It is going to be a pretty boring election season in the city of Tustin this year. Either everyone in Tustin is too busy to worry about the political bent of the city council (they are all Republicans) or they are happy with the way things are going. Face it, it has been a slow two years around Our Town Tustin, ever since Boss Tweed Amante left. John Nielsen has settled down and become less interested in city politics. Our old friend Chuck Puckett has returned to the dais along with newbie Alan Bernstein whom we hope will learn eventually to look up from his notes once in awhile (wing it, Alan).
It is hard to believe that four years have gone by since Mayor Al Murray and Councilwoman Beckie Gomez were first elected. Both came to the dais under the ominous shadow of Jerry “Boss Tweed” Amante, who held a firm grip on the city, issuing edicts and offering regular rants against his detractors. The Liberal OC often referred to him as “Il Duce” both on and off the record. And, Amante never got it. He hated the residents of Tustin (where he resides), hated the women he was forced to share the dais with and loved his dogs. When Jerry was around, there was always something to write about. When he left…. well, things got a bit more boring.
That, of course, has been good for Tustin. After Amante’s departure, the city council was able to clear their collective head and get down to the mundane business of running the city. And, except for the occasional powerplay by City Manager Jeff Parker or Community Development Director Elizabeth Binsack, the city has run pretty smoothly on their watch. About the only real issue over the past four years is the epitomal collapse of the old town area when a CUP was granted to the boys at Wilcox Manor to run a
convention center wedding venue. That controversy (assisted by yours truly) outlined what is wrong when politicians who have a direct benefit from a business, help that same business to make money at the expense of others’ privacy and well-being.
All this leads us to the latest news from the city. As I said in the beginning, either no one cares or no one knows. Al Murray and Beckie are the only ones to file nomination papers for Tustin City Council. As such, they will run unopposed, meaning you can save yourself a trip to the polls unless the other issues we’ll bring up over the next few months matter to you.
Regardless of my criticism, I have always liked Al and Beckie. Al is a retired police captain from Irvine and his most pressing decision since he has been in office is where to have coffee (usually Keane’s, usualy with cops). That’s not to say he can’t make a decision. He just hasn’t had to since he has been in office. Originally an Amante yes man, Murray has a great quality of getting along with just about everyone, admirer and detractor alike. And, he is pretty darn good at calming a collective angry crowd. And when the stuff hit the fan, during one of the most infamous crime sprees to hit Orange County, he was the man every mayor wished they could be in time of crisis.
It has been my pleasure to know Beckie Gomez over the past few years. A closet Republican, she has shown a willingness to work with everyone on the council (including Jerry) even though the council has consistently refused to give her any of the cherished paid board or committee positions. Little did they know Gomez is quite happy with her Library Board appointment. Gomez has demonstrated that she is interested in the welfare of Tustin chiefly as a place to live and secondly as a place to do business. During Amante’s frequent rants, she proved to be a calming influence even when Nielsen and Palmer were also ganging up on their nemesis, Deborah Gavello. If she did not always back Gavello’s play, it was because she had a direction of her own to follow.
So, what will the future bring to Tustin? Perhaps, over the next two years, more mediocrity. Barring an infield play by Arte Moreno or the collapse of the pending cemetery deal at the Great Park, the MCAS property is all but disposed of. I am sure there will be controversy over the fate of the blimp hangars to jazz things up a bit. As the city is showing its age, perhaps it’s about time the city council took the Old Town Tustin bit out of Elizabeth Binsack’s mouth (before she finds a way to bulldoze it completely) and take a good hard look at revitalizing the downtown area. Both Fullerton and Old Town Orange have experienced a renaissance with myriad antique shops and second hand resellers replaced with chic restaurants and venues that draw a diverse crowd. Downtown Tustin’s time has come and, without the past controversy to impede them, this city council could make a lasting mark on the place we all love.
One rumor in the wind: Will John Nielsen, who has had his share of personal and public controversy while in office, choose to resign during his term as we have heard he may? That would open some interesting avenues, and some of those have the Amante smell.
I never thought that is is where I’d settle down,
Thought I’d die an old man back in my hometown,
They gave me this plot of land,
Me and some other men,
For a job well done.
Arlington – Trace Adkins
By now, you have probably heard the news about a push for a veterans cemetery in Orange County. The idea isn’t new. Almost since the Marines left El Toro and Tustin, veterans have been pushing for a place to host their final rest. Unfortunately, most of it was just talk as politicians were too busy deciding which of their cronies would benefit from some of the most valuable land in the county. And, although some may have briefly discussed the idea in conjunction with the Great Park or other developments, the idea kind of fell into the background of discussions.
Recently, though, the idea of a veterans cemetery has been revived and is, in fact, gaining a lot of support both here and in Sacramento. On Saturday, I attended a meeting in Buena Park (lured by the prospect of a free pancake breakfast) hosted by Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva. Earlier this year, Quirk-Silva introduced a bill that would clear the way for the establishment of a state run veterans cemetery in Orange County. AB1453 was wisely written with the idea of powerful developers nixing the use of valuable property near the Great Park and allows for the establishment of a cemetery “somewhere” in the county.
This is important legislation as, without it, a veterans cemetery would likely not ever come to pass. That’s because the Feds have a corner on veterans cemeteries in the area. And, because there are open cemeteries within 65 miles of Orange County, they will not consider constructing one here. That leaves the Golden State to do the job, if they are willing – and they are.
Assemblywoman Quirk-Silva came to the breakfast meeting with an appetite and good news. AB1453, introduced in January of this year, sailed through the Assembly and is now going through the legislative process in the Senate. In fact, Senator Lou Correa’s Senate Veterans Affairs Committee passed the bill on June 24th and sent it to Senate Appropriations Committee with recommendation to the Consent Calendar. To date, there have been zero “no” votes on this bill.
In Orange County Board of Supervisor Todd Spitzer’s most recent missive, you would think the whole thing was his idea. Never one to miss an opportunity for self-aggrandizing, Spitzer has a photo of him and Veterans Advisory Council Chair, Bobby McDonald prominently displayed at the top of his weekly newsletter. He talks about how he is looking for a donation of more than a 100 acres and then goes on to suggest a location near Modjeska Grade Road (100.03 acres, to be exact) as a possibility.
The Third District is a natural fit to provide a home to a veterans cemetery because it has the canyons and a significant and substantial amount of the most open space in the vicinity of the Marine Corps Air Station El Toro,” Spitzer said. “It’s time to come together in the Third District to find a viable option. I’m inviting Orange County leaders in the Third District to get the word out that we are in search of a land donation of over 100 acres to build a veterans cemetery.
Notice Spitzer doesn’t mention the old Marine Corps base property as a viable location. Perhaps that’s because, according to the Liberal OC, developers are doing their best to deflect the idea. Five Points Homes, a large developer of the old base property, is not too keen on the idea. In fact, they made a presentation at the Irvine Ad Hoc Committee for a Veterans Cemetery and Memorial meeting in June to propose other locations around Orange County. Alternatives for them included the Tustin MCAS, Los Alamitos Joint Forces Training Base and the Seal Beach NWS. The one “ideal” space was curiously located in San Juan Capistrano, just off Interstate 5, about as far away from the Great Park as you can get.
Although there is no script to go along with the PowerPoint slides, one gets the idea: Great Park Bad, other spots (any other), good. Face it, who would want to have their kids grow up around a nasty old cemetery. And, just think of the drop in home prices.
Never mind that, according to reliable sources, Orange County is home to the highest number of veterans (and homeless veterans) in the nation. Never mind that Orange County had and still has a huge military presence and history with all services represented. About the only ones who don’t think placing a veterans cemetery at the Great Park is appropriate are those who desperately want the income that would be lost by establishing one.
We think MCAS El Toro is the most appropriate location to honor our veterans. The city of Tustin has wisely joined a majority of cities In supporting AB1453. It’s unfortunate that neither John Nielsen (who was more concerned his business cronies would have to pay more property tax) or Beckie Gomez thought enough to support it with an official resolution, opting for a letter instead. Now, what would have been great is if Chuck Puckett and Allan Bernstein would put as much effort in locating the cemetery at MCAS Tustin (near the blimp hangars would be good) as they are in getting Arte Moreno to relocate the Angels.
Surely, the time has come to bring this dream to fruition. Every veterans organization from the Orange County Veterans Advisory Council to The American Legion, to the Veterans of Foreign Wars are actively involved with this project. More than 200 veterans and interested persons showed up to hear Assemblywoman Quirk-Silva’s update on AB1453 and efforts to put this plan together.
Importantly, Quirk-Silva said AB1453 is just the beginning. Once the legislative authority has been granted, money still needs to be raised. Hope lies in the Feds who, although they won’t establish a cemetery here, will provide grant money to allow the state to establish and run one. Speaking as a veteran, I don’t really care one way or the other where the money comes from. The important thing is to honor our veterans by giving them a final resting place near their home. By rights, that resting place should be on, what The American Legion 29th District Commander, Bill Cook, called “Sacred Ground”.
A couple of weeks ago, I had the pleasure of meeting our new Tustin Police Chief, Charles Cellano. Cellano was named the interim Chief immediately after Scott Jordan’s retirement in mid-2013. He was given a permanent appointment in February of this year.
During our conversation, the Chief reminded me of last weekend’s 18th Annual Tustin Police Department Open House and the upcoming “Coffee With a Cop” to be held this Wednesday at Keans Coffee.
Open the Doors
While we briefly attended the Open House, we were not able to stay long. However, we did run into a couple of our fine councilmen, the honorable Chuck Puckett and the honorable John Nielsen. Chuck admitted this is the earliest he has ever attended the event, usually opting for a late afternoon appearance. See what being a councilman does for you, Chuck? John looked quite relaxed, probably owing to that new wife of his.
The line for tours of the police station and the mobile command post were both quite long even before the first hour was up. I would say the only longer line was the one for hot dogs, graciously being handed out by volunteers. There was a great display of vintage army vehicles manned by a gentleman in period costume. And, while I did not get to see the demonstration, the police motorcycle unit was out in force to show off their skills.
One of the things that excited Chief Cellano most is the upcoming Coffee With a Cop happening tomorrow at Keans Coffee. The Chief emphasized the informal nature of the event. This is the chance for Tustin residents, who may never otherwise have contact with our police, to sit down ever-so-briefly and speak about anything of interest to them. The event is only one of many planned around Our Town and is an effort by the chief to make sure Tustin PD remains accessible to the residents.
I could not let the discussion go much further without asking about the recent officer involved shooting. Cellano said that, despite repeated efforts to reach out to the family and protesters, no one has stepped forward to take up his invitation of a meeting.
That is disconcerting as the family and others have attended multiple meetings of the city council, demanding justice and policy change. And, although the city, both Chief Cellano and City Manager Jeff Parker have offered to meet with them, they have, so far refused. That leads me to believe they have no real interest in seeing meaningful changes that they have the opportunity to be a part of. Instead, they would rather join the police-bashing bandwagon where their voices will be lost in the cacophony..
There are a few more events coming this year and the Tustin Police Department will be a large part of it. Of course, the Tustin Tiller Days and the accompanying parade could not happen without the organization of the police department. Which, by the way, is another thing about our Chief. He is obviously proud of the 97 sworn officers of the department – he speaks just as proudly of the professional staff, the dispatchers, service officers and office personnel, as well as his small but fiesty cadre of volunteers. To hear him tell it, the official Accreditation of TPD would not be possible without them. We agree but as we’ve said before, it takes a good coach to get them there.
When asked about the volunteers, he said that most are recruited from the Citizens Police Academy held every year. The academy is a mini-introduction to police work in general and Tustin Police policies and procedures specifically. The sessions are held once a week (this time on Thursday evening) and include a variety of topics including police procedure and a ridealong. An academy is forming now, if you are interested. Yes, he asked me, but once you’ve been through the real thing, you’re not in a hurry to head back there. If you go, however, I guarantee you will come out with a new perspective of modern police work.
Too soon, our time was up and Chief Cellano and I parted company with an agreement to stay in touch.
Make sure, if you get a chance, to head over to Keans on Wednesday morning. If you do, make sure you say hi to me as well. If you’re a fan, I’ll shake your hand. If you’re a critic, well, I made you think.
At 43 minutes, last week’s Tustin City Council meeting was the shortest of the year and one of the shortest on record. Even Mayor Al Murray joked about reaching the business and committee reports in record time. The Presentation of Colors by The American Legion Post 227 preceded by Furhan Zubaini, Darul Falah giving the invocation and a quick lesson on Islam took up a good portion of the regular session.
A great presentation on the life of Tustin resident Evelyn Furtsch Ojeda, who turned 100 years old, was made. This lady, an Olympian in her younger years, has led a remarkable life that was told in a silent PowerPoint presentation. Evelyn is the oldest living Gold Medalist of the 1932 Olympics. It is folks like her that make Tustin the great town it is. Happy Birthday, Evelyn!
The sole Public Hearing Item on the allocation of Community Development Block Grant funding was continued, at staff request, to the May 6th city council meeting.
Item 5, Extension of Lease Agreement for Operation of the Food/Beverage Concession at Tustin Sports Park, was pulled from the Consent Calendar at Councilwoman Gomez’ request. The rest of the Consent Calendar, including the award of construction projects on Warner and Armstrong Avenues, was passed without comment.
The food and beverage concession issue began with a presentation on the concession itself. According to the presentation, the concession has had a difficult history with three operators attempting to fulfill lease agreements. The current operator, Express Sports Cafe, took over in October 2000 and has operated the concession ever since. The presentation included the challenges now facing the concession operators including the ability of sports park patrons to order takeout food delivered to the park Really? Has anyone ever done that?
A bigger challenge is the fact the concession does not have a grill and cannot make the simplest of foods such as hot dogs and hamburgers, let alone anything exotic like a bratwurst. Other so-called challenges include the time honored tradition of bringing a picnic lunch to the game. The presenter then wasted time telling us what we already knew – Tustin Sports Park is used for sports. All in all, the presentation could have been shortened to about 30 seconds. But, some people like to hear themselves talk.
In the end, Councilwoman Gomez still had to ask her questions regarding the closing of the concession for fundraising activities. It was pointed out in the presentation that local groups could ask the concession to close so they could have fundraisers, presumably during tournaments and games. Gomez asked how that would work. Her concern was, of course, that the concessionaire makes a living off the sales of the concession and would lose money when closed. It was explained that any group asking to close the concession stand so they could run a fundraiser is required to pay a $200 per day fee to the owner. Satisfied with the answer, Gomez joined the Amigos in voting in favor of the lease renewal.
With no reports from staff, the Mayor dove right into council comments. I won’t bore you with the details other than to tell you that the Podiatrist Councilman reported the fantasy group, ACCOC, is drafting pension reform policy based on the “excellent” negotiations they held in Tustin. If by excellent they mean how badly they screwed their rank-and-file employees while taking “excellent” care of the executive management, then yes, it was excellent.
There is no Planning Commission meeting tonight. I apologize for being AWOL this past week but, as you can see, not much happened anyway.
Well, there is one thing worth mentioning. We noticed lame duck Councilmember John Nielsen was absent – again. This from the guy who joined Hizzoner, Jerry Amante, in lambasting former Councilwoman Deborah Gavello for her every absence. I guess once you’ve sung your swan song, you don’t worry the details. As far as we are concerned, Nielsen continues his history of doing nothing on the Tustin City Council, whether he is present or not.