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On The City Council Agenda – January 20, 2015

Hidden Agenda ClipartUnless the councilmembers suddenly get an urge to actually discuss something, it looks like it will be a fairly short meeting of the Tustin City Council on Tuesday. Councilman Bernsein, are you back yet? Chuck missed you.

The Closed Session, which begins at 5:30 PM, hosts the usual suspects. Several discussions regarding existing or potential litigation include a long standing case, now an appellate case, between the city’s old Redevelopment Agency and the Department of Finance. And, while the city attorney decided to keep the wraps on the case, we’ve been able to surmise it involves several million dollars of disputed RDA funds. It turns out the parties reached an agreement in December and we should soon see this issue drop off the radar.

Redevelopment agencies were dissolved by law back in 2011. Unfortunately, as is the usual case with a half-baked legislature, they only did half the job and made up for it by creating, so-called “successor agencies”. Much of this was in the middle of the state attempting to remain solvent by grabbing as much tax money from cities and counties as possible. This, of course, generated millions of dollars in business for lawyers which, I’m sure, our city attorney is happy to keep going as long as possible.

Most of the Regular Session items are on the Consent Calendar. Perusing the Demands and Payroll, the only item of interest is the apparent high cost of our mylawyercontract city attorneys at Woodruff, Speadlin & Smart. Perhaps City Attorney David Kendig is trying for partner. Total cost of our attorney services this month is $17 thousand and change. That’s apparently in addition to the $34 thousand plus the lawyers charged for Successor RDA work and other legal fees hidden sprinkled throughout the report. You’ll have to be the judge of whether we are getting our money’s worth.

Most of the other items on the agenda are routine business and we doubt they will generate much discussion. Item 6, Long Range Property Management Plan and Item 7, Amend and Reinstate the Working Capital Loan, etc., are two more pieces to the puzzle left by the RDA. We know the city council would love the legislature to reinstate the RDAs in California. Like most cities, they have been dragging their feet and crossing their fingers in hopes of resurrection. With any luck, they will run out of excuses and money to play with and disappear completely before that happens.

Two items will round out the Regular Business. Item 8, Comprehensive Annual Financial Report for Fiscal Year 2014 is the annual financial analysis of the city. I’m not much for numbers but you can read the report here. The short version is here.

Item 9, Commission Vacancies, lists the expiring terms of the Planning, Community Services and Audit Commissions. There are three terms expiring on each. Most of these carry a tidy stipend for a bit of community service. As soon as they are posted, we’ll let you know (along with who has applied).

That’s it for this meeting. We’ll let you know if anything interesting happens…..or anyone shows up for the meeting.

By the way, welcome back Chief Cellano.

Tustin Approaches the Fiscal Cliff

fiscal-cliff-congress(This article appears in the January 10, 2013 edition of the Tustin News – ed.) You could hardly pick up a newspaper or turn on a news broadcast these past few weeks without hearing about the Fiscal Cliff the country is facing. Here in Orange County, many cities, including Tustin, are facing their own fiscal cliff of sorts.

According to an Orange County Register story, the state recently demanded “that 19 Orange County cities and the county itself turn over a combined $263 million in unused funds previously earmarked for low- and moderate-income housing.”

“Some cities have already paid up, including Anaheim and Buena Park,” the article says. “Others are fighting the demand, saying the state’s calculations are wrong.”

Tustin’s share of that is $14.3 million dollars. The deadline to turn over the money was December 13th. Although there has been no mention of it on the agenda, the city has taken steps to return or justify the retention of the funds.

Tustin City Manager Jeff Parker said that at the time of the state’s request, $7.5 million dollars remained in the redevelopment fund with no foreseeable plans for use by the city. It has already been returned to the state.

The remaining $6.5 million dollars has been handed over to the state under a protest procedure, he said. Hopefully, that money will be returned as it had been earmarked for low and moderate income housing on the MCAS property.

Councilmembers Chuck Puckett and Beckie Gomez, and Mayor Al Murray did not return calls for comment.

What if the state refuses to return the money? “We may file a lawsuit against the state relative to the $6.5 million,” Parker said.

That could, at least give them a bit of breathing room and, face it — thanks to the long running lawsuits against Tustin Unified School — they are getting to be experts at frivilous litigation.

One thing is for sure: Paying the funds back could be a real financial problem for the city, although Parker assured me the bulk of the $6.5 million was paid out of land use funds with just a small amount coming from the General Fund reserves. He maintains that reserves are still above 20 percent.

At the beginning of this year, then-mayor John Nielsen promised to keep city reserves above 15 percent. It is quite possible that goal will be just a pipe dream when the state is through.

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