Blog Archives

Keeping the Status Quo

Dullsville-Snooze Alert-

It is going to be  a pretty boring election season in the city of Tustin this year. Either everyone in Tustin is too busy to worry about the political bent of the city council (they are all Republicans) or they are happy with the way things are going. Face it, it has been a slow two years around Our Town Tustin, ever since Boss Tweed Amante left. John Nielsen has settled down and become less interested in city politics. Our old friend Chuck Puckett has returned to the dais along with newbie Alan Bernstein whom we hope will learn eventually to look up from his notes once in awhile (wing it, Alan).

It is hard to believe that four years have gone by since Mayor Al Murray and Councilwoman Beckie Gomez were first elected. Both came to the dais under the ominous shadow of Jerry “Boss Tweed” Amante, who held a firm grip on the city, issuing edicts and offering regular rants against his detractors. The Liberal OC often referred to him as “Il Duce” both on and off the record. And, Amante never got it. He hated the residents of Tustin (where he resides), hated the women he was forced to share the dais with and loved his dogs. When Jerry was around, there was always something to write about. When he left…. well, things got a bit more boring.

That, of course, has been good for Tustin. After Amante’s departure, the city council was able to clear their collective head and get down to the mundane business of running the city. And, except for the occasional powerplay by City Manager Jeff Parker or Community Development Director Elizabeth Binsack, the city has run pretty smoothly on their watch. About the only real issue over the past four years is the epitomal collapse of the old town area when a CUP was granted to the boys at Wilcox Manor to run a convention center wedding venue. That controversy (assisted by yours truly) outlined what is wrong when politicians who have a direct benefit from a business, help that same business to make money at the expense of others’ privacy and well-being.

All this leads us to the latest news from the city. As I said in the beginning, either no one cares or no one knows. Al Murray and Beckie are the only ones to file nomination papers for Tustin City Council. As such, they will run unopposed, meaning you can save yourself a trip to the polls unless the other issues we’ll bring up over the next few months matter to you.

Regardless of my criticism, I have always liked Al and Beckie. Al is a retired police captain from Irvine and his most pressing decision since he has been in office is where to have coffee (usually Keane’s, usualy with cops). That’s not to say he can’t make a decision. He just hasn’t had to since he has been in office. Originally an Amante yes man, Murray has a great quality of getting along with just about everyone, admirer and detractor alike. And, he is pretty darn good at calming a collective angry crowd. And when the stuff hit the fan, during one of the most infamous crime sprees to hit Orange County, he was the man every mayor wished they could be in time of crisis.

It has been my pleasure to know Beckie Gomez over the past few years. A closet Republican, she has shown a willingness to work with everyone on the council (including Jerry) even though the council has consistently refused to give her any of the cherished paid board or committee positions. Little did they know Gomez is quite happy with her Library Board appointment. Gomez has demonstrated that she is interested in the welfare of Tustin chiefly as a place to live and secondly as a place to do business. During Amante’s frequent rants, she proved to be a calming influence even when Nielsen and Palmer were also ganging up on their nemesis, Deborah Gavello. If she did not always back Gavello’s play, it was because she had a direction of her own to follow.

So, what will the future bring to Tustin? Perhaps, over the next two years, more mediocrity. Barring an infield play by Arte Moreno or the collapse of the pending cemetery deal at the Great Park, the MCAS property is all but disposed of. I am sure there will be controversy over the fate of the blimp hangars to jazz things up a bit. As the city is showing its age, perhaps it’s about time the city council took the Old Town Tustin bit out of Elizabeth Binsack’s mouth (before she finds a way to bulldoze it completely) and take a good hard look at revitalizing the downtown area. Both Fullerton and Old Town Orange have experienced a renaissance with myriad antique shops and second hand resellers replaced with chic restaurants and venues that draw a diverse crowd. Downtown Tustin’s time has come and, without the past controversy to impede them, this city council could make a lasting mark on the place we all love.

One rumor in the wind: Will John Nielsen, who has had his share of personal and public controversy while in office, choose to resign during his term as we have heard he may? That would open some interesting avenues, and some of those have the Amante smell.

Playing Politics With Pensions

chicken_little-sky-is-fallingNot much has been happening lately in our town Tustin. The hallowed halls of the city were originally scheduled to be dark for the next few weeks. That is, until the city council, who cancelled a regular meeting for July and then rescheduled for tonight, July 24, 2013. The only items on the agenda are the awarding of a contract for a storm drainage project and a closed item session (which we would bet is the real pressing issue) to discuss negotiations for real property that looks to be on the MCAS. We’ll have to see if they can manage to get the video up after the meeting. They had a bit of trouble (again) for the last meeting and we are not sure if it ever did get posted.

It doesn’t take a video to determine the level of corruption and inept governing by this bunch however. One simply has to look around at the obvious cronyism and corruption that is considered “good government” by our conservative city council.

One item on the last agenda was the acceptance of the contract for the last of the city employee unions, Tustin Municipal Employees Association. As we have told you before, management of the association is actually contracted to the Orange County Employees Association, a public employee union that handles the contract affairs for about 17,000 city, county and special district employees in the county.

Among the provisions of the TMEA contract is one that should send shivers up the spines of any rank-and-file worker. As part of the deal, the TMEA has agreed to pay the full employee cost of pensions. That in itself is long overdue and we agree that it is about time all employees, including management and executives, pay their fair share of pension costs as determined by their respective pension plans (in this case, CalPers).

What is scary is that city negotiators have managed to eke out another provision that will eventually go into effect. This is a requirement by employees to pay a portion of the employer’s cost of pensions. The initial three percent does not sound like much but it opens the door pension critics have long awaited. If three percent today, then how much next year? Fortunately for the city’s employees, they will get a breather next year as their contract is for two years.

What makes this situation worse is the blatant disregard for employees the city council had when they not only gave Chief Scott Jordan a raise last year, ostensibly to keep him here, but also another five percent raise as a going away present on the eve of his departure from the city employment ranks. Then, they turned around and cried pending insolvency if the employees didn’t rolll over on their pension demands. The contract, by the way, was narrowly approved indicating that nearly half the employees were not happy with the provisions.

Nick Berardino, General Manager of OCEA, recently published a guest article in the Orange County Register:

On July 6 the Orange County Register published a story highlighting excessive pension benefits for public employees, this time focused on executives and managers in the “$100K pension club.”

Ultimately, that story, helps to explain why we continue to be bombarded with stories about this issue, even after Governor Brown has signed into law sweeping pension reforms and after public employees across the state have agreed to significant additional reforms.

What continues to be missed is a consequence of the fact that some politicians understand the public employee pension issue resonates with the public. So, in order to keep the issue in the forefront, those politicians have an interest in creating doomsday scenarios and making the cost of pensions to taxpayers as high as possible.

And I believer that is what is happening at the Orange County Employees Retirement System, or OCERS, which administers pension benefits for the County, the Fire Authority and many cities and special districts [not Tustin, who is administered by CalPers-ed.] in Orange County.

Over the past year the OCERS trustees – some of whom actively bash pensions in public and belong to aggressively anti-public employee organizations – have taken one action after another to artificially drive up the cost of pension benefits.

This isn’t about “facing reality” or “not kicking the can down the road” or “inter-generational equity.” It’s about furthering a radical political agenda. And the sickest part of the scheme?

They are funding it with your taxpayer dollars and it’s you who are paying for it. You should also know some legitimate facts that are repeatedly left out of the news stories and editorials.

First, county employees represented by the Orange County Employees Association pay 100 percent of their pension costs and they pay the entire cost to the county of the 2004 improvement to a 2.7 percent at 55 year old formula.

Second, county employees do not receive Social Security benefits. Third, the average pension for OCEA member retirees is $33,000 per year. That’s a long way from the “$100,000Club” referenced in the Register’s story.

Nick, a good friend of ours, goes on to point out the fact that it is employees, not the politicians, who have been at the forefront of pension reform. Some of those reforms at the county level have included being the first employee organization to require 100 percent contributions for pensions as well as developing (despite what the politicians may say) the first hybrid plan that includes a lesser defined benefit combined with a 401(k) style component to allow for lower cost and better management of employee benefits.

What politicians are now doing, to fortify their “sky is falling” fiction, is to artificially manipulate pension numbers to make it appear as if their is a crisis when their isn’t. For example, OCERS just recently lowered the Assumption Rate, the expected rate of return on investment for the fund, by a quarter percent from 7.5 to 7.25. This, even though the market is recoverning nicely and the fund has been posting record returns for the past several years with no indication it will falter. This not only raises the employee’s pension costs by another 6.5 percent in the next two years, it also costs the taxpayer in the form of employer paid costs mandated by law. So, who is the real loser?

Tustin, as a member of CalPers, has also benefited from record gains made in their pension system. In a recent press release, CalPers stated a return on investment for the past year of 12.5 percent on an Assumption Rate of 7.5 percent. Tustin City Council and their corrupt city manager, Jeff Parker, knew this as they were negotiating the new contract. Lamenting their supposed fiscal woes at the negotiation table, the employees apparently bought it hook, line and sinker.

Like many public employees, city of Tustin workers have mostly gone without raises over the past few years due, mostly, to the economy. I say most of them, because the Tustin City Council and City Manager Jeff Parker have managed to reward executives and senior managers, all unrepresented, with lucrative raises by manipulating the system to their benefit. In the so-called open government of Tustin, managers have been given new titles and old positions eliminated, supposedly with the eye toward saving the city money. In reality, we suspect many of these so-called new titles are simply ways to reward long term senior employees while hiding the truth from a gullible rank-and-file. The only question at this point is whether the Tustin City Council is complicit or being sold a bill of goods by a conniving city management team.

A California Icon Passes

Huell Howser with Old Town resident, Linda Jennings

Huell Howser with Old Town resident, Linda Jennings

My heart broke this afternoon when I received a news update from the Sacramento Bee saying that television icon, Huell Howser, passed away yesterday, reportedly from a long term illness. Howser was 67 years old and had recently announced his retirement.

Julie and I have, for uncounted years, watched this man describe a state we love with beautiful photography and that down home style that no one else could ever match. Visions of Mayberry would always invade my thoughts as we heard his gentle Tennessee drawl spiel amazement in that aw shucks kind of way he had. He never went anywhere that he couldn’t find something even vaguely interesting and make it seem like the most important and fantastic place he had ever visited.

Howser was not just a television personality who produced interesting shows, though. He took such an interest in historical buildings that, at one point, he filed a lawsuit to prevent the destruction of buildings built by African-American architect Paul Williams on the Long Beach Naval Station. The suit was thrown out of court and, of course, progress pursued its’ course. But, the effort demonstrated Howser’s commitment to “walk the walk” when it came to the history he was preserving through film.

What many of you may not know is Huell Howser visited and filmed Tustin just a few years ago.  From the report by Linda Jennings on July 31, 2008:

My afternoon with Huell went very well and was actually a lot of fun. He’s every bit as energetic as he appears on his show and he runs the taping at his rapid-fire pace using the info he finds interesting. It was just Huell and one cameraman and the rest of us running after him as he crisscrossed El Camino, ignoring the stoplight and traffic.

He was late getting to the museum but took great care in setting everything up, including the opening remarks with me. As we stood chatting in front of the camera out on the corner of Main and El Camino, just about everyone who drove by waved and yelled hello to him. He was equally as friendly, waving and smiling.

Jennings goes on to say Howser visited most anything that looked vaguely interesting including, the Utt Juice Building, the Museum and the blacksmith shop. A photo of Huell with

Howser getting a clip job from Gordon Bean

Howser getting a clip job from Gordon Bean

Gordon Bean, our Old Town Barber at the Wooden Indian (best haircuts in town, by the way) is posted on the wall across from where I get my haircut. I still marvel at that photo when I stop by there. Howser was thrilled by the hidden treasure that was Tustin and presented our town to the rest of the world.

Howser’s passing now bring a regret to me. A year or so ago, I was sitting with a friend at a local Santa Ana restaurant. It was a nice day and we were smoking on the patio when I saw Huell Howser speaking with someone. I really wanted to go over and say hello, just to say I met him, and I didn’t because it looked like they were talking business. A shame, because now I will never have the opportunity to meet someone whose passion for the eclectic brought me such pleasure.

Rest in Peace, Huell.

Application Deadline Nears

Applications for Tustin City Planning Commissioner are due Tuesday, September 25, 2012. The opening is to fill the unexpired term left by the resignation of Chuck Puckett who left the commission to run for city council. The term ends in March, 2012 and may be renewed at the pleasure of the council. Compesation is $150 per regular meeting of the commission and they typically meet twice a month or less.

So far, according to the City Clerk’s office, there are two pending applications. She declined to give us names until the applications close and the names have been checked for eligibility. We should have that information later this week.

Planning Commissioner is a high profile position whose authority extends to hearing issues of planning and some zoning. They are the first stop for any business asking to build or remodel. According to the Tustin website:

The Planning Commission’s primary responsibilities include:

Preparing and making recommendations to the City Council on the City’s Comprehensive Plan regarding development;

  • Considering and making recommendations to the City Council on zoning map and zoning ordinance changes;
  • Reviewing and making recommendations to the City Council on subdivisions, on appeals on variances and use permits; and
  • Considering other policies and programs affecting development and land use in Tustin for final City Council action.

The Planning Commission is also a springboard for anyone wishing to eventually run for City Council as they work closely with the city staff and the city council on items that directly affect the city plan. As mentioned before, Chuck Puckett is a former planning commissioner as are many of our fomer councilmembers. Face it, it looks good on the resume′.

Time is running out. If you are considering an application to the Tustin Planning Commission, you can find it here. And, although they have a “fact sheet” for the Planning Commission here, it is sadly lacking in the details of what the commission does. You can find better information  on that here.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 326 other followers