Blog Archives

Uh-Oh, Is That A Boo-Boo?

long-boring-meetingsAs expected, last night’s Tustin Planning Commission meeting was lackluster to say the least. City staff did manage to stretch the meeting by presenting a comprehensive discussion during the public hearing phase of the meeting. How much does one need to know about an existing business that wants to expand its business endeavor?

Far from a shoe-in CUP, even the applicant showed up to ask questions, mostly regarding signage. During the discussion we discovered the city has an odd idea of what constitutes a window sign (black is the color of my sign). The Commissioners had no problem passing the CUP, pleased with the notion the business is staying in Tustin.

It was kind of nice to hear Community Development Department guru, Elizabeth Binsack, discuss the increase in interest in commercial filming in Tustin. Saying that people like the Old Town Tustin area because it reminds them of other places(?). Okay……., moving right along….

OC Supes Too Close To Call

We got a bit of disconcerting news in this morning’s internet read. The Liberal OC and others are reporting that Lou Correa is losing the race for Orange County Supervisor, by two votes, to Janet Nguyen protegé Andrew Do. That’s a scary thought that we would have to put up with an all Republican Board for another four years.

Fortunately, all is not lost. Although the turnout was less than 20 percent of the eligible voters in the district, there are still provisional votes to count. As well, Correa’s bill, SB29 chaptered last year, allows for late arriving vote-by-mail ballots to be counted under certain circumstances. In any case, Correa has enough money in his coffers to force a recount, as he most likely will.

It’s a Numbers Game

That brings us to our own upcoming off-year election. Senator Mimi Walters is now Congresswoman Mimi Walters, having won the seat last year. In her wake, she leaves us with a tough choice between Republicans.

Former county supervisor, John Moorlach, is breaking his former promise of years ago to run for the 37th Senate Seat. Moorlach, when he was running for Orange County Supervisor mentioned he was not a career politician as he inferred the BoS seat was his only goal. Well, this comes from a typical two-faced politician who also kept his pension intact to the last moment while cursing public employees for having the nerve to take theirs. At that, Moorlach’s pension, since his days as county treasurer, was paid for completely by the taxpayers while most public employees pay their fair share.

Moorlach likes to put on this “aw shucks” face while he speaks of ethics. Indeed, his own behavior has shown he thinks ethics are great…..for everyone else. His poor record regarding the handling of crooked and morally incompetent employees as well as his attempt to keep multi-million dollar IT contracts with his business cronies while costing the taxpayer huge sums, demonstrate his functional inability to govern.

Don Wagner, the other guy, makes no qualms about it. He is a career politician and has his sights set on the same seat. The difference between him and Moorlach is that Wagner is not ethically corrupt. Well, he is a Republican, but hey….

Wagner is also an attorney but we won’t hold that against him. Some of my best friends are attorneys (the rest are cops). He began his political career as a trustee of the South OC Community College district before winning the 70th Assembly District Seat. In that capacity, he has already served the Tustin community and has a deep understanding of legislative practices and our needs.

Wagner has been successful in getting several bills he sponsored or co-sponsored signed into law. Many of these benefit or protect folks in commercial transactions and matters of wills and trusts. No specific bills for Tustin but, he did get a bill signed slowing down traffic around horses in Orange Park Acres.

With no Democrats or Libertarians entering the race, the choice comes down to the lesser of two evils. Wagner is a true proponent of transparency in government while Moorlach’s idea of transparency is rather opaque, as can be seen by his eight (long) years on the county Board. I think the choice is clear, who should represent us in the Senate.

Of course, if Wagner wins the seat, Moorlach would have another seat to go for. There are actually three candidates – we just didn’t bother to mention the third non-viable candidate. So, the primary election takes place on March 17, less than two months from now. If no one wins 51 percent of the votes (we suspect one of them will), it will go to a final vote, with even fewer voters turning out for that, on May 19th.

Uhoh, Where’s Jerr-i-o?

If you have wondered what happened to the infamous Il Duce II, Jerry Amante, the former mayor is still hanging around. A hat tip to The Liberal OC for warningJerry Amante crown gif letting us in on Jerry’s whereabouts (like the Lib, we keep our friends close and our enemies closer – also in front of us). It seems Jerry is hosting an internet radio show called The City Square on PodBean. The show is apparently a production of the Association of California Cities-Orange County. You might remember that Amante was a key player in getting Orange County to take their ball from the bigger Associated Cities sandlot and start a league of their own.

Now, Jerry gets to tout his baby to an audience of tens of listeners who stumble across the internet address, mostly by accident. If you want a laugh, listen in to the podcast. With Jerry’s distinctive rant, you can tell when you are on the right station.

On The Planning Commission Agenda – January 13, 2015

agenda-clipartAfter a month long hyatus, the Tustin Planning Commission is taking it easy for their first meeting of the year. The December 9th meeting had only three real items of discussion and they breezed through those in just over 30 minutes. The only reason it took that long was due to the discussion over sign variances on the Legacy property.

The lengthy discussion concerned temporary signs for 800 acres of property involving commercial and personal real property. The city staff, thinking they were going to breeze through this were taken by surprise by the concerns Commissioner Sam (may I call you Sam?) Altowaiji had over size and number of signs. Eventually, the remaining commissioners (two of them recused themselves) approved the ordinance.

Of course, one of the reasons they were able to breeze through the agenda was because they “suggested” going through without presentations. I’m not sure if that sat well with the city staff or if they were relieved they didn’t have to do another dog and pony show for an otherwise empty house while Jeff Thompson pretended to look fascinated. As was pointed out, the staff reports attached to the published agenda have all the information.

Let’s hope they remember that in future meetings.

Community Development Department Director Elizabeth Binsack did report on the Second Community Core Workshop, saying the turnout was very good (it was, I was there) and they received a few comments and suggestions they are considering. The consultants they hired to put this together have done a nice job on the inclusiveness tact.

Barring unforeseen presentations, Tuesday night’s planning commission meeting should go just about as quick as December’s. Only one public hearing is scheduled for a Conditional Use Permit.

Item 2, Conditional Use Permit 2014-22, would establish a dance studio on Bentley Circle near Walnut and Tustin Ranch Road. Actually the applicant, South Coast Performing Arts, has been in Tustin at the Ralphs Shopping Center on Irvine Blvd. since 2005. Business must be good.

The application and report look pretty in-depth save for a couple of items the commissioners should be asking about.

First, the city seems to put an incredible emphasis on environmental health. This building has been used, since 1979, for industrial application. The last use prior to this was as an electronics manufacturer. In my experience, electronics involved a lot of nasty chemicals and solvents for cleaning. Still, no testing or CEQA required before allowing children into the area?

The other item, and I admit it is a small one, is the inclusion of a “homework” room in the plans (right in the middle, Elizabeth). It sounds like this may be used when parents drop their kids off early or pick them up late ala (not-so-) free babysitting. Have those bodies been included in the max number of people at the facility? Just asking, and maybe the commissioners should, too.

That should be it for the week. Hopefully, the commissioners won’t want to spend a lot of time on their personal holiday antics. I’m not sure I want to hear about green bean casseroles gone awry.

Shades of Things to Come?

DullsvilleBarring emergencies, the Tustin City Council and Planning Commission will not meet again this year. In fact, the city has closed shop until after the new year. Hopefully, the police department will see a calm end of the year and we won’t see any firey crashes or folks too unhappy with their Christmas gifts.

Although the year passed quickly, we did have our fair share of problems. I don’t think the folks on Nisson Road will forget the sudden gathering of SWAT vehicles and cops looking for an armed suspect in a shooting near their apartment buildings.

In February, Tustin PD responded to a domestic violence call at apartments in the same area and were confronted by an armed suspect. The suspect was subsequently shot and killed, triggering protests both in the streets and in the city council chamber. Lawsuits have been filed and the DA is investigating. However, under their policy, the results of the investigation may never be known.

City fathers also had problems with the Orange County DA’s ill-conceived Sex Offender statute. After it failed to pass the smell test with the courts, various cities -including Tustin- quickly moved to repeal their ordinances that were mostly fashioned after the county’s. To date, nothing has taken it’s place. Oh, don’t worry. The state has laws the police can continue to enforce that will protect your children….and probably better than anything our used-car-salesman DA could come up with.

Our new Chief of Police, Charlie Cellano, may think he stepped into it. Fortunately, he is a veteran of the Tustin PD and (presumably) knew what he was getting into when he took over from Scott Jordan. The new chief was sworn in in February. You may not have noticed because, as he revealed to me in an interview, he has a rather unique style of management that encourages officers to work with residents. His “Coffee with a Cop” program has officers meeting and greeting at local coffee shops in an effort to make them look more approachable. Now, if we could just get the city council from showing up and trying to steal the show.

Police did make the city safer for us all when, sometime in October, they contained a rampaging Emu that had escaped it’s pen in Old Town Tustin. The police report claimed their was no threat or danger to public safety but, you know how those Emus are when they get riled. Rumor had it some officers were later asking for beak-proof vests but that hasn’t been substantiated.

And, of course, those of you who are into fantasy baseball, the new year continues to hold hope for the Angels moving to Tustin. Earlier in the year, team owner Arte Moreno broke off talks with Anaheim about renewal of their stadium lease. Moreno then made a big show of holding talks with other cities, including Tustin. The city council finally revealed they were in discussion with the owner about the move. Their attempt to laugh it off has been squelched by the continued Closed Session discussions with Moreno’s front corporation, Pacific Coast Investors.

I wouldn’t hold my breath. Moreno could be trying to put pressure on Anaheim. He has also spoken with Irvine, a more likely relocation of the team. If he is serious about making a move, he will most certainly demand a new tax-payer paid stadium out of the deal. That would put pressure on a city known better for its hometown neighborhoods than its entertainment prowess.

Old Town Tustin has also received renewed attention by the city. Normally, given the Community Develpment Department’s previous hatred of the area, I would tell you to be afraid, be very afraid. But, it seems our CDD Director, Elizabeth Binsack, has changed her stripes and is now looking to revitalize the area. A series of city sponsored outreach meetings have sparked interest by the residents and businesses of Old Town.

The ambitious plan includes making it easier to build on residential lots by changing the status of “granny flats” and apartments. As well, the city commissioned a study and a series of community meetings to engender support for an Old Town revitalization effort. The city has held two such meetings over the year and plans to hold at least one more.

Of course, part of this effort is due to cost. The effort is likely to cost the city a bundle of money, should proposals be realized. And, the likely increase in tax base from the sales will not dissuade Binsack from seeking further underwriting either through taxes or bond issues. Good luck with that.

So, although we had a few stumbles as we draw our city out of the depths of recession, things are looking brighter as we look ahead. It’s hard to believe our town now numbers over 78,000 residents. That’s an increase of 20,000 since I moved here in 1995. And we aren’t done yet. Since city manager Jeff Parker took back the reins of master developer of the Tustin Legacy, develpment of new tracts, homes and apartment buildings has taken off. Next year shows no signs of abatement.

While we’re at it, we’ll give kudos to Jeff Parker for his overall management of the city. While we can be (and are) harsh critics of individual issues that may come up, Parker and this city council led by Al Murray, have done a pretty good job of keeping the city on track through some pretty scary times. Let’s hope they keep it up.

And whichever way they go, we’ll be there putting their feet to the fire. Happy New Year.

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.

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