You may have noticed that I have been writing a few stories from around the county rather than about our town Tustin. That’s because, like many of you, I have been patiently waiting the production of the video for the May 7, 2013 meeting. Unfortunately, it looks as if we may be waiting quite awhile. As happened several months ago, the city has either delayed placing the video on their website, for some reason or, there were technical problems. My sources say that it is the latter. If the video does show up, we will report on it. In the meantime, here is the rundown of the upcoming Tustin City Council Special Council Meeting on May 13th as well as the regular Tustin Planning Commission on May 14th.
City Council Special Meeting
I’m not sure why the single item on the City Council Agenda was so urgent that our good councilpersons needed to fill an extra meeting to approve it. This is the same Item that appeared as Item 5 on the April 23, 2013 Planning Commission agenda last month. The Planning Commission did, with some amendments, approve the General Plan Amendment and Land Exchange Agreement between the city and South Coast Community College District. This is pretty much a straight land swap but it also calls for a new street that would add traffic to the area. The city of Irvine related their concern over the change in traffic patterns but were assured the Average Daily Trips would remain under the total that would trigger a new EIR. Of course, the residents in the Legacy may differ with that when the new street is built.
In any case, this appears to be pro forma and we are not really sure what the hurry was that a special meeting had to be called. Hopefully, the city will have repaired its video equipment before the meeting so we can all find out what the urgency was.
Planning Commission Meeting
It would appear the tour Community Development Director Elizabeth Binsack spoke of last meeting did not come to fruition. There have been no notices published on the city’s website as she said there would. Maybe before the next meeting.
Only one item of realy interest on the agenda tonight. That is a Public Hearing for a variance to construct an additional bedroom on an existing house without having to add additional garage facilities. The house is located in the neighborhood North of Irvine Blvd. and East of the 55 Freeway. Several remodeling and additions have been completed over the years and the staff are recommending, due to space considerations, approval of the variance. Unless there is some outrage by the neighbors, I doubt there will be much to discuss here.
The only other item on the agenda is the staff Summary of Projects
Mixed-use Hotel Project – It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that construction is well along on the new hotels near the Microcenter. This, to me, is the single biggest and most important project of the year, business-wise. Kudos to Elizabeth and her staff as well as the planning commissioners and the former city council for have a sense of vision when it came to this project. Several changes have been made to the original plans, all of which have been thoughtfully considered before approval. This project is not just a direct moneymaker but will generate income for the city and our businesses, indirectly, as well.
Goodwill Industries of Orange County – This project, a high-end secondhand store, met with opposition from former Councilwoman Deborah Gavello, who said she had issues with the type of store. In discussions with her, we found she had issues with Goodwill Industries (she’s not the only one). Staff are reporting the makeover of the store in Larwin Square is nearly finished and we look forward to seeing it open.
A new florist has opened its doors in an old florist’s habitat on the corner of El Camino Real. For years, we saw the dated florist shop as rather anachronistic, even for Old Town. We only shopped their once before taking our business elsewhere. The new shop, Elegant Hive Distinctive Flowers and Gifts opened last month with little fanfare. We look forward to a long future for the owners of this boutique flower shop.
Vintage Lady – The building nearly burned down last year. It has been a long process to restore this historic building. Old Town Tustin’s Nathan Menard contributed heavily in time and effort to getting this project going again.
Newport Avenue Bicycle Trail Reconstruction Project – OK, we have ridden this trail hundreds of times over the years and did not see a problem with it. But, if you want to make it look pretty, go ahead. It’s grant funded through OCTA funds.
Rawlins Reservoir – Construction of the replacement reservoir has begun and will be completed by the summer of 2013.
Tustin Legacy – Over 1000 apartments in three separate complexes are scheduled to be built in the next few years at the Legacy. As well, staff are reporting the Columbus Square neighborhood to be complete with the addition of 124 homes and townhomes that have been built and occupied (is it time for TUSD to reconsider reopening Heritage?). Additionally, the Fire Station 37 Relocation construction has been awarded to Erickson-Hall Construction Company. Groundbreaking took place in February. It will take about a year to complete.
The Bad – Graffiti. The city doesn’t say whether there is an upward or downward trend but reported 1634 incidents for the first four months of this year. From experience, I can tell you there is a surge in gang and tagging activity in Orange County. Tustin’s gang population is comparatively low but, remember, we live next door to the city with the highest number of gangs, per square mile, in Orange County.
This should make for a fairly quick night for our intrepid commissioners. Unless they have absolutely nothing to do with their private lives, I make the meeting at way under an hour.
Just a couple of items on the Tustin City Planning Commission agenda this week. One of them, however, could engender quite a bit of discussion. That is, unless the commissioners choose to, once again, violate the Brown Act (with the city attorney’s blessing, of course). More on that later.
First up is a Public Hearing for a Conditional Use Permit to use an existing warehouse as a commercial gym. Spectrum Fitness is planning a small, personal trainer type facility in a warehouse area of the city. The proposed use is a gym catering to “small group high intensity workouts”. The facility would be open early morning until mid-evening. The area, located on Chambers Road, west of the freeway near Tustin Ranch Road, is rife with warehouse and manufacturing facilities and noise should not be a problem. The applicant expects 16 attendees per class and classes run about an hour at a time. the staff report assures the Planning Commission of adequate parking and required facilities to accommodate the gym. According to the report, the project is exempt from CEQA. It looks like a good fit for the community. Let’s hope the folks on the Planning Commission think so as well.
The second item is also a Public Hearing on Ordinance 1429, Zoning Code Update. This is the same item on the February 26th agenda and I still have the same concerns regarding the minor text amendments “that would incorporate policy practice into the Zoning Code.” The cited example was the requirements in policy for guest quarters to have a deed restriction recorded. Again, the lack of transparency is appalling but not surprising for this bunch. Apparently, I was not the only one to express concern as Chad Ortlieb submitted a letter of concern at the March 12th meeting. That meeting also generated discussion among the commissioners including Jeff Thompson and Fred Moore, who stated emphatically the comments and concerns raised by Ortlieb be thoroughly reviewed and considered even though the comment period had closed. Moore apparently took issue with the staff splitting hairs on the comment period closing a scant couple of hours before Ortlieb got his letter in.
Ortlieb, who is a former city planner with Tustin and currently works for the city of Orange, has expressed concern over the city’s handling of the Wilcox debacle. He has been a more vocal opponent of the plans to turn the historic manor into a three ring circus for the benefit of outside non-profit organizations who have little stake in how the planned commercialization would affect the Old Town neighborhood. In his letter to the city, he accuses the Planning Commission of violating the Brown Act in not allowing the proposal to be fully discussed in a public hearing as he was cut off when attempting to speak at the February 26th meeting.
The staff report includes an almost line by line response to Ortlieb’s allegations. One of those is the city attorney’s response to the alleged Brown Act violation. The city attorney defends the commissioner’s actions by saying they have a right to place reasonable regulation for each speaker (we’ll note that is not each individual, but all speakers in general – something Ortlieb pointed out). Kendig’s explanation drones on into how the courts have upheld these regulations and then says, emphatically, there was no Brown Act violation. Of course, the only trouble with this is whether the spirit of the law or the letter of the law was violated. So much for open and accessible government. But, then, we know Kendig has no problem with the public being involved with the legislative process – as long as it doesn’t interfere with people who run the show.
Oh, and lest you think the city is not planning on destroying Old Town, page 4 of their response indicates they have already made up their mind:
Wilcox Manor applicants requested a CUP for outdoor event uses. They did so under a special provision and because the site is within the Cultural Resource (CR) District and Single Family Residential (R`) District…. the Tustin City Council may consider a proposed non-listed use of a property within the CR District when the use supports the purposes of the CR District… The Planning Commission recommended approval of the requested use to the City Council with conditions.
Uh, huh. Also, with the whole-hearted approval of Community Services Director, Elizabeth Binsack, who’s department has gone out of their way to appease the owners of the Wilcox. That, presumably, is in support of the majority faction of the city council, all of whom have received direct and indirect support by use of the facilities for political fundraising.
So, let’s see how the commissioners handle the issues and whether they will pass the ordinance with the unsubstantial amendments made by city staff. I should note that most of Ortlieb’s concerns have been blown off in the latest staff response. It remains to be seen whether Thompson’s and Moore’s concerns were genuine or just whitewash for the public. I see the paintbrush coming out.
I am so glad the city is kind enough to videotape and publish the city council meetings so I can sit in the comfort of my own home to wade through the thicket of self-congratulatory muck. Besides, since the departure of Boss Tweed Amante and Deborah Gavello, the meetings have been decidedly dull. Nonetheless, as we recover from our accident, I felt obliged to report on Tuesday night’s meeting.
First things first. The meeting was attended by our newly crowned Miss Tustin, Shea Marie Frates, and part of her court. Mayor Al Murray presented them with a congratulatory certificate and the few in attendance gave them a round of applause. Good Luck, ladies, you may need it. Now, I admit, even the thought of Miss Tustin receiving a certificate would not get me to come to the meeting in person. But, then, neither would the rest of the meeting which was pretty run-of-the-mill.
I was glad to see Item #6, Approval of Agreement with Municipal Auditing Services, pulled. The main question I had which, apparently did not bother anyone on the council, was why this contract, potentially worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, was not put out to bid. It seems the firm was found the usual way by a bunch of finance people discussing it at a finance officer association meeting (I can see that conversation). The contract, which is open-ended and has no renewal date, calls for MAS to get a 40% cut of profits from scofflaw business owners who do not pay their license fees on time. Claiming this was a standard fee, supposedly justifies not going out to bid.
And your city council does not seem to care about the potential for abuse of our business community by a bunch of cut-throat collection agents. Doing a bit of due diligence, it was not hard to come up with those who are not so satisfied with MAS’ collection techniques. Even Councilmember Gomez, who pulled the item for discussion, wasn’t concerned about abuse and, instead, asked simply about how far back a business would be penalized for not obtaining a license (5 years plus 3 years penalties, in case you are wondering).
None of the other Consent Calendar items I suggested to be pulled for discussion were but Councilmember John Nielsen asked that Item 8, concerning a resolution to accept dedication of property in Tustin Legacy for streets, be discussed. Could it be he is planning or has already purchased his new home? We heard that, sometime after the election, he finally stopped cohabitating with his estranged wife and was living down by the Legacy. In any case, Nielsen asked the item to be pulled due to a potential conflict. That at least adds credibility to his residency here in the city, something that more than a few of my readers have questioned.
The 5 Year Strategic Plan was next up for discussion. The city contracted with Management Partners last year to develop a 5 year strategic plan that would guide the city in all aspects of governemt. I don’t recall the cost for this report but the result was, decidedly, non-specific to Tustin. The plan is a generic document that, save for inserting the name Tustin in appropriate places, could have been purchased or plagiarized from multiple sources on the net. The glad handing and pats on the back from the councilmembers was pretty interesting to watch. Councilmember Beckie Gomez was the only one to give credit where it was due: with the executives and staff that actually helped put the report together.
Now, regardless of the resulting report, I will give then Mayor John Nielsen credit for coming up with a laudible idea for a strategic plan. Although not a new one, it was refreshing for the city of Tustin, which has been wracked by bureaucrats intent on imposing their idea of what the city should be on Tustin residents, to now add what amounts to driving instructions to the mix. Although the plan is generic in structure, it is a start. My main concern, that Mayor Al Murray brought up in his remarks, is how the city will now define the term “transparency”. To date, the city believes all they have to do to remain transparent is post a page of financial information on their website. Will they now take the word to heart or will they continue to conduct business behind the smoke and mirrors effects that have become the hallmark of city government? Time will tell whether they actually use this document as a benchmark or toss it in the trashcan when it become too difficult to follow.
An interesting presentation was made by City Attorney David Kendig during discussion of Item 12, Removal of Commissioners from Office Upon Running for City Council. It seems, we are the only ones who require the resignation of a commissioner who files papers for city council office. Kendig pointed out that, although there has been a rule regarding this and commissioner term limits since 1972, the latest rule has only been in effect since 2007.
Although Kendig outlined a variety of actions the city council could take on the matter, including one we favor that would allow a commissioner to continue serving until and if he or she is elected to the city council, his report focused on a staff recommendation that would make no changes to the current policy but provide a specific method and timeline for selecting a replacement. After a twenty minute discussion which included Councilmember Gomez complaining that the policy addresses only the Planning Commission and not other city commissions, and John Nielsen not seeing the point of removing commissioners at all, the Podiatrist Councilman was called upon to comment and utterly failed to comprehend the issue.
Then the real issue arose. Councilmember Gomez asked the question of why, since the city council no longer receives stipends, the city commissiners continue to recveive compensation. Nielsen’s lame excuse that the city council received benefits as well, so the issue is “apples and oranges”, didn’t really fly. According to him, it was a “transparency” issue and referred to the financial statements candidates are required to file as proof there are no conflicts.
Now Al Murray, who hasn’t had an original thought since he joined the city council, agreed with Nielsen regarding the financial statements and went even further to say that it was incumbent on all of them as public officials to state any conflicts of interests. Sure….except, that did not prevent any of the Three Amigos from receiving financial assistance from the Orange County Business Council or its other entities trying to pass themselves off as concerned citizens during the boys most recent bid for city council.
Gomez gained an ally after the Podiatrist Councilman woke up and figured out what everyone was talking about. But, even though he agreed that commission stipends needed a second look, his comments regarding integrity were laughable. Let’s not forget this is the guy who, during his bid for city council, posted a Facebook photo showing him on the city council dais underneath the city logo looking, for all intents and purposes, like he was a sitting councilman. Likewise, he was seen running around last year’s Chili Cookoff sporting a campaign button with the city logo on it and, underneath in small letters the disclaimer, “candidate”. In any case, he needs to go back to reading his notes so he can complete a sentence.
In the end, the vote was 4-1, with Councilmember Gomez dissenting, on a motion made by Nielsen to change the ordinance to allow commissioners continue to sit until such a time as they are actually elected to the city council.
We had hoped for some interesting stuff during the councilmember comments but were, instead, treated to a drudging monologue about the Podiatrist Councilman’s trip to various water and sewage treatment plants (At least he went back to reading off his notes rather than trying to wing it). I only got through part of it before moving on to Councilmember Gomez who is much more interesting to listen to.
The Planning Commission will have a busy evening starting with a workshop on second residential units. The workshop is to discuss proposed changes to city ordinances pertaining to second residential units and accessory guest rooms. Staff believe there is a call for second residential units in the Old Town area in particular. That is a view that is not shared by all of my neighbors and readers. One person complained the city should be more worried about filling vacant commercial space rather than increase the population density in Old Town.
To a certain degree, we agree with that. However, we are strong proponents of allowing folks to do as they please with their property as long as it conforms to the law and does not interfere with another person’s enjoyment of their own property (sorry, Wilcox boys).
In any case, the city will propose some conceptual amendments to the ordinances that would do away with accessory guest rooms but then allow second units on any residential lot, regardless of size. This, of course, would do away with deed restrictions and, possibly, the current requirement for a Conditional Use Permit. Sounds pretty good, huh?
Well, never let it be said the city would let a buck get away if it can capture it in fees or taxes. Also in the conceptual amendments is allowance for the charging of “impact fees” presumably for the added impact to parks, schools and other assorted needs provided by the city and others.
The February workshop had 40 people in attendance who voice their opinion on the various proposals and added some helpful comments (we like the idea of carports rather than garage parking for some cases). Concern was also voiced for the number of units allowed on one property and whether permit parking should be implemented. We particularly liked the opinion that small guest houses are compatible with Old Town. We agree, they add a bit of charm to the neighborhood. Our only concern with guest houses has been the requirement, which we question the legality of, for deed restrictions. Alas, until an owner is willing to challenge the requirement (or this conceptual amendment goes through) owners will continue to suffer the effects of the restrictions on their property values.
Hopefully, concerned citizens will show up again and voice their opinion on another one of Binsack’s follies. The workshop begins at 6:00 pm, an hour before the regular Planning Commission meeting. If you want to see the proposals, you can find them here.
Ooops. I take that back. The regular meeting of the Planning Commission only has one item on it. A Public Hearing on Code Amendment 13-001. As we stated in a prior article, the proposal has more than just minor text amendments and the city intends to incorporate the current practice of requiring deed restrictions into the ordinance. As the current Planning Commission appears to be fully populated by “yes men” who are not willing to confront Binsack and her wrecking crew on issues important to the residents of the city, don’t expect anything other than the big rubber stamp to come out.