As with every previous mayor in Tustin, Al Murray was no exception in presenting a set of goals that he has committed to during his tenure. Like his predecessors, he seems to forget, or not understand, the almost strictly ceremonial aspect of his office. Perhaps someone should remind him that it is the entire city council that set policy. In that respect, it might be better to collaborate with and present the city council’s goals rather than the mayor’s goals. In any case, Murray’s stated goals demonstrates how completely unambitious and unimaginative the good mayor may be. Unless he steps it up a bit, don’t look for anything interesting to happen under his tenure.
Murray’s first goal? To establish a Community Emergency Response Team. This would be a great idea if Murray hadn’t taken a page from Tustin Police Chief Scott Jordan’s playbook. In the TPD’s 2012-2015 Strategic Plan, one of Chief Jordan goals is to establish a team of citizen responders for disasters and emergencies. Murray, who seems to spend an inordinate amount of time slurping coffee with officers at the local Keane’s, is riding piggyback on the chief’s plan to have a team established by September. I wonder how the chief feels about a former Irvine PD captain stealing his ideas?
Murray’s next goal is to continue moving forward with the Tustin Legacy Project and Tustin Ranch Road. Of course, these projects are well underway and it is doubtful the good mayor or city council could have much effect on its progress. The fire station project, likewise, is well under way. We will give Murray credit for being on the city council over the past two years when crucial decisions were made. Still, not much more can be done at this point to move these projects any faster.
Transparency and the Entrance to City Hall. Raise your hand if you think this city council will be any more transparent than the last one. Everyone likes to talk about transparency but they all have their own ideas of exactly what transparency is. In fact, Murray appeared to mix transparency with new telephone systems and “access to the internet”, as if that makes city hall more transparent. Murray, who has declined to return any email I have ever sent to him, has a long way to go personally before attempting to tackle transparency at city hall, where the only way to obtain information is through a public records request… unless you happen to catch Jeff Parker or Elizabeth Binsack in a good mood that day.
The Shadow Knows. Murray’s next big project is an obvious attempt to make it appear that his administration will be more friendly toward the Tustin Unified School District. His idea is to have the school district select one student each quarter to shadow a government official for a day. Murray’s idea is to introduce students to government and its function. I would suggest that, unless they are looking to see how corruption runs and how government executives manage their fiefdoms, the students continue to learn about government as they do now – from textbooks and teachers. At least that way, they see government as it should work, not necessarily how it actually works at the local level. Perhaps, then, we can get the system back on track by making sure they learn from an unbiased, untainted source.
Collaboration with other government agencies and private businesses. Expect to see Murray and the Fab Five continue down the same path as the previous council. That is, to make Tustin more business oriented at the expense of resident’s quality of life. It remains to be seen just how much damage Murray can do with his limited business connections. He still has Nielsen to help him get the most from business contribution-wise. After the OC Watchdog outed Nielsen and Team Tustin for their gross contributions to campaign funds, it was also noted that Nielsen voted to extend the trash contract another year. I am sure John can introduce Al to a few of his business connections before the next election cycle.
So, what do we think should be the goals of this administration?
Certainly, we agree the city should do whatever it takes to end the lawsuits between TUSD and the city. That would take more than paying lip service to the school board and making empty threats to implement term limits. It would mean taking a serious look at the situation and settling the issues, including an offer to pay some attorney fees for the district. A stipulation that the city would no longer unduly interfere with school construction and affairs would go a long way toward mending fences. Yes, I’m saying go to the school board, hat in hand, and beg forgiveness.
A long term goal that could be started under this administration is to resurrect the idea of a park around the hangar Tustin is responsible for. With the Orange County Board of Supervisors ready to commit money and effort toward a regional park for their hangar, it could work to the benefit of the citizens in the Legacy area if Tustin joined forces with the county to preserve as much of that area for park an non-commercial use as possible. With the waning prospect of a “great park” in Irvine, a regional park that preserves the best example of Tustin’s military history would bring visitors from around the county and the country to enjoy these monuments to freedom. And, do we really want to say, “there used to be two hangars but…”.
Settle all aspects of the Tustin Legacy. Stop putting roadblocks up to development. Last year, the city retook control of the development of the MCAS property when they designated city officials as the master developer. Almost immediately, the city went to work locating property developers and making necessary changes to get building started. They made some difficult and, sometimes, unpopular decisions. The important thing is, development has started once again. The completion of Tustin Ranch Road will throw things into high gear but will require a rethinking of regional transportation projects. (I know, this is a goal of Al’s… It’s the only one worth keeping, in our opinion).
The first city council meeting of the year was mercifully short at an hour and fifteen minutes. Hopefully, that trend will continue. In the coming year, we don’t see a whole lot coming from this bunch. Gomez continues to play the nice guy and the other four are too dull to really bring any fireworks to the dais. Murray, a retired police officer from Irvine, shows that he has way too much time on his hands. Nielsen is too busy with personal issues and the podiatrist councilman reminds me of Ted Kennedy during the camelot era. Wake me up if I fall asleep.
With little fanfare and no discussion, the Orange County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously, Tuesday, to take the next step toward building a regional park at one of the blimp hangars on the old Tustin MCAS base. When the base closed, most of the land, including one of the Hangars, was handed over to the city of Tustin for redevelopment. The cost-free acquisition of the land was a hallmark of then mayor Tracy Worley-Hagen and the city wasted no time getting to work on plans for the eventual development of the property. That development, it turned out, did not include the south hangar retained by the city.
The other hangar was handed over to the County of Orange. Rather than cast it aside, they set about finding ways they could centerpiece the hangar and surrounding land as a venue or park. Earlier this year, OC Parks Department unveiled a concept for a new park using the hangar as a multi-venue facility. The Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to go forward with the plan. Until now, little more has been said about it, although it was clear OC Parks personnel were working on the project.
It was apparent for some time the County wanted to save the north hangar for some type of use. They entered into an agreement previously with another development group that also had plans for multiple uses or tenants for the hangar. That deal expired without any real work being performed on the concept. This latest move by the county to select LPA, Inc. as the primary and MIG, Inc. as the alternate general development companies for the project is a significant step forward. It is unclear how far LPA has gone with plans for the hangar. The only attachments to the agenda item on the county website were scoring sheets for the various companies that showed how well the companies performed in comparison of capabilities.
We have written several times about the reuse of the hangars and even briefly defended the city’s stance based on what we thought was diligent work on their part to find reuse. We have since changed our position and believe the city has erred in not developing a use for the hangar. And, we aren’t the only ones who think the city is making a big mistake. Aside from the residents, who overwhelmingly wish to see the hangars remain intact, the city hired a firm called Management Partners who conducted research on strategic planning for the city. One of their findings was that the city was missing a huge opportunity by not pursuing reuse of the south hangar. The only thing saving the south hangar so far has been the fact that title is retained by the U.S. Navy. We hope they will leave the hangar as is until cooler heads in the city come to the dais, perhaps with a joint plan with the county for reuse as a larger park facility.
Regardless of the final fate of the south hangar, the north hangar, and a signficant piece of history, will be preserved through the actions of the OC Board of Supervisors. Although this is a first step and there is much work to be done, it looks like the hangar is here to stay.
One thing, Supervisor Moorlach, my wife would like you to include a central market. Nothing fancy. You could use LA’s Grand Central Market as an outline. Just a thought.
Except for a few items, the Tuesday City Council Meeting should be pretty routine. Because of the Strategic Planning Session, which we’ll get to in a minute, it looks like the Closed Session will be pushed off to the end of the evening. And, there are no surprises in Closed Session so I wouldn’t wait around for a report, especially since they are adjourning directly to the August 14th Special City Council Meeting. Besides, I’ll report on anything earth shattering.
The afternoon will actually start off with a Strategic Planning Workshop beginning at 3 pm. The agenda sounds more impressive than interesting. If you were ever involved in the aerospace industry, then you have been through this. In industry, it has gone by such catchy names as Total Quality Management, Quality Circles, and Zero Defects. Someone finally found a way to market the idea to government and they have managed to reinvent it. If you would like to see what your city envisions doing (as opposed to what they actually do, sometimes), take a look at the draft here. The workshop is put on by a nationwide firm called Management Partners, a consulting service whose laundry list of clients includes no less than 16 OC cities and the County of Orange. It may be interesting but I think I’ll just watch the video so I can skip the commercials.
One important item you may want to take a look at is the Analysis of Strengths, Limitations, Opportunities and Threats or, SLOT for short. It has already turned my initial impression of Management Partners around. There were no surprises in Tustin’s strengths: great parks, community pride, safe community, diverse business, strong staff, etc. All the things you would expect to see from a community like ours.
But, the “L” part. Well, let’s just say I thought it was just me. I mean, with the things I write about the city, I don’t expect to be invited into city hall and given a cool cup of water on a hot day. But, when MP ran their focus groups, guess what they found? Limitations included:
- Poor Relationship with TUSD
- City Hall not customer friendly (hint: cold cup of water?)
- Community outreach – needs improvement
- Not enough cooperation and civility between city council members
- Little to no staff development or succession planning
A big one has been that the city has been so focused on developing The District business area, they have neglected other businesses in the city; Old Town is not as vibrant as it could be. We can certainly agree with that although lately, we have seen more interest by the city in developing businesses in Old Town with the recent approval of two new buildings in the area that will bring people to the Old Town area for more than just the Art Walk and Chili Cookoff. The changes in parking requirements have been innovative, to say the least. We hope this is a trend and not an anomaly.
And, you know, it is one thing when this blog and certain community leaders are aware of the discord among councilmembers in both public and private. It is quite another when MP’s focus groups show the exact same thing. We had hoped that, when John Nielsen assumed the Mayoral duties, there would be new civility on the dais. Instead, we found Nielsen unwilling to speak out on the absurdities of his colleagues. Of course, he has no problem publicly lashing out at legitimate press sources who question his motives.
Ooooh, lookie. Under Opportunities, they seem to disagree with our City Council on the development of Tustin Legacy and the hangar re-use as well. Can someone make sure the councilmembers are awake and listening to this part of the presentation? We have been harping for years about the re-use of the hangar and the fact that this city has been more interested in tearing down what Community Development Director Elizabeth Binsack apparently considers an eyesore, rather than work with businesses and the community on generating interest in reuse. The County of Orange is going ahead with a plan to create a park around their hangar. Perhaps a partnership would be in order to save both hangars as a substantial and visual part of our history. It would be a shame to have to answer a visitor’s question, “The pictures showed two hangars. Where’s the other one?”
There is plenty under the “Threats” category as well. So, this may be an interesting workshop after all. And, this is all before the regular City Council meeting which, thankfully, should be short.
Item 7, Approval of an Exclusive Agreement to Negotiate with Regency Acquisition, may generate some interest from the Legacy folks. I have been listening to complaints that the city is now modifying plans to allow more apartments and fewer single-family homes than originally planned. All those folks the city says they are protecting with the TUSD lawsuits, are not happy about the new mix. It seems the city commands the TUSD to “do as I say, …”
Item 8, Legislative Report Affirmation of City’s Compliance with the Brown Act is probably one of the most important items they could have agendized. The Brown Act mandates that city’s follow certain rules regarding Closed Sessions. The city is reimbursed by the state for the cost of implementing the Brown Act. Unfortunately, what the State giveth, the State can taketh away (hey, I’m writing this on Sunday). In this case, they suspended parts of the Brown Act to save some money. This could give cities an opportunity to close their doors even more to the public than they already do.
In the case of Mayor John Nielsen, he has chosen to do the right thing (most cities have) and have the city continue to follow the Brown Act in its entirety. The resolution before the City Council reaffirms their committement to follow the Act. Let’s hope Hizzoner doesn’t see his chance and filibuster. Cost to the city to pay for full implementation is $38,000. I know that’s a lot of iPads. But, it is cheap to keep the windows open and the sunshine on government.
As I said, it should be a long strategic planning session followed by a short city council meeting. The City Council meets again in special session on August 14th, the same day the Planning Commission is scheduled to meet. That could be for Closed Session only, however. We’ll keep you posted.
A hat tip the Tustin Preservation Conservancy for the heads up on an agenda item that should be of interest to our town Tustin.
Item 37 on the Orange County Board of Supervisors agenda for Tuesday, February 28, 2012, had a long title that, for our purposes, can be whittled down to the future prospects for the Tustin MCAS hangars. These hangars, built as part of the old Marine Corps Air Station, were used to maintain and service blimps during World War II. After the war, the hangars, which stand 17 stories high, were used for a variety of maintenance tasks and other occasional uses. In fact, you may have seen them in the backdrop of more than a few recent movies. The hangars were placed on the National Historic Register in 1978.
The Board of Supervisors was asked to consider a concept plan for the North hangar and surrounding area to be used as a regional park. This is a big deal for our town as the South hangar, which was offered to the city, will be torn down. Before you cry “foul”, the city did a lot of work in trying to save the hangar and find a profitable use for it. The cost of upkeep for these buildings has been pegged at $150,000 per year and that is just to have someone tighten the bolts that hold it together. So, the city was faced with trying to find uses for the structure that would pay for its upkeep and attract a wide community interest. Those attempts were unsuccessful and the South hangar is now slated for destruction.
Jerry Ruben from Sightline Productions spoke as the potential developer of the park concept for the hangars and the surrounding area. He said his company is more than willing to work with the county in developing the location as a park and veterans center, among other uses. His company appeared to be the only one, so far, to present a comprehensive proposal and he urged the Board to accept the concept and allow his company to work on the project.
Tustin Councilmember, Jerry Amante, along with City Manager Jeff Parker and Councilmember Al Murray all attended the meeting to represent the interests of our town. Jerry, apologizing for Mayor John Nielsen’s unavoidable absence, spoke eloquently of the history of the base and the iconic nature of the hangars. He asked the Board to seriously consider the proposal before them and to allow the concept of the 84 acre park to take form. He also talked about the Legacy Business District and the housing that has been built so far as well as the future housing on the old base which is being managed by the city. “When you stand in those hangars, it is daunting”, Jerry said, “To save it is a mission for us”. Jerry further spoke of the iconic nature of the hangars and how this project would give the community a special park that would look back on the history of the Marine Corps in Orange County. He also said the city was looking forward to working with the county on the design and construction of the project.
Tustin City Manager, Jeff Parker, made what I believe is his first public appearance on behalf of our town Tustin. He added to Jerry’s discussion by saying how the proposal would add to the city of Tustin and be a benefit to the entire Orange County community.
Our own Linda Jennings, President of the Tustin Conservancy, spoke as well to the historical aspect of the hangars and the prospects of turning the North hangar into a park along with the surrounding land. “The hangars serve as a public monument to what has been described as America’s greatest generation.” She spoke of how, since 2005, many tours through the hangars have taken place but that, recently, the tours stopped because the Navy no longer provides a caretaker for the buildings. She applauded the efforts of the Board of Supervisors and Sightline Inc. executives for developing the proposal.
A lot of ideas for the Tustin hangars have been tossed around over the years. Through all of them has been the idea of preserving the history of the base and providing a historical military museum as well as a place for veterans and veterans services. Adding the possibility of having USA Water Polo and a training facility for ice hockey is also included in the plan. Although Chairman John Moorlach questioned the feasibility of developing the park during austere times, none of the Supervisors seemed to be against it and a unanimous vote was cast to go forward with the project.
We at Our Town Tustin look forward to seeing this project move forward. As Councilmember Amante said, it is a daunting task but one we think well worth the effort. It will not be an overnight project. One of the most important things to take place with this first step, however, is an effort to preserve at least one of the hangars. Future generations living in Orange County will be able to enjoy a sight we in Tustin have come to enjoy, for years to come, thanks to the vision of the Tustin City Council, the Orange County Board of Supervisors and folks like our own Linda Jennings.