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Welcome to the Police State, Tustin Style

doomacracyThe first order of business for the Planning Commission a couple of weeks ago was to install the “new” commissioners whose terms had previously expired. What? You didn’t know there were expiring terms? Well, that’s because, thanks in large part to retired Irvine police officer and current Tustin Councilmember Al Murray, there was no announcement.

At the February 3rd meeting of the city council, Murray decided it was too much of an inconvenience, given the fact he had already made up his mind to vote for the incumbents, to actually advertise for and interview other aspiring candidates to the Planning Commission. “You know, we’ve gone through this process quite a bit and, one of the things we should consider is we have really, really good people on the current commissions and we entertain people in the community to go through somewhat rigorous interviews and, in many cases, we reaffirm who’s on there.”  Going on to claim he heard that the process was futile for most and they would lose heart, he apparently felt the kindest thing to do was save them the heartbreak.

Alan Bernstein, who hasn’t had an original thought since he was elected to the city council, quickly chimed in with some diatribe about how everything is wonderful in the city of Tustin so, we don’t need to bother with a longstanding policy. Mayor Chuck Puckett quickly agreed, breathing a sigh of relief he wouldn’t have to come early to the next city council meeting just to interview a bunch of wannabes.

Unsurprisingly, Councilwoman Beckie Gomez spoke out against maintaining the status quo of simple re-appointment. Saying that there are always applicants in numbers for available positions, she wanted the opportunity to interview and examine applications for the best persons for the job.

The biggest shock of the evening was Councilman John Nielsen agreeing with Gomez that the process is necessary. Nielsen recalled recent history where incumbents had, in fact, been ousted in favor of new applicants. He also correctly stated that applicants have a tendency to become involved with civic affairs in other venues such as the Tustin Community Foundation (hmmm…). Wow. John and I actually agree.

After a lengthy 8 minute discussion on the issue, a motion was made by Puckett (I guess, hoping to take the heat off Murray) to forego city policy and fairness in favor of cronyism. The motion was quickly seconded by Bernstein. The split vote, with Nielsen and Gomez dissenting, was cast and that’s why you didn’t get your notice on commission openings.

Puckett was on hand at the next Planning Commission meeting to re-appoint three commissioners, Austin Lumbard, Steve Kozak and Ryder Smith. Now I might want to point out that, while not all planning commissioners are future candidates for the city council, it has been heard around town (mostly by his dad shooting off his mouth) that Austin Lumbard will be running for a seat. That would be the seat of termed out Mayor pro tem John Nielsen next year. You may want to keep this bit of information close as you read further.

With no public speakers on hand to liven things up, the commissioners moved on to regular business. Most of the items were routine including the approval of a new Old Town home for the historic register.

A Design Review on the request by the owners of the restored Jabberwocky building caused Jeff Thompson to leave the dais as he is a resident of Old Town. The review was prompted by the expiration of a prior agreement to use the city’s fee-based common street parking. The only discussion was when Ryder Smith, who obviously hasn’t paid attention to previous discussions on the subject, asked about the $60 per space cost. That initiated a full and complete (and boring) discussion of the why’s and wherefores of the fee-based parking. A 4-0 vote took care of the matter.

The only other item on the agenda and, by far the most important for Old Town residents, was the public hearing on a code amendment that would change the ordinance on second residential units.

The presentation by staff on the ordinance was simply a reiteration of the last public hearing on the issue. If you recall (or

The only known photo of Sam Altowaiji

The only known photo of Sam Altowaiji

look at my writeup), that hearing resulted in more work for the planning commission as former city staffer and current commissioner Altowaiji asked to accommodate the large property owners by slicing them out of the deal. That initiated a lengthy discussion that led to several failed votes and a final vote to continue the item until this meeting.

Scott Reeskin, a Senior Planner with the city, explained all of this in the most current presentation. The suggestions were all over the place and, in the case of Altowaiji, reflected his obvious sense of elitism by indicating he favored an enhanced ordinance for lots 12,000 square feet and over. Now, mind you, Altowajai nearly recused himself because of his realty holdings and his wife’s realty business that often find them in Old Town.

So, what was City Planner Scott Reeskin’s reply to the commission’s meddling suggestions?
Phfffffffffthththththtttttttttttt!!!!!

Citing state law on affordable housing and the requirements to keep any structures in Old Town “compatible” with the neighborhood, Reeskin’s presentation basically said the suggestions would not fly. He then chided the council, advising them to remember their role and responsibility in maintaining the Cultural Resources District.

Reeskin pointed out the cold, hard facts. Either of the alternatives to the current proposal would result in as many as two times the residential increase of the original proposal made by Binsack’s staff. While Reeskin was at it, he backed up his first punch by slapping down the commission’s idea that maybe the standards should be set citywide. Of course, that would initiate a major study and possibly affect the Cultural Resources District itself. Did they really want to do that?

Altowaiji was clearly perturbed at city staff for not taking his suggestions to heart. “Not allowing the lots with 12,000 the right to build as the right to build today is… not providing flexibility [read elitist status], is reducing their flexibility of doing what they needed to do.” So, perhaps that perceived conflict of interest reared its ugly head after all.

Altowaiji then went on to disrespect the Tustin residents who, at the earlier public hearing, voiced their opinions on the ordinance. Saying their opinions were “all over the map”, Altowaiji ranted that staff statistics were not realistic and that only two properties had even applied for second residential units.

At this point, I wondered if Altowaiji could hear himself speaking.

If Altowaiji’s ranting wasn’t enough, Elizabeth Binsack felt she had to justify/explain/excuse her staff for not coming up with the alternatives Altowaiji demanded at the last meeting. She did it quite deftly by shifting blame back to the commissioners who, she said, couldn’t agree on the original proposal.

What it came down to, she said, is city staff were confused about exactly what the commissioners wanted so they came back with the same proposal with ramifications of changing the proposal so they could see the error of their ways.

I don’t blame her. We were confused, too.

So, Altowaiji complained further, alleging discussions that did not occur at the last meeting. He then proposed a “phone” meeting, that smacks of violating the Brown Act, that would have cleared this up. Binsack, being nice but also showing that she was also getting ticked off, explained how that could not occur.

“I apologize if we missed the mark”, she said through clenched teeth. “We intended to correctly and professionally respond to what you asked for”. I have to say, that is the closest I’ve seen to Binsack losing it.

Future wannabe councilman Lumbard responded by explaining how he had trouble looking at more than one option at a time so he would rather not get into another long-winded discussion…..probably over something he had zero interest in anyway.

Another ten minutes of discussion and Altowaiji reiterating his elitist remarks, this time with the inference that anyone that didn’t like his motion was an idiot, a motion was made on the original proposal (with some recommendations to the council thrown in) by Commissioner Lumbard and seconded by Commissioner Kozak. The vote was 3-1 to send it on to the city council.

This is probably the most entertainment I’ve had since Jerry Amante left office. Watching another Little King rant and rave brought back memories. And the look on Elizabeth Binsack’s face as she patiently explained her position, well, it was like an old MasterCard commercial. It’s nice to know there are still hot topics to occasionally write about here in our town Tustin.

Jabberwocky Needs Your Help

jabberwocky fireFolks in Old Town Tustin are a pretty tight group and always willing to help out a worthy cause. This time, the cause is in our own back yard.

Way back in December of 2011, Old Town very nearly lost one of its treasured buildings to fire. The Jabberwocky, located on El Camino Real just south of Main St., Nearly burned to the ground. Only the facade was left largely intact. This building was built around 1885 and was reportedly the town doctor’s office. When it caught fire, it was a quaint dress shop called the Vintage Lady. We first wrote about the Jabberwocky in 2013

The owner was determined to save what they could of this piece of history. More than the allowable amount of the jabberwocky 2building was destroyed so the city required any new construction to be built to code. Local historic architect, Nathan Menard, was charged with marrying the old facade with the new building. It took awhile for construction to begin but the end result has been worth their effort. The facade has been saved and restored, and the new building is as safe as any in the city.

But, it came at a cost.

jabberwocky 3Even though insurance paid for the bulk of the construction, the owner still had to pony up some money of their own for ancillary costs. The Tustin Preservation Conservancy has stepped in to help.

The Conservancy, which is largely charged with helping to maintain the old town atmosphere of our historic district, has opened a GoFundMe campaign to solicit donations to the cause.  Spokesperson Linda Jenning told us:

The Tustin Preservation Conservancy has opened a campaign on the Go Fund Me web site to raise funds to help finish the Jabberwocky building. As you may remember, it was partially destroyed by fire several years ago. The owner chose not to demolish but rebuild the damaged rear of the building and restore the beautiful Victorian facade.

Go to www.gofundme.com/n2riac  and look for ” Restoring the  Jabberwocky” to visit the campaign site and learn more. Any donation will be appreciated. The Conservancy will pay all fees so your entire donation will go to the fund and be tax deductible.

Yes, you heard it right. a hundred percent of all funds donated to the Jabberwocky through this campaign will go to the restoration. Tustin Preservation Conservancy will pay all fees associated with the campaign.

If you love Old Town as much as we do, we hope you will donate a few dollars to the cause. Any amount is the right amount and will certainly be appreciated.

 

On The Planning Commission Agenda – February 24, 2015

Hidden Agenda ClipartUpdated 2/23/15 10:00 pm – 

Tuesday’s Planning Commission meeting agenda has only five items on it with two of those being routine Consent Calendar issues. Unless someone raises an issue with the 2014 General Plan Report, it should sail through on the vote.

Less likely to just sail through without comment is the Public Hearing, Item 3, Code Amendment 2015-01 – Second Residential Units in the Cultural Resource District. Two years ago, the city held community workshops on modifying second unit and guest home ordinances in Old Town Tustin. It looked like they would continue working on the matter when, suddenly, the project was dropped. The city’s response to inquiries was, “the study will be completed sometime but it is not a priority.” Huh.

So, the project languished for another year after workshops that more than 40 people attended. Supposedly, another workshop was held in 2013 but we can’t find any record of that or who may have attended. The project foundered again until the city revived the issue without warning or notice for this meeting.

In all, the proposed ordinance will eliminate the construction or remodeling of accessory buildings into guest rooms. At the same time, many of the former restrictions on 2nd units will be lifted, including that of minimum lot size. The proposed ordinance would also:

  • Eliminate maximum lot coverage (formerly 30% of rear and side yards)
  • Require one garage or carport parking spot
  • Maximum size limited to 50% of primary dwelling not exceeding 600 square feet

Everything else would remain the same as the existing ordinance for 2nd units. Current, legal guest houses would be allowed to continue with the same restrictions (including the dreaded deed restriction) or, if they conform to the new ordinance, would be allowed to be reclassified at the owner’s option.

The down side, of course, is the probable increase in traffic and population in Old Town. The proposed ordinance would allow 149 more properties in Old Town to construct 2nd units. It’s doubtful that many folks are clamoring for building permits, though. So, the impact would likely be minimal.

In any case, it would help to eliminate the embarrassing situation the city found itself in a few years ago when the Community Development Department, doing then Mayor Jerry Amante’s bidding, attempted to deconstruct apartments built behind a home on Pacific St. The resulting rancor soured many Old Town residents on the city and their nanny-state attitude. It didn’t help that the city spent thousands of taxpayer dollars on their vendetta.

In an about face, the city has worked with the residents of Old Town to craft a workable ordinance that will enhance property values, increase income to the city through property tax values, and allow property owners to enhance their properties with minimal interference from the city. That’s a win-win situation. Thanks, Elizabeth.

Under Regular Business, we mistakenly thought Item 4, Tustin Historic Register Nomination, was the first of the city pioneer busts to be erected. A little closeer look, of course, reminded us of the historic plaque program and the Tustin Historic Register.

The nominee for the plaque designation this time is the home at 178 North C Street. Known as the “Knapp House“, the home was constructed in 1920 and is listed in the Register as a California Bungalow. It is a beautiful house and a treasure in our Old Town area. If you haven’t seen it, it’s worth the walk over to C Street. Heck, make an evening of it and wander over to Morey’s Place on El Camino for dinner.

According to supporting documents, the Knapp sisters lived at the residence, the last one passing away in 1975 at the age of 96. It seems we have some long-lived residents here. Must be the water.

The final item on the docket is Item 5, Withdrawal of CUP and Design Review for an antenna farm that would have been located in a storage facility near Tustin Ranch Road. Verizon Wireless had been planning a new cellular antenna when they suddenly decided to drop the application. Not sure why.

If you live in the Old Town area or have an interest in our Cultural Resources District, you may want to join the party on Tuesday at 7 pm just to make sure “new” items don’t make their way into the proposed 2nd unit ordinance.

We spoke with a few residents this evening who are concerned about the 2nd unit ordinance. If the Planning Commission thought it would be an easy night, they better cancel any after meeting plans. I get the feeling there will be plenty said during public comment from both sides of the issue.

On The City Council Agenda – Tuesday, February 17, 2015

For once, there is not much on the Closed Session agenda for the upcoming Tustin City Council meeting on Tuesday. Don’t expect any report from the city attorney. At the meeting two weeks ago, everyone on the dais attempted to dodge the bullet when a speaker, during public comments, brought up noise and traffic at the Wilcox Manor. The Mayor Puckett couldn’t foist it off on the police chief fast enough. The good news is, Silent Mike and Lindburgh have been complying with the terms of their conditional use permit  and Tustin PD reports no glaring discrepancies. In fact, there have been only three complaints, all apparently resolved.

The sole Public Hearing on the Regular Agenda is Item 1, Community Development Block Grant 2015-20120. This year, the city is required to submit the 5 year Consolidated Plan that identifies community needs and proposals for funding.

The draft list prepared by city staff is pretty extensive and includes parks, parklets and expansion of Old Town parking. It also includes street and infrastructure improvements and rehab.

Some of the more interesting proposals include economic development of Tustin, particularly the Old Town area. A lot of time and effort by staff has recently been put into developing a plan of sorts for the development of Old Town. Unfortunately, until there is some movement by principal property owners, it’s doubtful there will be much more construction taking place. Still, its good to see the city finally paying attention to our legacy.

All currently funded projects previously selected for this three year period by the Tustin Community Foundation will continue to receive CDBG money.

There is not much on the Consent Calendar to be concerned about. Most items are administrative and recurring. Item 7, Renewal of Field Services 4/10 Work Schedule, is a renewal of a pilot project from the past few years for field service personnel to work 4/10 schedules during daylight savings time. This is a union negotiated item that should probably become permanent.

Item 8, Approval of Operator Services Agreement for Carnival Rides- The previous agreement with Shamrock Shows expired and the city is preparing to sign with Brass Ring Amusements for rides and concessions. The new agreement also pushes more money into city coffers with the city’s take beginning at 25% of gross receipts. It’s interesting to note the city now requires background checks on all carnival employees due to an issue a few years back.

Brass Ring Amusements, by the way, is pretty well established and is scheduled to run more than 15 California fairs this year. So, expect a quality ride.

Under Regular Business, the city is finally going to utilize the event center they established at the old Regal Theater in the Tustin Market Place. Item 9, Recommendation of the City Use of 12 Events at the Community Center, recommends 12 city sponsored events to be held at no charge to the city.
The ad hoc committee of Councilmembers Gomez and Nielsen came up with a list of spine-tingling events that will include (in no particular order) a talent contest, a youth film festival and a new (did I say free?) place to hold the State of the City Address.

The final item on the agenda is Item 10, Formation of Veterans Advisory Committee/Commission. Normally, I would be cheering the formation of anything for veterans. But, this is a topic brought up by none other than, Mayor pro tem, John Nielsen. There are a couple of reasons for concern.

First, is Nielsen’s apparent collaboration with his ally, former councilman Jerry Amante. Amante, if you recall, had a feud with The American Legion Post 227 that subjected them to some humiliation and all but eliminated the color guard ceremonies that were being held in council chambers each month.

That rift between the Legion Post Commander and the city council began as a small tiff when, way back in 2001, Legionnaires came to the rescue by reviving their post and touching off the first (in a long time) Veterans Day parade down El Camino Real. I witnessed the buildup and slow degradation of what was hailed by the OC Board of Supervisors at the time as “Orange County’s Veterans Day Parade”, into a less substantial day in the park due mostly to the hostility of the city council toward veterans. I’m not even sure there is a celebration in Tustin anymore.

Should we mention their one-time desire to do away with the blimp hangars?

A second reason for suspicion -and that ties in handily to vet loving by John- is the rumor recently making the rounds that John Nielsen may make a run for the California Assembly. Normally, I would dismiss a notion like this as someone’s idea of a nightmare on Elm Street. That is, until I heard it from two distinctly different sources, one of whom does not live in the city.

So, is Nielsen simply paying homage to veterans in order to regain some traction here on the home front? Certainly, he has lost interest in any business the council conducts, as it is apparent he has been treading water, at least since the election. We did email Nielsen on his intentions but he has, so far, refused to respond to us.

One other item of note, Old Town residents received a Notice of Publice Hearing on a code amendment. The hearing, to be held February 24, 2015 at 7 pm (Planning Commission Meeting), will be to hear public comment on a proposal to change second residence requirements. The proposed amendments would eliminate “accessory guest rooms” or what most of us would call, “granny flats”. in lieu of establishing new guidelines for 2nd residential units on lots. If you can only go to one meeting, this may be the one.

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