Monthly Archives: October 2012

Reader Alert: Sign Thief in the Area

We received notice that a sign thief was spotted pulling campaign signs for Tracy Worley-Hagen and David Waldram, taking them with him or ripping them up. The Tustin Police Department has been notified of the incidents. The suspect is described as a grey-haired man driving what appears to be a new, black BMW SUV with no license plates. He was last seen in the vicinity of Tustin Ranch on Irvine Blvd. between La Colina and Irvine. He has also been spotted at an office building on Irvine Blvd. doing the same thing. When the man was confronted, he said, “I’m replacing their signs” and drove off.

Since the original sighting, sign thieves have hit the Tustin Meadows and Tustin Ranch again, taking hundreds of signs. A suspicious person was spotted outside my residence in Old Town but, after seeing me standing by the gate, he drove off.

Theft of campaign signs is a misdemeanor that carries a hefty fine and possible jail time. However, due to the cost of signs the theft of more  than a few can easily be elevated to a felony in short order.  The city of Orange had a few problems with one of their candidates stealing another candidate’s signs a few years ago that resulted in sanctions against the thief. It would seem that some people cannot allow the candidates to run their own campaign.

If you see sign theft in your neighborhood, please call the Tustin Police Department at (714) 573-3200. Don’t put yourself in harm’s way but if you can, get a description of the person, vehicle and license number to assist the police. We all need to do our part in running a clean campaign.

Why You Should Vote No on Measure S

We have already written a couple of articles, which you can read here and here, on local Measure S that will appear on the November ballot. This Measure was placed on the ballot by a unanimous vote of the Tustin Unified School District and is championed by school board president, Jonathan Ablelove and school board member Lynne Davis. The proceeds from the bond issue would be used to implement technology in Tustin  schools, something I admit is sorely needed.

In meeting earlier this year with their technology guru, Alex Rojas, I was impressed with the amount of work that had gone on behind the scenes to get this measure in front of the voters. He also explained that all of the money would go toward actually putting technology into the classrooms, from infrastructure to front end systems. While Measure G  paid for some infrastructure, the restrictions in the construction bond limited the amount of technology that could reach the classroom. Measure S would change that.

My complaint, of course, has not changed: In times like these, it is unfair to take more money out of pockets of the voters, many of who are struggling to make ends meet. Rojas told me the $135 million dollar bond would be repaid over thirty years and would amount to another nine dollars or so being put on a property tax bill. But, that is the rub. As I said before, we are still paying for Measures G and L and we will continue to pay that for some time. Now, Measure S, being repaid over a whopping thirty years would increase that debt. That is debt our children will be responsible for repaying. And, as I said before, raise you hand if you think this is the school district’s last bond measure.

There also has been no effort by the school board to pay for the technology through budgeting over multiple years or through other means. The initial reaction to the question of technology was to go immediately to a bond issue rather than find alternate sources to pay for this. Admittedly, that would be difficult given the present fiscal circumstances of the country, but that should be an indicator that the TUSD should also live within their means rather than living off the voter credit card.

For our money, we will vote no on this issue. Send the school board back to the financial drawing board to do what they need to do and stop saddling property owners and their children with debt.

Why You Should Vote No on Measure HH

“Shall an ordinance be adopted repealng Tustin City Code Sections 1303 and 1308(A)-(D), to eliminate city council member monthly salary and city council compensation consisting of participation in the city medical, dental insurance, life insurance programs, and retirement benefits?”

(You will not see a ballot argument against this measure in your voter guide. That is thanks to the Tustin City Clerk’s office who, when we called, mistakenly told us that the time for submission was past when the deadline was actually the following week. So, this will have to suffice as the argument against the ballot measure.-ed.)

That is the question you will be asked in November, thanks to lame duck city councilmember Jerry Amante. It is not, by the way, the measure he asked for back in October, 2011 when he first brought up the issue stating that more and more cities were taking steps to eliminate city council benefits. In fact, only one city in Orange County has eliminated all stipends and benefits for the city council and that is the Republican stronghold of Villa Park. What Amante originally asked for was to take a look at what, if any, benefits and stipend the council should receive. What we got was an all or nothing ballot measure that leaves nothing in between. Whether this was what he intended, he was more than accepting of it as he gleefully voted, along with his black ops guy, John, and his enforcer, Al, to place the measure written by the city attorney on the ballot.

Amante’s motives aside, the question of benefits for a city council is a good one, considering the attention paid to remuneration of government officials in the wake of the City of Bell scandal. Is it right for a person elected to what amounts to a part-time job to accept health, retirement and life insurance benefits? And, at what level should a councilman’s pay be set at? We might even be in favor of these questions had they been asked in two separate measures, such as one for stipends and another for the other benefits. And, that is our issue with the entire measure and why we do not endorse it.

Although there are cities and counties (ours, for one) where oversight and management by government officials requires their full attention and thus command a commensurate salary and benefits, most cities do not. Tustin, with a population of 75,000, requires only a part-time city council made up of what stateman James Madison envisioned as a citizen legislature. That is, people were expected to serve for a finite period of time and then return to their homes and jobs as regular citizens, hopefully with the thanks of the people they served.

Tustin certainly has no lack of citizens willing to serve their community. And, in the beginnng, they did so without pay or any kind of benefits. It was only in the last 30 years or so that the idea of remuneration for city councils of this size should be considered. And, in Tustin, there is good reason to continue compensation.

A few years ago, the city council decided to eliminate most expenses for city council members unless they were specifically voted upon in open session. This virtually eliminated any reimbursements for casual expenses incurred by councilmembers in the normal course of conducting city business. The cost of attending local functions and events, as well as unpaid committees they served on would be borne by the individual councilmember and not by the taxpayer. The stipend served to alleviate any financial strain placed on the individual by giving them a set amount of money to work with. This simplified issues with the city and eliminated graft and corruption that often went with expense reimbursements (we are not talking specifically about our town, by the way).

However, this poorly crafted measure will serve only to limit the number of residents in the community who can effectively serve as councilmember. Before running, an individual will have to think twice about the financial strain acting on behalf of the city may place on their wallet. This could effectively limit the makeup of candidates to those who are financially well off, where a stipend or reimbursement would be of little consequence.

It should also be noted that councilmembers have the ability to forgo health benefits, as Beckie Gomez and Al Murray have done, as well as opting out of pension plans. The same can be said for stipends which any councilmember may pass on. We’ll note that Councilman Jerry Amante takes the maximum benefit available as well as the city council stipend. He would have made a better argument if he had at least refused benefits and stipend when he proposed the measure.

As we’ve said,  the question raised in this measure would have been better as two questions. The first, to eliminate ancillary benefits such as health & life insurance and pensions, is a no brainer. Part time officials should have real jobs that pay these benefits. The idea of receiving a pension for 8 years of part-time service is ludicrous and, in reality, serves no value to the official.

The second question, should councilmembers receive a stipend and, if so, at what rate, certainly deserves scrutiny. But, there are many ways to offer and control a reasonable stipend that does not give one the sense of a part-time job while at the same time compensates the official for out-of-pocket expenses commensurate with the time and effort involved. Doing so would protect the taxpayer from corrupt officials out to make a buck while allowing for candidates of modest means to serve their community.

So, we recommend a no vote on Measure HH and send it back to the new city council for review as a more appropriate and well thought out measure the voters can intelligently vote on next election.

No Feet to the Fire, but Plenty of Action

Photo from Tustin Chamber of Commerce

We may not have had their feet to the fire like Costa Mesa, or the fireworks of  an Anaheim political event. What we did have was an informative forum of Tustin City Council candidates. Sponsored by the Tustin Chamber of Commerce on Monday evening, the five candidates, vying for three seats on the city council, discussed their views on everything from the budget to the relationship between the city and the school district.

The forum was moderated by Bethelwell Wilson, Esq., who provided guidance and kept the candidates on point. Assisted by a timekeeper, the candidates were given two minutes each to offer an introductory statement and then two minutes each to answer the questions. Most questions were taken from the chamber of commerce guidebook. They did allow a few questions from the audience, however, that led to some interesting discussion.

As expected in a chamber of commerce event, most of the questions centered around business growth and development of both the Old Town and Legacy property. And, although we expected incumbent John Nielsen to be most informed on all issues, we have to give the edge to Tracy Worley-Hagen, who showed through her answers that she has done her homework and has specific ideas for the further development of the MCAS property. Worley, who was instrumental in obtaining the base property when she sat on the council in the ’90s, focused her answers on the final build out of the property that Oringinally included a regional, three mile park that would, as she said, tie the entire project together.

Chuck Puckett, another city council retread, also appeared well-informed, owing mostly to his recent years on the Tustin Planning Commission. He said the city’s latest effort to encourage business growth through an abatement of license and construction fees was a tremendous success and could be continued by using the anticipated bed tax from new hotels that are currently under construction as an offset. He also said the city is “up to the task” of acting as their own master developer and the opening of Tustin Ranch Road will create new opportunities for the Legacy area.

In a question on the demise of redevelopment funds and what the city was doing to meet the challenges, Puckett said the city had already made up the fund loss (really, Chuck?) and that development will be able to continue in the Legacy District. Nielsen claimed that cost cutting measures such as the early retirement package offered to 37 employees already save the city money. Worley-Hagen thought differently saying the sudden loss of such a number of employees would create a brain drain. Bernstein, who appeared to be the least informed of the five, said the city manager did not seem to be concerned over the loss. He supported the early retirement program. However, it was David Waldram who pointed out the fact the city had been balancing the budget in the past few years by dipping into reserve funds. He estimated this year’s shortfall at $4.5 million dollars.

It was the question of the evening, on the lawsuits between the city and the school district, that showed the true colors of the candidates.  Nielsen began by saying he has gone on record calling for the school district to drop the lawsuits. Saying that this situation has gone on far too long (we agree), he placed the blame squarely on the shoulders of the TUSD school board and, again, called for them to drop their suits against the city.

Waldram said he had met with all parties involved and the five lawsuits had become more of a personality conflict than a question of law. He said the cultural infighting needed to stop and the two sides needed to start working together for the benefit of the community.

Bernstein, again showing that he is out of touch with reality, used his best Snidely Whiplash impersonation while holding up what he called a “news release”. Never saying that the press release came from the city’s own website, he inferred it was from a third party while demanding that TUSD drop their lawsuits. He then went into a diatribe about how, as councilmember, he would call for term limits for Tustin school board members. Making the only attack on an opponent heard that night, he blamed the union and cited Waldram as a “union man”. In the end, he was nearly sputtering his comments, leaving us to wonder if he would work toward any civility on the dais.

If we were keeping score (and some of the  audience did), we would have to give lead points to Tracy Worley-Hagen who showed she remains up to the task of managing city affairs with a balanced approach. Likewise, Chuck Puckett stood out as well informed and ready to take the reins again. Chuck is also one of those rare individuals who comes off as an “aw shucks” kind of down home type but who can replace that quickly with an all business demeanor that we think would serve well to keep civility as a watchword for the council.

We would place Nielsen higher on our list but he seems to have a bit of trouble in the honesty department. I’m not saying he has lied about anything but he has managed to twist a few facts to suit his needs. While touting a balanced budget, he failed to say it was only due to the city dipping into reserves. His unwillingness to compromise on the lawsuits will lead the city to the inevitable outcome of losing and quite possibly footing the legal bill for the school district. And, let’s not forget that he was not being completely honest when he stood up and called himself, what amounted to, a pillar of the community when, in fact, he appears to have a plethora of personal issues to deal with. To his credit, he did spearhead the strategic plan the city council is working on.

David Waldram, who apparently had his high school Government class attend the meeting to write on civics, is in the middle. He has a strong vision for Tustin as a family town. His answers, while sometimes rather simplistic, displayed his fiscal conservatism and knowledge of government function. He has a bit of a Pollyanna attitude toward the city but we think his demeanor will serve well on the city council. He does need to bone up on past city issues if he wants to bring those to the argument as he made a misstep in regard to eminent domain. Nice recovery, though.

The entire forum, by the way, was televised on the city cable channel 3 and is due to be repeated. I don’t get cable so I can’t give you the schedule. But, if you did not get to see this live, this forum is well worth the watch, especially if you are on the fence about who to vote for.

Did you attend the forum? If so, we would like to hear what you have to say. Remember, you don’t have to agree with us, just follow our simple rules that are posted in the comments area of each post. Oh, and be prepared for a comeback either from me or one of the other readers.