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.
Care Ambulance will start off the evening with a presentation on why they are the best suited to haul our sick and injured folks around. Care was recently awarded the county ambulance contract after protracted discussions, arguments and threats over the past year. It seems that no one could decide who was best suited to award the contract.
The presentation will be followed by two Public Hearings. Item 1, Public Hearing to Consider leveying of Annual Assessment of Tustin Landscape and Lighting District, comes up every year. I don’t think I have ever heard anyone speak on this mostly pro forma issue.
Item 2, Second Reading and Adoption of Ordinance 1457, will give water guru and city councilman Allan Bernstein another chance to wow us with his expertise on water conservation again. He still hasn’t told us how our cutting edge efforts have netted us another 3% over the state mandate that our city must now conserve.
Most of the Consent Calendar is the usual approvals for expending funds and destroying records. However, I am wondering about Item 3, Waive Reading in Full of All Ordinances and Resolutions on the Agenda. Why? I am sure it is something discussed in Closed Session that we will never know why. I assume it is for this agenda only.
Then, we come to the big ticket item.
I can imagine that, regardless of the leanings of the city coucil, people may still want to discuss the pros and cons of Item 12, Second Reading and Adoption of Ordinance 1455. Anytime you are taking a basic right away from a group of people (yes, I think parking on city streets is a basic right), there had better be a good reason. While complaints from the area and a resulting investigation showed some pretty surprising parking issues for the homeowners, many of them expressed concern over the proposed permitting because it would not really solve the overall probelm. Unless there is an all out demonstration in council chambers, this item will pass, probably unanimously. And, in a few months time the city will be dealing with a new area.
Item 14, Resolution Supporting the Senate Constitutional Amendment SCA 2, is a feel good vote for the city council so they can stand with the rest of the righties in showing their patriotism. Mind you, I am also in favor of the heart of this amendment that should not have to be. I mean, this is America after all. And, while I will defend your right to burn, stomp or otherwise desecrate our flag because that’s your personal right (remember the First Amendment?), a public school or any public institution should not be allowed to ban the symbol of our country from being flown. Period. This state amendment should not even be necessary. But, if it’s the only way to get bureaucrats to understand basic flag law, then so be it. I wonder if John will have a tear in his eye when they read item? Oh, wait, they won’t. They aren’t going to read any of the ordinances or resolutions, remember?
If you are one of those to believe the drought may be here to stay, you may be interested in the final item on the agenda before Dr. Bernstein gives us his water lecture.
Item 15, Amendment of the Municipal Water District of Orange County’s Turf Removal Program. The turf removal program of the Metropolitan Water District of Orange County gives a rebate of $2.00 per square foot of turf to aid homeowners in removing grass lawns and replacing it with drought resistant landscaping. The city proposes to provide supplemental funding of an additional $1.00 per square foot.
Now, there are companies out there who are advertising they will come in, remove your turf and replace it with drought resistant landscaping for the price of the rebate. At least one company says they will do it all without any out of pocket expense to the homeowner, taking assignment of the rebate itself as full payment. That’s a pretty good deal if you are considering (as we are) going to a drought resistant front yard. Truth is, I can’t get my grass to grow anyway.
As usual, we’ll let you know if there is anything to report back after our city fathers meet.