Dear John

An Open Letter to Mayor John Nielsen and the Tustin City Council

Dear Mayor Nielsen,

At the Tuesday night meeting of the Tustin City Council, you expressed outrage that the newspapers and blogs would attack you over the Heritage Elementary School lawsuit. You thought it unfair that the press had labeled you and the city council as racist because of a pleading entered by the city in Orange County Superior Court outlining their complaint against the Tustin Unified School District. I can’t help but notice, you timed your remarks so as to preclude any immediate response from the audience by including them in “Mayors Comments” at the end of the session. I felt a response was necessary, to keep the record straight. As such, I choose to respond here.

You began your comment (which begins at timemark 1:09:12) on the issue by saying that you were the one who originally set up a meeting between the city and school district to hammer out an agreement. You also said:

I’ve been a great supporter of Tustin Schools for many years. My children have grown up in Tustin public schools from kindergarten and have graduated through high school. They’ve attended Nelson Elementary, Utt Middle School and Tustin High School, both of my children graduated from Tustin High, and this dispute is very disconcerting and has been for the last two years.

But, in the most recent legal battles that we’ve had, the city has tried to protect its residents and Tustin Legacy by trying to preserve a newly built neighborhood school as an elementary school. That school was paid for by those residents, by millions of dollars in fees, mello-roos. And, we engaged in that in order to have that elementary school so they could use it for their kids, which they anticipated they could have until it was changed and the carpet pulled out from under them, so to speak. But, you know, there are differences between agencies and institutions and people don’t always agree on things, but, you know, I’ve been fairly patient throughout this and haven’t said a whole lot.

But, when I see in the newspaper that the TUSD is declaring us as racist and, by reference, the neighborhood in Tustin Legacy as well, I get very perturbed. And, frankly, it’s despicable and it doesn’t do anything to solve anything. I know we disagree but, name calling and playing the race card is certainly not the way to solve those differences. I’m even more concerned that, frankly, the Orange County Register would print this, with scurrilous accusations without any foundation. Instead of trying to inflame people in this community, we should be trying to bring them together. We should try to heal and we should try and work together as much as we can. And, if we have differences, let’s please be civil about it. Let’s not get it down to calling names at each other. Let’s just do what we need to do to get through this. I’ve been quiet on this. I’m usually a patient man. But, when I see that I am being called a racist, I get a little upset.

Let’s clear up a few things here. You claimed the Register made scurrilous accusations that had no foundation. It was my original article on the city’s loss of the Heritage School lawsuit, which the city initiated, that first stated the issue of race. The Orange County Register could not ignore the fact as it had been published and was circulating widely in the community. I, along with other community bloggers, urged reporter, Elysse James and her editor, to publish the article both on-line and in the OCR print edition. It was, in fact, the city that provided the foundation by alleging harm to children who were forced to attend overcrowded minority-ridden schools, not the school district. In a pleading submitted by the city, the city council alleged:

Elementary school age children who live in the vicinity of the school, including children living in the transitional housing provided at The Village of Hope and the Tustin Family Campus, to date, have been forced to attend overcrowded elementary school in other neighborhoods further away from their homes. But for the Project, those students would be able to attend class at the neighborhood elementary school planned, paid for, and built for their use. These overcrowded elementary schools include W.R. Nelson Elementary, Jeane Thorman Elementary, and Benjamin Beswick Elemenatary. These schools serve predominately minority populations.

Do I think you are a racist, Mayor Nielsen? In your diatribe, you wrongly lashed out at school officials who you say called you a racist. Yet, that is clearly not what Tustin School President Jonathon Ablelove was implying when he called the wording inflammatory. He, along with thousands of others who read this wonder what this paragraph, written by city attorneys and approved by the city council, added to the city’s argument for the lawsuit. If it did  not have racial overtones, if it added nothing to the argument, why was it included?

Quite frankly, Mayor Nielsen, I am disappointed in your response. You could have come to the table and said, “They misinterpreted what we wrote”, or, “What we meant was this…”. You could have apologized for allowing a racially insensitive remark to get past the council in closed session. You could have even asked the city attorney for an explanation. The community would have accepted that and moved on.

Instead, you chose the typical conservative route. You stated your credentials as a fine, upstanding citizen of the community; how you have been involved for 10 years with city politic; how your children have all gone to and graduated from Tustin schools. You even mentioned Nelson Elementary school (mentioned in the pleading as one of those overcrowded schools) and then said, “I don’t care what the papers say, I am not a racist!” Well, the words, “These schools serve predominantly minority populations”, without any further explanation from you as to why they were allowed into an official court document submitted by the city, stand as evidence of the racially insensitive nature of the city council’s attitude.

I would also like to point out another error in  your complaint toward us. You stated that the newspapers, by reference, called the Tustin  Legacy population  racist as well. Untrue. Nowhere in my article on Our Town Tustin or the excellent article written by Elysse James of the Orange County Register, did we allege the citizens of Tustin Legacy to be racist. Again, this must be your conservative logic putting 2 and 2 together to make 5. While I cannot speak for Ms. James, I can certainly tell you that I feel the citizens of Tustin Legacy, who only want to see the school they paid for used for the original purpose, do not feel that way and nowhere in any discussion of the issues has that ever been brought up by or against them.  You speak of inflammatory remarks but, isn’t that what you attempted to do with the citizens of Tustin Legacy in having them believe they were called racist?

No, you and the city council stand alone in this matter.

The overriding tone of your message (besides, ‘I am not a racist’) is one of working together to resolve the issues that have gone on far too long. On this we can agree. Recently, the judge overseeing the original lawsuits in Orange County, continued the case again, this time until January of 2013. One has to wonder about the timing of that. Perhaps the judge is also hoping that, over the next year and possibly with new blood on the city council, cooler heads will prevail and the two entities can resolve this dispute without going to trial. It is not too late, Mayor. You have, by all accounts, an unwinnable situation. You can take that patience, which you espouse, and put it to good use by putting aside partisan politics and resolving this issue.

John, I have met you. We have spoken at length on various city matters. You are an intelligent, thoughtful man who, I think, has the best interest of the city at heart. Your allegiance to Councilmember Amante aside, you make fair decisions most of the time. This is one of those times you need to be your own man and act as mayor of this city. Quit trying to divert attention from this. Own up to it and apologize to the families of Tustin for, what amounted to, a racially insensitive remark that served no purpose whatsoever.


Jeff Gallagher

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 25 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 July 21, 2012, in Local Government, politics, Tustin City Council, Tustin Unified School District and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. proud liberal

    Nothing more needs to be said! Kudos for your article. You called him out as you should! The implication of the city’s statement was that the schools that have minority populations were getting inferior teaching, which is not the case. The real issue here is that Hizzonner did not want the school to be built where it is, but further out in the legacy which has no infrastructure and an elementary school would not have been built for years. It is a shame that hizzonner and his cronies don’t want to own up to this.

    • It’s sad but true that Republicans often like to “cloak” themselves with civility when, in reality, they still maintain their good ol’ boy roots. I’m an old Alabama cop. I can tell a redneck when I see one.

      Thanks for reading and commenting.

  2. Jonathan Abelove

    Your article is right on target. The City Council needs to make a lot of apologies. It is standard practice to wait for Council Member comments to fire back, lambast or ridicule a member of the public who dared to challenge or ask a question of the City council. This also enables a Council Member to take credit for an action which never happened. All of us, as taxpayers, can point to the Tustin City Council for every dime spent on legal fees. The school district repeatedly asked the City to sit down, discuss the City’s change of attitude on permits and fees. These requests were met with further threats of legal action, which is what they did. The school district requested several postponements of the trial in an attempt to get the City to sit down and resolve the problem. The City responded with a second lawsuit. They did not care about the homeowners in Columbus Square when they voted over a year ago allowing the Developer to change the housing mix and erode the value of the existing homes. If anyone is interested, the Depositions taken for the next trial are public record. The City Staff threw each other under the bus so many times a second bus is needed. The Depositions shed significant light on the abuse and use of positions and power to sidestep potential Brown Act requirements. It is unfortunate not all of the City Council Members got to read a copy of the second lawsuit with the potentially racist remarks before it was filed. This is the outcome of abdicating your responsibility.

    • I throw the responsibility of the racial inference, as well as the substandard school inference, entirely on the Tustin City Council. It was their responsibility to know and understand what was being written. That paragraph got through entirely because either the council did not read the documents or they read them and let them through anyway. So, which is it? That is the question I would like answered and it wouldn’t even mitigate the rules of closed sessions to say which.

      In any case, it was entirely wrong for Nielsen to act butt-hurt about it and try to focus the blame on the school district, the Register and me.

  3. Sharon Komorous

    I find Mayor Nielsen’s comments hypocritical when stating that… “the city has tried to protect its residents and Tustin Legacy by trying to preserve a newly built neighborhood school as an elementary school. That school was paid for by those residents, by millions of dollars in fees, mello-roos.” I just wanted to point out that as one of hundreds of residents who spent nearly 2 years actively fighting T-Mobile and the city against the installation of a cell tower at Cedar Grove Park, I’d like to know where the city’s protection of the residents of Tustin Ranch was when we argued that OUR mello-roos taxes had paid for Cedar Grove Park? Where was the city’s support to preserve our beautiful neighborhood park for the purpose for which it was intended? Now Mayor Neilsen uses the argument when it suits his purposes.

    • I couldn’t agree more. Nielsen and Amante knew T-mobile would sue and it would give them a perfect out so they could say they gave it the old college try.

      Thanks for reading and commenting.

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