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On the City Council Agenda, June 5, 2012

There is a busy session for the City Council coming up this week. The highlight of the evening is the approval of the Federal Court Order regarding the design review for the T-Mobile West wireless facility in Cedar Grove Park. The residents of Tustin Ranch have battled this issue for several years and, it looked like they would win when the City Council approved the appeal to deny the design review in October of last year. That was thwarted when T-Mobile sued the city, saying they had no right to deny the design review. And, faster than Jerry Brown’s hi-speed rail project, the city agreed to a stipulation that allows the whole project to proceed.  I am sure Jerry Amante is thrilled to death that he won another one for his cohorts at ATS. Did I say ATS? Why yes, I did. ATS is the city consultant that developed the cellular overlay plan for our town. It appears they are the big winners as, for their efforts in this particular case, they will receive 25% of the proceeds or $86,444 from a total contract for this single location of 345,776. That’s fiscal responsibility at its best.

The other big ticket item the city council will look at is Item 18 that would offer an early retirement incentive to current employees. The idea is that the city would save money by leaving vacant position unfilled and by filling some of the needed positions with new hires who, by coincidence, would have lower tier benefits. The Agenda Report for the item shows some pretty significant savings as well as some pretty hefty retirement incentives of 7% of an employee’s salary on top of their regular retirement. This is equal to 3 years of service, by the way. A nice way to reward employees and subjugate others who did not play ball with the establishment. Also, no where in the agenda report did we see the cost of administering this program. Frankly, this smells of another one of the Gang of Three’s programs to shift money to their private sector friends while fleecing the taxpayers of Tustin. Until savings can be demonstrated in writing, there should be no agreement.

The Closed Session has plenty to offer as well. This is the super-sized negotations with nearly all of the city’s represented employees in the mix. We hear things are not going as smoothly as the city would like. While they laid a five percent raise on the Chief of Police, they are claiming a two million dollar budget deficit will require drastic cuts and layoffs. Oh, and let’s not forget in the midst of all of this, the city still keeps our favorite retired former city manager, Bill Huston, as well as his former assistant, Christine Shingleton on the payroll. There is definitely fat-trimming to be had. But the executives and electeds should be looking toward the top and not the bottom.

Hopefully, one of the councilmembers on the left of the dais will have sense enough to pull Item 9 from the consent calendar. This is one time I would strongly suggest the city council spend a few extra dollars and go outside the city attorney’s office to have lawyers who understand the term, “conflict of interest” and “or the appearance thereof”. Unfortunately, the city council is supposedly the “reviewing body”. So, I doubt there will be much to discuss.

Closed Session

  • Conference with Legal Counsel – One each for exposure to litigation and initiation of litigation.
  • Labor Negotiations – All of the associations representing city employees.
  • Conference with Legal Counsel – City of Tustin v. Tustin Unified School District (two lawsuits), Mira Properties v. City of Tustin, T-Mobile West v. City of Tustin (Federal District Court)
  • Conference with Real Property Negotiators – MCAS property

Public Hearing

  • Consider levying of Annual Assesments for the Tustin Landscape and Lighting District 2012-2013 – Consideration a change of levy fees on the district (Tustin Ranch area) to cover a projected deficit in costs of maintenance.

Consent Calendar

  • Item 6, Award Construction Contract for Frontier Park Energy Efficiency Improvements – Staff recommend the contract be awarded to the lowest bidder, Global Power Group.
  • Item 8, Tustin Sports Park Baseball Diamond #2 Renovation – Staff recommend the contract be awarded to Lehman Construction as the lowest bidder. There is no discussion in the Agenda Report as to the “construction credits” to be authorized as the lowest bidder came in higher than projected estimates.
  • Item 9, Review of City’s Conflict of Interest Code – Biennial review of the code. This action will authorize the city manager or designee to review and report back to the city council. We strongly recommend the city manager utilize the services of an outside attorney to make recommended changes.

Regular Business

  • Item 13, Adopt Resolution to Approve Plans and Specs for Construction of Tustin Legacy Fire Station – Authorizes the City Clerk to advertise for bids for the new (relocated) fire station near the District.
  • Item 14, Federal Court Order Approval of Design Review…T-Mobile West at Cedar Grove Park – Formal adoption of the design review to allow T-Mobile West to pursue construction of the wireless facility in Cedar Grove Park. Sorry, Tustin Ranch.
  • Item 15 Approve a Modified Project Funding Approach and Award the Construction Contract for Tustin Ranch Road Phase 2 – Due to the demise of Redevelopment Agencies and the inability to pay for the improvements as originally planned. Creative financing at its best.
  • Item 17, Second Reading and Adoption of Ordinance Regulating Various Forms of Solicitation on Certain Public Rights of Way, and Private Property and Acts of Trespass on Private Commercial Property – This is an anti-homeless ordinance carefully crafted to keep you and me from also soliciting money on major roadways throughout Tustin.
  • Item 18, Offering the Public Agency Retirement Services Early Retirement Incentive Program to Eligible Employees to Achieve Budget Savings – PARS is a private entity the city would contract with to offer early incentive bonuses to eligible employees as an inducement to retiring. The plan would allow the city to keep unfilled vacancies caused by the program and also reduce salary and benefits by offering new hires lower tier benefits.

The City Folds. Where Was the Transparency?

I just got back from my fishing trip and my mailbox is abuzz with the news. First, I got a comment from reader “Cedar Grove Loses” who said the City Council caved on the T-Mobile lawsuit. If you remember, we wrote about T-Mobile’s multi-faceted attempt to install a cellular site at Cedar Grove Park. After several years of design reviews, in which a site that was originally meant to house multiple cell company equipment, the Tustin Planning Commission lamely went against the wishes of the community and approved the design review. The issue was promptly appealed to the Tustin City Council who, in a moment of clarity, voted to deny the review. Of course, Hizzoner, Jerry Amante, blasted the rest of the council, sans his hitman, Al Murray, for not taking T-Mobile’s money and running. Well, Jerry was never much in touch with the real residents of Tustin, right? And, we did tell you that T-Mobile would pay a small fortune in lease fees so that Jerry could re-fund the reserves which he drew down to buy toys for the city council? In Al’s defense, at least he was concerned about the safety aspect, even though we thought it a bit overreaching.

In any case, T-Moblie, after complaining about those mean people in Tustin Ranch that they attempted to appease with multiple design reviews, said they would plant their cell tower on the puiblic right-of-way where the city would have no say. They inferred they intended to make it really ugly, too, just to spite the area residents. Of course, they lied. Their next stop was in Federal Court where they filed a lawsuit, alleging the city could not prevent the inevitable.

And, apparently, they were right. Or, at least, the city was not willing to do the right thing and oppose the lawsuit any further. Funny how they will squander money on lawsuits they can’t possibly win against the school district, but will readily roll over when the Feds come a knockin’.

On May 8, 2012, settlement and stipulation documents were filed with the Federal Court. They became effective when the judge signed them. What the stipulation order says is that the city council’s denial of the design review is moot and the planning commission’s approval under Resolution No. 4163 stands as if there had been no appeal. This effectively allows T-Mobile to continue with the licensing process. It does not necessarilly mean they will get approval. Not only must they obtain the proper licensing, they must comply with all of the requirements of Resolution No. 4163. Also, this may re-open pending design reviews in other neighborhood parks.

Now, all of this is disconcerting, I admit. It looks grim for the folks in Tustin Ranch who fought long and hard to keep this monstrosity out of their parks. It is even more disconcerting that we are talking about a third-rate cellular carrier whose total income is dwarfed by the Big Three.

But, how can one explain the fact that the City of Tustin, who touts their transparency and even has a “Transparency in Government” web page, did not issue a press release or even post a comment on their website or through their social media campaigns on Facebook and Twitter. Even worse, the litigation, which had shown up on the city council agenda since its inception, suddenly disappeared and no action on, what was apparently a closed session item, was reported by the city attorney. Could it be because Hizzoner, still pulling the strings of city staff who willingly do his bidding, did not want it publicized for fear the citizens of Tustin Ranch might rise up again and cause them problems before T-Mobile could get to work?  After all, the stipulation order became effective on May 8, 2012. The important date here, however, is June 17, 2012, which is the time limit for the city to rescind all the denials and allow construction to begin. There is no denying that the city hoped to have T-Mobile placated and in construction mode before the citizens of Tustin Ranch could storm the council chambers.

All is not lost. There is a lot of leeway for the city to act, or more precisely, not act. The residents of the area, should be vocal in making their opinion on just how underhanded the city acted in this matter and their apparent attempt to prevent the opposition in Tustin Ranch from discovering the acquiescence of the city council in this matter. A good time to do that would be on Friday between the hours of 3:30 pm – 5:00 pm which Mayor John Nielsen has established “office hours“. We suggest you call first as he may be MIA this week. On the chance that he is not, perhaps someone will ask him why he caved on an issue he felt strong enough to support in public and why the city attempted to hide the issue from the public. If you cannot make it to his office, you can always email him and the other councilmembers. Their email addresses can be found here. Just don’t expect to get an answer. We have been trying to get them to answer us by email for months with no success.

Thanks again to “Cedar Grove Loses” for letting us know just how much our city council thinks of the residents of our town Tustin.

T-mobile Sues City

Flagpole Phonebooth?

In a not-so-surprising move by a third-rate megacorporation, T-Mobile has sued the city of Tustin over the recent design reviews of cell sites.

For the past five years, T-Mobile has been trying to come up with a suitable design for a cellphone tower in Cedar Grove Park. The original design specifications called for a piggyback site that would accommodate two cellular companies, one of which was T-mobile. Several revisions later, at the  last meeting of the Tustin City Council, the final design review was voted down.

Positions on this issue have been contentious. In an effort to appease residents of the area, who saw this as an intrusion on a local nature park, T-mobile came up with what they felt was the best compromise: Dump the dual-use part of the site and install a single-use site in the parking lot of the park. The design, incorporating the antennae into flagpoles, would have put the equipment storage in an underground vault with the entrance covered by foliage. It sounded like a good compromise until one took a look at the drawings. It was obvious even to the most casual user that there was more to these poles than just flags.

To be sure, T-mobile had it’s champions in the city. Both (former) Boss Tweed Amante and his cheerleader, Al Murray, couldn’t wait for the cell site to be built. In fact, at one meeting, when tensions were high in the room, Jerry blurted out that a lot was riding on this cell site. It seemed that the city was already set to allow cell sites in two other neighborhood parks, Pioneer and Citrus Grove. Jerry also lamented that the city was not being a good business partner because they would not roll over and play dead. Huh? Since when are we supposed to try and be good business partners? We are a city, Jerry, not a corporation. In the meantime Councilmember Al Murray took the usual rhetorical public safety stance of how residents out there would not be able to make an emergency call just when they most needed to. But, T-Mobile representatives had previously stated that the cell site was not being placed so much for area residents as it was for transient mobile traffic. And the data regarding measurements of cell signals in the area were not as clear as they should have been… or, perhaps they were.

Citizens who were against the cell site in any way, shape or form, organized and stormed city hall whenever the subject came up. Their complaints ranged anywhere from microwaves impeding the brain to the utter ugliness of utilities in general. They also had, what they termed, a better solution: Move the cell site to the nearby OC Fire Authority compound on Jamboree road. That location already had one cell tower with room for T-Mobile. And, although the height was less than what the company desired, it was offset by a higher overall elevation. This was not good enough for T-Mobile representatives or Hizzoner who clearly saw the other two park sites fading as well. Oh, and do we need to remind anyone that the city would receive a nice rent check from all three facilities if built?

In a final showdown, the grassroots opposition was strong enough to sway even Jerry’s (former) black ops guy, John Nielsen, who voted with the left side of the dais to finally squelch the deal. This elicited the expect response from T-Mobile who accused the citizens of Tustin of skullduggery. They said Tustinites had been dishonest while T-Mobile had acted in good faith. They also reiterated their threat to forgo the necessity of obtaining city approval and to just use the public right-of-way for future construction.

Of course, the specter of their threat looming over the head of the city like Damocles’ sword, lends us to wonder why they would spend money on suing the city rather than just build in the right-of-way. Is it really that easy or would that require T-Mobile to jump other regulatory hurdles? It is hard to believe that a cellular company could build an antenna tower on the right-of-way with no construction oversight. The implied threat was that the company could build whatever they liked without having to consider aesthetics. In reality, they could put up the most utilitarian structure they want on the right-of-way and I doubt anyone would care, even if they noticed it. But somehow, with this new lawsuit, I have to believe that it isn’t as simple as that.

In any case, this will prove to be an important issue for the future of Tustin cell service. We haven’t had an opportunity to read T-Mobile’s petition yet, although the California Broadband Council has posted a press release on their website. We will keep you apprised as this new saga unfolds and we get more information. One thing in Tustin’s favor: our new Mayor, John Nielsen, was not a proponent of the cell towers as former Mayor Amante was. That bodes well for Tustin Ranch. Hopefully, the city will not cave on this and the Central District Court will not trample the sovereignty of the city because they mistakenly think corporations are people, too.

Stealth Flagpoles and Their Effect on City Mayors

Our good mayor, Jerry “Boss Tweed ” Amante, was in fine ranting form during Tuesday’s city council meeting. Of course, prior to that, he had to make sure the public knew just how much he respects our Veterans, particularly those members of Post 227 of The American Legion. Our good mayor has not always had such a congenial relationship with our local veterans organizations or, for that fact, many of the local civic organizations he deals with as leader of our community. There was a time, in fact, that The American Legion was not welcome at city council meetings. That seems to have passed, as their color guard regularly shows up these days to “post the Colors”.

Tuesday was no different. But, when dealing with the Tustin City Council one should, as they say, expect the unexpected. The other day Our Town Tustin wrote about the Tuesday city council agenda and the fact the cellphone project in Cedar Grove Park was scheduled to be axed as part of the consent calendar.

Lo and behold, Boss Tweed Amante decided to pull the item for discussion. Now, understand, a lot of people have had a lot to say over a couple of seemingly innocuous flagpoles. And, it wasn’t like the project was doomed from the start. The design review has been going on for a few years. The issue, of course, is the folks living in the area don’t really want the tower in any way, shape or form in their neighborhood park. Apparently, Jerry doesn’t seem to get that. And, there appear to be adequate alternatives to the proposed site.

Jerry came out swinging. He complained that the poor, mistreated, applicant had submitted multiple design reviews, costing thousands of dollars, all of which had received objections from the community. He complained about the fact that both a co-locatable site and the current single facility site had been rejected. He complained about how badly the citizens of this community were treating their “business partners” in forcing them to develop multiple plans and spend hundreds of thousands of dollars in doing so, all for naught. Jerry went as far as to say that the community was being illogical (I guess gullible didn’t work here) because they had rejected both a co-locatable site and a single use site. Of course, what he failed to mention is that the two proposals were completely different in design, in different areas of the park and that T-Mobile, in an effort to appease the opposition, went from co-locatable to single user facility. But, that’s Amantilogic for you. Remember, at the last meeting Jerry proclaimed that, “…I can’t explain to you how your cellphone works in those faraway places. I don’t even understand how the little people get in my television.” Well, he is a lawyer, not an electrical engineer.

The real reason for Jerry’s ire was obvious. Jerry was angry the Tustin rabble had the nerve to complain about a business deal that they were largely kept out of the loop on. That is the cellular master plan that was developed years ago. ATS, who makes a living talking communities like ours into letting cellular companies put up cell sites where they please regardless of how they may affect the aesthetics or the well-being of the community, was miffed.  Jerry went on to say how hundreds of thousands of dollars were spent on developing this site and it now seemed to be wasted. And, by his own admission, there is a lot of money at stake here for both the city in rental fees as well as the cellphone operators in income. So, the real reason behind Jerry’s rant was because the local rabble had caused his business buddies to waste money developing cell site plans that would not come to fruition. I heard the number at about $200,000. Say, isn’t that the “risk” part of business that Republicans always like to talk about? Oh, and to put this in perspective, T-Mobile’s earnings last year was 1.3 billion dollars, according to Cnet News. Verizon, by the way, earned 35 billion dollars.

Jerry’s hit man, Al Murray, chimed in about public safety aspects and how the poor folks in the area would not be able to make emergency phone calls. Of course, he must not have been listening at earlier meetings when it was found that there were a very few number of people that would be affected by this because almost no one uses T-Mobile (in comparison to the big three) and the primary reason for the cell site was to provide overall coverage to transient users, not homeowners who decided to dump their landline telephone service. Newsflash, Al. Jerry’s a lame duck politician. You should spend less time being his yes man and more time trying to develop relationships with the left side of the dais.

Jim Nielsen stepped into the fray, risking a slapdown by Hizzoner by siding with the good folks of Tustin Ranch. In his milktoast way, Jerry’s black ops guy, rightfully pointed out that, taking the opposition to the Cedar Grove Park cell site and trying to say that would change policy or the cellular plan for the rest of the city, was  overreaching. He went even further to say that Jerry’s characterization of the issue was misleading. Oh, come on, John, use the favored word here. Jerry was being disingenuous.

Of course, the slapdown came. “I think it’s not misleading at all,” rants a red-faced Hizzoner, “I Think it’s exactly what you are communicating to the public”. Which public, Jerry, your business buddies who stood to make millions off this venture or the resident public of Tustin Ranch who would have to live with the giant twin toothpicks in their park? He went on to blather about how the very first plan that came up under “our” plan is being rejected. He went on to cite the applications of two more cell cites scheduled for environmentally sensitive parks. Oh, did we tell you there are hefty rental fees to be paid to the city by the cellular providers should these sites be approved?

You see, the only one here who didn’t get it was Jerry. I won’t comment much on Al because he appeared to be too wrapped up  in his iPad to really understand what is going on unless Jerry explained it to him. His total input consisted of repeatedly asking the ever present question, what would happen in an emergency? Well, probably the same thing that happens in any emergency. A hundred or so cellphone calls would be received by Tustin PD dispatch and OCFA Dispatch and emergency personnel would arrive to save the day. That wasn’t hard now, was it, Al? If you are that concerned about it, ask T-Mobile to put a cell site in your back yard.

The swan song was when the representative for T-Mobile, Joe Thompson, stood up at the podium (after the question was called by Deborah Gavello) and lamented how the big, mean City of Tustin enticed him and his company into bringing his state-of-the-art cell sites to the city with promises of working together in perfect harmony to overlay the city with cellular coverage from his third rate company. It looked as though  he was about to cry at the podium as he complained about the whole $200,000 dollars squandered in an effort to provide much needed services to those ingrate, “dishonest”, Tustinites. He went on to babble about speeding tickets in 1926 and other issues that did not pertain to the actual issue: that the residents did not want a cell site in this particular location. He also made the obligatory threat to move his cell site to public lands and, in the meantime, none of the 30 or so T-Mobile custmers who might have been affected by this cell site, would get a signal. Obviously, he must have been one of Jerry’s business buddies because he just didn’t get it either.

So, in the end, Gavello got her question called. The Council voted. And, to most everyone’s surprise, the design review was voted down, 3-2 with Nielsen voting with the left side of the dais. Hmm. This is getting to be a habit. So, you may see the T-Mobile guy cruising the streets of Tustin, looking for a new site to put his flagpoles….I mean, cell site. Keep walking and don’t look him in the eye.

By the way, Jerry, the flagpoles wouldn’t have really looked like flagpoles. Take a look at the design drawings. I have never seen a flagpole with an antenna screen hanging off the top…unless it was actually a cell tower in disguise.

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