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On The Planning Commission Agenda, April 23, 2013

agenda-clipartIt’s good to be back in SoCal. We spent a long weekend in the gold country last week for a convention and apologize for the lack of articles. It has been a busy week around the nation and locally as well. We’ll try to catch up on things this week.

Locally, the Tustin Planning Commission will begin the evening with a workshop beginning at 6 pm. According to the agenda, the “Housing Element” is intended to provide various updates and input to the Housing Element including an update schedule and discussion of public participation. It’s interesting neither a staff report or copy of the presentation is attached to the workshop agenda. It is, however, supposed to be available at the Community Development Department during business hours.

On the regular meeting agenda, beginning at 7 pm, there are three public hearings. Prior to that, however, the boys have to hand off proclamations and certificates of appreciation to former commissioners Ken Eckman and Fred Moore. We join the rest of the commissioners in saying thanks and so long. Both Moore and Eckman are Amante holdovers and it is probably just as well they move on. In the grand scheme of things, they neither helped nor hindered progress in our fair city. Both of them readily caved on the most important issue of the past year, the Wilcox Manor debacle. So, the loss of their expertise is no big loss.

At first glance, I thought the first Public Hearing item was a repeat of the April 9th hearing on a fitness gym on Chambers Road. A second glance made me realize this is another fitness gym intending to do business in the same area. This particular business has actually been around awhile but they are looking to expand into a larger location. The location under consideration already houses another fitness type of business so this should pretty much be a no-brainer for the commissioners. The only question is, how long will we have to hear these folks talk to themselves over petty issues regarding the project that they will, undoubtedly, approve.

The second Public Hearing of the evening is for a Conditional Use Permit for a Starbucks that will be located in the complex with the new Marriott and Fairfield Inn hotels behind Microcenter and adjacent to the freeway. The Starbucks will have a drive-thru and they are also asking for modifications to the signage. Issues of concern seem to be the aesthetics of the drive-thru which will be located on the front side of the building facing Newport Avenue. The staff feel the addition of a berm with shrubs will hide the cars (as if anyone wold really care) from the street view. My concern would be that the planned que only holds 12 cars. Does staff really think that is enough for a rush hour at Starbucks? I seriously wonder how many of the staff drink coffee? I foresee cars lined up on Newport to get in the place. Seriously, this should not be a factor in determining whether the use should be allowed. It fits with the retail aspect of the overall project and, if a bush or two allays the staff concerns then approval is in order.

The final Public Hearing is on General Plan Amendment 2013-001. It seems the South Coast Community College District would like to add a new local street on their part of the MCAS property. It would also make substantial changes to the plan by allowing private, non-educational uses and increasing allowable building square footages in the Education Village. A land exchange is also in the works. The considered work was enough to cause the city to prepare an addendum to the Environmental Impact Report.

So, there you have it. Not a whole lot to pique our interest but enough to keep the band of brothers busy for a couple of hours as they justify their stipends. Maybe the crew can get the new fitness folks to give them a few freebies. I see more than one pot belly peeking out from the dais.

On the Agenda, March 6, 2012

Not much afire at the Tustin City Council Meeting this week. Some issues to wind down the now defunct Redevelopment Agency. We were wondering how the city was going to incorporate the 5 RDA employees back into the city structure. From the last meeting, it appears they will continue to be housed in the “annex” building, an office suite across the street from City Hall. There are a couple of items on the agenda addressing issues of the new oversight board. Eyebrows should be raised over the proposed makeup of that board.

Closed Session

An exposure to litigation and initiation of litigation, two cases each, head up the closed session agenda. Of course, we have our existing litigation in reference to Tustin Unified School District and T-Mobile West. The Tustin News ran an interesting piece Sunday regarding the T-Mobile litigation and litigation between Orange County cities and wireless companies in general. The issue at hand with Tustin has to do with opposition to  proposed wireless systems in Cedar Grove Park. The design review was given a final thumbs down in January and T-Mobile subsequently sued the city.

The litigation between the city and TUSD has gone on for too long. The city made a lame offer to settle the lawsuits which would have done nothing to resolve the issues at hand. We understand that the oldest of the lawsuits is scheduled to go forward in April. Hopefully, our new city manager, Jeff Parker, will get both sides to listen to reason and settle this beforehand.

Open Session

Presentation, Quiet Zone, OCTA – One of our favorite local politicians, Orange Mayor, Carolyn Cavecche, will be offering a presentation on Railroad Quiet Zones that have been established throughout Orange County. While I miss the sound of the horns from the trains, I imagine folks living closer to the railroad crossings are quite happy. We look forward to hearing what Mayor Cavecche has to say.

Public Hearing
Item 1 on the open agenda is a Public Hearing on a draft ordinance that would affect the way Zoning Districts are referenced in the Zoning Code. The Planning Commission adopted the necessary resolution at their last meeting to send this forward to the council. Unfortunately, we understand that no one testified publicly about this proposed ordinance during the Planning Commission meeting. Our issues are, of course, with the substantially added wording that appears to have come about in the aftermath of the Fairbanks issue.

Consent Calendar

Urban Areas Security Initiative Grant – Tustin will share in a federal grant money given to Santa Ana for the Urban Areas Security Initiative. Money from this grant can be used for training and equipment to assist cities in “building and enhanced and sustainable capacity to prevent, protect against, mitigate respond to and, recover from acts of terrorism.” We are near one of the top choices for terrorism, Disneyland, after all (I kid you not).

Item 5 is a request to approve plans for battery backup for traffic signals along Irvine Blvd. A great idea and glad to see our town working on this effort to reinforce the infrastructure.

Item 7 Consultant Services Agreement with Willdan Homeland Solutions – Willdan is a top trainer for homeland security in the state and across the country. Their specialty is integrating services between federal, state and local governments in the event of major disasters or incidents. It is good training that will serve the police department and our top city staffers well. A bit expensive at $40,000 or so but we are told it is well worth it.

Item 10 Appointment of Oversight Board Members by Tustin Mayor should be pulled for discussion but it probably will not. The three good old boys are already in agreement that Councilmember Jerry Amante should take the oversight position for the Successor Agency to the former RDA. Becky Gomez has shown that she is not willing to suffer the wrath of the three kids so there may be no opposition. On the other hand, we anticipate more fuel for the fire as Jerry will be up to his usual self-serving…self. Other members are appointees from the OC Board of Supervisors, Flood Control District, Community Colleges and TUSD. These should be interesting meetings that we will keep you apprised of.

11. Set Interview Date for Commission Seats – This would be the Planning and Community Services Commissions. I hope interested parties got their applications in. I would like to see both Jeff Thompson and former Mayor, Chuck Puckett stay on. Overall, both have shown they identify with the values of Tustin residents and Jeff lives in Old Town so we value his opinion when it comes to this valuable resource.

Regular Business

Item 13. Second Reading and Adoption of Ordinance, Planning Commission Authority – Another action required due to the demise of the RDA. Authority being taken over by the Planning Commission is logical and we recommend the City Council adopt the ordinance.

That’s it for this week in our town Tustin. Just enough action on the dais to keep things interesting. We will report on any items of issue (or fireworks from the dais) as they occur.

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Complaints Lodged Against Councilmen

This just came across our desk. Complaints have been lodged with the FPPC against several city councilmembers, including Mayor John Nielsen and Jerry Amante. In the specific complaint against our two councilmembers, they are accused of conflict of interest when they voted themselves into board appointments that have stipends attached. It looks like right now, the FPPC is siding with the complaiants in this.

Here is the link to the LAT Story.

We’ll write more as the story unfolds.

First Fireworks Show at Tustin City Council

Did he really say that?? At the Tuesday Tustin City Council meeting, Mayor John Nielsen presented the entire Tustin High School football team with certificates for winning the CIF Championship. Toward the end to the presentation, John told the Tillers Coach, “Win another one. I’ll probably still be mayor”. Really, John? Was this your ESP in action? Or, did you have one of those secret meetings with the Gang of Three where it was decided you would run for two terms as mayor? Well, I guess you have to win the election first.

And that’s how the fireworks began for the evening.

Councilmember Beckie Gomez asked to pull Item 5 from the consent calendar. This item was a change order for current construction at City Hall. After Gomez asked a few innocuous questions, Councilmember Gavello then asked exactly what the city was getting for its $281,000 contract. A city staffer explained that the construction was ongoing and outlined the changes being made to accommodate office space for the city finance department. Gavello was concerned that, after a contract had been let for construction, changes were being snuck in after the fact. Of course, Nielsen interrupted Gavello during her questioning and patted the staff on the back for the fine job they did while chiding her for having the nerve to question staff doing their job. Really, John. Are you going to take up where Boss Tweed Amante left off?

Apparently, not. Jerry, not about to be upstaged by his former black ops guy and just because he’s no longer mayor, took the floor to double-whammy Deborah by telling her that this contract was nothing new and that she should just sit down and shut up while the big boys ran the show. Hey Jerry, news flash: When a contract is let and then changes are made after the fact, particularly if those changes will result in additional cost, it is the responsibility of the entire city council to question the issue and make sure that the changes are for good cause. Should Deborah or the rest of the City Council be asking these questions or should they just “trust” staff? And where was Councilmember Beckie Gomez during this discussion? She obviously brought up the issue for a reason. But then backed off asking deeper questions. No surprise there. I have to tell you, the staffer’s explanation sounded like double talk to me, even though he said he could “handle the question”. Gomez, in her usual style, sat quietly because that appears to be how she gets along with the Gang of Three while still seeming to answer to her constituency. Good luck with that, Beckie. Your non-support is noted.

Now, what was really laughable was when Boss Tweed, yelling and screaming from the dais, actually accused Gavello of grandstanding. Well, Jerry, if there is anyone who would know grandstanding, it would be you. You are, after all, the master.

So, it seems that, even though John Nielsen may not play the heavy, he is more than willing to allow Boss Tweed Amante to continue to batter Councilmember Gavello. We thought he would be better than that and be a little more in control of the dais. Wishful thinking on our part, obviously. At least Jerry called her by her appropriate title, something he rarely did while mayor.

So, here we have it. Another year of fireworks at the Tustin City Council. Perhaps the best we can hope for is that Amante will fizzle out. We already know he’s a dud.