Monthly Archives: December 2012

There’s Money in Trash

money-grubber“PACs linked to trash hauler supported local political campaigns”

That is the headline of a story on the OC Watchdog that reports thousands of dollars being funneled to local political candidates by Political Action Committees “with links” to CR&R, the trash hauler for many municipalities, including the city of Tustin. In all, more than $30,000 was spent to support candidates. Of that, then mayor John Nielsen received $7,000 while his cronies, Chuck Puckett and Allan Bernstein are reported to have received $2,000 each.

From the Watchdog:

One PAC gave $7,000 to the campaign of Tustin councilman John Nielsen who voted in 2010 to approve an amendment to an existing contract requested by the trash hauler, according to the forms. The PAC also contributed $2,000 apiece to support the campaigns of Allan Bernstein and Charles “Chuck” Puckett, Tustin council candidates who were not members at the time of the 2010 vote.

“It’s not illegal, but in my mind it just shows the influence of campaign money on the governmental process,” said Bob Stern, president of the Center for Governmental Studies. And, while CR&R’s lobbyist claims “these tiny amounts of dollars don’t buy anybody”, we would point out that $7,000 is about what it cost for one of those hit pieces Nielsen’s other allies, OCBIZPAC, financed against Nielsen’s political foes.

In reply to the report, John Nielsen said that he votes in the best interest of Tustin. “My only allegiance is to the voters and residents of Tustin.” Maybe. But, is it coincidence that Nielsen, in 2010, voted to change the terms of CR&R’s contract to eliminate their obligation to build a buyback recycling center? That vote occurred in March and was part of a deal that, in return from eliminating the buyback center, the waste company would distribute mulch to the community and take on other financial responsibilities previously assumed by the city. The supposed reasoning was the plethora of recycling centers located at supermarkets. I guess you’ll have to decide who got the better deal.

One thing we’ll agree with, John wasn’t influenced to vote one way or the other. However, it could very well have been payback by CR&R for his vote and insurance for future votes.

By our accounting, there are 5 years left on the CR&R contract. Expect to see, over the next few years, a ratcheting of contributions around the county where the waste conglomerate has a financial interest. It has always been our opinion that the measure allowing for long term trash contracts such as this was a scam foisted on an unwary public that relied a little too much on their city leaders to do the right thing. The Watchdog’s story seems to contradict Nielsen’s “coincidence” theory. And, with Nielsen’s buddies also getting a piece of the action, one has to wonder what other “contractual changes” CR&R may be planning in the future.


Our Top Stories of the Year

Gnome-More-JerryHow quickly time flies. Our Town Tustin has been blogging for about a year and a half and the past year has kept us busy in our little corner of the county. Here are some of the top issues we have covered in 2012:

“Team Tustin’s” Hate-Filled Campaign – In what was probably the most contentious election to mark our city in year, the Republican led “Team Tustin” showed they could stoop as low as necessary to achieve their ends. Eight hit piece mailers went out against Tracy Worley and David Waldram nearly all of which were funded by a mysterious entity calling itself Tustin Residents United. Funny thing is, not one dime of money came from any resident of Tustin. Yet, thousands of dollars funneled in from the Orange County Business Council’s BIZPAC and other similar committees, all of whom had indirect ties to Nielsen and his team. While Nielsen, Puckett and the Podiatrist Councilman looked like the see-no-evil-hear-no-evil-speak-no-evil monkeys, Worley & Waldram held their heads high during a clean campaign.

Jerry Amante’s Use and Abuse of Power – Go ahead, believe our city fathers are not corrupt. If you do, I have a bridge to sell you. Early in the year, the

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Orange County Grand Jury issued a report accusing then mayor Jerry Amante and another councilman of attempting to coerce Brandman University officials into squelching a report critical of city manager compensation. The Grand Jury rightfull found the two were attempting, for their own gain, to get Chapman University President, Jim Doti, to pull the report before it could get out. Doti, acting the part, was simply aghast at the report (…here are your winnings, sir…). The city subsequently answered the charges with the usual, we didn’t do nothing wrong, it’s free speech. Selective use of rights, to say the least.

TUSD vs. The City of Tustin vs. TUSD – It is sad the city and the school district have, together, wasted well over $2 million dollars on lawsuits which have clearly become the hallmark of Jerry and John’s tenure on the city council. What originally amounted to a personality conflict, exploded into multi-million dollar multiple lawsuits against each other over control of construction. The highlight, of course, was when the city, under Jerry’s direction, sued the school district for having the nerve to transfer another school and administrative offices to a new school on the MCAS property. Armed with some of the lamest arguments heard by first year law students, the city was laughed out of a Riverside court and told not to darken their halls again. The other shoe drops first thing in 2013 and I am taking bets on the outcome.

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John Nielsen’s Unracism – In “Dear John”, we exposed the bigotry (among other things) of then mayor John Nielsen. In an attack on the First Amendment as well as the city schools, Nielsen attempted to defend his decision to allow a court document claiming Tustin schools were overcrowded and minority-ridden. Claiming he was a pillar of the community, he extolled his virtues all the while, filing for divorce and using the legal system to swat at TUSD officials. Oh yes, and the divorce appears to be proceeding nicely with new recent filings.

Cell Towers in Cedar Grove – The City Council didn’t seem to be able to get this lawsuit thing right. First, they continue to chase windmills with the lawsuits against the school district. Then, when they actually had a chance to stand up for the citizens of our community, they folded like a deck of Vegas cards. The cellular towers in Cedar Grove were one of the most high profile issues of the city and the city council, led by Jerry and his Kids, refused (or were in cahoots with) to fight T-Mobile over the installation. There was no effort, no transparency and no noteworthy action on the  city council’s part as they acceded tot he demands of Jerry’s business partners.

North Tustin 1, Catholics 0 – Unlike the Tustin City Council, the folks in North Tustin were more than willing to fight for what they believe in. When the Diocese of Orange, led by Bishop Tod Brown, banded together with the County to try and slip in a zoning change, the Foothills Community Association rallied the troops and sued them to stop the rezoning of diocese owned land that would allow them to build a senior living center on property originally zoned for a church. The city could learn a thing or two from these folks. Now, if they can stave off annexation.

Fairbanks vs. Hizzoner – In another embarrassing fiasco for the city, Jerry Amante and his mouthpiece, Elizabeth Binsack, were finally defeated once and for all in their attempt to prevent a jim_ho_nicholsonhomeowner from exercising his property rights. By abusing their power and the appeals process, Amante proved, once again, who calls the shots. Too bad it cost $83 thousand dollars to make his point. Then he lost anyway.

The Demise of Redevelopment – Seeing Through the Magic of Redevelopment as it related to the MCAS property was pretty signficant. Backed by the California Supreme Court, Governor Jerry Brown dealt a double death blow to the worst kind of corporate welfare imaginable. We pointed out that everyone was in on this deal with Democrats handing this gift over to Republicans years ago. Now, the other shoe drops as the state is demanding $263 million dollars from Orange County and its cities. Tustin has already coughed up $7.5 million but the state wants more.

Dear Assemblyman Donnelly – One could call this the biggest goof of the year. Jeff Donnelly, Assemblyman for the 59th  District, appeared to have a problem with guns and telling the truth. When he was caught in possession of a firearm while attempting to board an aircraft bound for Sacramento at Ontario Airport, he was detained by the police and TSA. His lame excuse was that he had received death threats and forgot the gun was in his bag. OK, except for the fact the gun was only partially loaded and sitting in a carry-on bag, the guy didn’t even have a concealed carry permit from what is arguably one of the easiest counties to obtain one. The Brady Bunch certainly did not have anything on this clown.

Silent Bob and Darth VaderLindburgh and Silent Mike Strike Back – Community Development Director, Elizabeth Binsack, can’t do enough to for Old Town Tustin. In fact, it is a toss up whether it was Binsack or Amante that actually wanted to slap down the Fairbanks family over the apartments located on their historic property. I imagine it was a free for all when she colluded with nearly the entire city council over allowing the owners of the Wilcox Manor to open an events venue at their residence. Armed with pretty stickers and hauling people in from around the county (very few from Tustin itself), Lindburgh McPherson and “Silent Mike” Demoratz sought a CUP by subterfuge and chicanery. When they were called out on the apparent fib they told about their parking arrangements, they sought to turn the tables on their Facebook page by saying their detractors turned everyone against them. They didn’t seem to get it through their heads that no one in Old Town wants a three ring circus at the end of their cul-de-sac.

Next year is already beginning to shape up as the new Tustin City Council opens the first meeting with a how-to on city affairs. As much as we hated Jerry Amante, he could at least keep us entertained with his self-serving diatribes and rants against Deborah Gavello. Now that they are both gone, we can only hope Mayor Al Murray and the Podiatrist Councilman will be able to look up at the audience as they read from their scripts in the coming year. I hope they have good editors.

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Holidays and a Prosperous NewYear

ireland703Mele Kalikimaka ame Hauoli Makahiki Hou! Nollaig chridheil agus Bliadhna mhath ùr! Milad Majid! Feliz Navidad! Merry Keshmish! Idah Saidan Wa Sanah Jadidah! Heughliche Winachten un ‘n moi Nijaar! Glædelig Jul! Cristmas-e-shoma mobarak bashad! Shinnen omedeto. Kurisumasu Omedeto! Chuc Mung Giang Sinh! Merry Christmas.

All of us at Our Town Tustin (yes, that is all three of us) would like to wish our Christian friends, a very Merry Christmas, our Jewish friends, a very Happy Hanukkah (regardless of the way you spell it), and our friends of other faiths and belief traditions a very Happy Holiday. And, to everyone, we wish you a Happy and Prosperous New Year. Though we still grieve for families torn apart by senseless violence, our nation, state and town remain united in promise and faith. And, please pray for our US Military members who remain abroad in far away lands. They spend this holiday season away from their loved ones so that you and I may spend it with ours.

Add Harrassment to the City Attorney’s List of Skills

tustin lawyersLike you, we thought this embarrassing saga of the Tustin City Council was over. John and the Fab Four had been sworn in, Deborah Gavello and her arch-nemesis Jerry “Boss Tweed” Amante had been ceremoniously swept from the dais with kind words and lots of resolutions. We had hope that, perhaps, the acerbic cloud of dissension was about to dissipate. So, we have to wonder why and at whose direction the city attorney, David Kendig, decided to take one last swipe at former councilwoman Gavello.

In an email, dated a scant three days after the installation of the new city council, Kendig decided to send an email to Gavello demanding she change her website as she is no longer a member of the city council and her website bills her as such. To add insult to stupidity, he also demanded she remove the city logo from her website as it was “unauthorized”.

From the Email:

On Dec 9, 2012, at 9:12 AM, David E. Kendig <> wrote:

Good morning, Deborah,
It has been brought to my attention that your website ( still refers to you as a Councilmember. Since you left office last Tuesday, it is time to immediately remove that website, remove your former title from the website, or change the website to correctly reference your current status. In addition, in reviewing that complaint, I observed that the website contains a facsimile of the official City seal on one of the link buttons. Such use of the City logo is prohibited by the Tustin City Code, so that also must be removed from the website immediately.

Please let me know if you have any questions.
David Kendig
City Attorney, City of Tustin

Yes, I am still laughing over the fact that, when we brought this illegal use of the logo up to the city in regard to then candidate Allan Bernstien’s blatant illegal use of the logo and misrepresentation as a city councilmember, Kendig sheepishly had the city clerk send out a reminder to everyone.

Now, one could say that Kendig was just doing his job. I mean, it was a whole three days since Deborah was gone. We certainly don’t want Gavello to be confused with the Podiatrist Councilman. Never mind that, among the various websites of city councilmembers, hers was the most accurate and up-to-date, making sure her constituents were kept informed was a hallmark of her tenure. Much of the information she placed up there was in direct conflict with the so-called transparency page the city public information officer kept on the city website. And, she was a master of demonstrating the idiocy of the city council in video clips that can still be found on YouTube.

“I can see calling me after a month, if it hadn’t been taken down. But three days? I asked my webmaster to remove the information the day after I left office”, said Gavello in an email interview. Since then, her entire website has been replaced with one big “thank you” to her constituents.

So, did Kendig do his job or was he just harrassing his former boss?

Perhaps, if we look at Councilman John Nielsen’s website, we can get an answer:

I am proud to be your Mayor this year, and am gratified and encouraged by the support I have already received in my campaign including friends, and neighbors I have worked with through the many years of my family’s involvement in our community, including, Tustin Dolphins, Tustin PONY League, Tustin Eastern Little League, NJB, AYSO Soccer, SoCal Waterpolo and numerous sports, events and activities for our local public schools, where my children graduated from Tustin High.

Yes, right on the home page of his website, he bills himself as Mayor of Tustin, even though it has been over a week since Councilmember Al Murray was elected to be mayor. So, where was the email to Nielsen for illegally calling himself “Mayor” when he left the position? Well, it is not the first time Nielsen has told an untruth. We doubt it will be the last.

What the entire episode demonstrates is that the inept lawyer Kendig will continue to be the pandering lapdog for what we expect will be an equally inept city council. We could hope for nothing less in the coming year.

As a closer, Gavello also explained that she had asked her fellow councilmembers to go out to bid on the city attorney services rather than continue the no-bid contract ad infinitum. “but Beckie [Gomez] wouldn’t help me on going out to bid on this”.

Did you really expect her to?