Monthly Archives: January 2012

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Car Wash

Actually, it’s what happened at the January 24th Tustin Planning Commission meeting that really concerned me. Let’s start with Chairman Jeff Thompson violating the Brown Act during the public comments section of the meeting. This is the part where citizens, far and wide, may come up to the podium and express their view on anything that comes under the purview of the Commission. At the beginning of the public comment section, Chairman Thompson said, “Fill out one of those forms that are at the podium and you can hand that off to Adrian. And, uh, let us know your name and address.” Oops. Did anyone inform Jeff that you don’t have to give your name and address before addressing a public meeting? Even infering that one must do so, as he did, is a big no-no.

In a Voice of OC article last year on this subject, Terry Franke, the Voice’s open government consultant said,

You don’t have to enforce what appears to be a mandate in order to chill persons from coming forward. There’s no legitimate reason I can think of for requiring speakers to give their names,” Francke said. “And I believe doing so contravenes both the Brown Act and the First Amendment, under which anonymous speech about public issues is a fundamental right recognized by the U.S. Supreme Court.”

Given the fact that this city has had problems with certain councilmembers who chose to squelch both the general public and their peers by demanding they sit down and shut up, Jeff should be very careful. This is especially so since the city has chosen to use both the council chambers and the planning commission as battleground for their fight with Bret Fairbanks in Old Town Tustin. Just a word of advice, Jeff, but you may want to watch what you say on the dais.

But, it gets better.

The Commission had just approved the consent calendar. One of the items was the express car wash we had written about earlier. Kal Patel, the complainant, who just happens to own a competing car wash nearby, was in the audience. After approving the consent calendar, Jeff elected to allow Patel to speak. He was unsure, however, just how to proceed under, as he put it, Roberts Rules of Order. Apparently, the city’s mouthpiece wasn’t at the meeting so Community Development Director and aspiring lawyer, Elizabeth Binsack, decided to dispense legal advice:

Through the chair, it might be appropriate for you to re-open public comments and ask Mr. Patel to address the commission.

Yeah, right. Thanks Ms. Binsack, esq. Except that isn’t really the way it works. Oh, yes, Thompson is free to take public comment as he sees fit. I am not aware of any rule against that. But, to what point? The vote has been taken. It would be a bit difficult to have a do-over.

So, Patel gets his 3 minutes and what does he complain about? The vacuums. The sign says they are free which, according to him, is not typical of an express car wash. He then goes on to complain that he doesn’t think these stalls should be taken up by the vacuum stations. Did he not actually read the staff agenda report that discussed this issue? Patel went on but it became obvious that he was singing the same old tune again. What he should have said was, “I don’t really appreciate you allowing another car wash with lower prices and a convenience market where my customers are more likely to go now” Oh, and Jeff? You can probably forget about that campaign contribution from Mr. Patel should you decide to run for city council.

Here is the bottom line. Mr. Patel should have asked to have this item pulled for discussion or asked to speak at the beginning of the meeting to express his concerns. Instead, Thompson pandered to him and allowed him to speak after the fact. Lawyer Binsack merely facilitated that by expressing a legal opinion when she needs to stick to directing her department (and, where was the real lawyer anyway?).

Thompson did do the right thing by directing staff to work on the issue and make sure the business was being conducted legally and within the permits issued by the city. If we had one thing to say, Jeff? Get a (real) lawyer.


The Dunk Squad is Coming!

TNT Dunk SquadAlthough we are a political blog, this is also a community blog and we often find worthy events and projects to talk about.

A young man named Alden Hodgdon from St. Jean de Lestonnac Catholic School in Tustin, wrote and asked if I would support their next big fundraising event.

I was recently informed by my head principal Sister Sharon Lamprecht that we will be hosting the “TNT Dunk Squad,” this coming Thursday, February 2, 2012. Sister Sharon was hoping to get the word out about this group. The TNT Dunk Squad not only does acrobatic tricks and basketball stunts, but motivational speaking for kids as well. We are looking forward to hosting them and I was hoping for your support to help announce this program on your blog.

So,  here it is. For those of you who are old enough to remember, The TNT Dunk Squad is like a hip Harlem Globetrotters. They are based in Pasadena California and add acrobatics to basketball playing. They have appeared at Los Angeles Clippers, the Lakers and other NBA basketball venues. To say they are a crowd pleaser is an understatement.

From their press release:

The TNT Dunk Squad is an electrifying slam dunk entertainment show that brings a positive message into local schools. These professional daredevils combine high flying aerial stunts with spectacular slam dunks and unmatched showmanship.

This is a great opportunity to see some great action on the basketball court. It is sure to please everyone, even if basketball is not your forte. For more information, contact Sister Sharon Lamprecht at St. Jean de Lestonnac Catholic School at 714-542-4271 or Alden Hodgdon, who is also the school’s Public Relations Officer, at his email here.

Seeing Through the Magic of Redevelopment

courtesy of Columnist Steve Greenhut over at Cal Watchdog, I was thrilled (I’ll spare you the “giddy” word Steve used) when I heard last month that redevelopment agencies had been dealt a double death blow by the California Supreme Court. Over the years, these once useful tools for wiping out urban blight have turned into three headed zombies that have managed to put good people out of their businesses and homes, siphon off tax dollars from schools and generally slap the citizens of this state in the face, all in the name of urban renewal. You may remember Kelo v. City of New London, Ct., where the Supreme Court of the United States upheld eminent domain rights of government to take private property at will “for the public good”. The Court held that the taking by a public entity was permissible as “public use” because of the economic development. Kelo and others lost their homes for the sake of urban renewal for a project that was subsequently abandoned by the investors. Nothing has been built on the site since.

Redevelopment is also responsible for the crony capitalism we see all around us each day. It is a particularly nasty form of corporate welfare that lines the pockets of consultants and lobbyists with millions of dollars of taxpayer money while producing a facade of tax benefits. One only has to look at the mismanagement of The Great Park by Larry Agran and the three ring circus run by ringmaster Ken Smith who has certainly made his mark in the Great Park soil while lining his pockets with redevelopment cash. After years of “development”, the park’s main claim to fame is the huge orange balloon that lifts visitors 400 feet above the landscape for a lovely view of the county. More than fifty million dollars has been spent on designs, changes to designs and -mostly- consultant fees, with little to show in actual park. That is pretty expensive for a balloon, even if it isn’t powered by hot air. Fortunately, the Great Park was a base reuse and did not displace businesses and homeowners.

Tustin also has a base reuse plan that did not displace folks for the sake of urban renewal. We have a nice, if soemwhat empty, shopping center and a few houses to boot. The Orange County Sheriffs Academy has relocated to the old base and there is discussion at the county level to reuse one of the old blimp hangars for a “great” park of our own (although it will be a county park as Tustin chose to have their hangar demolished). Redevelopment money was used on the base to help build infrastructure and to lure developers to build homes, apartments and businesses. Unfortunately, when the economy went sour, no amount of taxpayer money could keep the developers interested and the land sat largely fallow.

Tuesday night’s city council meeting had the Redevelopment Agency, ramrodded by soon-to-be-double-dipping Christine Shingleton, singing their swan song to the audience. Shingleton gave a presentation that would have made Jerry Brown cry. She talked of all the redevelopment dollars spent on infrastructure and how much money the city had planned to spend in the areas in need. In the staff agenda report provided to the city council, she lamented:

These expenditures included specific neighborhood improvements, economic development, public infrastructure and community facilities, specific housing programs for preservation rehabilitation, new construction first time homebuyers and homeless assistance administrative and direct costs for all programs and administrative indirect costs. These projects would have created thousands of high paying permanent jobs and construction jobs. It is estimated that for every 1 dollar in redevelopment spending nearly 13 in total economic activity good and services is generated in one year

Of course, the last statement is not supported by facts. This was simply supposition on the city’s part that redevelopment is necessary to the continuation of the good life here in Tustin. It is debatable as to how many jobs (at least, living wage jobs) would have been created through redevelopment agencies. Further, there are other studies showing that the dollars brought in by redevelopment agencies are not sustainable and that the benefits from redevelopment generally cease in the mid-term. One of the original tenets of redevelopment, of course, is to provide affordable housing. In fact, twenty percent of redevelopment money is supposed to be used for affordable housing. But, from what can be seen, only around 800 of those housing units have been developed. That is less than three percent of the housing in Tustin. And of those, how many remain “affordable”. Oh, and, let’s not forget that 5 employees (plus a percentage of one employee) salaries, plus considerable consultant fees  are paid by Tustin’s redevelopment agency. Well, I’m sure the city will have no trouble finding work for RDA employees and they can just take the funds out of the same place they pulled funds for those city council iPads. I’m not sure how they will feed their consultants.

Then there is the MCAS base reuse development which has been largely underwritten by the redevelopment agency. The District shopping center has been built, along with a scattering of houses. Infrastructure has been placed and things were looking up until the housing crash. But, does that mean the end of redevelopment if the RDAs do, in fact, go away? Certainly not. The city is looking, along with other cities in the same situation, at promoting legislation that would be beneficial to developing base reuse plans and vehicles for funding specific to base reuse. These new base reuse specific entities could also be used to roll over bond debt from the RDAs, at least to the extent the base reuse participated.   And, in any case, the base properties are prime for development.The city took the bold step to act as master developer for the base and early results are promising. When the natural course of business picks up as expected this year, we should see renewed interest in building without the necessity of providing tax dollars as incentives.

Just like the rest of government, Tustin needs to stand on its own two feet without the benefit of magic shows provided by its redevelopment agency. The amount of money coming into the city should and will be spent on its infrastructure even as RDAs wind down. But, conservatives with business interests cannot leave it alone. Even now, they fight for the life of RDAs through their new best friends, the Democratic led legislature. Senator Alex Padilla authored SB659 that would extend the life of RDAs for another few months. One could argue that the time is needed to put the city’s house in order. But, the city has already developed a time line and proper resolutions to wind down the RDA and transfer responsibility within the February timeline. So, the only reasonable explanation for extending the time is to allow RDAs to continue to operate while business interests and legislators come up with legislation to replace RDAs .It is also expected that some RDAs, because of the bond obligations, will need up to 15 years to completely dissolve. That is a long time for proponents to come up with a plan to resurrect this monster.  And that, folks, is why you may see the zombie’s arm thrusting up through the dirt.

The City Council/Redevelopment Agency wants to do its part as well. A “staff” (or is it Jerry) proposal has been made to diverge from city policy and to create a blanket authority to spend up to five thousand dollars of taxpayer money to send staff and councilmembers to Sacramento to lobby legislators who are already on board with recreating RDAs. Guess who will be one of the lobbyists? I would guess our most fiscally conservative member would go. I am pretty sure it will be no one on the left side of the dais.

Are the interests that wish to keep RDAs alive stronger than the California Supreme Court? All I can say is it should be an interesting time around this state over the next few months to see what pops up on the horizon. And, like Steve Greenhut, I hope coalitions emerge to keep this “Evil Thing” in its grave.

On the Agenda, January 24, 2012

One thing I like about our Planning Commission is the speed with which they respond to issues and concerns brought to them by local citizens. You may not like the answer you get, but you will get an answer.

Express Car Wash The first item of business on the Tustin Planning Commission agenda is to address concerns raised at the last meeting by Kal Patel. Patel was concerned that changes had been made after approval of permits for a car wash located near his business. Patel was concerned that substantial changes were being made to the self-service car wash and that it was actually going to have employees who would work on the cars. His concerns extended to the parking lot as well. The proposed car wash is, in fact, part of a larger gas and mini-mart operation already located at the business and changes allowed were for unforeseen circumstances. The business has reassured the city that it will be a self-serve car wash as planned. Oh, and Mr. Patel’s business? That would be the car wash located nearby which, by the way, does have employees and quite a bit more than just car washing. They also get a two and a half stars on Yelp.

2011 Fire Hazard Severity Zone Maps Since last year (and probably before), Cal Fire, OCFA and the city of Tustin have been struggling back and forth over Fire maps that would delineate the areas the fire department feels are at high risk for fire. The requirements under the maps would create unfunded mandates and the maps are, according to the city, inaccurate as they include portions of East Tustin that are obviously not in danger. At the Council’s and Planning Commission’s behest, staff have conveyed to Cal Fire the city’s disinterest in adopting the maps.

Of course, we agree. This is, first and foremost, a private property issue. Further, anything that can be required by adoption of the maps is already required by law. And, anyone who can’t look around their property and determine whether they are in a fire hazard area can call the fire department. They’ll be happy to assist.

Residential Design Guidelines for the Cultural Resources District This item hits close to home for us, for obvious reasons. We live in Old Town and have seen, firsthand, the way certain “leaders” in our community are determined to wreck this great asset. The Cultural Design Review Guidelines are, according to one source, “intended to help property owners carry out maintenance, rehabilitation, and remodeling projects that are compatible with the architectural style of their house and the character of the surrounding neighborhood.” They are also there to provide guidance in building new structures in a manner that will compliment the historical district. Our Town Tustin has been vocal about the trampling of property rights by the city. Bret Fairbanks in Old Town continues to be harassed by the city staff who, apparently, did not like the latest determination by the hearing officer and appealed, once again, his order stopping the red tagging of Bret’s buildings. So, forgive us if we observe with a jaded eye, the following from the staff agenda report:

The illustrations, how-to methods, and design ideas shown in the “Residential Design Guidelines” are to be used as a “yardstick” against which to measure proposed projects; they are not intended to be development standards as are found in the Zoning Ordinance. Therefore, they may be interpreted with flexibility. Applicable projects are encouraged to follow the spirit of the guidelines to the greatest degree possible.

They left off the words, “or Jerry Amante and his talking head, Elizabeth Binsack will hunt you down and ruin you both financially and spiritually.” But, that’s OK. We know what they meant.

In any case, anyone who has an interest in the Design Review Guideline should take a look and, if necessary, attend the next Planning Commission meeting to voice their opinion.

By the way, I just saw the latest addition to the city’s website. On the right hand side, you will find the “Old Town Guide“. A great resource if you want to check out Old Town.