Author Archives: Jeff Gallagher

Slot Machine Politics?

Way back in 2012, when “Il Duce”, Jerry Amante did his best to sabotage our town Tustin on his way out, he managed to talk the voters into foolishly voting for Measure HH that would end compensation for future generations of city councilmembers. I’m not sure how he managed to talk his cronies into it but, when it came to a vote, the residents of Tustin overwhelmingly chose to end the stipends and benefits for the incoming city council.

Granted, city council pay also included typical city employee benefits such as, paid healthcare and retirement contributions. And, while I would take issue with the benefits portion of compensation, I certainly had no problem with councilmembers making a few hundred dollars a month to oversee the city. Amante had already managed to eliminate nominal expenses for councilmembers in a previous executive action.

Some people at the time felt it was an all or nothing issue. I certainly didn’t. While health and retirement benefits should not be a part of council pay, a nominal stipend should be there to help pay for those expenses that any volunteer position incurs.

It took 8 long years but our trusty residents finally righted the wrong and returned reasonable stipends to the city council. We were fortunate there were enough civic minded candidates for the city council that we didn’t suffer those interim years from the lack of cash in the pocket. I did notice, however, there were an unusual number of candidates for the three council slots up for election when the stipends returned. Could it be…..nah…. They don’t care about the money. If they did, they would have investigated and found out that there was still money to be made in those lean years and that, sometimes, it makes the stipend look like a ten year old’s allowance.

What I am talking about, of course, is commission/committee assignments. Tustin doesn’t run in a vacuum. To make our community run, there are myriad boards, committees and well, clubs our councilmembers have to belong to.

Let’s see there is the Transportation Corridor Authority, otherwise known as the Toll Roads, there is the Orange County Sanitation District (who like to call themselves, OC San), and of course there is the OC Vector Control, known best for spraying chemicals around that do everything but kill the mosquitoes they were intended for.

All in all, there are a dozen assignments that are doled out annually by herhonor the mayor. And, some of them come with a hefty stipend. Take OC San, for instance. Meetings net the attendee $212.50 per and there can be as many as 6 meetings a month. In 2019, the latest reporting year for the Government Compensation website, one sanitation director made over $21,000 although the average seems to be closer to $7,500. Councilman Ryan Gallagher gets the big bucks this year, by the way.

The not so close runner(s) up are the Transportation Corridor Authority and the Southern California Association of Governments/OCCOG at paltry $120 each. Austin Lumbard and alternate Beckie Gomez are the recipients of the TCA stipend this year. SCAG hasn’t been decided yet, apparently.

There are others that pay lesser amounts.

All of this is not to say our public servants don’t deserve a little extra. However, most of the committee assignments with stipends also come with other personnel benefits and, like Tustin once did, maybe those need to be looked at. Since board members usually attend at least one meeting a month for each committee they sit on, the compensation can run several thousand dollars. In 2019, then Councilman Chuck Puckett received $6,120 plus mileage (according to the TCA website) for his time on their board.

By the way, Tustinites voted in a very reasonable $600 a month stipend. It is the maximum stipend by state law for cities of our size. And we can give kudos to Mayor Clark. Where her predecessors made no secret of rewarding cronyism with choice assignments, our current mayor has been thoughtful in who she chose for each assignment (except for the newbie, Gallagher….well, we’ll see). We wish them well.

About Last Night

If you missed last night’s city council meeting, don’t despair. You really didn’t miss much. I realize we are all on lockdown and social distancing and such. My family and I dutifully wear our masks when we go into stores (I refuse to wear one while driving, though). And I know the city video techs are getting really good at setting up Zoom city council meetings. It’s just that, well, everyone seemed happier and more energetic when we could all meet in person in the council chambers. I miss those comfy seats. I’d happily wear my mask if I could sit and snicker at the council in person. Let’s get those vaccinations rolling.

There was an interesting item discussed that I have been waiting for. That is the mayor’s goals for the year. Now, for being called mayor, Letitia Clark gets few perks (probably first in line at the coffee pot) and lots of responsibility. Even though it is a largely ceremonial role, the mayor has to kind of lead the charge. And she does that by kicking off the year with some broad goals. And Clark’s were pretty broad.

Public Safety – According to Clark, the city will “partner” with the county to provide more covid testing and vaccination sites. Besides testing at Families Together at 1st and Yorba St., Clark wants to have a vaccination site at the Senior Center and other venues in the city.

Clark also said she would like to see the Police Open House restarted. She misses it. So do we. Unfortunately, she alluded that it would be a virtual event. Maybe the department can postpone it until the fall and we can have a safe but socially distanced event instead (if we’re good boys and girls). She also announced the police department will host a virtual public safety training event. That should be exciting but shouldn’t it be one of the Chief Stu Greenberg’s goals?

Community Engagement – Yes, we had slides. Under Community Engagement, Clark said she would be holding virtual office hours in order for her to interact with the community. No word either from her or on the website on when those hours will be. At some point, Clark also wants her colleagues to join her on some type of educational series of videos. Although she didn’t specify, I suppose this will be a city council version of the Chief’s public safety training.

Clark commented on the city developing an app to, among other things, report graffitti. Along with this will be a new “branding” campaign to promote the unique characteristics of Tustin (Don’t we have a slogan already?). Well, all I can say is…. what took so long? Orange, Santa Ana and Irvine all have apps. The county has a plethora of apps that do everything from recycling to rescuing dogs. Tustin is way behind. The only thing I would ask is, make the darn thing useful. Santa Ana and Irvine both have very useful apps that aren’t just regurgitated web pages. There would be nothing more embarrassing than an app that simply loads the city’s overdressed website (there, I said it).

Clark’s third goal got a bit murky. Discussing her desire for improving housing mandates and advancing the Legacy’s development opportunities, she trailed off to what the Covid grants have done and hopefully could do. The truth is, the Legacy properties have been lying fallow far too long. Former City Manager, Jeff Parker, had the right idea to fire the old master developer and have the city take over development. Unfortunately, since his retirement, little -if any- has been done.

Of all the mayor’s goals, two of the more important for our city are in revitalization of the Old Town area and paying more attention to the needs of the long neglected southwest section of the city. she specifically targeted the Tustin Youth and Family Center saying the southwest area of the city has long been “overlooked” (we would say ignored). Hopefully we can see some city money going toward programs and materials for the center.

Clark glossed over Old Town, saying that she just wanted to revitalize the area. Unfortunately, downtown businesses and property owners will not act on their own. The city needs to do some encouraging and enforcing to fill the empty spaces we have on El Camino and the side streets of Old Town. Yeah, it’s great to have a huge lot to hold the farmers market every week. But that lot has been empty for much too long. Perhaps the city needs to do a little nudging. Empty lots are as much or more of an eyesore as empty storefronts. Until the city pays more than just lip service, expecting businesses to invest on their own, the downtown area will remain the same semi-lifeless curiosity it has been for the past 30 years (Hint: we need a new parking structure in the middle of downtown).

Clark’s last goals for the city council are a bit lofty – and, a bit scary. While equity and diversity is something to strive for, it is probable that she will hit a wall with staff in regard to implementing any change. And, the truth is, there doesn’t seem to be a need for it. One walk through city hall shows a pretty diverse group of people from all ethnic backgrounds. Talent is not something we lack, either. Honestly, this sounds like she needed something to put in the slide as filler material.

A concerning issue, however, is the mayor’s mention of “Community Choice Energy“. This topic has been discussed throughout Orange County and currently three cities, including Irvine, are committed to developing the program in their cities. Essentially, this would mean that the city of Tustin would get into the energy business, owning their own power company. Great, another bureaucracy.

If this sounds familiar, just think back a few years ago when the state deregulated the power industry. At least three dozen so-called power companies emerged that would give consumers a “choice” while selling power at a lower cost. Many of them were marketing energy from green sources. We see, today, how successful that was. It’s laudable that Clark would like to see residents get their power from clean sources. But, the city has no experience in buying and selling power and they should not be in a hurry to saddle homeowners and businesses with another boondoggle. You can be sure any cost will be borne by the folks who live and do business here. By the time we are left footing the bill for this mistake, Clark will be long gone to her next political stop. Mayor, take this one off your list.

Making a Difference: OWW to Offer Free Grocery Shopping and a Life Lesson

Operation Warm Wishes Presents: The Great! The Amazing Food Shopping Spree and Budgeting Lesson for Children in Need! A Shopping Spree like No Other! Monday, January 18th 2021

It’s more than food; it’s an opportunity to make a difference in the lives of our children and families in need.

 Each child will receive a $40 groceries gift card and a shopping list with items that must be purchased (cereal, pasta, canned goods, fruits, vegetables and bread – any of their choosing, as long as it does not over $40) along with coupons and healthy and inexpensive meal ides and recipes. Each child will be teamed up with a shopping coach and a calculator to help them shop and budget.

 The purpose of this event is not to only provide children and their families with food, but to also give them a lesson on budgeting and working together.

Monday, January 18th 7am to 11am at Albertsons in the city of Tustin (13270 Newport Ave, Tustin, CA 92780)

To register your child and for more details please contact TyRon Jackson at (714) 363-6621 or www.OperationWarmWishes.com

 It’s going to be great! It’s going to be amazing!

I’ll Have the Fancy Water, Please

Several months ago, Our Town Tustin wrote about the shady dealings with Poseidon Surfside and their 20 year push to build a desalinator in Orange County. The idea is to use land where a power generating station stands in Huntington Beach and suck water out of the ocean, several miles from shore to make clean, potable water at the expense of the marine ecology. Of course, everyone from the Sierra Club to the Surfrider Foundation has rightly objected to the project. The most important reason, however, is that Orange County simply does not need a desalinator as they are not and will not be short on water any time soon.

The company has made every play in the book to get their project off the ground, despite the enormous opposition. They even had their choirboy, Gavin Newsom, take out a major stumbling block to insure passage over the last hurdle. That stumbling block was Santa Ana Water Board member, William von Blasingame, an outspoken critic of the project. Newsom then replaced him with our very own City of Tustin Mayor Letitia Clark. Clark, a second term member of the city council, has so far failed to make a public statement regarding her position on the project.

Step back in time, once again, to OTT’s post regarding Gavin Newsom’s faux pax at the ritzy French Laundry, a restaurant in the Napa area. You may recall that Newsom attended a large gathering to celebrate a birthday of one of his close friends and lobbyist, Jason Kinney. Neither Newsom or, as far as we could tell, any of the guests were wearing masks or social distancing. Newsom made a lame apology for getting caught and hoped it would all go away.

There’s just one little problem.

It seems Newsom and Kinney are BFFs. And, until recently, an entry on his firm’s website boasted of his close connection with the governor saying he has been advising Newsom for over 14 years. That wouldn’t be so bad except Kinney is a professional lobbyist and has some big name companies he lobbies for. In fact, one of his biggest clients is Poseidon Surfside which, over the last year and a half, paid Kinney’s firm Axiom Advisors, $500,000 to bend the ear of the Governor and other officials. They also contributed $25,000 to Newsom’s inauguration party.

It’s not hard to put two and two together to realize that there is a rancid conflict of interest with Kinney’s friendship with Newsom. Unfortunately, it has been clear from the beginning of his term that Newsom believes he is invulnerable. In the same manner he has recklessly wielded his executive power over the Covid-19 debacle, he has worked to clear the way for Poseidon.

The desalination project is prime example of corrupt politics. Poseidon is owned by an international holding company that stands to make millions off this project for its (mostly) foreign investors. That is, of course, what international conglomerates do. Through Kinney’s firm they have invested heavily in lobbying efforts to see their project through. But the billion dollar project will be built at the expense of every resident and business in Orange County. And for what?

Current estimates put desalinated water from the project at $1800 an acre foot while current groundwater cost is about $600 for the same amount. Orange County now imports about a quarter of its needed water at almost twice the cost for groundwater. An MWDOC study stated that, even in the worst case scenario, Orange County would be short 23,000 acre feet in a drought year. The Poseidon project would generate a minimum 50,000 acre feet of water per year with no place to sell it. Yet, if this project is approved, ratepayers will be on the hook for drastic increases for water they cannot use.

Poseidon execs refute the study, saying the governor’s abandonment of the Delta Tunnel project means that Orange County could actually suffer a 100,000 acre foot shortage. Uh….no, the governor did not abandon the project. He did downsize the project to one tunnel but the water is still coming (eventually). And, the cost of the tunnel will be borne by the entire state and serve 25 million residents. It seems Poseidon stretched the truth a little.

So, where does this leave us? More precisely, where does it leave Mayor Clark? In past discussions, it was clear that the Santa Ana Water Board, which must pass approval for the project to go forward, was split on the issue. von Blasingame was simply the target Newsom aimed at. There are other dissenting voices on the project. Unless they have changed their minds, Clark may hold the deciding vote on the board.

Most cities in Orange County have shown little interest in seeing this project go forward. As far as we know, Tustin has not made a public statement on the desalination project, even though it would impact customers of the city water department. Clark’s position is likewise unknown. The Santa Ana Water Board has not agendized the matter for discussion or vote. When it does, Clark should do what is good for the city and county and join other dissenting votes to put this project to an unglorified end.