) was held a few weeks ago at Kean’s Coffee and was a huge success. The meet and greet is a great way to get to know your local police officers who patrol your area. You have questions? They have answers.

Also on the ticket for tomorrow is the dedication and grand opening of the Bocce Ball courts at Peppertree Park. The courts are part of an improvement grant and will add another facet to Tustin’s world-class recreation facilities. The ribbon cutting will be a 5 pm with remarks offered by Mayor Al Murray. The new courts are located adjacent to the Senior Center.

 

On The Tustin Planning Commission Agenda – August 12, 2014

agenda-clipartI wonder if any of our intrepid city fathers attended the opening of the Sand Canyon rail undercrossing in Irvine today? This was a temendous undertaking due, in large part, to the inability of people to safely negotiate train crossings. I guess it is a side effect of the busy lifestyle Orange Countians lead.

In any case, I am sure we’ll find out if any of the Planning Commissioners attended at the close of Tuesday’s meeting. Prior to that, they have a bit of work to do.

On the Consent Calendar is a request for a zoning change, conditional use permit and design review for the construction of a half-dozen condominiums on San Juan Street. City staff are recommending a denial of the request based on a small difference in lot size that would technically disqualify the change. And, although 140 square feet is minimal, rules are rules (sort of).

I suspect the real reason for the denial is the three story size of the proposed condos. It seems the only way to get the required square footage is to go up due to the overal lot size. The neighborhood is mostly one story homes and older apartments and, as the staff report points out, the nearest three story residence is some distance away, making this project stand out like a sore thumb.

It should be interesting to see if anyone comes forward at the meeting to challenge this item. It would seem the only required fix would be to reduce the total number of condos from six to five. Legalities aside, I have to tell you I would not want these in my neighborhood. The design drawings are pretty ugly.

The only other item on the Planning Commission agenda is a Commendation and Tustin Historic Register Nomination  for the Artz Building. You probably know this as Rutabeforz Restaurant, that trendy little mainstay known for its upside down Christmas tree and great soups. Gary’s Rack, a well-known men’s store is next door.

The building is 100 years old this year, according to the staff report. And, according to the city, the Preservation Conservancy or the Tustin Area Historical Society would normally make the nomination. Supposedly they didn’t (more on that later) and the city is making the move.

The building, built by Sam Tustin, son of founder Columbus Tustin, was originally leased by Charles Artz for a general store. It has been used over the years for a school and other commercial enterprises, finally ending up as our beloved Rutaz’.

So, why didn’t the local historical society or the Tustin Preservation Conservancy do the nomination as the staff report indicates they normally would? Originally the nominations were done by the Historical Resources Committee (made up, I surmise, of members of the ATHS and the TPC). It seems former councilman and despot-in-residence Jerry Amante may have had a hand in that when the Conservancy supported a local historic architect Amante kicked off the planning commission years ago. Since that time, according to my sources, the nominations have been done mostly by the planning commission.

And, even though Amante crony Elizabeth Binsack failed to mention it in the staff report, the Tustin Preservation Conservancy (and, I assume, the Historical Society) were contacted about the nomination and they are “delighted”.

So are we.

The building in question hardly needs much of a dissertation. But, if you want the rundown on the history, you can read the staff report here. The Artz building is also on the National Register of Historic Places. So, it is fitting it should also be recognized by our own city.

That’s it for this week’s Planning Commission. If you live in the area of San Juan and Utt, you may want to attend the meeting just in case the condo folks try to sway the commission. Of course, they can always (and probably will) appeal to the city council. I’m sure they have a friend on the council somewhere.

 

On The City Council Agenda – August 5, 2014

credit: Dustbunny.com

credit: Dustbunny.com

I suspect some of the items on the Consent Calendar for the Tuesday Tustin City Council meeting are on there, rather than under Regular Business so the councilmembers can scoot out early and join the National Night Out at the District. Nonetheless, there are a few items which should be pulled as they will not go unnoticed by their adoring public.

The most glaring issue is Item 6, Extension of Contract with CR&R Incorporated for Solid Waste and Recycling Services. In 2007, CR&R was given what amounts to a 10 year contract by the city (remember, John?). The first seven years had no realistic “out” clause and the residents of Tustin have been saddled with whatever service CR&R has provided or failed to provide.

Prior to the contract being awarded to the lowest (and, in our opinion, most incompetent) bidder, waste service was provided by Federal Disposal. In 2000, Federal Disposal came under fire by the residents who wanted to retain the city’s 30 year trash hauler, Waste Management. As was the case in 2007 with CR&R vs. Federal, the issue was one of the absolute lowest bidder as opposed to responsible bidder. Unlike Federal, which turned out to be competent and responsive to city residents needs, CR&R has been just the opposite.

We’re not sure who paid off city staff to report that: “CR&R has provided consistent service with reputable customer satisfaction…” over the past few years, I have heard nothing good about CR&R service. Customer service representatives, if there really are any, are rude, surly and act as if they are doing the customer a favor. This, of course, comes from the fact they have the city locked into a seven year contract. Further, the bins used by the contractor are fragile at best and, apparently, not subject to the scrutiny of the city for quality.

The saving grace in extending the contract is that there will be no rate increase for the next year. However, regardless of the city’s assertion in the staff report that CR&R may not recoup those rate costs in any way, expect us to be paying more in future years should the contract be extended.

Item 7, Revised Resolution Submitting a Ballot Measure to Voters, is a revisit of a July agenda item to raise the bed tax in Tustin. Currently at 6%, Tustin’s bed tax is among the lowest in the county. In fact, it may be the lowest since Costa Mesa raised their tax a few years ago. The proposed measure was returned by the Registrar of Voters to the city for a one sentence modification.

Bed tax proposals are among those that are almost assuredly passed by voters as they see little effect on themselves. In our case, we have a couple of bright, shiny new hotels with reasonable rates to attract out-of-town visitors. Although this measure would almost double the current tax, it would still keep us below the average and among the lowest in OC.

Item 8, Amending the Classification and Compensation Plan will add a Public Works Manager as a lmited-term (cough, cough) position to the public works department. The “Manager” will be under the direction of the Deputy Director of Public Works and will be responsible for projects at the Legacy. We wonder if City Manager, Jeff Parker, will wield his authority to circumvent the personnel rules in order to hire another crony? As you recall, Parker talked the city council into amending the hiring rules to allow him to hire virtually anyone he chooses without going through the hassle of advertising the position and accepting general applications.

The Water Police are Coming – In the trickle-down theory of politics this state insists on, Tustin will recognize its responsibility to conserve water. That recognition comes in the form of regulations that will forcibly curb water use. The current reduction will mean the average residence will pay five dollars more for forty units of delivered water. The idea, of course, is to get you to lower your water usage. Tustin plans to use the carrot and stick method to obtain compliance. Warnings will be issued prior to citations and the reduction in water usage comes with a bonus savings, according to the staff report.

On the other end of the equation, however, is the threat of fines up to $20,000 and the implied threat that water rates will increase due to the decrease in actual usage. Staff ran the numbers and, if we decrease our usage by 20%, the water fund will suffer a $1.5 million dollar decrease. and will limit their ability to build the Water Enterprise Fund. Let’s hope the drought ends quickly. My lawn is already dead.

Closed Session

Conference with Legal Counsel – Initiation of Litigation, 2 cases

Liability Claim – Tiffany Trujillo

Consent Calendar

Agreement with All City Management Services – Crossing Guard Contract

JPA Agreement with Integrated Law and Justice Association of Orange County – Adds CSUF Police to the existing JPA

Extend Contract with CR&R for Solid Waste Disposal

Approve Extension of 911 Ambulance Service Contract – Doctors Ambulance Service as providers until County assumes responsibility

Draft Tustin Pioneer Recognition Program – Proposal to implement a monument program for certain noted Tustin historical figures.

 

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