Compared to our neighboring cities, Tuesday’s Tustin City Council meeting was downright festive. Even the council members were dressed casual Friday. Irvine, as you know, is attempting to hoodwink their residents into thinking that plans for the veterans cemetery died with the NO vote on Measure B. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth and now the factions that covet the ARDA location for 5 Points are scrambling to find a different, albeit suitable, location at the Great Park.
Meanwhile, the City Council of Santa Ana voted to place a sales tax measure on the November ballot. The measure would add an additional 1.5 percent to the current 7.75 percent tax making Santa Ana the most expensive city to shop in Orange County. They will still be lower than Long Beach, Santa Monica and most of the South Bay cities who come in at a whopping 10.25 percent.
I knew that our city council meeting would probably have higher than normal participation this evening. Even I was surprised to see a nearly full house, however. I knew some of us were here to support the proposed reinstatement of the Historic Resources Committee. A look around the room showed a number of signs opposing the Sanctuary State and there were a good number of folks wearing red shirts which I’m sure meant they stood in solidarity for something, I’m just not sure what.
The meeting started late due, I’m sure, to a lengthy Closed Session. There were 7 items, including labor negotiations discussions with all of the unions and associations representing municipal and sworn employees. Other than the denial of one claim, our intrepid city lawyer, David Kendig, reported no other action taken. We’ll never know for sure since closed sessions are….closed.
After the opening ceremonies, Mayor Al Murray opened the Public Comment section of the meeting. There were several speakers who voiced their opposition to SB54, the sanctuary state law saying it had nothing to do with keeping children of illegal immigrants with parents and everything to do with keeping our children safe. The council sidestepped the argument, at least temporarily, by pushing the subject to the September 4th meeting. I think we can expect a full house on that evening. I’m sure the city council would like everyone to forget but it’s our duty to remind them.
Most of the Consent Calendar was passed unanimously. A couple of items were pulled for discussion. One of those items was the HVAC cooling tower replacement for the shuttered library. Apparently there was a last minute change in vendors. The good news announced by Mayor pro tem Beckie Gomez is the long awaited reopening of the library building itself. Saying they would begin moving the books from the temporary library back to the shelves of the main building, Gomez expects the doors to reopen by August 22nd.
Somewhere in the course of the evening, the subject of the Voluntary Workforce Housing Incentive Ordinance came up for discussion. And this, I discovered, was the real reason for the crowd. Residents complained the ordinance was being slipped through without proper notice. Some were concerned the ordinance was an opening for homeless housing, a highly contentious issue we haven’t visited since last year. Others, it was obvious, were just plain confused on what the ordinance was about. They were just certain it had to be a bad thing.
So, the city council did the only logical thing possible. They pushed the issue off to the next meeting in September. Again, I’m sure Al, the Doctor and the ladies hope the delay will work in their favor. We’ll have more on the proposed ordinance in a separate (hopefully informative) article.
Backpedaling to the public hearings, Mayor Murray opened the floor to public comment on a proposed code amendment to the local alcohol beverage laws. No comments after a first reading means the proposal should pass in September. For those who couldn’t attend, it merely changes the square footage requirements and some of the separation requirements for alcohol sales. The new law will require a Conditional Use Permit for all alcohol beverage sales. That means the city will have a lot more say in where and when alcohol can be sold, including possibly extending hours.
The second public hearing wasn’t quite so simple. The Planning Commission had previously denied a variance to a resident who wished to store their RV in the driveway of their property. Several speakers came forward and complained of code violations they had recently received regarding their RVs. Many complained they had stored their RVs in the same place on their property for years without a problem.
In hearing comments from the dais, it was apparent that no one, including the city staff, was sure of exactly what the code intention was. Doc Bernstein sounded as confused as ever, making comments that….well, didn’t make much sense. After hearing the public comments (plus a few shout outs from the audience) Councilwoman Clark said she was concerned about how the city is communicating with residents and enforcing code.
When she stated her concern that there may be other residents inadvertently violating the code, an anonymous voice from the audience said, “Yeah, about a thousand!” So, she further wondered if the code still met the needs of the residents. Watch it, Leticia, someone may think you’re a sane voice on the panel.
Mayor Murray agreed with Clark and asked the city to hold the appellant’s application in abeyance (OK, he didn’t really use those big words) and take another look at the application of the code. He didn’t give a timeline but it is likely to be late September before we see this on the docket.
There was a lengthy discussion on, what I felt was, the most important item on the agenda, the reinstatement of the Historical Resources Committee. Although the item was ripe for discussion and Old Town resident, Linda Jennings waited her turn patiently to speak on the matter, it was pretty obvious that most of the council was either too tired or not informed enough on the issue to discuss it. It is, however, important enough for us to talk about it in a separate article.
No, I didn’t stay to hear all the exciting places Doctor Allan and the Mayor went to this month in their personal reports. And, although the Mayor mentioned that Councilman Puckett was absent due to being “under the weather”, he left us wishing the best for him. He has a month and a half to get better as the city council is conveniently dark for the month of August.
If the Fourth of July fireworks at Tustin High School last week were not enough for you, try coming to this Tuesday’s City Council meeting. The topic of discussion, of course, will be the growing community of homeless living next to the Tustin Library. I’d compare it to the tent camp along the Santa Ana Riverbed except it isnt nearly that size – or that filthy.
The camp has become a source of concern, discussion and -in some cases- entertainment on the local website, Nextdoor.com, a sort of local email/blog where anyone can start a discussion on just about anything they like. Over two dozen people have contributed over 300 comments on the homeless encampment alone.
It all started several months ago when the Tustin Branch Library was suddenly shuttered for repairs after suffering massive water damage. Although officials said the water damage was minimal and the library would re-open in a few week, it remains shuttered two and a half months later. The library itself is a county issue and the city has little power to move things along.
Shortly after the closure, a few homeless began hanging out in the area. With no one to bother them, they eventually set up a dozen tents, mostly in the plaza next to the library, and remained low key. With little traffic in the area, they went pretty much unnoticed on a daily basis.
That all changed about a month ago when citizens came, en mass, to the June 20th city council meeting to ask the city what they planned to do about it. The city council listened to concerns but was unable to address the situation because the subject wasn’t on the agenda.
Surprisingly, the city is responding with restraint. City Manager Jeff Parker said that a solution would be to declare the area around the library a city park, allowing police to arrest campers. “But, that doesn’t seem morally appropriate.” We agree, of course, as it won’t solve the problem. The city recently put a “Homelessness” button on the front page of their website.
Tustin has never had a very large homeless population (the staff report pegs it at two dozen). Prior to the library encampment, most of them hung around Peppertree Park and the Old Town area. Closing down the encampment will just push them back onto the streets and into our neighborhoods. The city claims they regularly try to provide comprehensive services but, frankly, most of the homeless camped there (yes, I stopped by and dropped of water on a hot day) are not interested in services or alternatives to their lifestyle.
For the time being, the encampment may be the best way to handle the situation. At the very least, the homeless are pretty much in one location. Concerns over drug and alcohol use are minimal, although arrests for both have been made. The police check the area regularly and, unlike the Santa Ana Riverbed encampment, the place is clean – I daresay, neat and tidy. Some residents have opined that moving them to an industrial area and providing sanitary services would solve the problem. The trouble is, the homeless may not agree. And contrary to what some would like, they can’t just be rounded up and shipped out.
In any case, if you are one of the two dozen or so folks who have made their feelings known on the neighborhood blog, you will have the opportunity to address our city council on the matter this Tuesday at 7pm. You may want to get there early and, if you forget your water, you can probably bum a bottle from one of the homeless camped out back.
I hope everyone had a happy and safe 4th of July. We are fortunate to have a great fireworks show each year at Tustin High School. It has been awhile since we have had anything to write about. Although June is the month for community events, things around our town Tustin have been kind of slow and we have had to deal with the realities of a death in our family. So, my apologies for not being where the action is…was.
We turned to the Tustin city website to write our weekly blog entry on the agenda and, lo and behold, they have given us a virtual cornucopia of color to deal with on the newly designed site. It may take us awhile to learn to navigate this wonder. Fortunately, not everything is new and it was fairly easy to find the city meeting agendas.
As I write this, I am listening to a joint city council – planning commission workshop that shows why the Tustin Planning Commission has been silent these last few weeks. It seems the Community Development Department has been working behind the scenes to develop a presentation on urban living. We’ll reserve judgment until we have had a chance to listen to the entire presentation.
For those of you who are interested in why the sudden push, however, Item 2 on the workshop agenda is a presentation by Irvine Asset Group for a Redhill Avenue project they are proposing to establish a mixed use of apartments, lofts (euphemistically called “live/work” lofts) and retail space. It looks to be an interesting project in any case.
Well, we know how the live/work lofts worked out for the Utt Juice Building project a few years ago. It doesn’t appear that anyone living there actually works there. That is, unless you want to count the “spa” on the corner of Third and Prospect. Don’t fret if you didn’t know it was there. Neither did Google Maps.
On the Tuesday agenda of the Tustin City Council, the Closed Session has no surprises. The usual litigation issues head up the list followed by the ongoing discussion with Tustin Unified School District reagarding Legacy property issues.
Labor negotiations have been ongoing for the past few weeks. It looks like this is the final discussion as the city council will vote, under regular business, on MOUs for both the rank and file and police non-worn contracts. Labor negotiations in our town have not been known for much dissension, however. Most of the time the employees have rolled over and accepted whatever the city demands as they screw the rank and file while rewarding the executives. In other words, business as usual for Orange County.
The Consent Calendar also hosts few surprises. Item 5, Resolution of Intent to Grant a Franchise to Wickland Pipelines, will allow folks serving John Wayne Airport to run Jet Fuel under the south side of our town. This project is a few years old so there are no real surprises here.
I am surprised that our resident water guru, Councilman Allan Bernstein, isn’t chomping at the bit to discuss Item 6, Water Conservation Update – May 2015. In perusing the staff report, it looks like we Tustinites have stepped up to the plate and accomplished our water conservation goal and then some. Required to conserve 28%, we actually saved 29% over our 2013 water use. Bernstein should be giddy.
Looking a little deeper into the report, it looks like staff are attributing the savings to a relatively cool month. Come on, though. Those sign out and about town dictating watering days for everyone probably had some impact, along with the huge PR campaign the city has had. It doesn’t hurt the city contracted an experienced conservation code enforcement officer to target scofflaws, either. 36 violations have been reported but it’s not clear in the report whether they were all remedied.
It’s doubtful the sole Public Hearing will generate much dissent. Item 9, Streamlining City Building Department of Solar Panel Permits, will make it easier for residents to obtain permitting for solar panels. It will also help the city to achieve a state mandate on alternative energy.
Under Regular Business, Item 10 – Memoranda of Understanting with TMEA and TPSSA, the city council will accept the contracts for the bulk of city employees. As a reward for all the “concessions” the employees gave to an arm-twisting negotiator over the past 6 yeasrs, employees will receive a 3% raise for each of the next two years as well as a lump sum payment. The agreement also specifies other increased benefits, including the recognition of Martin Luther King Day as an official paid holiday.
Although our city employees are among the best paid in the county, this raise and benefit package is long overdue. You get what you pay for and, frankly, Tustin residents have gotten a whole lot more the past few years. Hopefully, there is no dissent among the city council over this contract. Let’s hope our sworn officers in TPD do as well.
The only other interesting entry on the agenda is Item 14, Appointment of Replacement Successor Agency Board Member. Councilwoman Beckie Gomez is resigning her position on the board for personal reasons (We have an email in to her but haven’t received a reply). Although the staff report says the city council can appoint anyone, my bet is it will be another member of the council, likely Dr. Bernstein. Any bets?
Apologies for being MIA the past few weeks. We’ve had family business to take care of and, as most of you know, the blog is a passion not a career. In any case, there hasn’t been much happening politics wise during the first part of June. I hope everyone enjoyed the Annual Chili Cookoff and the Tustin Police Open House. Both events are highlights of our town Tustin. On to the business at hand.
As far as activity, there will probably be more for the Tustin City Council to do during Closed Session(s) than during the Open Session meeting. The city council will consider several possible exposures to litigation plus the current litigation with the state over RDAs.
It looks like City Manager Jeff Parker will don his negotiator hat to work on several parcels of Legacy property as well. Under negotiation is price and terms.
On the Regular Meeting Agenda, a presentation will be made to the city for last year’s Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (they are rather pretty). Pamela Arends-King and her cadre deserve a lot of credit for keeping the finances straight in our town.
The sole Public Hearing Item 1, is on rate increases for solid waste. In other words, the monopolistic CR&R is asking for a rate increase to haul our trash. Locked into a ten year contract, we don’t have much choice unless the city council finds a majority protest. That’s not likely considering Mayor pro tem John Nielsen is in their pocket. Citizens could fill the council chambers to overflowing and they would still vote the rate increase.
The Consent Calendar holds no surprises with the usual items listed for approval. Tustin PD is asking to destroy certain records no longer needed for investigative purposes. Nothing to see here, move along….
Under Regular Business, Item 9- Budget Appropriations and Salary Schedule, the council will be asked to approve three resolutions for the city, housing authority and salary schedule for the coming year. Not much to see at this time other than general budget items. You can see the resolution and appropriations here.
Likewise, Items 10, Appropriation Limit for Fiscal Year 2015-2016, and Item 11, Successor Agency Resolution No. 1502, are budget items that set limits and other issues for the city and the Successor Agency to the defunct Redevelopment Agency. I know the city council holds out hope for successful litigation on RDAs but, let’s face it- they were play toys for the conservative branch that did little more than dole out corporate welfare. Goodbye and good riddance.
If there is anything of real interest on the agenda, it is the final Closed Session meeting. Labor negotiations are in full swing and it looks like there may be lots to talk about. Sales tax and other revenue are up and the city future is looking good with development of the old base property in full swing. After all of the cuts and sacrifices our well paid employees have made (except for Jeff Parker who secured a pretty sweet deal when he came on board as the highest paid employee) they may deserve a bit of a raise. Let’s see how they fare this year.