Monthly Archives: October 2012

On the City Council Agenda, October 16, 2012

It should be a busy night for the Tustin City Council as the clock counts down to election day and a new council makeup. Heading the list on the Closed Session are the usual suspects along with a few liability claims and a conference with real property negotiators on two items. Also, expect a couple of items to be pulled from the Consent Calendar for further discussion.

The council should pull Item 3, Completion of the Frontier Park Fitness Element so councilmembers can give kudos to each other for the work and praise our staff for the fine job in getting this completed. It is a nice addition to the park.

Item 6 is a Response to a recent Grand Jury report on the demise of redevelopment agencies and the implementation of successor agencies to manage debt. The city was required to make a response to three of the findings and four of the recommendations regarding oversight and costs. The city’s response, which starts on page 38 of the staff report, basically says, “Yeah, we know we didn’t have the proper amount of oversight but, trust us, we did the right thing.” OK, but we wonder if the grand jury will be happy with that response. To their credit, they have since formed the required Oversight Board as required.

Item 8, regarding environmental insurance for the Tustin Legacy Project may raise some eyebrows. We are not sure how this one passes muster as council should have been foreseen that insurance would be required. After the budget process, staff are now recommending a $700,000 outlay for the insurance from undesignated Legacy funds. The way the city went about this, it seems like a little subterfuge was involved.

Under Regular Business, Item 10, is the second reading of the ordinance that will amend zoning for housing owned by Redhill Lutheran Church. Although one resident expressed concern over the impact of traffic and parking, we noted that the church has been using these houses and the storage as adjuncts to the church for some time. This ordinance will simply change the zoning to allow the church to come into conformance of zoning laws. As far as we know, there was no opposition from the neighbors in regard to how Redhill Lutheran was using the houses. If the public or a councilmember does not pull this item for discussion, it will be a simple vote of the council.

Item 11, City of Tustin Strategic Plan 2012-2017, is a big-ticket item. We first wrote about the strategic plan when Mayor Nielsen outlined it as one of his priorities during his term. In August, we reported that Management Partners, a consulting service with expertise in the field, produced a report that criticized the city fathers for, among other things, maintaining a poor relationship with TUSD, and not enough cooperation and civility between city council members.

The staff report from City Manager Jeff Parker, attaches the MP product to an outline of the strategic plan with key components addressed. There is a lot here to take in and we don’t know if the city council would actually implement the plan as outlined. There is a lot of discussion about demonstrative leadership, fairness and integrity that will be difficult for this council to accept. There is also that issue of transparency in government. While the city complies with all laws regarding transparency, there is no will to go above and beyond. An exception to that is the recent decision to continue to publish city meeting agendas in advance and make them available to the public under the Brown Act. A better response, however, would be to see this codified in a sunshine ordinance (along with lobbyist registration).

Another topic of discussion is Respect. Well, OK. It seems, for the most part, our current city council has a problem with that. The exceptions are Al Murray and Beckie Gomez, whom I have never observed being disrespectful of anyone, resident or colleague. As to the other three, well they give us a lot to talk about here on OTT.

Among other things, the Strategic Plan discusses working collaboratively with other agencies on mutual interest issues. They specifically call out TUSD on this. They also recommend providing a method for obtaining feedback and “strengthen our partnerships with the community.” This includes communicating the outcomes of the strategic plan to the community. We’ll see how that works.

A critical part of the plan, to our minds, is the establishment of succession planning for professional staff. With the city council’s inane approval of a golden parachute for 37 city employees, including the city clerk supervisor, a vacuum has been created that will take some effort to fill. The plan addresses this, albeit after the fact, by establishing training and creating an internal leadership academy. This is a proven idea that works but we will see if the city is willing to do what it takes to establish true succession planning.

Likewise, with the change in attitudes necessary for the council to stop bickering and move on with the business of the city. One of the implementation plan items is to “Promote and enhance a strong culture of ethics.” The plan falls short by simply giving the same old tired response of providing required ethics training and training on how to cultivate a culture of ethics. Hint to MP: you can be ethical and a jerk at the same time. Just ask John Nielsen. Perhaps the newly seated council will see the value in treating everyone with consideration.

One of the most useful items in the strategic plan document is the environmental scan that begins on page 29. This really gives a snapshot of Tustin in relationship to the rest of the county. It shows that we are in above average shape overall.

All in all, the Strategic Plan is a good read and deserves the consideration of the City Council. But, the plan is just that- a plan. That is, until the city council and the city manager make a genuine effort to implement it.

Courtesy of the Liberal OC

Item 14 on the agenda is a response to Councilmember Deborah Gavello’s request for an anti-lobbying ordinance. While Jerry Amante pointed out that Gavello was targeting him and his new job, the idea of a sunshine ordinance that would incorporate lobbyist registration and the publishing of councilmember calendars should be a priority to any city that touts transparency. The staff report on this item refers to the state law limiting lobbying efforts by councilmembers and city managers for the first year after leaving office. It also specifically states that state law does not preclude local agencies from adopting policies or ordinances that are more restrictive. We are disappointed that neither the City Manager, Jeff Parker, nor the City Attorney, David Kendig, recommended enhancing state law with an ordinance or, at the least, a strong policy that would open city council dealings to the public.

The final item on the agenda is a response to Mayor John Nielsen’s goal of establishing a stronger and better defined reserve fund for the city. We never argue with rainy day funding, especially when it is established to support infratstructure and emergency situations the city may face. Kudos to Nielsen for establishing this as a goal. We have to wonder why it was not addressed until well after this year’s budget was approved.

Chamber of Commerce Hosts City Council Candidate Forum

If you don’t belong to the Chamber of Commerce or check their website, you may have missed this. Tonight at 7pm in the Tustin City Hall Council Chambers. I noticed the candidate lineup is in order of preference of the Chamber. Or, maybe, this is the lineup they envision on the dais. I haven’t been to one of these before so I am looking forward to seeing if the Chamber will allow the hard questions on the budget shortfall and the TUSD lawsuits and if all candidates will answer the questions or simply dodge them. In any case, we’ll be there to report and, of course, give commentary.

It’s Endorsement Time in Our Town Tustin

The Beer Drinking ElectorateA couple of things happened in short order that reminded us it is time to make our endorsements of local candidates, propositions and measures. One, was the endorsement of Tracy Worley-Hagen, Chuck Puckett and John Nielsen for Tustin City Council by the Orange County Register. The second item was notice we received that absentee ballots have been mailed by the Registrar of Voters. Since those folks tend to vote as soon as they get their ballot, or not at all, we just wanted to be able to throw in our two cents.

As we have said in the past, we will leave recommendations for Federal and most State races to others. Chances are, you wouldn’t like my picks anyway (remember, Libertarian..). We have plenty to say about the local races and, as we go over them in the next week or so, we will put them on a new “Endorsements” page you can use as the handy-dandy OTT voters guide.

City Council

2012 Tustin City Council Candidate Tracy HagenTracy Worley-Hagen – We agree with the OC Register that Tracy is, by far, the most experienced candidate fielded for city council. She was mayor for 4 of the 12 years on the council. She was instrumental in obtaining the Tustin Marine Corps Air Station base at a no cost transfer to the city, making this one of the last bases to be transferred that way. As a councilmember, she sat on the boards of the Orange County Fire Authority, the Sanitation District and the Transportation Corridor Authority. “When I saw that one of our councilmembers chose not to run again, I felt my experience was needed during this critical time in our city.”

One of the most pressing issues to her is to mend fences with the school district and bring the lawsuits to and end. “They’ve cost the taxpayers over $2 million in legal fees.” She accurately pointed out the lawsuits have become a personality clash with the losers being the Tustin Taxpayer. Tracy has been active in the schools and the community and has kept watch at city hall, where she says the council acrimony against the public and each other has to stop. Tracy says she understands the true nature of the current fiscal status of the city, and that she will work to restoring the city to good fiscal health. She says that every line item in the budget needs to be looked at for trimming and she is willing to take a hard look at everything including further pension reform.

Chuck Puckett– Chuck loves Tustin and we like Chuck. I first met him at a fundraiser for Worley-Waldram. He is an approachable guy who, incidentally, also has prior experience on the city council.

Puckett’s chief concerns are maintaining Tustin’s great public safety record and making Tustin more business-friendly. He is a member of the Tustin Chamber of Commerce and would like to see another abatement of the business license and building permit fees which he sees as a great enticement for businesses looking for a home.

No one seemed to be asking Puckett directly, what he would do to end the taxpayer abuse with the lawsuits between the city and the school district. We did, and his response was encouraging. He believes the lawsuits have gone on too long and cost the taxpayers too much money. If elected, he says he would do everything possible to encourage both sides to sit down and reach a settlement before trial. In our minds, it doesn’t get any better than that.

Chuck has been extremely active in community politics and civic affairs almost since he moved here. He is a co-founder and past president of the Tustin Community Foundation and recently resigned from a stint on the Tustin Planning Commission to run for city council. Along with his four years on the council, one as mayor, Puckett has also spent over 12 years on the Tustin Planning Commission. He makes sure to be seen at community events, such as the Tustin Tiller Days and the Chili Cookoff. He has been named “Tustin Man of the Year”. And, he shows up for meetings of the city council and planning commission to stay on top of the local politics. A highly approachable candidate, it remains to be seen what he would do about the foul atmosphere in city council chambers but we could hope his affablitly would spread across the dais.

If we have concerns about Chuck, it is that he has aligned himself with “Team Tustin” a nickname we heard Puckett, John Nielsen and Allan Bernstein have given themselves. Nielsen, has done nothing to squelch the harsh words that frequently cross the dais and, in some cases, has even taken part. And, while he has occasionally opposed Jerry Amante on issues, he has fully endorsed the current dysfunctional state between the city and the school district.

2012 Tustin City Council Candidate David WaldramDavid Waldram – David would be the freshman councilman on the dais. He is a lifelong Tustin resident and has chosen to raise his family here. I am corrected in a previous article I wrote as David says he is a full-time teacher and runs the video production on the side. Waldram previously ran for city council in 2010 and was beaten by Beckie Gomez in a close race where the last 100 votes counted. A gracious loser, he did not ask for a recount and instead decided to wait for another day. Although he has not sat on any commissions or committees for the city, he is involved in community affairs with The Boy Scouts and through his church.

Waldram’s focus is on public safety and the school district lawsuits where he told me the personality clashes have to stop. He is appalled with the behavior of the sitting council toward the public and each other. Waldram believes that political discourse can take place in a polite climate that takes in every citizen’s view.

Also Rans

John Nielsen, who the Register did endorse, is our current mayor and is up for re-election. There are a lot of things to like about John and a lot not to like. As we mentioned, Nielsen has done little to repair the divisiveness on the dais and has sometimes taken part in bashing other councilmembers. He has also done nothing to stop the lawsuit abuse on the city’s side. He has a real problem following Robert’s Rules of Order. However, he does approach most issues that come before the council in a deliberative, thoughtful manner. We just wish he was a bit more of an independent thinker that would tell the noise machine to his right to sit down and shut up once in awhile.

And, as we have said before, we are still waiting to hear what anyone has to say about Dr. Allan Bernstein. Although we note he was mentioned in the Register endorsements and Waldram was not, they don’t seem to say much about him either. Having no community or civic experience we can see, other than an unverified claim that he was involved with the Boy Scouts. He is the only candidate who still does not have a website up and running. At a recent Tustin Republican women’s forum, he said that he would work to implement term limits on the TUSD which shows us how he feels about the lawsuits and makes us wonder if he knows which race he is running in.

So, here are our picks. If our opinion means anything to you (and  even if it doesn’t), we endorse Tracy Worley-Hagen, David Waldram and Chuck Puckett for the Tustin City Council. Whether you agree with us or not, we hope you will get out and vote on election day. If you are an absentee voter and would like to hear about the local measures and bonds coming before the voters, you may want to wait before filling out your ballot and sending it in.

We are heading to the Extraterrestrial Highway for our annual run to the Little Al’ e Inn. Depending on the interference from the UFO’s you may or may not hear from us for a few days.

It’s Pay for Play in Old Town Tustin

Cruella de Binsack

Binsack Takes Another Step in Her Evil Plan

There is only one item on the Tustin Planning Commission agenda that should be of concern to everyone who lives in Tustin. The item is inoccuously titled, Conditional Use Permit (CUP) 2012-10. This is a request for the planning commission to approve the use of the Wilcox Manor for up to 24 paid events a year.

The Wilcox Manor is a single family residence on the west side of Old Town Tustin. It was built in 1880 and is a cultural icon of historical significance. it was purchased several years ago by Michael Demoratz and Lindburgh McPherson who live at the house. Since taking the property over, they have opened their home to a considerable number of non-profits and others who have used the home and its grounds, to the chagrin of some of their neighbors, for events of varying sizes. The home, by the way, is at the end of a cul-de-sac in a residential neighborhood.

Not that you could tell that, by the way the agenda report authored by Elizabeth Binsack’s staff is written. The report downplays the fact the house in in the middle of a residential area, zoned for single-family residences. The report also attempts to tie in the condominiums directly south on Main Street, but the two neighborhoods are directly cut off due to the cul-de-sac and Main Street, a major thoroughfare between Tustin and Santa Ana. The report even tries to tie in the Pasadena Well Site, a city operated facility which has different zoning, as further justification. The nearest business is a half mile East on Main St..

McPherson and Demoratz have chimed in with their own interpretation of the Cultural Resource District mandates. They outline the extensive renovation of the property and state they opened their doors for the first time to visitors  and were so well received by the community that they have, through the use of the home, obtained “docents” for the manor. A major point they make (and that no one can deny) is about all of the charity events held at the house. With the almost professional dissertation made on the madates, one has to wonder if they were not coached by someone on Binsack’s staff.

What they fail, completely, to state is the number of Tustin councilmembers and politicians throughout Orange County who have directly benefited from the charitable (read free) use of the facilities for fundraising events. That list includes the recent fundraisers by Allen “Doc” Bernstein and Chuck Puckett, both candidates for city council. John Nielsen has received campaign assistance from the “Wilcox Manor Trust” which, ostensibly, manages the house. Nielsen’s estranged wife Erin, who heads the Tustin Community Foundation, has also benefited from the use of the Wilcox Manor for her foundation’s events.

It is clear that Demoratz, McPherson, who have an ally in Binsack, have spent the past three years carefully laying the groundwork for an assault on the serenity of Old Town Tustin residents. Having invested thousands of dollars and man hours in hosting events for free, they now seek to take a part of Tustin history and turn it into a money making venue. This is the end game for these two, who have apparently been less than the cordial neighbors they would like us to believe them to be.

During the Fairbanks debacle, in which the city spent tens of thousands of dollars on Elizabeth and Jerry’s failed campaign against Brett Fairbanks, the Wilcox Manor trustees repoirtedly feigned indifference and supported the city in its attempt to squelch property rights. And, while they have supported multiple charitable events over the past three years, it should not have been done with the expectation of a payoff by the city and that is what has occurred here. In the “Findings” section of the report, Binsack states:

The proposed paid outdoor event use supports the purposes of the CR District in that:

  • The proposed use would introduce many first-time Old Town visitor’s to Tustin’s historic resources which would foster knowledge, understanding and appreciation of Tustin’s past.
  • The proposed use would complement and bring refognition to a historic resource, which would promote the identity of Old Town Tustin.
  • The proposed use would allow for the enjoyment and use of a locally significan historic property by Tustin citizens and visitors.
  • The proposed use has the potential to directly and inderectly generate additional revenue for the City in the form of business license taxes, sales tax and transient occupany tax.
  • The proposed use could be conditioned to avoid potential conflicts between the events and the surrounding Cultural Resource District.

Among the proponents for the CUP are Orange County Supervisor Bill Campbell who, to my knowledge, does not live in Old Town Tustin but has attended events (including a recent birthday party) at the Wilcox Manor, Gretchen Whistler of the Tustin Historical Society which Binsack and Jerry have been using to promote their policies in OTT, and of course Erin Nielsen, estranged wife of John Nielsen and Director  of the Tustin Community Foundation which directly benefited from events held at Wilcox. All in all, the report lists 90 non-profits who they say have benefited from using the grounds of the Wilcox Manor. Many of these are not Tustin charities. And, of course, no one is listing the number of politicians who have benefited and who Demoratz and McPherson now appear to expect payback for their generosity.

To be sure, at least some of the residents in the area do not seem to be too concerned. Demoratz and McPherson have obtained a handful of support letters from a few of their immediate (and none from the rest of Old Town) neighbors who would be directly affected by this CUP. Those in the community who were requested to support and did not, such as the Tustin Preservation Conservancy, have been labeled “enemies of the state” by the two and are considered persona non grata at future events. I missed the part of the CUP that said they will put in guard towers and gun emplacements to keep the drabble at bay, but they could be hidden in the guest house.

And all of this plays in to the hands of Jerry Amante and Elizabeth Binsack who, together, have wreaked havoc in Old Town Tustin. Besides the Fairbanks issue, Binsack made the owners of the Del Rio Building project jump through hoops in order to obtain approval for the development of their property on El Camino Real. When the Del Rio’s wanted to change plans to include living space above their retail stores, they were told they would have to do more excavation to eliminate the chemicals that had leeched into the ground during the years of the Rightway dry cleaners. It’s interesting to note, however, that the same constraint has not, so far, been placed on the project located next to Mrs. B’s on Main Street that will house a restaurant and living quarters on the upper floor. That property has seen years of use as an auto parts machine shop and distributor and surely has ground contamination. All of this has been carefully orchestrated by Amante and Binsack. Now, they seek to invade the residential area with an events venue simply because it would “show off” a historically significant home in the area that can otherwise be seen on the annual historical society tour.

Sorry, it does not pass the smell test.

In the end, it will be up to the planning commission to make a recommendation to the city council on whether to allow, what amounts to, a spot zoning of residential property to commercial property. Ten of the neighbors have been duped or possibly paid off to support the CUP. But, this issue extends to every part of Tustin and Old Town Tustin specifically. If this is approved, where will the next CUP request come from? Could it be your neighbor who would like to convert their historically significant home into a bed and breakfast? And, what about those who wish to rezone for multi-family property to build apartments that would “conform” to the nature of the area? Can you see where this is going? I can. Aside from the political payback that is obvious with this application, the eventual  demise of Old Town Tustin as a unique family-friendly neighborhood and historical icon for the rest of the city, is all but assured.

Here is your chance to voice your opinion. Do the residents of OTT and the rest of the city wish to risk their Cultural Resources District with what could be a large number of CUPs all asking to run their business in a residential area? The meeting is on Tuesday at 7:00 pm in the City Council Chambers at 300 Centennial Way.