Monthly Archives: December 2011

Happy New Year

From all of us at Our Town Tustin to all of you, may you have a prosperous, safe and happy New Year.

Meet Al Murray, Tusin’s New Mayor Pro Tem

Tustin Mayor Pro Tem Al Murray

I recently had a chance to sit down and have an informal conversation with Tustin’s new Mayor Pro Tem, Al Murray. Al, who recently retired from the Irvine Police Department, is an affable man with a great sense of humor and, it seems, a pretty good finger on the pulse of the city. Running between meetings on behalf of the city and other boards that he sits on, he stopped by at my request and a promise to the City’s Communication Director, Lisa Woolery, that I would  not pounce on the good Councilmember. The fact is, I have often felt Al to be a pawn of the majority power structure in the city. I wanted to give him an opportunity to show that he is his own man and makes his decisions independently. We settled into our chairs with a hot cup of coffee, ready for some good conversation. I wanted to get to know Al, not interview him.

One of the first things I asked Al about was the recent controversy over the proposed cell phone towers in Cedar Grove Park. Al, along with Jerry Amante, voted in the minority to approve the flagpole design that T-Mobile had submitted. Al maintains that his main reason for voting for approval was his concern for the public and their ability to make an emergency call when they might need it most. He also felt the opposition was a group of homeowners who did not represent the residents of the area at large. We did discuss the fact that this was one of three parks slated for cell tower construction and it was not lost on him that the city would receive rent from any cell towers placed on city property. Although I did not ask, I got the impression the rent could be substantial. Al was not surprised to see the lawsuit from T-Mobile and, in fact, felt it was a natural reaction to the city’s response to the design review.

I also asked Al about his vision for the MCAS development and the city’s decision to act as master developer for the base property. Al feels this has been a good move for the city as they have already lined up experts to work on consultancy issues and bringing in developers to the property. They have identified five tracts to concentrate their efforts with a good mix of construction ranging from single-family homes to apartments. There is also one business area to be developed. He believes that, with the city in its current role, construction can restart in a short period of time, bringing jobs and families to live in Tustin. He lauded Christine Shingleton for her work on the base property and said the staff had been staying on top of this. We did not talk about Shingleton’s upcoming double-dipping after her retirement and return as an extra-help employee or her hidden raises. But, Al sees her as necessary to future development of MCAS. He expects to see real progress on the property this year. I have to agree that development, once started, should be interesting to see.

Naturally, the conversation drifted to the lawsuits between the Tustin Unified School District and the city of Tustin. As with any litigation, not a lot could be said except in general terms. However, Al was quick to point out that it was the schoold district who initiated the original lawsuit. Just as quickly, I pointed out the school district didn’t have much choice, as they had been backed against a wall when the city demanded permits for construction. Lisa was very helpful in the discussion, pointing out that both sides appeared to have the law on their side. Of course, when there is conflicting law, it would seem that the only recourse is to have the courts figure it out. We did not go into the obvious appearance that this fight seems to have taken on a personal tone with Jerry. The discussion was, after all, not about him but about Al and his views.

Jeff with Al, right, at Starbucks

The lawsuit concerning Heritage Elementary School was a different story. Al stuck to the city’s official stance that the school was built with Mello-Roos tax money specifically for the purpose of providing an elementary school for children in the Columbus Grove and adjoining areas. We discussed the fact that development had been stalled and that was TUSD’s reasoning for the use change. Al felt there were other ways to fix that problem and, again, the folks in the area paid for the school. Again, this entire issue seemed to be more of an argument than a basis for a lawsuit.  I pointed out that the city’s recent settlement offer seemed disingenuous at best. The settlement would call for both sides dropping all issues and paying their own legal fees. The district would also have to promise to remand Heritage back to its original purpose by the fall of 2012. As I told Murray, the district would probably be unamenable to their settlement as it would leave the district subject to the city’s new ordinance regarding building permits by government entities. Again, this looks like resolution in court may be the only way for either side.

On the whole, Murray sees the city of Tustin in good shape, financially, with good reserves to weather rainy days. I did gibe him about his iPad sitting on the table and how they were paid through unappropriated funds. Al laughed a little and said, on the other hand, that the iPad had been a godsend to him and others on the city council. Specifically, he said he used to carry a briefcase just to hold the reports, agendas and other material (over 900 pages for the last city council meeting). He said all of that is now on his iPad making it much more manageable and easier to carry. He also uses the device for his other official duties on boards and commissions he is appointed to. Al sees a few changes coming to commission appointments but sees himself heavily involved in city affairs. The fact that he is now retired was not lost on any of us. He also feels the city is in good shape as far as infrastructure. He continuously praised city staff and workers for their dedication to their job and felt that we have a great police department.

So, what do I think? I think we have a pretty good councilman and Mayor Pro Tem in Al Murray. He remains engaged in city affairs in a way that will allow him to make sound, if not always agreeable, decisions in guiding our town. I still feel he may hold some conservative allegiance to Jerry Amante and John Nielsen. But, Al also seems to have a pretty good rapport with Councilmember Deborah Gavello and appeared at recent holiday events with her, something I have not seen the other two do. With luck and that affability he displayed in our chat he could bring the council together for the benefit of the entire city. And, that can’t be a bad thing. In any case, look for Al Murray to make his debut as Our Town Tustin’s new Mayor Pro Tem. Your rookie days are over, Al.

The Bucher Ruse

Under the guise of political reform, public employee hater and 3rd Supervisorial Candidate, Mark Bucher, is busy telling fibs around town to promote his latest initiative to stop unions from contributing to political campaigns. In the past, Bucher has attempted to garner enough signatures to force unions to obtain member permission each year before using union dues for political contributions. This is Bucher’s third try, at least, and contained a twist that appears to have been the secret to success as signatures were recently certified and the initiative is slated for the ballot next year.

As The Liberal OC recently wrote:

Like his previous two failures, this proposed initiative would prohibit unions from using any funds collected from employee payroll checks for political purposes, effectively killing the ability of unions to raise the funds necessary to fight in the political arena. The difference this time is a clever ruse aimed at getting people to think that by voting for the initiative they are taking corporate money out of politics.

Union and corporate money out of politics. Doesn’t it sound great? It would be except, how many times have you heard of rank-and-file employees having money taken out of their paychecks involuntarily for the purpose of advancing the company’s political views or candidates? If you said none, you would probably be accurate. Oh, and spare me the recent conservative Wall Street publicity of how employees (read stock and commodity traders) contributed to company PACs. If it were involuntary, it would not be right. And, neither would it be for Unions.

But, union PAC contributions are

voluntary. Memebers may already choose not to have their union dues going to political interests they do not necessarily share.

On the other hand, businesses do not normally ask their rank-and-file employees to contribute to PACs that would further the aim of the particular business or business in general. But, they do spend money, and lots of it. Who’s money? In the case of privately held businesses, it is the owner’s money. In the case of publicly traded corporations, it is the stockholder. So, will the stockholder now be asked to make a positive election before company officials may contribute millions of dollars to political campaigns? I hold stock and I have never been asked my opinion on the subject. I also don’t have a choice as long as I continue to own that stock. Oh, and by the way, since my 401(k) (that Republicans would love to replace my pension with) does not let me exclude myself from participating in these corporations, I guess I don’t have a choice.

And, that is what The OC Liberal calls the “Bucher Ruse”. The initiative, if passed by the voters, will allow corporations to spend millions of dollars of investor money without asking while making it so difficult to obtain permission from union members, that unions will effectively be unable to pool their members’ money to promote their own interests. And, although union members already may elect not to have their dues used for political purposes, the positive election scheme will cause many short-sighted members to fail to sign up each year as the initiative will require.

It is interesting to note that Mark Bucher’s name still appears as an “official proponent” on an undated press release from the “Citizens Power Campaign”, a mysterious organization that appears to have been based in Our Town Tustin. This document, that appears to be from around the year 2000, shows that Bucher has been attempting “paycheck protection” initiatives since at least 1998. If you google “Citizens Power Committee” you will get several references to the same press release. We will warn you now, do not attempt to click on the web addresses in the press release. They appear to go to a foreign website that is not in English (we did, but we have pretty good anti-virus software).

Unions are not going down without a fight. In an effort to even the playing field, the Law Office of Remcho, Johansen and Purcell submitted an initiative to the Attorney General on December 14, 2011. The proposed initiative, asking for the title, “Corporate Political Accountability Act” would prevent corporations from spending shareholder money without prior approval. If approval was made by some shareholders, only an amount equal to the holdings of those approving shareholders would be allowed to be used. Sounds fair to us. Hopefully, this initiative will make it to the same ballot where voters can then decide for themselves just how much influence both unions and business should have on California politics.

It should be an interesting fight.

A Change Comes to Sacramento

Senator Bob Huff

Changes are in store for Sacramento Legislators. In a press release posted on the Republican Caucus web page yesterday, Senator Robert Dutton announced he will step down as Republican Minority  Leader effective in early January when lawmakers return to the Capitol. Dutton, who is termed out in 2012, said the change is “right and logical”. Dutton said his focus for the remainder of his term will be on enabling legislation that will help business create jobs. It’s not clear at this time if Dutton will seek another office at the end of his term.

Dutton did not name a likely successor. However, shortly after his press release, Senator Robert Huff of Diamond Bar released a statement that he will seek the leadership role. Huff claimed in his own press release that he has enough commitments from Caucus members to be elected. Huff currently serves as Republican Caucus Chair.

“It makes sense that we have a new leader in place before the governor announces the new budget, so he or she can begin to negotiate immediately with the majority party on a budget solution that ends California’s fiscal crisis and the state’s economic uncertainty,” Dutton said. However, it remains to be seen whether the Governor will even be interested in resuming talks with Republicans. Because of recent changes in the law, Democrats no longer need to reach across the aisle to get a budget deal. And, Governor Brown has already made it public that he will seek a tax increase directly from the people of California with a November ballot measure.

Huff, who served as his caucus’s point man on the budget, said, “There’s always a role, even if we’re outside the door banging on it. We’re willing to work with him if he’s willing to.” We’re betting he isn’t.