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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.

Yes, There’s a Meeting

Jeff Thompson Meeting for MeetingThe Planning Commission will have a pretty short meeting Tuesday, with only one item on the calendar. That, of course, is barring any lengthy comments from the public. There is also an ominous “presentation” by Elizabeth Binsack at the end of the evening regarding an unnamed subject.

The sole item of interest is on the Consent Calendar and, unless someone pulls it for discussion, it will pass along with the approval of the previous meeting’s minutes. The item, a request for a Use Determination and Conditional Use Permit, would allow Golubitsky Fencing Center to establish a training facility in a light industrial business park on Edniger Avenue near Redhill.

I’m not sure why it needed a sales pitch but, the description of the facility discusses Golubitsky’s involvement with fencing and his awards which includes a silver medal at the Olympics. In any case, it’s a great addition to the recreational venues available to Tustinites and the location is appropriate.

That’s probably a good thing because they have been operating out of this facility for awhile now and the city apparently just caught up with them. The location requires a CUP because “fencing” doesn’t appear in the city codes as an allowable activity (how short sighted). In any case, the city seems to like the idea hence the placement on the Consent Calendar.

Hot on the heels of the recent opening of the new El Camino Cafe in the Del Rio Building in Old Town Tustin, the city has finally released the draft Commercial Design Guidelines for the Cultural Resources District. If you are a glutton for punishment, the 194 page document can be found here. Remember, I warned you.

According to the introductory letter, the guidelines will be used for property preservation and development within the overlay district. It will also:

…provide enhancement or appendix for other city codes for features such as:

  • Business identification signs to help preserve and enhance the character of Old Town Tustin.
  • Tips for energy efficiency to promote sustainability in your project or property.
  • Ideas for landscaping on private property and the public right of way, and suggestions for improving the overall street environments.
  • Photos and graphics that help explain improvements that can be made to properties.
  • Resources and websitelinks to make it easier to find additional information.

Overall, having a comprehensive set of guidelines is important, particuarly to Old Town residents and businesses. Historically, however, city staff has taken a heavy hand toward anything that doesn’t meet their own personal standard of how the area should look. In addition, the city has a history of showing favoritism to certain residents and businesses. These folks have either been influential because of their standing in the community (not necessarily a bad thing) or their political contributions (a bad, bad thing).

Evidence the fact of the city’s real intent is in the draft guidelines. At one point in the introduction, the dissertation reads:

The Guidelines are intended to serve as a “yardstick” against which proposed projects may be measured. The Guidelines are not intended to be strict development standards as are found in the Zoning Ordinance. It is recognized that not all design principles or criteria may be workable or appropriate for each project, but all applicable projects are encouraged to follow the Guidelines to the greatest extent possible. Therefore, they may be interpreted by the City with some flexibility when applied to specific projects.

This, of course, gives the city an out in regard to how forcefully they will enforce the guidelines against individual businesses. In other words, if you are in, you are in – if you are out, you can kiss your project goodbye.

And, the issue comes to the forefront in regard to “new infill development”. Albeit, there are few lots in the business district in Old Town that are vacant, we do have some. A recent example is the Del Rio building that was built on the old Riteway Dry Cleaners. That lot had a business and an apartment on the rear of the lot. When the new owners wanted to develop the lot, they asked for a business on the first floor with a residence on the second floor (presumably owner-occupied). The city nixed the plan, saing that further contaminant testing would be required than was already accomplished. It should be interesting to see if they require the same depth of testing for the proposed restaurant and living quarters being built on the old auto parts store lot next to Mrs. B’s.

So, will the public or local business owners chime in on the draft plans? They should as this document will (or shold) be used to regulate future business and building in Old Town Tustin. This is probably the most important step toward reahbilitation of the area that should be as viable as the historic downtowns of Fullerton and Orange. And, it’s all in the hands of a (so-called) trusted few.

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 Planning Commission Agenda – July 22, 2014

Hidden Agenda ClipartHeading up the Tustin Planning Commission agenda for Tuesday is a request for a Conditional Use Permit for an indoor recreational training facility. The proposed business, Tustin Strike Zone, will be located in a business area on Walnut near Tustin Ranch Road.

The facility will have two batting cages and associated areas for conducting business and training. It seems the business owner has done his homework and there shouldn’t be any problem with the CUP. It’s not a stadium but it’s a start. Eat your heart out, Arte.

Under Regular Business, the planning commission will take a look at a draft program to honor noteworthy Tustin citizens with bronze busts placed in various public locations throughout the Old Town area. It appears the entire process would be overseen by a committee made up of members of the historical society, preservation conservancy, the planning commission and others appointed by the city council.

I’m not sure if the included list of 25 notable “pioneers” is all inclusive. One thing is apparent – that Silent Mike and Lindburgh figure prominently in this operation. One of the items included in the draft is an estimate from Art Bronze in Burbank for a bust of Columbus Tustin at the cost of $10,355 drawn on Lindburgh McPherson and the Tustin Area Historical Society. I guess the catering and wedding venue business is paying off for them.

The project is, in fact, a worthy one. However, the draft guidelines could use some work. The guidelines call for one artist (presumably for continuity) and, as I said, includes some 25 pioneers. Some of these lack historical background and others are questionable as to their contribution to the growth of Tustin. And, what happens when others, not mentioned in the original guidelines, are nominated?

Hopefully, there will be plenty of comment and question from the commission, although I seriously doubt any of them have more than a passing interest in this project.

The final item for review is the approval of the 30 day review period for the Draft Cultural Resources District Commercial Design Guidelines. The planning commission is being asked to provide comment and notice of the 30 day public review of the 191 page draft. The draft is a comprehensive guide to structures in historical conext for the Old Town area.

According to the guidelines, the purpose of the document is to:

…promote the City’s goals to preserve, protect, safeguard, and enhance the existing character of historic or culturally significant structures within the Cultural Resources District, in addition to historic properties outside of the District, and to improve the District’s contribution to the City’s economic base.

The guidelines are a necessary part of an overall program to maintain the city’s “Certified Local Government” standing that allows the city to better preserve historically significant buildings and properties.

That’s it for the Tustin Planning Commission. The meeting should not be a marathon although discussion of the two Regular Business items could (and shold) take some time. Like the city council, the planning commissin hasn’t had much to deal with in the way of controversy this year. That’s probably a good thing as anyone on the commission looking to move up to the city council would find a tough road this term with both incumbents intending to run for another term.

We’re fine with that.

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