As 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
warning 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.
Unless 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 contract 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.
The 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.
I 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.