Shell Games?

Legacy-shell-gameNews flash for Austin Lumbard: Austin, you’re no Jeff Thompson.

Lumbard was under the vague impression he could possibly be mistaken for Chairman Jeff Thompson, who was absent, and wanted to clear that up before the meeting adjourned. Let’s see how well that works for him when he runs for city council.

Last week’s meeting of the Tustin Planning Commission was not long but it answered a couple of key questions regarding plans for schools on the old MCAS base property – sort of. I suspected Item 2, regarding a General Plan Conformity Determination for school property, was merely a shell game for the moving around of acquired school property. And, I was right.

Item 2, General Plan ConformityDetermination for the Disposition and Acquisition of School Site at Tustin Legacy, et al, asked the planning commission to validate the intentions of TUSD in dumping a 10 acre site previously marked as another elementary school in favor of building a 40 acre 6-12 super magnet school that would miraculously meet the needs of Legacy kids.

The presentation cleared up a few things in the staff report when questions were asked about whether the district offices that were previously moved down to the former Heritage Elementary School site would be moved to the 40 acre site. Sad to say, the TUSD representative said the offices that would be moved were the district offices in Old Town Tustin and the offices at Heritage would remain.

In addition, the timeline is pretty vague with the 6-8 magnet school being built by 2019 and the 9-12 school being built in 2020. No other timelines were offered and the school district will only say that the administration, warehouse and alternative education projects included in the concept will be built if funds are “available” (read, “if we can con the public into floating another useless school bond”).

A couple of residents in the area voiced concern and questions that were artfully dodged by the TUSD representative who basically said the schools that kids use now are the ones designated for use in the future until new agreements are made. So, really, nothing changes until it changes.

Overall, the procedure was succinct and to the point, even if it left everyone feeling a bit vague about what happened. The only one who was really lost was Commissioner Sam Altowaiji, who can’t seem to stay on point with anything.

My irritation with Altowaiji is his obvious disconnect with the proceedings. While the rest of the commissioners and the staff are talking about zoning issues and land swaps, Altowaiji wants the school district representative to be sure to make the driveways for moms dropping off kids so they don’t interfere with traffic. He’s a bureaucrat, Sam, not an architect.

You don’t make this stuff up. You don’t have to in Our Town Tustin.

On The Planning Commission Agenda – May 12, 2015

Credit: Splatworld.tv

Credit: Splatworld.tv

Only one item on the Planning Commissin Agenda this week.

The Tustin Unified School District and the city have apparently come to terms in negotiations for land to be used for a intermediate-high school (whatever they call them these days). The school will be located on the southwest corner of Valencia Avenue and Tustin Ranch Road. At this time (one never knows with the school district), The Tustin Academy will be a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) school for grades 6-12.

The Tustin City Planning Commission is being asked to approve a resolution to determine the site (a) is in conformance with the Tustin General Plan; (b) the 40 acre site identified is suitable for a school and (c) that the city acknowledges TUSD’s plan to overrule the zoning applicability to a 40 acre site.

We Appreciate the Approval but We’re Gonna Sue You Anyway

It is the last part that has me a bit confused. I’m sure it will confuse a few of the commissioners as well. Look for stupefied faces on the dais Tuesday night.

In reading the staff report, it looks like the snag may be with all the “extras” the school district wants to include. Of particular note is the inclusion of new TUSD District offices and an “alternative education” facility. That usually means continuation school.

So, Hillview is already taking up space at Heritage Elementary School. Does this mean they will move that facility to the new (and dare I say more appropriate) site? That would resolve a lot of heartache the city has had with the school district over the use of Heritage. The school district has previously said they plan to open Heritage for its intended purpose in 2016. They were, however, planning to leave Hillview there as well. So now, perhaps this will resolve the complaints.

Or not.

The issue could simply be one of location and the number of schools. The school district had intended originally to open a high school on an identified 10 acre site. Other schools were planned as well. The inclusion of proposed population numbers, housing build-outs, etc., is an indicator that will change. Oh yeah, and they basically said the new magnet school will handle the entire Tustin Legacy population.

All in all, it should make for an interesting, if not lengthy, meeting for the planning commission. Even with Binsack patiently explaining things to Ryder Smith and Austin Lumbard, I think they may need a whiteboard (or the creative use of a choo-choo) to chart it all out for them. Oh, and expect an amiable lawsuit out of this as well. I know, I read the staff report (and I’m still confused).

On The City Council Agenda – May 5, 2015

conspiracy-theoryAfter a two week hiatus, the Tustin City Council should be ready to tackle the second unit ordinance for Old Town Tustin this Tuesday. After extensive discussion by the councilmembers at the April 21st meeting, they voted to continue the item so that city staff could come up with answers to the chief complaint: parking.

Staff return this week with a second unit ordinance fortified by a recommendation for parking. Well, it’s not really a recommendation, just a copy of an existing policy on the adminstration of parking permit systems in Tustin. Mind you, there is no draft ordinance prepared for a potential permit system in Old Town and the city council may still have to consider the parking issue separately. I’m not sure that is what they wanted. One has to wonder why the delay in the second unit ordinance at all if they were just going to address the parking issue separately anyway.

The second unit ordinance proposal and the parking issue, as it turns out, are only vaguely related. Over the past year or so, parking has become a real problem in Old Town, particularly on the west side around Pacific and Main Street. Part of this is surely due to permit parking the city created a few years ago for the area around the condos on Main Street West of Pacific.

Driving along Pacific Avenue on any evening reveals a gauntlet of cars and trucks streching nearly to Main Street. While many of these may be attributed to the residents in the area, many of them, it turns out, are from either the previously mentioned condos or -as I’ve personally witnessed- from beyond the freeway overpass. There also appears to be a pattern with the number of out-of-area cars on our streets increasing toward the end of the week.

While I am not a proponent of permit parking on city streets (its that libertarian streak in me), it may be the only answer to the problem. In any case, parking should be addressed regardless of the second unit ordinance. The question then will become one of enforcement. Will the 2am to 6am cops want to travel the streets in search of errant parkers?

Lately, I have been questioning the validity of the second ordinance unit itself. As it turns out, there is no pressing need to make any changes. Although the city said in their presentation that affordable housing mandates are a factor, they really aren’t. Affordable housing requirements are for the city, not a specific area.

And, though the city also says that a 2002 Assembly Bill signed by Gray Davis requires the city to ministerially (say that three times real fast) consider second residential units, it does not require any changes be made to current ordinances. California Government Code 65852.8 states:

When a local agency receives its first application on or after July 1, 2003, for a permit pursuant to this subdivision, the application shall be considered ministerially without discretionary review or a hearing, notwithstanding Section 65901 or 65906 or any local ordinance regulating the issuance of variances or special use permits. Nothing in this paragraph may be construed to require a local government to adopt or amend an ordinance for the creation of second units.

So, from a legal standpoint, there is no mandate to change current law.

The biggest argument for change to an all second unit ordinance is the elimination of deed restrictions on proposed guest units. A few years ago, Elizabeth Binsack and Jerry Amante arbitrarily decided to place the requirement for deed restrictions on guest accessory units. This was in obvious retaliation for their defeat in the Fairbanks issue, a city-created debacle.

Since the proposal for the second unit ordinance was raised a few months ago, city staff have received more grief than praise. Parking has been just one of the issues raised by residents. Concern for density and a general degrading of the Old Town area have also been cited by home owners. Yet, Binsack amd her chief hatchet man Scott Reeskin, have used a variety of unsubsantiated arguments for enactment of the ordinance they appear to want so badly.

So, why the push for unneeded change? Surely, if deed restrictions are an issue, they can be done away with. And, since they are policy and not law, they only require a change in the mindset of city staffers.

In any case, residents have another opportunity to state their case for or against the ordinance. Judging from the city’s indifferent attitude toward opponents of the ordinance, I would suggest they turn out in force to state their case. Calls to councilmembers John Nielsen and Beckie Gomez may be the best bet toward swaying votes or, at least, extending further argument.

Other issues before the city council are pretty much routine. Aside from the usual business, the Consent Calendar is littered with requests to award contracts for various construction projects at city hall and parks.

The sole item for consideration under Reglar Business is an Amendment of Waste Disposal Agreement between the city and the county. Amon other things, the amendment will allow the county to continue to import wast from outside the county and to share the revenue generated with the city. It could be worth a cool $76,000 to the city.

In an unusual departure from the norm, due to a Water Management Workshop at 5:30 pm, the Closed Session has been moved to the end of Regular Business. With only a few items on the agenda, discussion of labor negotiations will likely take up the majority of the session.

Oooops!

sorryEvery once in awhile, we make a boo boo which our readers are more than happy to point out.

In this case, we erred slightly when we told you that Melissa Figge of the Tustin Preservation Conservancy was going through the neighborhood, passing around flyers on the Conservancy’s opposition to the code amendment for second units appearing on Tuesday’s city council agenda.

Linda Jennings of the Conservancy Board emailed me to state, emphatically, the flyer did not say the Conservancy opposed the ordinance. “The flyer only says that we want everyone to hear the proposal and express their opinion”, she wrote.

Going back over the flyer, it does say just that at the bottom of the flyer. And, nowhere does it flatly state the Conservancy is opposed to the ordinance. However, it does outline a variety of issues that the ordinance would affect such as parking density and rental income for owners of second units.

If I were to read this without having a conversation with Melissa or anyone else from the Conservancy, I would infer (as I did) the Conservancy is opposed to the ordinance. To be fair, however, I’ll take Linda’s word for it that the Tustin Preservation Conservancy merely wants those living in Old Town to be informed and to speak their mind at the city council meeting.

So, did they?

Who knows? The city, which has had their share of problems with their video system managed to recess before the presentation by city planner Scot Reeskin and did not restart until Councilman John Nielsen started blathering about mother-in-law houses. I’m sure John was trying to get a point across. He just wasn’t doing a very good job of it.

Once again, Linda Jennings came to the rescue saying there were about 50 folks from OTT. Only a few spoke, with most of them against the ordinance. Linda said, “One mother was very moving, talking about why she moved here and how she doesn’t want to see it change.”

I also heard Lindburgh McPherson of the Wilcox Business Plaza in the West OTT spoke….in favor of it, of course. McPherson, and his buddy Silent Mike, are all for anything that will ruin the flavor of Old Town if it will make a buck for someone.

Councilman Nielsen did manage to blurt out his feelings on the parking issue, one that most of us have a concern about. But, it was Councilwoman Beckie Gomez who took it a step further by saying the parking in Old Town is already something the city should be looking at even without this ordinance. Calling it a dangerous situation, Gomez called for more parking enforcement and further resolution to the parking problems Old Town is experiencing.

Gomez also clarified what she thought was a misconception that the affordable housing mandate was being laid on the backs of Old Town residents. Saying the city is addressing the issue in different parts of the city, she inferred that was not the case. I’m not sure if whe misunderstood the issue or wanted to make sure they were being fair.

It was the city that raised the affordable housing mandate in the ordinance. The inference was clear that this was part of the ordinance. But the mandate is citywide, not just for Old Town. And if, as Gomez says, the city already has affordable housing in other parts of the city, why would it even be necessary to address it at all in Old Town, one of the most unaffordable areas? Old Town owners will charge a premium for the privilege of living in their historical district. I seriously doubt anyone would accept an affordable housing mandate on their second unit.

Gomez also pointed out that, if more than a few owners decide to build second units, it would definitely affect the character of the historical district, a concern shared by most of us.

After extended discussion with the city staff, the council voted to continue the item until a time when the staff could figure out parking and other issues associated with it. I’m not sure where that puts the status of the ordinance as normally there would be two readings and a vote to enact. But these folks, in an effort to not create liability on themselves, have to make even the easiest ordinance difficult. What this really told me is that no palms have been greased, ala the OC Business Council and John Nielsen. Perhaps they are waiting for someone to show up with money in hand.

In other business, the city council voted to approve the Veterans Memorial Preferred Concept Plan. This presentation by city staff went off without a hitch and councilmembers got a nice view of the concept.

Allan Bernstein commented that the inclusion of a Purple Heart Memorial at the park was absolutely imperative. We agree. We were also surprised that Allan could say the entire thing without glancing at his notes (or was that the Dodger score on his iPad?).

City Manager Jeff Parker Let us know exactly what and who is behind the drive for Assembly Bill 1217. This bill would reduce the number of members on the OCFA Board and give the County a larger say while reducing the same in cities like ours. Assemblyman Tom Daly, a well known lacky for the public unions, is carrying water for the Orange County firefighters union who hope to have more access to the Board (read influence during negotiations), according to Parker.

Parker said that every city who is a member of the board has opposed this measure. That is, except for Santa Ana, which would get an automatic vote at the table. Some omen, Jeff. Saying the city managers and city councils were trying to send a message, Parker essentially said the state has no business getting into the workings of a local district. Well, looking at Daly’s history with unions, it is no wonder why he is sponsoring this bad bill. The city council voted to send their own message by opposing the measure.