Two Public Hearings head up the Tustin City Council meeting tonight. Prior to that, the dais will be treated to several presentations, including one for The American Legion Boys State Program made by The American Legion Post 227. We understand they fielded two candidates to Sacramento this year for a week of running a shadow government. Our personal opinion is they could do a much better job than our current crop of legislators.
The first Public Hearing will be to issue water revenue bonds in the amount of $15 million dollars. The money is ostensibly to be used for repair/replacement of the Simon Ranch Reservoir Booster Pump Station and Pipeline as well as the Tustin Avenu Well Replacement Project.
If we recall correctly, these items had been the subject of approved water bonds several years earlier when Deborah Gavello was around. It could just be a coincidence, however. Let’s not forget the city has allegedly been considering the purchase, either directly or indirectly, of desalinated water from the planned Poseiden Plant under negotiation in Huntington Beach. One has to wonder why anyone in this part of Orange County, with such a vast aquifer, would require water that reportedly will be selling for three times the price of local water.
One thing we agree with is the city’s consultants who have determined that, if you must issue bonds, this is a great time to do it, while rates are low.
The second Public Hearing will be on the City’s Housing Element Update. This is probably more technical than reality driven. A public workshop was held in April and the results have been incorporated into the proposed plan. Most of the response had been in the area of updating the plan for affordable and special needs housing. You can see the report here.
A couple items on the consent calendar should be pulled for discussion.
The first is Item 5, which calls for the electronic storage of records. It is a great idea and we are surprised out Community Development Director is just now thinking about it (although the last time the city got rid of records, they tried to use it against an Old Town Resident).
This deserves discussion if only for the fact that there is no indication the project went out to bid. Further, the item description is a bit confusing and it is unclear until one looks at the resolution whether it is for both the scanning and destuction (it is) or just the destruction of the documents. The report also states there is no fiscal impact. We seriously doubt ECS is providing their services for free. Likewise, it’s doubtful the city will just dump these records in the trash. Using a document destruction company will engender costs. And, have either been budgeted for or are funds expected to come out of reserves?
The city seems to be struggling with the strategic plan. Item 8 calls for a rejection of all recently received bids on the graffiti abatement contract. The reason? Staff can’t keep their records straight and allegedly put out obsolete data on the RFP.
The only other Item of note on the Agenda, is Item 9, Recommendation of the Finance Director’s Appointment as the City Treasurer. We previously said it would be a wise move for the city council to appoint the Finance Director, Pamela Arend-King, as the permanent Treasurer for the city. However, we do not see the minimal added duties as warranting an increase in salary of over $8 thousand dollars plus a commensurate boost in pension benefits.
If you remember, our former City Treasurer George Jeffries, a well-respected member of the financial and (Republican) political community, netted a salary of $4 thousand dollars a month for the exact same duties that Arends-King would be taking on as an addition to her “regular” duties.
There is no other justification for such a raise during this phase of the city’s economic recovery. It is also a slap in the face to the rank-and-file employees who just recently concluded a largely give-back contract with the city that resulted in zero pay raises for the majority of employees. Don’t look to this lazy city council to do anything but acquiesce to the will of the new Boss Tweed, Jeff Parker.
That’s it for the week. If this was too much doom and gloom for you, we will remind you that Tustin Tiller Days is coming this weekend at Columbus Tustin Park. Don’t forget the annual Tiller Parade down Main Street in Old Town Tustin. We will be in our usual place on our front porch ready to say hi to the good councilmembers. We wonder how many will be willing to face Our Town Tustin. C’mon, guys, we just want to say hi.
The Voice of OC ran an article today on a meeting held in Santa Ana over the weekend. The meeting was a first for Santa Ana officials and residents who numbered over 200. The meeting, held at the local senior center, allowed residents to discuss and give input on a variety of topics ranging from public safety to job training for young people.
The meeting was apparently a result of the new sunshine ordinance enacted last year by the Santa Ana City Council. At the time the ordinance which, among other things required adequate notice of meetings and community input during early phases of development projects, was called a “red-tape” proposal by Mayor Miguel Pulido. Opposed to any form of open-access government, Pulido said the ordinance would hinder development.
On the other hand, Councilman Vince Sarmiento said the law should have been in place years ago and could have prevented the “park poor” image Santa Ana now has.
We first wrote about the Santa Ana ordinance in September of last year, seeing the law as a big step toward making amends to a citizenry the city council had largely ignored. At the time, we wrote the biggest reason for having an ordinance of this type:
If you have to ask why an ordinance like this is needed, it was summed up when Councilmember Carlos Bustamante asked SACReD organizer Ana Urzua what she would gain by knowing who the councilman is meeting with, she replied, “So we know we cant trust you.”
At nearly the same time as the Santa Ana proposal came before their council, then councilwoman Deborah Gavello asked that a sunshine ordinance be agendized for discussion at the Tustin City Council meeting. John Nielsen, a Jerry Amante protege’, nixed the idea, saying the city was already working on a strategic plan that included an ethics component. That plan, however, did not mention anything about an anti-lobbying piece that Gavello felt key to the issue.
It was pretty obvious the idea of bringing sunshine into the city of Tustin was not going to go far, particularly considering the acrimony between Gavello and the rest of the council. Unfortunately, the city’s Strategic Plan, when it was unveiled, had obviously been worked over by the city staff, who did not appreciate the findings of Management Partners. The authors of the plan found a lot to be concerned with in the ethics department and said so publicly.
There was a lot of hoopla and backslapping by the city council when the strategic plan was finally approved. But, there has been no update since the plan was implemented and we are kind of wondering if the whole idea has been cast to the sidelines.
At the time Gavello introduced the idea publicly, that our city might be working more in shadow than in sunlight, we agreed with other community leaders that an ordinance was in order. Now, as our neighbor to the West, Santa Ana, has come to terms with their own ordinance, they are seeing the benefits to allowing the public freer access to city government.
As residents spoke, city officials wrote their opinions on large paper sheets, easily consuming dozens of them. The youth education and recreation topic alone received more than 100 ideas scribbled on yellow Post-its.
It was all part of a process that is new to Santa Ana: a strategic plan.
Santa Ana has elected to take the ideas of their residents, rather than only developers business owners as Tustin has done, to shape the future of their city. And, while their sunshine ordinance leaves a lot to be desired, it is obvious that city leaders are not doing just the minimum to comply with the law. Rather, they are taking the matter into their own hands and letting sunshine flow where the shadows of government used to lurk.
The city apparently fixed the video problem they had with the May 7th meeting and the video is finally up for viewing. We’ll let you know if we find anything interesting that we haven’t already reported on. We are wondering if the issues had to do with their recent changeover to allow direct downloading of the video, something we applaud as a step toward a more open government.
May 21st could be a busy day for the city council. The Closed Session, which begins at 5:30 pm, makes no mention of labor contracts. Negotiations have been in progress for the past couple of weeks. Most of the employees in the city are represented by the Orange County Employees Association. The grapevine tells me the city may be looking for increased pension payments as they are in a hurry to catch up the unfunded liability. City employees belong to CalPERS, not the County pension system, OCERS. Too bad. OCERS is doing quite well at this time, even though the OC Board of Supervisors would like the voters to think otherwise.
Most of the Closed Session will discuss property negotiations on the MCAS base. The fact they are discussing terms is a good sign the development of the base is finally picking up. As we said before, the best thing the last city council could do was to make the city its own master developer for purposes of developing and selling the property. It seems when that occurred, development picked up drastically.
The Open Session begins with presentations to Hewes Kids, OCFA Fire Chief Keith Richter and the National Student Leadership Council of SADD. Chief Richter was recently awarded the Fire Chief of the Year Award by the Metropolitan “Metro” Fire Chiefs Association. Undoubtedly, the city council will bestow a certificate or two on him as well.
Two items on the Consent Calendar deserve discussion. The first is the contract with the Orange County District Attorney to prosecute violations of city code. The DA provides prosecution for the city for any violation of state law without cost (the people vs. etc. etc…). Violations of city ordinances, on the other hand, must either be handled by the city attorney or the district attorney under contract. Now, I could really slam the ineptness of the city attorney here but his law firms expertise is in government not criminal law. So, he is off the hook.
The DA has proposed a contract with a reasonable rate increase ($150 p/hr Attorney & ($84 p/hr Clerical) that we doubt the city could find elsewhere. The indication is the OCDA’s services are rarely needed and the contract is based on use rather than time. It is interesting to note the burden of deciding prosecution remains with the DA rather than the city. This is the same as it would be for any felony prosecution.
Item 4, Asset Capitalization Threshold, should also be pulled for discussion. There is a (very) brief discussion on the issue in the staff report that outlines the issue. The economy has outgrown the previous amounts used for capitalization of short and long term assets. City staff are proposing new thresholds but, we question how they came up with those numbers. In fact, judging the economy from a consumer standpoint, we wonder if the new thresholds may be too low considering the skyrocketing cost of infrastructure constructions nowadays.
The final item on the consent calendar is the Quarterly Investment Report. Since the passing of George Jeffries, responsibility for investment of city funds has been delegated to Finance Director, Pamela Arends-King. We’ll reserve judgment as this is her first time out. Suffice it to say the funds are intact.
While most of the Regular Calendar consists of Second Readings of various ordinances affecting MCAS property, one item stands out as a bit of good news for homeowners.
The Approval of Issuance of Special Tax Refunding Bonds should be good news for some homeowners in the Tustin Legacy. About 563 homeowners will see their Mello-Roos lowered by a tax refunding bond. If you are a glutton for punishment, read the 232 page staff report that details the background and refunding of the money. Of course, all of this assumes the economy will continue to improve, a hedgy bet at best.
A second reading will also be heard on amending an ordinance to allow city commissioners to remain on their commissions until such time as they are elected to city office or replaced by the city council. This change will not only bring the city in line with most other cities policies in Orange County, it actually makes sense. One item of contention at the March meeting when this was first discussed was commissioner compensation. If we had to guess, we would say the current city council is not happy with the way the previous council screwed them in regard to compensation.
When Jerry Amante first proposed the voters have a say in compensation, it was clearly a tactic to hurt Councilwoman Deborah Gavello, whom he considered his arch nemesis. That he could care less about the city and future councilmembers, who largely foot the bill for their own expenses, was obvious. By shaming them into compliance, he convinced John Nielsen and Al Murray, both of whom were on the council at the time, into voting to place an ill-conceived ballot measure before the voters that eliminated compensation for city councilmembers. This has placed an undue financial burden on all of them and could hurt the city when it comes time to find otherwise qualified candidates for office.
Seeing the damage it has done so far has apparently caused the Gang of Four to reconsider compensation and not do the same thing to city commissioners. This makes the city commission seats, as influential as they are, a more palatable choice for those who choose to serve the city in a volunteer basis.
The final item, as usual, is the Legislative Report. Staff are recommending support for several bills in Sacramento.
The first, AB229, is specifically geared toward creating tax districts and, in Tustin’s case, on former military base property. Essentially, when redevelopment agencies went away last year, it left Tustin in limbo regarding financing of infrastructure on base property. They joined other government entities who had former base properties in legislation that would allow them to continue to operate similarly structured enterprises. This is, of course, an end run around the demise of redevelopment agencies and is actually RDAs on steroids. We have to wonder why Democrats continue to give gifts of bad public policy to the Republicans.
We do agree with the city’s opposition to AB667 which would require an Economic Impact Report in “economic assistance areas”. This is essentially a “rent control” for businesses that would require a superstore, such as Wal-mart, to study the economic impact on small businesses in a city before they would be allowed to build a superstore. On its face this is protectionism at its worst and should be defeated. What makes this bill even more ominous is the fact the city could be allowed to conduct the so-called study itself, leaving business development even more prone to corruption than it already is. The fact is, there are already enough impediments to business, big and small, that no more should be required by law. Two previous bills like 667 were vetoed by the governor. Support and opposition are typically aligned with unions and business.
Likewise, we agree with the city in their opposition to SB323 which would exclude tax exemptions for private non-profit organizations whose membership requirements exclude certain classes of citizens. SB323 is clearly aimed at the Boy Scouts who continue to exclude gays from their organization. In doing so, the author of the bill, Assembly Speaker John Perez, who is openly gay, is willing to chance the disbanding of other organizations that cannot meet the strict definitions of membership in their organization. This is nanny state government at its worst. Better the BSA debate should remain in the public opinion arena rather than rely on implementation of socialist laws that serve a narrow purpose.
That’s it for the week. If you attend the meeting this week, drop me a line and give me your thoughts.
How quickly time flies. Our Town Tustin has been blogging for about a year and a half and the past year has kept us busy in our little corner of the county. Here are some of the top issues we have covered in 2012:
“Team Tustin’s” Hate-Filled Campaign – In what was probably the most contentious election to mark our city in year, the Republican led “Team Tustin” showed they could stoop as low as necessary to achieve their ends. Eight hit piece mailers went out against Tracy Worley and David Waldram nearly all of which were funded by a mysterious entity calling itself Tustin Residents United. Funny thing is, not one dime of money came from any resident of Tustin. Yet, thousands of dollars funneled in from the Orange County Business Council’s BIZPAC and other similar committees, all of whom had indirect ties to Nielsen and his team. While Nielsen, Puckett and the Podiatrist Councilman looked like the see-no-evil-hear-no-evil-speak-no-evil monkeys, Worley & Waldram held their heads high during a clean campaign.
Jerry Amante’s Use and Abuse of Power – Go ahead, believe our city fathers are not corrupt. If you do, I have a bridge to sell you. Early in the year, the
Orange County Grand Jury issued a report accusing then mayor Jerry Amante and another councilman of attempting to coerce Brandman University officials into squelching a report critical of city manager compensation. The Grand Jury rightfull found the two were attempting, for their own gain, to get Chapman University President, Jim Doti, to pull the report before it could get out. Doti, acting the part, was simply aghast at the report (…here are your winnings, sir…). The city subsequently answered the charges with the usual, we didn’t do nothing wrong, it’s free speech. Selective use of rights, to say the least.
TUSD vs. The City of Tustin vs. TUSD – It is sad the city and the school district have, together, wasted well over $2 million dollars on lawsuits which have clearly become the hallmark of Jerry and John’s tenure on the city council. What originally amounted to a personality conflict, exploded into multi-million dollar multiple lawsuits against each other over control of construction. The highlight, of course, was when the city, under Jerry’s direction, sued the school district for having the nerve to transfer another school and administrative offices to a new school on the MCAS property. Armed with some of the lamest arguments heard by first year law students, the city was laughed out of a Riverside court and told not to darken their halls again. The other shoe drops first thing in 2013 and I am taking bets on the outcome.
John Nielsen’s Unracism – In “Dear John”, we exposed the bigotry (among other things) of then mayor John Nielsen. In an attack on the First Amendment as well as the city schools, Nielsen attempted to defend his decision to allow a court document claiming Tustin schools were overcrowded and minority-ridden. Claiming he was a pillar of the community, he extolled his virtues all the while, filing for divorce and using the legal system to swat at TUSD officials. Oh yes, and the divorce appears to be proceeding nicely with new recent filings.
Cell Towers in Cedar Grove – The City Council didn’t seem to be able to get this lawsuit thing right. First, they continue to chase windmills with the lawsuits against the school district. Then, when they actually had a chance to stand up for the citizens of our community, they folded like a deck of Vegas cards. The cellular towers in Cedar Grove were one of the most high profile issues of the city and the city council, led by Jerry and his Kids, refused (or were in cahoots with) to fight T-Mobile over the installation. There was no effort, no transparency and no noteworthy action on the city council’s part as they acceded tot he demands of Jerry’s business partners.
North Tustin 1, Catholics 0 – Unlike the Tustin City Council, the folks in North Tustin were more than willing to fight for what they believe in. When the Diocese of Orange, led by Bishop Tod Brown, banded together with the County to try and slip in a zoning change, the Foothills Community Association rallied the troops and sued them to stop the rezoning of diocese owned land that would allow them to build a senior living center on property originally zoned for a church. The city could learn a thing or two from these folks. Now, if they can stave off annexation.
Fairbanks vs. Hizzoner – In another embarrassing fiasco for the city, Jerry Amante and his mouthpiece, Elizabeth Binsack, were finally defeated once and for all in their attempt to prevent a homeowner from exercising his property rights. By abusing their power and the appeals process, Amante proved, once again, who calls the shots. Too bad it cost $83 thousand dollars to make his point. Then he lost anyway.
The Demise of Redevelopment – Seeing Through the Magic of Redevelopment as it related to the MCAS property was pretty signficant. Backed by the California Supreme Court, Governor Jerry Brown dealt a double death blow to the worst kind of corporate welfare imaginable. We pointed out that everyone was in on this deal with Democrats handing this gift over to Republicans years ago. Now, the other shoe drops as the state is demanding $263 million dollars from Orange County and its cities. Tustin has already coughed up $7.5 million but the state wants more.
Dear Assemblyman Donnelly – One could call this the biggest goof of the year. Jeff Donnelly, Assemblyman for the 59th District, appeared to have a problem with guns and telling the truth. When he was caught in possession of a firearm while attempting to board an aircraft bound for Sacramento at Ontario Airport, he was detained by the police and TSA. His lame excuse was that he had received death threats and forgot the gun was in his bag. OK, except for the fact the gun was only partially loaded and sitting in a carry-on bag, the guy didn’t even have a concealed carry permit from what is arguably one of the easiest counties to obtain one. The Brady Bunch certainly did not have anything on this clown.
Lindburgh and Silent Mike Strike Back – Community Development Director, Elizabeth Binsack, can’t do enough to for Old Town Tustin. In fact, it is a toss up whether it was Binsack or Amante that actually wanted to slap down the Fairbanks family over the apartments located on their historic property. I imagine it was a free for all when she colluded with nearly the entire city council over allowing the owners of the Wilcox Manor to open an events venue at their residence. Armed with pretty stickers and hauling people in from around the county (very few from Tustin itself), Lindburgh McPherson and “Silent Mike” Demoratz sought a CUP by subterfuge and chicanery. When they were called out on the apparent fib they told about their parking arrangements, they sought to turn the tables on their Facebook page by saying their detractors turned everyone against them. They didn’t seem to get it through their heads that no one in Old Town wants a three ring circus at the end of their cul-de-sac.
Next year is already beginning to shape up as the new Tustin City Council opens the first meeting with a how-to on city affairs. As much as we hated Jerry Amante, he could at least keep us entertained with his self-serving diatribes and rants against Deborah Gavello. Now that they are both gone, we can only hope Mayor Al Murray and the Podiatrist Councilman will be able to look up at the audience as they read from their scripts in the coming year. I hope they have good editors.