At first, we thought there may be no Planning Commission meeting on Tuesday. A quick second look shows there to be a one-item agenda that may or may not go quickly. That’s because it brings up the resolution denying the design permit for a number of U-verse boxes AT&T has been trying to install in our town for, at some estimates, 15 years.
More than 10 years ago, AT&T applied for the installation of nearly 100 utility boxes in the city. The original application was turned down and the project languished in the halls of Ma Bell for several years until another, more serious attempt was made in 2005. Calling these “upgrades”, somewhere along the way the city discovered that much -if not all- of the installations were actually going to house new equipment that would include computers and fiber optic equipment for the U-verse technology AT&T invented to bring fiber optic quality internet and TV to the public. Back then, the boxes would all be above ground and a bit bigger than the current SAI boxes that house the copper wire phone and internet equipment we all see around town.
We don’t know if it was the aesthetics or the tacitcs that soured the Community Development Department. We do know that, when city staff discovered the switch, they were quick to deny the application as it had been presented. And, once again, the project lay (mostly) dormant. Fast forward to November, 2013.
At the November 12th hearing, AT&T made an application to install 25 VRAD boxes around the city to further their U-verse environment in the city. For more than an hour and a half, Leslie Monty, an engineer who represents AT&T fielded questions and answered commission concerns. Well, sort of. If we may digress: If Ma Bell wants to sell the product, they need someone who is prepared and unafraid to speak in front of a crowd bigger than say, five people. Monty’s discussion was less than adequate and amounted to AT&T’s opposition to any changes to their original application.
She did say that AT&T was opposed to painting the cabinets because, supposedly, the beige and green the cabinets are normally painted to aid in dispersing heat (so, why do the new VRAD boxes have AC built in) and that their technology did not allow for underground installation, another request from the city.
She later came back and said that any underground installation would require an access area that would be significantly larger than the underground vault itself and, if I heard right, would require an upper structure anyway to house the AC. She couldn’t answer why other utilities seemed to have overcome that problem and maintained that underground units were incompatible with their current technology.
Further questioning revealed the underlying issue: money, of course. The cost of placing utilities in underground vaults is, to no one’s surprise, more expensive than setting ugly boxes above ground in front of peoples homes.
Now, the city did say that only 4 of the boxes had to be underground. It was just a preference for the other boxes. Those four boxes were eliminated from the revised project presented in January of this year. At that meeting, the commissioners were looking for ways to get this project approved as it would offer another choice to consumers. But, they were pretty unified that a project would not go through if it impacted the aesthetics of the community.
Several of the commissioners, particularly Ryder Smith the self-appointed nerd on the dais, asked about camouflaging the boxes with art work as has been done in Santa Ana and other
communities. The city does have a goal to establish a public art program in the future and wanted an option to at least make the boxes more presentable than the beige and green globs we are used to seeing.
Oh, no, that wouldn’t be possible. According to AT&T’s Monty, the technology has not reached far enough to allow proper cooling, even with an AC unit, unless the boxes are painted an ugly beige or green color. And, even if they could be, the boxes which are supposedly painted with anti-graffiti paint, would no longer be warrantied.
We swear, we are not making this up.
In the end, the commission voted to deny the design review for the VRAD cabinet project in its entirety. The chief concerns came down to AT&T’s opposition to complying with design guidelines that had been established years ago and that they were well aware of. Added to that were concerns over resident objections. As Commissioner Lumbard said, “I know our residents are not going to be pleased when there’s a box in front of their house or, in front of the store they’d like to go to or on the side of the street where they park their car.”
Of real concern to us at Our Town Tustin is the makeup of the 3-2 vote of denial. It seems that Commissioners Jeff Thompson and Ryder Smith decided the boxes would be OK. In fact Thompson, adding minor and inconsequential changes, made a motion to adopt the original design review. Stating that he believed AT&T when they said that underground technology for the equipment cabinets just wasn’t there, he readily moved the item. And, although Chair Steve Kozak seconded the motion, he later withdrew it, saying he only seconded it for purposes of discussion.
The reason we bring this up is because there are two Planning Commission seats open for appointment by the city council. One of those is Thompson’s. And, although he has applied for reappointment, we wonder if he has not outlived his usefulness on this influential panel. Over the past couple of years we have noticed he has not had the best interests of the residents in every issue that has come before the planning commission. This is not the first time he has danced a soft shoe in trying to accommodate a business or utility. He continuously worked to compromise the untenable Wilcox debacle and other recent issues in Old Town, even though he is a resident there. Jeff’s best qualification for the seat is his civil engineering background. We would argue, however, that is what the Community Development Department is for. In our opinion, it is time for a change.
Next stop, should AT&T choose, the Tustin City Council where, presumably, AT&T has friends…
What does the city of Tustin and the County of Orange have in common? With a record low number of applications the city, much like the Grand Jury, is having trouble filling their commissions with qualified
cronies applicants. With a suggested extension for interviews, the council will not have to bother with adding to an already full agenda.
The city council may be spending as much time on Closed Session items as they will with the Public Session. One item, Edison Relocation on Barranca Parkway, is listed separately on the Conference with Legal Counsel, indicating it is an important item. We’ll try to find out more and let you know.
New claims by Tustin resident Abid Hussain, Jesse Magana, Wilhelmina Zuckerman and Karen Stewart will be considered (and probably rejected) by the city. There are also two ongoing cases to be discussed. One of these is People v. Douglas Trumble. Trumble was arrested in 2013 for sale/possession of narcotics. The case was recently dismissed in Orange County Superior Court. Wonder what they have to talk about?
The final items on the Closed Session agenda have to do with property purchases and swaps, all on the MCAS property. The city recently concluded a deal that would move the US Army Reserve Center over by the OC Sheriff’s Academy and other like institutions. Ever since the city has taken over as Master Developer, things have been moving nicely on the old base.
Two Public Hearings head up the open session agenda. The first is a handshake on the development of 375 detached homes on the east side of the MCAS property. The hearing will include information on the taxes and facility fees to be paid. Standard Pacific Homes is the developer.
The second item, which could garner some public comment is for the Community Development Block Grant funds. Staff is asking to reallocate funds from administration to development of projects such as the Bocce Ball courts recently approved by the planning commission. Funds will also be reallocated to “way finding signage” for Old Town Tustin.
Some of the money will also go to developing a master plan for Old Town Tustin to encourage economic development. Although I appreciate that the city has made it easier (in some ways) to start a business inside of Old Town, we are always wary when the Community Development Department takes an interest in any way. The results are mixed and often to the detriment of the Old Town neighborhood.
Item 7 on the Consent Calendar - Police Department Vehicle Purchase, should be pulled for discussion. Supposedly, the vehicles are being replaced due to high mileage and/or safety issues. The mileage on these vehicles is far from extreme, with the highest mileage vehicle being a 2006 Dodge Durango at 69k. With staff requests to pull reserve funds (see later) to pay bills, it doesn’t make much sense to replace vehicles simply because they are a few years older, particularly since these are “undercover” vehicles. No safety issues have been articulated so we figure is it just our cops wanting to be in style?
Normally, we would grouse about the fact the city did not shop locally. Unfortunately, it looks like our local dealers weren’t interested in bidding.
Under Regular Business, the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report for Fiscal Year 2013 will be available. Our accounting firm should be on hand to answer any questions concerning the report.
I wonder if they would also comment on why city staffers are now revising the budget on the mid-year review and asking to draw heavily from reserves? Item 14 Fiscal Year 2013-14 Mid-Year Budget Review has staff asking for an additional $4 million dollars from various reserve funds ($2 million from water funds alone).
While some of the expenditures, such as unexpected costs for water purchases could not be foreseen, others could. These include the relocation of sewer lines on Tustin Ranch Road and appropriation of equipment that should have been placed in the original budget proposal. Drawing from funds during a recovery phase is not the way to appropriately manage city finances. It’s a wonder the city is crowing about saving money while digging into reserves. The staff report justifying the added draws can be found here.
The final item on the agenda is to authorize the advertisement for a consultant to develop a Commercial Core Plan for Old Town Tustin. We are glad to see this on the agenda as the city has, for too long, neglected the commercial revitalization of Old Town. Perhaps this will also get Elizabeth Binsack to also bring the second unit issue back to her desk for further consideration this year.
That’s it for this weeks meeting. I recently upgraded my U-verse from DSL so my speed increased from slow-as-mollases to just plain slow. Now you know why I want AT&T to get approval for those darn boxes. In any case, I should be back to being able to view the meeting videos in a timely manner so that I can report back to my readers. Now, if I can just get my computer to cooperate.
I hope everyone is having a great Martin Luther King Day. We are finally cooling off as the rest of the country embraces another round of freezing weather. It is days like this that remind me why I live in our town Tustin.
It seems the city and the US Army have finally come to an agreement on a property exchange. For more than a year, the city has been pestering the Feds to exchange their current real estate, next to the District Shopping Center, for another parcel located near Warner and Redhill. The idea, of course, is to allow the District to expand while keeping the Army Reserve Center within the confines of the city. Actually, I think the city council could care less about the Army but they do want to serve their masters at the District. Sales tax, after all, is the bread and butter of a city.
This works out for all parties as the Army was in the process of planning new facilities at the current reserve center. According to the staff report, those efforts will now be directed toward the new location. The Army has agreed to submit their plans for comment and to obtain grading permits. This should be interesting over the next few years to see what happens if the plans don’t conform to Elizabeth’s vision. The city has a habit of holding up the permit process when they don’t like what they see. The Army, on the other hand, has a habit of not caring about permits, etc.
Oh yeah, and the “no-cost” agreement includes $170,000 payment to the feds by the city for they cost of the transfer. They also have to make sure water and sewage are in place.
The rest of the agenda has the usual suspects. Along with the final discussion on the Army property swap, there are two other issues, including on between the city and the school district.
Staff are asking the one Public Hearing Item on a development agreement for a 375 home housing tract on the MCAS property be continued to next month due to legal issues. Expect this to be worked out and back on the agenda.
There is little on the Consent Calendar of real interest. However, it should be noted the staff are planning a bocce ball court at Peppertree Park. A great addition that I’m sure our senior will appreciate. But, why only two courts? Oh, and staff may want to revisit the proposed resolution as, according to that, the original intention was to establish a water play area.
Item 13 on the consent calendar is for a grant application for federal funding for parks related programs. The $260,000 grant can be used for virtually anything park related. Staff have already targeted Frontier Park for the bulk of the proceeds. This is one item that could probably use some discussion either now or when the grant is approved.
That’s it for this week’s Tustin City Council meeting. The year is starting off by cleaning up old issues. With an election year up for grabs and two city council seats up for grabs, lets hope it stays that way so our intrepid heroes can concentrate on the important stuff.
With 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 include 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…