Monthly Archives: August 2011

Update on Old Town

Update on Old Town: Bret Fairbanks’ hearing was held yesterday at the Tustin Library. After six hours of discussion , it was continued to September 9, 2011. Please support Bret and his family in this matter. We will keep you posted as soon as there is something to report. Here is a complete report from the Register.


What’s for Dinner?

My daughter is finally back from her Summer spent with her grandfather. That could mean only one thing: a trip to the grocery store.

While my daughter has been away, my wife and I have happily subsisted on fast food and salads, mixed with an occasional pizza here and there. As a carnivore, items to grill were particularly useful to us as it kept the heat out of our unairconditioned house. So, today’s sojourn had us stopping at one of my favorite stores, Trader Joes. I won’t go into the bloody details but suffice it to say my wallet was a tad lighter coming out of the store.

Of course, this trip got me to thinking a little more about the grocery workers and the pending strike. Most of us remember the bloody strike of 2003-2004. There was strong support for the strikers

Grocery workers strike in 2003-2004

Photo courtesy of the OC Register

with one union contributing heavily to their strike fund and several unions holding “sympathy strikes”. During that time, I refused to cross the picket lines in the first weeks of the strike, choosing to take my business to Stater Bros. and Trader Joes. In the first days of the strike, many people were choosing alternative stores to shop at.

It is unfortunate that both management and union chose to cheat the system. The stores struck hired scabs on the side and even secretly hired some of their own employees who crossed their own picket line in a selfish move for “me” without looking at the long term consequences. I wonder now if those same employees would do it again? The chains were also caught in a secret plot to conspire against the workers, although about the only thing they got for their transgression was a slap on the hand.

The union employees started strong. But, their picket lines eventually degenerated at times to name-calling mobs and some of their ranks defected (see above).  On the picket line, many could be seen talking more among themselves and not even holding signs up or making an effort to keep their message fresh and in front of the customers whom they needed for support. It became as commonplace to see them as the homeless guy standing humbly by the water vending machine waiting for an anonymous patron. Once, as I walked by the doors of Von’s to get to my Starbucks next door, a picketer yelled at me, thinking I was going into the store, until he saw me head toward Starbucks. What did that say for their perseverance and their fortitude? You see, it is one thing to stand with the group. But, you have to believe in the group you stand with. That is the whole idea of the union to begin with. The strike vote is one of the most powerful tools a union can have. It should be used wisely and sparingly. When it is used, you can’t shoot blanks like the UFCW did so long ago.

And people remember.

Although I am a conservative, I believe in the right of employees to protect their jobs by organizing unions and associations for a common purpose. I believe in the right to strike to protect wages and benefits. And to my critics, I’ll say I have worked both sides of the aisle as manager and employee and my view has never changed. I worked for years in the aerospace industry where management and workers could mutually respect one another and still stand up civilly for their rights. When I saw how the grocery workers were defeating themselves with their bane tactics, it made me feel as if they didn’t really care. And, in the end, I found myself crossing the line in disgust because I couldn’t put up with the bullying, pedantic behavior.

So, here I find myself again. The UFCW has authorized a strike. The reality is looming and I have to ask myself the same question: would I cross the picket line? The answer is a qualified “no”. Although Albertsons is my favorite market, I find I have many other choices nowadays. When I go to my mainstay, Trader Joes, I’m like a kid in a candy store. They offer so much more than Two Buck Chuck. And, there are a lot more places. Henry’s World Food Market and our old standby, Stater Bros., which still has, in my opinion, the best meat counter in town. All these options make it just that much easier to shop elsewhere and support the rank-and-file worker who has seen their pay and benefits decline.

Federal mediators, recognizing history of a strike that cost the stores over $1.5 billion dollars and the workers an unknown amount in wages and benefits, have ordered the parties back to the table for “intensive” negotiations by August 29th. I hope, for everyone’s sake, that both sides will be able to come to agreement. It is sad to say, but the grocery workers will never be the same as they were ten years ago, when being a “checker” was a great job with good benefits. They have taken too many hits and I foresee they will take a few more, even if they can work out a deal. The alternative is to strike. But, if they choose that route, they need to educate their striking members on the importance of standing tall in the face of adversity, regardless of the length of time or the number of customers who will choose, inevitably, to cross the line.

“It’s Old Town, Elizabeth”

“It’s Chinatown, Jake.” It’s a great punchline from a well known Jack Nicholson classic. And, just like that great movie, this tale encompasses dark individuals and shadowy connections in government. Most readers are familiar with the Fairbanks property, a private residence built circa 1929 in Old Town Tustin.  Bret Fairbanks has been trying to sell his property, consisting of a main building and 2 apartments, because his family has outgrown the main house. Last year, he approached the city and asked for a letter, requested by a potential buyer, that would state the apartments located on the property could be rebuilt should they burn down. Of course, it had to go before the Planning Commission. So, the city staffers went to work.

In December of last year, the Planning Commission determined that some staff recommendations were unnecessary and deleted them from the proposed resolution making the Fairbanks property a non-conforming rental unit. Not exactly accurate, but close enough. After some back and forth between the commission, the city attorney and Fairbanks, the resolution was passed, 4-0. Case closed, done deal.Fairbanks had some work to do to bring the properties up to the safety standard that the Planning Commission set and everything looked like a go.

Well, not exactly.

Fast forward to the February 15, 2011 meeting of the City Council. Mayor Jerry Amante decides he doesn’t like the Planning Commission’s actions regarding Fairbank’s property and appeals to the city council where he holds the majority (usually). The item was put on hold until March 1st, at the Fairbank’s request, presumably to prepare for the appeal by the Mayor. At that meeting, Jerry’s talking head in the Community Development Department, Elizabeth Binsack, stated that the city decided, even though the Planning Commission approved the structures on the property largely because of their historical significance, that they were just wrong. Plain wrong. Elizabeth and her staff, probably prodded by Jerry, decided that the Planning Commission, which the mayor and council appoint, was in error and the resolution allowing for the non-conforming property should be withdrawn. Essentially, she argued that non-conforming structures need to conform to code or their use could not be waived. Yes, you heard right. She essentially demanded that the resolution be withdrawn because the structures do not conform to the modern building code. We already knew that, Elizabeth. Never mind that the structures involved are historical in nature and never mind that most, if not all, homes in Old Town Tustin do not have any ascertainable permitting and are probably out of sync with the modern building code. She decided it was wrong and so it must be wrong. Of course, after a three hour debate, where the Fairbanks and their attorney presented information on the historical nature of the structures and offered to comply with the original resolution, the council -in a rare vote against Boss Tweed Amante- decided to affirm the Planning Commission’s resolution. Good deal. Done deal.

Not quite.

On March 15th, Amante brought out letters, affidavits and stones written with blood stating that, in an apparent conspiracy plot he uncovered against him and the city, everyone has been lying about this property and that the apartments, built by a former Tustin building official by the way, should not be permitted non-conforming or otherwise. In that meeting, it was clear that Amante was upset that he had been opposed and was out for revenge, regardless of the cost to Fairbanks or the rest of Old Town. Doing the bidding of her boss, Binsack continued to back him up. After his tirade against the Fairbanks property was over, the vote was taken to uphold the appeal and, of course, failed. He did gain another vote when his hit man, Mayor pro tem John Nielsen,  changed coats and sided with him. Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed and the appeal was again denied. Great. Now the Fairbanks could move forward.

Except that the building department, at the Talking Head’s behest, red tagged the buildings.

Bret Fairbanks and his family have been working diligently to resolve the issues concerning the apartments. By the way, these “apartments” are far from luxurious. Speaking with Bret’s dad a few weeks ago, he said the apartments are between 300 and 400 square feet. In some homes, that would be a closet. In any case, they have, up to now, been a minor asset to the property and a significant  charm to this Old Town residence. At one point during the most recent Planning Commission Special Meeting on July 26th, Bret stood in exasperation before the Commission and stated that all he ever wanted to do was to comply with the order of the Commission and get his letter so he could sell his property. He has, essentially, complied with all requirements but the issue appears to be that the city insists on using the modern building code instead of the California Historical Building Code, which should prevail as there is no doubt that this building and the apartments in question are historically protected. The property, including all of its buildings is listed on the Historical Registry.  But, instead of working with Fairbanks to preserve this great property, the city has worked diligently to thwart him at every turn. At one point he said he was out of money because of the city’s bloodletting.

This is our city and the hardhearted, unfeeling and, apparently ignorant Community Development Department, led by Binsack, who are working against the very essence that is Tustin. Old Town used to have a conservancy that worked for both the city and the citizens who chose to live in the Old Town area. Of course, the city council could not have anything standing in the way of their “vision” for the city as a whole. The mayor and council control the Planning Commission membership (but, fortunately, not how they think).  Anyone who has ever dealt with the Community Development Department (as I have) knows they can be charming while putting a gun to your head. The code enforcement believes they have a right to trample your property at will anytime they see fit if they even think a nail is out of place. If the Planning Department invites you to a meeting, my advice is to take your lawyer with you. And guess what? Your conservative mayor, who should be standing for limited government, backs them all to the hilt. Could it be because he has a real estate background? Could it be because his failed Assembly run leaves him few other career choices after leaving office? This is all the more reason why this mayor, who touts fiscal responsibility but squanders money on lawsuits against the school district and micromanages the building department, should be recalled. As the Recall Amante folks say, “How long can we afford this mayor?”

Bret Fairbanks has another hearing on this matter on August 30, 2011 at 10 a.m. in the large conference room at the Tustin Library. Let’s all wish the Fairbanks family and their supporters luck with this. I hope that in the update I provide after the hearing, I will have good news to report. In the meantime, maybe someone can whisper in Elizabeth’s ear, “It’s Old Town, Elizabeth.”

A $50,000 Party for Cement

It’s too bad we are not in the 4th District for the Orange County Board of Supervisors. It is beginning to look like Shawn Nelson is the only one of the Gang of Five that has any sense at all. Not that I agree with him on everything, but he did get it right on one agenda item on Tuesday.

It seems the Board of Supervisors wants to throw a party to celeberate the opening of a parking lot. OK, it is a big parking lot. In fact, it services a large number of commuters and is a shining exampleSNA New Parking Structure of progress. I am talking, of course, about the newly completed parking structure at the John Wayne Airport. Anyone who has traveled from John Wayne in the past few years knows this parking lot (along with terminal space) was badly needed. But, spending $50,000 for the grand opening? Ridiculous.

Back to Shawn Nelson, he immediately questioned this saying it’s “a ridiculous illusion that people would be fired up about the terminal.” He said it made no sense to reward contractors for doing what they were supposed to do. He also questioned the airport’s use of half their marketing budget for one event. In his weekly email newsletter, Shawn was the only member of the Gang of Five to discuss the event. “…flight prices and availability are stronger measures to increase ridership than a grand opening event. In addition, any event expenses should be the responsibility of the vendors who stand to benefit by showcasing their products and services.” That sounds right to any good conservative.

Not surprisingly, John Moorlach defended the celebration saying that it was important to commemorate an “architectural creation”. Huh? John, it’s a parking lot, not a Frank Lloyd Wright building. It’s not unique. In fact, it looks a lot like the parking lot on the other side of the terminal buildings which looks a lot like parking structures throughout the county. Clearly, it does not take much “creativity” to get John into a partying mood. But then, he is an accountant. Oh, did we mention that the airport is in his district? “You have to have a little pomp and circumstance.” Yeah, now we get to the truth. John probably dreams of a big brass band behind him on the podium as he pontificates about the virtues of using non-union, outsourced labor to build the gleaming monolith and how this parking lot will symbolize the freedom Orange County’s citizens will feel each and every time they drive into it at $2 an hour. Usually the only thing I’m thinking about by that time is whether I’ll get the gentle hands treatment by the TSA folks.

Airport officials weakly pointed out that it was not just about parking. It was about food, too. Presumably, they meant that reporters and the media (I am thinking CNN here) would be touring the new food court we’ve all heard about in recent months. Gosh, that sounds exciting and a real good reason to spend $50,000 of taxpayer money… not. I don’t know about you but, when I am looking for a place to eat, the last place I would think of is the airport terminal with it’s 8 overpriced fastfood joints and 3 overpriced honky tonks peddling authentic Wolfgang Puck fare. I can get Starbucks in 180 other locations around Orange County (6 right here in Tustin alone). So, again, not for food and certainly not when the County is looking at a $48 million dollar shortfall this year due to the shenanigans played in Sacramento during budget season.

In the end, it was suggested that $25,000 be spent in airport (again, read taxpayer) funds, hoping that matching funds from “parking lot gala event sponsors” be found for the other half. Shawn and the Littlest Princess, Janet Nguyen (surprise again) chiming in with “nayes” were outvoted by the majority which, not surprisingly, included Campbell and Bates who, along with Moorlach, seem to have no problem partying on the taxpayer dime.

Oh, and don’t expect to be invited to this gala event unless you are one of Orange County’s beautiful people… or, at least a Republican in good standing.

If you haven’t read enough about this yet, here is an excellent story from our friends at The Voice of Orange County.