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Death and Taxes

courtesy of the Back Pew

courtesy of the Back Pew

Apologies for not doing my usual writeups on the latest Planning Commission meeting but tax day is rearing its ugly head and I want to stay ahead of the curb for once. My tax forms sent off, electronically of course, I can focus on our local issues. Here’s a recap of what has happened in the past few weeks.

Police Highlights

Although there wasn’t much on the agenda, the March 17th Tustin City Council meeting went on longer than expected. A good chunk of it was taken up by a presentation by Police Chief Charles Celano. Celano who gave a “year in review” PowerPoint on the most recent activities and plans of his department.

Notably, crime is down thanks in large part to the CTAPS crime analysis program implemented under former chief Scott Jordan. In his typical low key style that I’ve come to like, Celano lauded both sworn and professional staff of his department and laid the blame for the general reduction in crime squarely on their backs. He delivered well-deserved praise for his people for their work.

Celano has had to weather his share of criticism in the past. It wasn’t too long ago outside rabblerousers invaded the city council chambers in an attempt to discredit the department. There were also attempts to turn low key events into high profile lawsuits (wonder if the plaintiff is the same Reznek from Huntington Beach fame).Those efforts have, so far, fallen far short due in large part to the professional efforts of the department.

Who’s Fault?

Prior to the police presentation, citizens spoke during the public comment section of the meeting to garner support from the city council for a proposed Community Facilities District for the Columbus Square area of the Tustin Legacy properties. A sizable group of residents were in the chamber as one of them, Paul Callahan, spoke about the Heritage School situation.
As you recall, new residents are paying for a school they can’t use. Heritage Elementary School was supposed to open in 2011. When the school district finally announced the opening of the campus, it was to say they would be moving Hillview Continuation High School and Sycamore Adult School to the new digs.

That, of course, didn’t set well with the residents, who had moved there expecting to send their kids to local schools, or the Tustin City Council. The city council, which had a longstanding feud with the school district due largely to former councilman Jerry Amante and his puppet John Nielsen, wielded more taxpayer money by suing the school district again. Claiming the Columbus Square kids would have to go to other schools with predominantly minority populations, the city whined the residents were being cheated.

Someone should have mentioned the demographics to Nielsen and Amante before they shot their mouths off, not that it would have done much good. Nielsen, for his part, got up in a subsequent city council meeting and groused about being called a racist. Hey, if the shoe fits….

Since those dark old days, the city and the school district have kissed and made up. That was due in large part to Amante’s departure and Nielsen’s apparent inability to garner enough support to keep the fight going. The winners and losers were Tustin taxpayers.

All the while, though, the good folks at Tustin Unified School District were enjoying the public flogging of the city council, transparent governmenteven as they plotted their own evil scheme against the residents by moving Hillview and Sycamore.

So, here we are in 2015 and the school district, no doubt feeling the pressure, has announced their intention to open the Heritage campus for its original purpose as an elementary school… in 2016. Yes, the district wants another year to get things as they should have been all along. I know it’s shocking but school district officials actually lied to the residents and taxpayers in the area when they said the Hillview move to Heritage was temporary. I mean, how long does it take to build a tennis court or two?

Apparently, it takes 5 years. Oh, and don’t expect Hillview to move out right away. We heard it through the grapevine that the school district has no intention of moving Hillview out before they open the site to elementary school age children. It will be a co-campus with both continuation high school students and elementary students sharing the grounds. We can’t find out for sure because the school PIO, Mark Eliot, has refused to answer our past emails (and, we gave up trying).
City Manager Jeff Parker shed some light on the issue at the end of the city council meeting.

“In part of that process was that we’ve already sent a letter to the school district saying we’re in line of thought that they move forward with the CFD [Community Facilities District]. A Community Facilities District is something that the school district actually forms, not the city. So, I wanted to make sure the public understands the process there.”

Parker wanted to make sure folks know who to blame in case something screws up. In following comments, he also made sure everyone knew the city remains a majority property owner in the area and, of course, it is the property owners who cast votes to form a CFD. That shouldn’t be too difficult to sell, even to the residents. They are, after all, desperate for a school they can actually use. Maybe the city should make the re-opening of Heritage as an elementary school exclusively, as a condition for their vote. In fact, that may be what the city is laying the groundwork for as Parker disclosed the working group that will “set the guidelines” for the CFD. In any case, don’t expect things to go that smoothly.

What they should be doing is working above board to insure the residents who desperately need these schools are informed. In reality, what will probably happen is the city attempting to influence the school district AGAIN in how they run their schools. Surely, transparency can’t be on their mind as the “committee” consists of TUSD and city officials with no representation from the affected residents. And, while I think it was underhanded of the district to actually pull the bait and switch the city earlier accused them of, it is just as reprehensible to believe the city should have any say in how schools are run. Leave that to the experts.

The last item, as a reminder, Linda Jennings of the Tustin Preservation Conservancy, appeared at the city council meeting to announce the formation of a GoFundme account for the restoration of the Jabberwocky. This Tustin landmark was restored from the ground up by the owner using local historic architect, Nathan Menard and other folks. There’s about $10,000 that was not covered by the insurance. Linda reminded folks they could help by donating whatever they could afford to the restoration effort by going to the Jabberwocky site (or see the link in our sidebar) . So far the effort has raised over $3,000 toward their goal.

On (and Off) the City Council Agenda – February 18, 2014

LAA StadiumA hat tip to our friend, Dan Chmielewski, of The Liberal OC who related that the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim could someday become the Los Angeles Angels of Tustin. Hmmm, the name just doesn’t have the same ring to it as Anaheim Angels.

In any case, owner Arte Moreno’s mouthpiece claims they are in preliminary talks concerning a possible stadium at the MCAS base. The LA Times story, which Dan quotes from, says team officials met with Tustin officials last week concerning the deal. The team declined to say whether they met with other Orange County cities or not.

Don’t hold your breath if you think the Angels would land here. Their lease, which has an out clause beginning in 2016, is tenuous in Anaheim as the city has balked at the proffered deal that includes a giveaway of hundreds of millions in tax dollars and development fees. I doubt Moreno is likely to give Tustin any better deal and would expect a lot in return. I would consider this “leak” of information as a not-so-clever ploy by their negotiation consultants to put pressure on Anaheim Mayor Tom Tait.

Likewise, don’t expect anything to be said at the Tuesday Tustin City Council Meeting. There is no agenda item either on the Closed Session or Public Agenda. And, we have to wonder what part of the Brown Act covers discussions with baseball teams? It is a bit weird that a gentleman came to the last meeting to discuss the possibility of establishing a minor league baseball stadium and baseball camp. Maybe that was the cover story.

The Tustin City Council does have a fairly full agenda this week. You can tell it is spring as negotiation will begin with all of the major employee unions in the city. Tustin’s non-safety employees negotiations are handled by the Orange County Employees Association. It’s sad to see that, for the past several years, the employee unions have been willing to accept the City’s claim of poverty when dealing with them while they lavish raises and promotions on the executive managers. The union’s chief negotiator, Frank Flavin, is an experienced negotiator who, perhaps, they are not listening to when it comes to holding out for a better deal.

Discussion will also ensue over 4 items of property, all on the MCAS. We were told that the deal with the Army Reserve Center is not complete and there are some issues being haggled over. We think the deal is pretty good and will put the Army in a more suitable section of the development. Still, we have to wonder why they brought out the big guns, which were reportedly moved onto a parking lot near the District.

On the Public Meeting Agenda, TPD Officer Tim Carson will receive the MADD “Deuce” award. This award is given to law enforcement officers who make more than 25 DUI arrests in a year. We are proud of Officer Carson but sorry to see that we have so many drunk drivers in our midst.

The sole Public Hearing is an item held over from the previous meeting. It concerns a development agreement for 375 single family homes on the MCAS property. It is quite a large development and, while Councilwoman Beckie Gomez was probably not missed, John Nielsen was also AWOL and I am sure the Three Amigos needed another back to pat.

Most of the Consent Calendar consists of routine maintenance items. Items 6 & 7 stand out only because it raises an issue with cell towers. The two items have to do with communications site license agreements with T-Mobile and Cingular Wireless. The agreements are to continue running equipment at Tustin Sports Park. Our issue with licenses of this type is the cut the city’s cellular consultant, ATS Communications, receives for their services. The licenses, which terminate previous leases, allows for 20% of the proceeds to go to ATS for their “services”. Outside of promoting the interests of the various cellular companies, we’re not sure where they are earning their money. And, to allow that to go on ad finitum, is unconscionable.

Three items under Regular Business will wrap up the evening, unless someone decides to discuss their talks with the Los Angeles Angels coming to Tustin.

Item 9 – Purple Heart City Designation is a proposed resolution designating Tustin as a Purple Heart City that cares about it’s veterans who were wounded or killed. As I said in a recent post, this would seem a lot more sincere if the City were to seriously reach out to this city’s military history and veterans that made it. How about establishing a local veterans advisory commission that could work toward honoring the living and the dead?

Item 10 – Authorize Request for Deferral is a request to send a letter asking for a deferral of grant funds from Measure M2 for a detention basin and wetlands on the MCAS property. The delay is due in part to design issues. It would seem like a routine issue but, bureaucracy requires council approval.

Item 11 – Adopt Resolution ordering preparation of the Engineer’s Report. This is the annual levy of the Tustin Landscape and Lighting District. Another routine item that probably could have been placed on the consent calendar.

That’s it for the week. It is anyone’s guess if the city council will discuss the Angels meeting. Although the meeting should have been with City Manager Jeff Parker, I can’t see how Al Murray couldn’t drag himself away from his regular coffee cops morning to get a chance to hob nob with sports folks.

On the Agenda – December 17, 2013

boring meetingAs with the past few meetings of the Tustin City Council, the topic of business licenses will take up a good portion of what should be the last meeting of the year.

The city council will be asked to decide if and how information related to gross receipts are received by the city. Gross receipts are used in many businesses to calculate the business license fees. Currently, businesses are required to offer proof of gross receipts in the form of a redacted tax return that protects any personal information from being disseminated through public records access. The average fee is $60.00

One of the proposals is to establish a flat fee of $100 for a business license. This would eliminate the requirement to supply tax information altogether and, on its face, appears to be a good alternative.

The third option, which I am sure Councilman Nielsen prefers, is to rely on the good word of the business owner to simply state how much his or her gross receipts are. The staff report points out the glaring problem with this alternative. Obviously, it would require a periodic audit to ensure businesses are telling the truth.

Nielsen, of course, would prefer this method because he is all for anything that protects businesses from the prying eyes of government. By doing so, he proves allegiance to his patrons at the various business councils and real estate associations that have funneled tens thousands of dollars through sham PACs into his and his fellow councilmens’ campaign coffers.

In reality, it is probably time the city looked at raising rates anyway. In the recent past, the city has foregone license and new construction fees to foster a business climate. I suspect most cities in Orange County have moved or are moving toward a modification in fees to increase funds coming into the city coffers. Making everyone pay the same fee, regardless of the value of the business, though, seems a bit unfair. The old system has worked fine and it seems Nielsen is the only one to complain.

In other business, the city council will be asked to approve the publication and appointment (or re-appointment) process for several city commissions seats. Seats open include 2 each on the Planning, Community Services and Audit Commissions.

Both Jeff Thompson and rookie commissioner Sam Altowaiji seats are up this term. I would be surprised if either were to leave now. Jeff is the old salt on the commission, having served several terms. Jeff has a history of community service including Chair of the OCTA Citizens Advisory Committee which advises OCTA on transportation issues.

Altowaiji, who worked for the city before he joined the board, is likely Elizabeth Binsack’s eyes and ears on the commission. However, he was also the only person to run (the only  other guy was disqualified) and could potentially be unseated by another (any other) qualified candidate. We have one in mind but he is keeping mum on whether he will run for a seat..

The final item under regular business is consideration of an ordinance establishing a formal purchasing process, something that is long overdue in a city the size of Tustin. Not that we are accusing anyone of misfeasance. On the contrary, city staff, other than the occassional bonehead move by a department head, are pretty thrifty with our dollars. A formalized purchasing process will keep it that way.

That’s it for city council business this week and for this year (unless someone calls a “special” meeting). The next time the city council meets, it will be to ring in the new year. We hope the Christmas Spirit envelopes the dais (except for the Podiatrist Councilman – a belated Happy Channukah) and they all come back with a sense of renewed community spirit.

On the Agenda – December 3, 2013

Hidden Agenda ClipartWith 25 meetings, including those very special meetings where the public was not invited, the Tustin City Council is on the verge of calling it a wrap. I was about to bet my readers they would not hold a final meeting on December 18th but history shows this is the meeting they slap each other on the back for a job well done and pick each other (or mostly so) for mayor and mayor pro tem.

In the meantime, this week’s agenda starts off with the usual Closed Session Items. We notice that they have not apparently made much progress on any of these, particularly the issue with the Army Reserve Center swap that was a feature item in Regular Business exactly one year ago. At that time, the Army made it clear they were not interested in a swap and were quite happy with what they had. I guess everyone has their price. The city just hasn’t hit theirs yet.

Regular Business will start off with The American Legion Post 227 posting the colors. Their Color Guard, by the way, has won awards at The American Legion State Conventions in the past.

Under Public Hearing Items, the city will have the second reading and adoption of State Buildling Codes, a procedure that is mostly formality. As the city was having problems (again) with posting the video of the last meeting, I’m not sure if anyone even bothered to show up for this. In any case, staffers recommend passage.

The second item, is a routine funding for COPS. $100,000 is slated to be received by the department. No real changes to how the department intends to use the money for a Crime Analyst position and related software. Except for complaints by former councilmembers, most of us think the police department does a pretty good job of allocating resources where they are most needed.

Under Regular Business, the council will be asked to approve an amendment to the classification and compensation plans to award the Director of Finance, Pamela Arends-King, a whopping $8,000 raise for essentially doing what she has always done, manage the finances of the city. The staff are correct in their report that it will save the city money. But, considering the Finance Director was already probably checking the previous Treasurer’s work, did she really rate a raise, particularly when every other line staff took it in the short end during contract negotiations?

After the fiasco caused by the city’s use of a shady collection agency to catch business license scofflaws, the staff have come up with a proposed ordinance to exempt real estate agents from obtaining business licenses. The recommendation is to pass the ordinance on a single reading and be done with it. I guess they are hoping to sweep the whole issue under the rug.

The final issue at hand for our busy city council is to select the new mayor and mayor pro tem for the coming year. As usual, I have no doubt this years selections have been made and they do not Allan Bernstein, Scofflawinclude the sole female on the dais. That’s a shame because, out of all of the bodies on the city council, Beckie Gomez has proven to be the most level headed among the crew. But, intelligence and experience have no bearing here. The most likely candidate for Mayor is, of course, Chuck Puckett. Chuck has the experience although we suspect he will be about as effective as the current mayor in conducting city business to the betterment of our residents. At least Chuck returns our phone calls.

What we really have to worry about is that they will make the Podiatrist Councilman the Podiatrist Mayor pro tem. That would leave him as heir-apparent next year. That is a scary thought…

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