Monthly Archives: October 2012

Tustin PIO Resigns. No Communication?

While we were out enjoying the Tustin Tiller Days Parade from our front porch, we got word that the city’s Public Information Officer, Lisa Woolery, abruptly resigned her position with the city. I reached out to several sources in the city and even emailed Lisa to find out the details. This evening, we finally received an email from Lisa, who stated the move was purely career-oriented. “I’m ready for new challenges and a better salary.”

Lisa had been with the city for over 6 years. She came to the position with outstanding credentials: a former teacher,  a masters in communications from CSUF and has worked in the field for over 15 years. She is only one of 1,400 public relaitions professionals to have earned the Accredited Public Relations certification from the Public Relations Society of America.She was named Public Information Officer of the Year in February and both The Liberal OC and Our Town Tustin applauded her achievements.

It was unfortunate the kudos were one sided. Over the year, Woolery had managed to stop communicating with local blogs, including the Lib and us, and apparently only worked with Ellyse James of the Orange County Register, whom she was more than happy to feed the stories of Tustin’s bright side. She was not happy with criticism of the city or, in particular, the (un) transparency in city government that was supposedly her bailiwick. When we ran a story complaining the city was not being very transparent in their dealings over the cell towers at Cedar Grove Park, we received a curt email stating that all future requests for information would need to be made under the California Public Records Act to the city clerk. We were also cut off from further press releases and had to rely on combing the city website for general information.

Whether it was bruised ego or a directive from the city fathers (read Jerry Amante), Woolery failed in a principle goal of any communications manager to maintain relationships with the media. Realizing we were and are an upstart blog for the city, Woolery did not seem to grasp the responsibilities of watchdog blogs such as ours and the well established The Liberal OC, where Dan Chmielewski had told me long ago that she refused to communicate with him. There is an old saying we frequently bring up: Keep your friends close and your enemies closer. And, while never considered each other enemies, we often had an adversarial relationship mostly due to the nature of the blog.

Woolery’s hours were cut earlier this year in a budget move. That was verified by our sources at city hall who stated she was down to 32 hours a week. Was City Manager Jeff Parker trying to send her a message? If so, she apparently received it, loud and clear and she is joining the flock of talent leaving our city for greener pastures where visions of Jerrydom fade into the distance.

For the near future, I have been told the Facebook and Twitter feeds are being handled by Debbie Sowder from the City Manager’s office. She came out strong and has been posting to Facebook and tweeting her littler heart out all weekend from Tiller Days over at Columbus Tustin Park. We’ll see how often those tweets are coming after the newness has worn off.

For our part, we will say goodbye and good luck, Lisa. When we were talking, we had a good relationship and I appreciate you making my job easier in the beginning. Happy trails.

Orange County Board of Supervisors Move Forward With Hangar Plans

With little fanfare and no discussion, the Orange County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously, Tuesday, to take the next step toward building a regional park at one of the blimp hangars on the old Tustin MCAS base. When the base closed, most of the land, including one of the Hangars, was handed over to the city of Tustin for redevelopment. The cost-free acquisition of the land was a hallmark of then mayor Tracy Worley-Hagen and the city wasted no time getting to work on plans for the eventual development of the property. That development, it turned out, did not include the south hangar retained by the city.

The other hangar was handed over to the County of Orange. Rather than cast it aside, they set about finding ways they could centerpiece the hangar and surrounding land as a venue or park. Earlier this year, OC Parks Department unveiled a concept for a new park using the hangar as a multi-venue facility. The Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to go forward with the plan. Until now, little more has been said about it, although it was clear OC Parks personnel were working on the project.

It was apparent for some time the County wanted to save the north hangar for some type of use. They entered into an agreement previously with another development group that also had plans for multiple uses or tenants for the hangar. That deal expired without any real work being performed on the concept. This latest move by the county to select LPA, Inc. as the primary and MIG, Inc. as the alternate general development companies for the project is a significant step forward. It is unclear how far LPA has gone with plans for the hangar. The only attachments to the agenda item on the county website were scoring sheets for the various companies that showed how well the companies performed in comparison of capabilities.

We have written several times about the reuse of the hangars and even briefly defended the city’s stance based on what we thought was diligent work on their part to find reuse. We have since changed our position and believe the city has erred in not developing a use for the hangar. And, we aren’t the only ones who think the city is making a big mistake. Aside from the residents, who overwhelmingly wish to see the hangars remain intact, the city hired a firm called Management Partners who conducted research on strategic planning for the city. One of their findings was that the city was missing a huge opportunity by not pursuing reuse of the south hangar. The only thing saving the south hangar so far has been the fact that title is retained by the U.S. Navy. We hope they will leave the hangar as is until cooler heads in the city come to the dais, perhaps with a joint plan with the county for reuse as a larger park facility.

Regardless of the final fate of the south hangar, the north hangar, and a signficant piece of history, will be preserved through the actions of the OC Board of Supervisors. Although this is a first step and there is much work to be done, it looks like the hangar is here to stay.

One thing, Supervisor Moorlach, my wife would like you to include a central market. Nothing fancy. You could use LA’s Grand Central Market as an outline. Just a thought.

Who Is That Guy?

With the resignation of Chuck Puckett from the Tustin Planning Commission, the city council has been left with the task of selecting a new candidate for the position.  As you know, Puckett left the Chair of the planning commission to run for city council. The city then advertised the open position which the council may choose to fill tonight.

Of the two candidates who filed papers, one was disqualified for not meeting residency requirements. That left only one qualified candidate. He is Wisam (Sam) Altowaiji and he is an insider. In fact, he is a Public Works Manager working under Doug Stack. Altowaiji has a civil engineer background, as does current Planning Commissioner Jeff Thompson, and has worked for the city for the past 25 years. His wife is a real estate broker in town and they live and own property here in Tustin. Altowaiji states he has worked for the city for 25 years and, while planning to retire at the end of October, would like to “continue to serve/contribute to and share” his knowledge.

Never mind the pool of applicants should not be limited to one or two, there are huge potential conflicts of interest for Altowaiji. He will be an immediate past employee of the city, from their public works department. By his own admission, he is familiar with what the city staffers (read Jerry and Elizabeth’s) “vision” is for the city. While not a legal conflict of interest here, there is an ethical issue. Will he just stroll in and speak with whom he chooses, conducting behind the scenes meetings out of view of the public? There is little to prevent that from happening.

He and his wife own property here. A quick records search revealed several deeds recorded in his name. Owning a personal residence is one thing but owning businesses or rental properties within the city could also pose a problem. And, while these conflicts could be quickly remedied by an abstention on a vote, the question would remain that, with his wife being a real estate broker, how many of her clients would benefit from insider information he could provide.

The city council has several options at this point. First, they can proceed with an “interview” and appoint Altowaiji to the position. The outward appearance of this appointment would be that Altowaiji, supposedly having his finger on the pulse of the city, would be under the thumb of The Gang of Three. Altowaiji is filling an unexpired term that ends in 2014. The new city council could recall him before that but it’s doubtful that would happen without cause.

A second option for the city council would be to extend the deadlline for applicants, advertise more broadly and hope they get a larger pool of qualified applicants to choose from.

The third option would be to postpone appointment of a new commissioner until the new council is seated. This would allow the new council, whoever they may be, to have the candidate of their choice appointed to the position rather than a leftover lame-duck appointee from the Amante era. The commission would continue to run with four commissioners which, based on their usual unanimous voting scheme, would not hinder their ability to conduct city business. This option is our preference and should be the preference for a city that touts its transparency.

The Special City Council meeting will be held at 4:30 pm before the Closed Session convenes. As most residents who attend city council meetings are not available until later, the council will be free to do whatever is in their hearts. Let’s just hope they do the right thing.

On the City Council Agenda, October 2, 2012

Just a few things happening on the Tustin City Council agenda this week. Aside from the usual suspects in Closed Session, there are two Public Hearings to contend with. Also, one or two of the items from the Consent Calendar may be pulled.

For our money, the city council may want to discuss the noise abatement level report from John Wayne Airport. The agenda says average levels at the monitoring station have remained constant for three of four quarters. They should move that monitoring station to my house. Seriously, there have been complaints in every quarter of the reporting period but the numbers say the noise is below acceptable levels. Not much there, unless you want to wade through a 56 page report, but enough the Three Amigos may want to pat themselves on the back about.

Both of the Public Hearings, may generate some discussion. The hearing on Redhill Lutheran Church is the second public hearing on the matter. On September 11, 2012, the Tustin Planning Commission held a lengthy hearing on the proposed General Plan Amendment, Zoning Change and Conditional Use Permit for several residences that are actually the property of the church. The commission recommended approval of the changes to the city council on a 4-0 vote.

The sole opposition at the meeting was a resident who lived across the street from the church and who was concerned the changes would impact traffic and parking in the area. The pastor of the church said the residences had, in essence, been operating the same way for several years and there would be no change to their use. The purpose of the GPA and CUP were simply to bring it in to compliance with city requirements.

This will be the second Public Hearing on the matter. There may be discussion as this will give others who may not have known about the requests to come forward with their concerns.

The second Public Hearing is one we wrote about yesterday. It is an appeal from an approval for a CUP for Goodwill Industries of Orange County to establish a high end retail outlet store and donation center in Larwin Square. The Planning Commission approved the CUP 4-0 on August 28, 2012. Surprisingly, Tustin Councilmember Deborah Gavello filed an appeal, stating simply “based on location”. When we attempted to contact Deborah about her concerns, she refused to speak with us. So, I guess we will all be waiting with bated breath until Deborah speaks.

Closed Session

Conference with Legal Counsel re: two cases of exposure to litigation and two case of initiation of litigation

Liability Claim – Marbella Perivan and hector Tapia Bravo Claim No. 12-24

Conference with Legal Counsel Existing Litigation – City of Tustin v. Keybank, N.A.

Open Session

Public Hearing – Redhill Lutheran Church, General Plan Amendment, Zone Change and Conditional Use Permit for several residence properties adjacent to the main church property.

Public Hearing – Appeal of Panning Commission Decision to Approve Use Determination for retail space to be use by Goodwill Industries in Larwin Square.

That’s it. We probably won’t make the meeting but we will report back on anything worth reporting. Of course, YouTube for really good repartee is always an option.