Category Archives: Tustin City Council

All the Kings Horses

As if we didn’t have enough to concern ourselves with the pandemic, now we get to add another wildfire or two on top of that. We’re fortunate to have some of the best firefighters in the country working for us. That’s a post for another time.

If one were to look at the current state of elections in Tustin, one might think we are having a crisis in leadership. I mean, we have 9 candidates vying for 3 council seats with one incumbent running for re-election. It seems to be a trend, though. Westminster has five candidates running for two seats. Westminster is rife with allegations of corruption and back office deals. So, it’s no wonder they have plenty of candidates to seek office.

Like us, the city of Garden Grove has 9 candidates running for 3 council seats and the mayor’s office. Five of the candidates are running for mayor. Garden Grove has little in the way of corruption but has a huge agenda this coming term, contending with issues like the sale of the Willowick Golf Course (which is curiously located in Santa Ana) and the possible economic collapse of the Habor Blvd. corridor.

Besides the number of candidates running, Tustin also shares another commonality with Garden Grove. There is a lot of campaign money, both light and dark, backing the candidates. And that money is one thing that should alert folks to who they should vote for.

I know a good number of readers have already voted. I haven’t been in a hurry to post this I mean, we have less than a week to go before the official “election day”. And, quite frankly, it’s not my job to tell you how to vote. I just want every eligible person in Tustin to actually vote. For those who haven’t voted yet, I have a few things for you to ponder in case you are having trouble making up your mind. I mean with 9 candidates, which I don’t recall us ever having for a single election, a person needs to cut the field down. Now mind you this is my own way of thinking, your mileage may vary.

If there was anyone to cut immediately, it would be Kurt Bensinger and James Peres. The allegations of mismanagement of campaign funds by the FPPC is a good start. Our good friends over at the Liberal OC had quite a bit to say about the letter sent to the DPOC concerning the issue. Bensworth and Peres have denied any wrongdoing (of course) and blamed their campaign finance manager. Their campaign statements and ensuing multiple amendments make it difficult to see exactly what and from where they received contributions. What a hoot. C’mon guys, the buck stops here. You are ultimately responsible for every dollar (or contribution in kind) your campaign take in. If a person can’t manage their own finances, why would one let them manage the city?

Then there is our retread and what looks to be career politician in the making, Beckie Gomez. If the name sounds familiar it’s because she already spent two terms doing virtually nothing on the Tustin City Council except agreeing with the conservative good ol’ boys on almost every issue that came up. She was supposed to be the liberal voice speaking out for the little guy…uh person while the Three Amigos pushed through their agenda of business over community.

What’s worse is, to keep her name politically alive, Gomez got elected to the OC Board of Education to wait out the term limits thing. And now she is back for round two. Her qualifications make her much better suited to her current job. If she returns to the council dais, we can just expect more what we had. Some of what we can expect is, she will be beholden to the county firefighters association, Tustin Police Officers Association and assorted trade unions, all of whom have contributed heavily to her campaign, directly or through PACs.

Speaking of career politicians, there is current city council person and second term candidate, Leticia Clark. Reading the leading line on her campaign website one would think she has been the shining star of the city council. In reality, she hasn’t made any waves and, from the looks of things, we could expect the same from her in the future. There is this: she is probably one of the most educated persons we have ever had on the city council. Maybe if the people of Tustin were to elect a little more of a moderate crowd to the dais, she could better accomplish what she aims for…. I mean, her platform sounds good but she has had four years to work on it and what has she accomplished?

That leaves five other candidates. Of those, we have one candidate who is far and above the rest in campaign donations with an astounding $128,000 in the campaign chest. Actually, it is much more than that because I didn’t include the last minute reports of donations for Lee Fink.

I had a brief social media conversation with Lee concerning the fact that most of his donors seem to be lawyers. Logically, of course, lawyers are going to back lawyers. He has some pretty hefty donors in there that upped his funding but at least we didn’t see any businesses that do business with the city. That’s a big plus in my book. My only concern is the amount of campaign funding (and expenditures) he received. Fink is probably a record holder for the recipient of funds for a small city council campaign. That leads me to wonder if he is just another career politician in the making (move over, Beckie).

Lee is also a homegrown politician, so there’s that.

Another big recipient of campaign funding is Jorge Valdes. Valdes is another lawyer who received a considerable amount of the $90,000 or so he has reported from his peers. However, the red flag goes up when I see the typical contributions from the OC Biz PAC, a purveyor of dark money, and the sizeable number of auto dealers from the Tustin Auto Center who have contributed. Valdes has also received large contributions from the OC GOP, Lincoln Club and -what could only be assumed a dark money outlet- the “Taxpayers for a Sustainable Economy” (I haven’t checked them out yet but I will). Beholden to business or responsible to the community? You have to make that decision.

One person stands out from the crowd. Chris Cusac is a veteran and a local businessman. He appears to be running a largely self-funded campaign and has relied heavily on non-monetary contributions. He owes allegiance to no business or union. And he seems to be the only one who thinks we need a guiding hand and not significant change. From his website: “Cris is running to make sure our community remains as amazing as it currently is.” Chris has the kind of credentials I like to see in local candidates. Tustin Community Foundation, Veterans Advisory Committee, Chief’s Advisory Board, etc. Although he has only been here 6 years, he has made the most of it and I would think he would put a lot of thought into decisions that have to be made in the coming months.

So there you go. I’m not telling you who I voted for (I voted today) and I won’t tell you who to vote for. At least you have a little more information on some of the candidates (some weren’t worth mentioning). Pick wisely. You’ll have to live with them for the next four years. Oh yeah, there is one other thing: For more than 25 years, our city council has been primarily conservative (bad form to say R & D words in a non-partisan race). Maybe we ought to try a slight shift to the left. Consider it anyway. The fate of the city is in your hands.

Salty Waters

Water issues are nothing new for Orange County or for Tustin in particular. Not too long ago, we were in a drought and the city council was standing behind draconian water saving measures that we, largely are still following. Funny thing is, through all the odd/even, two-day-a-week, four-day-a-week watering schedules we had, our town has always been somewhat conservative in our use of the precious commodity (except for my former neighbor who took great delight in watering my car in the driveway at whatever time it was parked there). So, I have to wonder what is going to happen next in the wonderful world of water.

Of course, we no longer have the drought to deal with. And, although the possibility of another dry spell looms ever present, no one is talking about a lack of water. That is, except, Poseidon and Governor Newsom.

For 20 years, Poseidon Water Inc., which has offices conveniently placed in Huntington Beach, has been pursuing their dream of a desalination plant to be located on the shore of Orange County in the space of an old electrical generating plant. Claiming to be the water savior of OC, they are touting a multimillion dollar facility that would take in 100 million gallons of water a day and spew forth 50 million gallons of fresh, clear drinking water…..and 50 million gallons of salty brine back into our already screwed up coastal water.

Poseidon claims they want to relieve Orange County of their dependence on imported water. What they really want to do, of course, is relieve every rate payer of their spare cash in the form of drastically increased water rates. Cost of desalinated water is astronomical, compared to the cost of water imported from the north and Colorado River. Let’s not forget the Tustin Water Department operates 14 wells around the city which supplies a good portion of our water from the aquifier beneath our feet.

So, what am I getting at? The governor who, as I said, is in love with desalinated water, really wants the Poseidon plant to be built. He wants it so badly that he has taken out a major stumbling block to the project in the form of a Santa Ana Water Board member, William von Blasingame. Von Blasingame is a critic of the water desalinization plant and has publicly questioned it’s necessity. Poseidon, which has sunk over a half billion dollars in lobbying money (that’s cash in the pockets of politicians) into getting this project approved, has a friend in Newsom (we wonder how much of that cash has gone into his altruistic pockets). Newsom, seeing the project possibly derailed by the water board, has taken action by replacing von Blasingame with someone who, I can only speculate, will be willing to play ball or, at the least, not make waves.

That person is our own city councilmember, Leticia Clark. Clark, a first term councilmember running for a second term, has been selected by Governor Newsom to replace von Blasingame. One look at Clark’s resume’ reveals a hopeful career politician hoping to garner support not from her community but from her political affiliations. Since her appointment, she has refused to speak with the press about the Poseidon issue and has not publicly stated her position. Well, gee. Let’s put 2 plus 2 together and see if we can come up with a likely position. With the appointment to a regional board by the governor, comes favors owed. Don’t expect Clark to take the interests of the residents of Orange County into consideration when the governor comes a knockin’. And if she rolls with Newsom on an unnecessary water deal, one has to wonder what else she would do for the sake of her political career.

The Voice of OC has several excellent articles on the reality of the desalination plant. You can find them here.

Stuck in the Middle

city council meeting 7-17-18Compared to our neighboring cities, Tuesday’s Tustin City Council meeting was downright festive. Even the council members were dressed casual Friday. Irvine, as you know, is attempting to hoodwink their residents into thinking that plans for the veterans cemetery died with the NO vote on Measure B. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth and now the factions that covet the ARDA location for 5 Points are scrambling to find a different, albeit suitable, location at the Great Park.

Meanwhile, the City Council of Santa Ana voted to place a sales tax measure on the November ballot. The measure would add an additional 1.5 percent to the current 7.75 percent tax making Santa Ana the most expensive city to shop in Orange County. They will still be lower than Long Beach, Santa Monica and most of the South Bay cities who come in at a whopping 10.25 percent.

I knew that our city council meeting would probably have higher than normal participation this evening. Even I was surprised to see a nearly full house, however. I knew some of us were here to support the proposed reinstatement of the Historic Resources Committee. A look around the room showed a number of signs opposing the Sanctuary State and there were a good number of folks wearing red shirts which I’m sure meant they stood in solidarity for something, I’m just not sure what.

The meeting started late due, I’m sure, to a lengthy Closed Session. There were 7 items, including labor negotiations discussions with all of the unions and associations representing municipal and sworn employees. Other than the denial of one claim, our intrepid city lawyer, David Kendig, reported no other action taken. We’ll never know for sure since closed sessions are….closed.

After the opening ceremonies, Mayor Al Murray opened the Public Comment section of the meeting. There were several speakers who voiced their opposition to SB54, the sanctuary state law saying it had nothing to do with keeping children of illegal immigrants with parents and everything to do with keeping our children safe. The council sidestepped the argument, at least temporarily, by pushing the  subject to the September 4th meeting. I think we can expect a full house on that evening. I’m sure the city council would like everyone to forget but it’s our duty to remind them.

Most of the Consent Calendar was passed unanimously. A couple of items were pulled for discussion. One of those items was the HVAC cooling tower replacement for the shuttered library. Apparently there was a last minute change in vendors. The good news announced by Mayor pro tem Beckie Gomez is the long awaited reopening of the library building itself. Saying they would begin moving the books from the temporary library back to the shelves of the main building, Gomez expects the doors to reopen by August 22nd.

Somewhere in the course of the evening, the subject of the Voluntary Workforce Housing Incentive Ordinance came up for discussion. And this, I discovered, was the real reason for the crowd. Residents complained the ordinance was being slipped through without proper notice. Some were concerned the ordinance was an opening for homeless housing, a highly contentious issue we haven’t visited since last year. Others, it was obvious, were just plain confused on what the ordinance was about. They were just certain it had to be a bad thing.

Well, OK….

So, the city council did the only logical thing possible. They pushed the issue off to the next meeting in September. Again, I’m sure Al, the Doctor and the ladies hope the delay will  work in their favor. We’ll have more on the proposed ordinance in a separate (hopefully informative) article.

Backpedaling to the public hearings, Mayor Murray opened the floor to public comment on a proposed code amendment to the local alcohol beverage laws. No comments after a first reading means the proposal should pass in September. For those who couldn’t attend, it merely changes the square footage requirements and some of the separation requirements for alcohol sales. The new law will require a Conditional Use Permit for all alcohol beverage sales. That means the city will have a lot more say in where and when alcohol can be sold, including possibly extending hours.

The second public hearing wasn’t quite so simple. The Planning Commission had previously denied a variance to a resident who wished to store their RV in the driveway of their property. Several speakers came forward and complained of code violations they had recently received regarding their RVs. Many complained they had stored their RVs in the same place on their property for years without a problem.

In hearing comments from the dais, it was apparent that no one, including the city staff, was sure of exactly what the code intention was. Doc Bernstein sounded as confused as ever, making comments that….well, didn’t make much sense. After hearing the public comments (plus a few shout outs from the audience) Councilwoman Clark said she was concerned about how the city is communicating with residents and enforcing code.

When she stated her concern that there may be other residents inadvertently violating the code, an anonymous voice from the audience said, “Yeah, about a thousand!” So, she further wondered if the code still met the needs of the residents. Watch it, Leticia, someone may think you’re a sane voice on the panel.

Mayor Murray agreed with Clark and asked the city to hold the appellant’s application in abeyance (OK, he didn’t really use those big words) and take another look at the application of the code. He didn’t give a timeline but it is likely to be late September before we see this on the docket.

There was a lengthy discussion on, what I felt was, the most important item on the agenda, the reinstatement of the Historical Resources Committee. Although the item was ripe for discussion and Old Town resident, Linda Jennings waited her turn patiently to speak on the matter, it was pretty obvious that most of the council was either too tired or not informed enough on the issue to discuss it. It is, however, important enough for us to talk about it in a separate article.

No, I didn’t stay to hear all the exciting places Doctor Allan and the Mayor went to this month in their personal reports. And, although the Mayor mentioned that Councilman Puckett was absent due to being “under the weather”, he left us wishing the best for him. He has a month and a half to get better as the city council is conveniently dark for the month of August.

Welcome to the Neighborhood

Mister_Rogers'_NeighborhoodIf the Fourth of July fireworks at Tustin High School last week were not enough for you, try coming to this Tuesday’s City Council meeting. The topic of discussion, of course, will be the growing community of homeless living next to the Tustin Library. I’d compare it to the tent camp along the Santa Ana Riverbed except it isnt nearly that size – or that filthy.

The camp has become a source of concern, discussion and -in some cases- entertainment on the local website, Nextdoor.com, a sort of local email/blog where anyone can start a discussion on just about anything they like. Over two dozen people have contributed over 300 comments on the homeless encampment alone.

It all started several months ago when the Tustin Branch Library was suddenly shuttered for repairs after suffering massive water damage. Although officials said the water damage was minimal and the library would re-open in a few week, it remains shuttered two and a half months later. The library itself is a county issue and the city has little power to move things along.

Shortly after the closure, a few homeless began hanging out in the area. With no one to bother them, they eventually set up a dozen tents, mostly in the plaza next to the library, and remained low key. With little traffic in the area, they went pretty much unnoticed on a daily basis.

That all changed about a month ago when citizens came, en mass, to the June 20th city council meeting to ask the city what they planned to do about it. The city council listened to concerns but was unable to address the situation because the subject wasn’t on the agenda.

Surprisingly, the city is responding with restraint. City Manager Jeff Parker said that a solution would be to declare the area around the library a city park, allowing police to arrest campers. “But, that doesn’t seem morally appropriate.” We agree, of course, as it won’t solve the problem. The city recently put a “Homelessness” button on the front page of their website.

Tustin has never had a very large homeless population (the staff report pegs it at two dozen). Prior to the library encampment, most of them hung around Peppertree Park and the Old Town area. Closing down the encampment will just push them back onto the streets and into our neighborhoods. The city claims they regularly try to provide comprehensive services but, frankly, most of the homeless camped there (yes, I stopped by and dropped of water on a hot day) are not interested in services or alternatives to their lifestyle.

For the time being, the encampment may be the best way to handle the situation. At the very least, the homeless are pretty much in one location. Concerns over drug and alcohol use are minimal, although arrests for both have been made. The police check the area regularly and, unlike the Santa Ana Riverbed encampment, the place is clean – I daresay, neat and tidy. Some residents have opined that moving them to an industrial area and providing sanitary services would solve the problem. The trouble is, the homeless may not agree. And contrary to what some would like, they can’t just be rounded up and shipped out.

In any case, if you are one of the two dozen or so folks who have made their feelings known on the neighborhood blog, you will have the opportunity to address our city council on the matter this Tuesday at 7pm. You may want to get there early and, if you forget your water, you can probably bum a bottle from one of the homeless camped out back.