An Open Letter to Mayor John Nielsen and the Tustin City Council
Dear Mayor Nielsen,
At the Tuesday night meeting of the Tustin City Council, you expressed outrage that the newspapers and blogs would attack you over the Heritage Elementary School lawsuit. You thought it unfair that the press had labeled you and the city council as racist because of a pleading entered by the city in Orange County Superior Court outlining their complaint against the Tustin Unified School District. I can’t help but notice, you timed your remarks so as to preclude any immediate response from the audience by including them in “Mayors Comments” at the end of the session. I felt a response was necessary, to keep the record straight. As such, I choose to respond here.
You began your comment (which begins at timemark 1:09:12) on the issue by saying that you were the one who originally set up a meeting between the city and school district to hammer out an agreement. You also said:
I’ve been a great supporter of Tustin Schools for many years. My children have grown up in Tustin public schools from kindergarten and have graduated through high school. They’ve attended Nelson Elementary, Utt Middle School and Tustin High School, both of my children graduated from Tustin High, and this dispute is very disconcerting and has been for the last two years.
But, in the most recent legal battles that we’ve had, the city has tried to protect its residents and Tustin Legacy by trying to preserve a newly built neighborhood school as an elementary school. That school was paid for by those residents, by millions of dollars in fees, mello-roos. And, we engaged in that in order to have that elementary school so they could use it for their kids, which they anticipated they could have until it was changed and the carpet pulled out from under them, so to speak. But, you know, there are differences between agencies and institutions and people don’t always agree on things, but, you know, I’ve been fairly patient throughout this and haven’t said a whole lot.
But, when I see in the newspaper that the TUSD is declaring us as racist and, by reference, the neighborhood in Tustin Legacy as well, I get very perturbed. And, frankly, it’s despicable and it doesn’t do anything to solve anything. I know we disagree but, name calling and playing the race card is certainly not the way to solve those differences. I’m even more concerned that, frankly, the Orange County Register would print this, with scurrilous accusations without any foundation. Instead of trying to inflame people in this community, we should be trying to bring them together. We should try to heal and we should try and work together as much as we can. And, if we have differences, let’s please be civil about it. Let’s not get it down to calling names at each other. Let’s just do what we need to do to get through this. I’ve been quiet on this. I’m usually a patient man. But, when I see that I am being called a racist, I get a little upset.
Let’s clear up a few things here. You claimed the Register made scurrilous accusations that had no foundation. It was my original article on the city’s loss of the Heritage School lawsuit, which the city initiated, that first stated the issue of race. The Orange County Register could not ignore the fact as it had been published and was circulating widely in the community. I, along with other community bloggers, urged reporter, Elysse James and her editor, to publish the article both on-line and in the OCR print edition. It was, in fact, the city that provided the foundation by alleging harm to children who were forced to attend overcrowded minority-ridden schools, not the school district. In a pleading submitted by the city, the city council alleged:
Elementary school age children who live in the vicinity of the school, including children living in the transitional housing provided at The Village of Hope and the Tustin Family Campus, to date, have been forced to attend overcrowded elementary school in other neighborhoods further away from their homes. But for the Project, those students would be able to attend class at the neighborhood elementary school planned, paid for, and built for their use. These overcrowded elementary schools include W.R. Nelson Elementary, Jeane Thorman Elementary, and Benjamin Beswick Elemenatary. These schools serve predominately minority populations.
Do I think you are a racist, Mayor Nielsen? In your diatribe, you wrongly lashed out at school officials who you say called you a racist. Yet, that is clearly not what Tustin School President Jonathon Ablelove was implying when he called the wording inflammatory. He, along with thousands of others who read this wonder what this paragraph, written by city attorneys and approved by the city council, added to the city’s argument for the lawsuit. If it did not have racial overtones, if it added nothing to the argument, why was it included?
Quite frankly, Mayor Nielsen, I am disappointed in your response. You could have come to the table and said, “They misinterpreted what we wrote”, or, “What we meant was this…”. You could have apologized for allowing a racially insensitive remark to get past the council in closed session. You could have even asked the city attorney for an explanation. The community would have accepted that and moved on.
Instead, you chose the typical conservative route. You stated your credentials as a fine, upstanding citizen of the community; how you have been involved for 10 years with city politic; how your children have all gone to and graduated from Tustin schools. You even mentioned Nelson Elementary school (mentioned in the pleading as one of those overcrowded schools) and then said, “I don’t care what the papers say, I am not a racist!” Well, the words, “These schools serve predominantly minority populations”, without any further explanation from you as to why they were allowed into an official court document submitted by the city, stand as evidence of the racially insensitive nature of the city council’s attitude.
I would also like to point out another error in your complaint toward us. You stated that the newspapers, by reference, called the Tustin Legacy population racist as well. Untrue. Nowhere in my article on Our Town Tustin or the excellent article written by Elysse James of the Orange County Register, did we allege the citizens of Tustin Legacy to be racist. Again, this must be your conservative logic putting 2 and 2 together to make 5. While I cannot speak for Ms. James, I can certainly tell you that I feel the citizens of Tustin Legacy, who only want to see the school they paid for used for the original purpose, do not feel that way and nowhere in any discussion of the issues has that ever been brought up by or against them. You speak of inflammatory remarks but, isn’t that what you attempted to do with the citizens of Tustin Legacy in having them believe they were called racist?
No, you and the city council stand alone in this matter.
The overriding tone of your message (besides, ‘I am not a racist’) is one of working together to resolve the issues that have gone on far too long. On this we can agree. Recently, the judge overseeing the original lawsuits in Orange County, continued the case again, this time until January of 2013. One has to wonder about the timing of that. Perhaps the judge is also hoping that, over the next year and possibly with new blood on the city council, cooler heads will prevail and the two entities can resolve this dispute without going to trial. It is not too late, Mayor. You have, by all accounts, an unwinnable situation. You can take that patience, which you espouse, and put it to good use by putting aside partisan politics and resolving this issue.
John, I have met you. We have spoken at length on various city matters. You are an intelligent, thoughtful man who, I think, has the best interest of the city at heart. Your allegiance to Councilmember Amante aside, you make fair decisions most of the time. This is one of those times you need to be your own man and act as mayor of this city. Quit trying to divert attention from this. Own up to it and apologize to the families of Tustin for, what amounted to, a racially insensitive remark that served no purpose whatsoever.