About Last Night…Well, Tuesday Night…

They’re baaaacckk…. Yes, the Smart Meter people returned to the podium Tuesday night, complaining that the city council has done nothing to keep Edison’s Smart Meters out of our fair city. If there wasn’t a tinge of credibility to their claims of RF poisoning and secret plots to spy on us through our televisions, this would be one heck of a conspiracy theory. I am not quite sure what the anti-Smart Meter folks expect from the Council. But, I’m also not quite ready to write them off as crackpots. I am still working on a feature article. I’ll publish it as soon as it is complete. If you want to see what they are up to in the meantime, you can check their website.

Public Hearing Item 2, concerning the installation of cellphone towers disguised as flagpoles in Cedar Grove Park, brought a lengthy presentation by Community Development Director, Elizabeth Binsack. Representatives from T-mobile also showed up to answer questions and convince the Council to allow them to build their cell site. Tustin Ranch residents showed up enmasse to convince the Council the cell site was a bad idea. For the past three years this has been a contentious issue for the residents of the Tustin Ranch area, with many concerns voiced over everything from RF energy affecting their health to the location and design of the cell site itself.

As I listened to the concerns of the residents near Cedar Grove Park, it became clear they had done their homework and that City staff had not done theirs. Binsack’s staff, which recommended approval of the site, has been less than cooperative with the public. No surprise there. Key data had not been included in staff reports given to the public. The whole thing smelled of acquiescing to special interests over the interests of the public.

Make no mistake, this is not a NIMBY bunch. In fact, the speakers all appreciate the fact that cell sites are a necessity. A big issue with more than one speaker was the fact this had been designed as a single facility cell site rather than a co-locatable site, that could be used by multiple carriers. A previous design allowed for co-location but was scuttled by T-mobile in favor of the flagpole arrangement. Many said that the OCFA site, which is just up the road, was a better suited location as it was higher and up to 5 services could be co-located there.

The only ones who were not enthused with the idea of moving to the OCFA site were the T-mobile folks who, at the end of the discussion actually had the nerve to call the citizens, standing up for their community interests, disingenuous. Really? I mean, this is their neighborhood they are concerned with. And, we are not just talking about a few disgruntled neighbors. Of all the people who showed up at the meeting, not one citizen spoke in favor of the proposed cell site. And those opposing the site picked their speakers wisely as each provided a different aspect of their opposition to the plan. Disingenuous? Hardly.

On the other hand, I’d call the T-mobile representative a tad arrogant for thinking that he could get the City Council to just rubberstamp the project. And, ATS, the contractor who is supposed to be managing the whole master cell plan to bring the city into the twenty-first century? They are being paid by the taxpayer. Are they in bed with the cell providers? They did come pretty quick to T-mobile’s defense, lamenting how AT&T threw T-mobile under the bus when they bailed out of the original co-located facility. One has to ask, whose interests are they really looking out for?

In the end, it came down to the vote. The thing is, for the first time I can recall at a city council meeting, nobody was in a hurry to make a motion to approve or disapprove the cell site. So, during a pregnant pause, Mayor Amante asked the ATS representative back up to the podium for a few more questions about how we deal with this “explosion” of technology. The representative said the city has an ordinance preventing carriers from building cell sites in residential areas and school districts have not approved a site on school property since 1986. Because of this, the greatest need is now in residential areas. He said that there are other sites such as this one proposed in the city and that all the other carriers are looking at the outcome of tonight’s meeting to see how they will proceed in the future.

After some discussion on statutory issues, Councilmember Gavello finally made a motion to deny approval. The motion was passed on a 3-2 vote with Amante and Murray dissenting. All in all, I think the Mayor and Council showed thoughtfulness and compassion towards our citizens in this matter. Now, if we could just get the Community Development Department to do the same.

Aside from the consent calendar, Councilmember compensation was the only other real order of business. At the last city council meeting, Mayor Amante asked staff to draft a ballot measure that would allow the citizens of Tustin to determine compensation levels for councilmembers. I did a little research after that meeting to determine where Tustin stood in terms of compensation of their elected officials (the staff report did include a table with this information but it was not ranked). What I found was no surprise, that Tustin stood squarely in the middle on the rankings.

Although we all know there is no partisanship on the council dais, discussion quickly drew the lines squarely between the Democrats and the council majority with Beckie Gomez and Deborah Gavello stating they were not interested in doing away with stipends. Gomez did emphasize the fact that she and Al Murray do not take health benefits and that she did not think health benefits should be offered. But, she rightly stated that, while she believes the position of councilmember to be largely voluntary service, the stipend they receive goes to help pay expenses incurred while acting in their official capacity. She said that terminating the stipend could lead to a “rich man’s” council where only the well-to-do could afford to take the position. She also said the ballot measure should actually be two separate measures, one for the stipend and another for benefits. Of course, that didn’t fly with our narrow-minded mayor who, apparently can’t multitask.

I agree, of course. Elected positions in the community should always seek those who are called to serve out of a sense of responsibility, not for consideration of compensation. However, the position takes an enormous amount of time and out-of-pocket expenses that should be covered. Councilmembers could be forced to turn in expense reports but, in truth, that would probably cost taxpayers quite a bit more. Reasonable compensation is appropriate. And, as was pointed out, no elected official is forced to take a stipend.

And, I am sure that, way back when, our city council just followed a trend among Orange County cities at the time when they voted themselves health and other benefits. But, the time has come to take another look at that issue in conjunction with stipends.

Pensions for elected officials should never have been allowed but, again, Tustin probably just jumped on the gravy train. Certainly, when term limits came into play and most elected officials would never be able to collect a pension, it became added compensation, particularly after vesting occurs and the affected members then have a right to receive that money. In the future, this should be changed to Social Security, a much better choice for most people.

When all was said and done, the vote was tallied along party lines with the majority carrying the vote. So, next year, the voters will have an opportunity to determine future compensation for our City Council. I do hope this issue will be addressed further to allow voters more than just a yes or no vote. Perhaps a commission or standing community committee could actually set compensation each term.

As a parting shot, Tuesday evening’s Whine Award goes to Councilmember Gavello. She is, according to her diatribe during the discussion, the only one who ran for city council for the pay and benefits. In her rant, she managed to tick off Hizzoner, even after he appeared to go out of his way to call her by her appropriate title and be cordial to her most of the night. Maybe it’s tine to kiss and make up, you two.

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About Jeff Gallagher

I am a retired peace officer from the 2nd largest law enforcement agency in Orange County. I live in and love Tustin where my family and I have resided for the past 22 years. I am a highly moderate libertarian that despises hardcore Republicans, Democrats and anyone else who is not willing to compromise for the good of the people.

Posted on October 19, 2011, in Local Government, orange county, Politics, Tustin City Council and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on About Last Night…Well, Tuesday Night….

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