As if once wasn’t enough, the Tustin City Council has decided to have another do over. Last Tuesday’s city council meeting resulted in the re-election of Al Murray as Mayor and Chuck Puckett as Mayor pro tem for the coming year. While not unprecedented, it was a bit surprising as we expected Chuck Puckett to ascend to the top spot.
Our biggest fear was assuaged in that the Podiatrist Councilman was given neither position. Beckie Gomez, of course, was not even considered since her political leanings are far from the right side of the dais.And John Nielsen, who has shown his own brand of disdain for Tustin residents over the years, has his hands full with his not-so-secretive year and a half long divorce proceedings from Erin.
It’s not coincidental that Murray was re-elected by his peers. The Mayor is up for re-election this coming year and it is anyone’s guess who will run against him and Beckie Gomez. The most recent campaign statements filed with the city show both accounts with minimal balances. We doubt there will be much change with end of year filings as campaigning and its associated fundraising probably won’t heat up until March or April.
And, although the voters ignorantly did away with council stipends, thinking it would straighten up the city council, no one should believe there are altruistic motives for running. As of the end of this year, Al will have made $6,000 as a member of the OCTA Board where, last we heard, Tustin’s official position has been to wholeheartedly support toll lanes for the 405 Freeway.
We understand Al doggedly made every meeting of the Orange County Fire Authority Board which means he made another $3600 for his “service” (it is difficult to tell as the OCFA website is about as transparent as the lead shielding at San Onofre…oh, wait…) Murray also sits on the renegade Association of Cities – Orange County, which was formed at the behest of Jerry Amante and other dissidents after they were slapped down by the Orange County Grand Jury. Finally, Al stands to make $11,000 or so for sitting on that board as well.
Not bad for a volunteer position. We’ll have a complete rundown of just how much each councilman (Beckie did not reap one dime for her service and refused city supplied medical benefits) made in the near future.
Mind you, we are not really opposed to Al’s reappointment. On the outside he is, for all intents and purposes, what a typical small town mayor should be – affable, congenial and willing to show up at every event, big or small, in the city. His retirement means he can devote as much time as needed to attending functions and read the entire agenda, even without an iPad. As a single source, he has not been the root cause of any of the last few years of acrimony engendered by some of his colleagues. In short, he is a pretty good guy, if a little short-sighted when it comes to fulfilling his responsibility to the people who actually live here.
There is no doubt that, with a second appointment as mayor, Al Murray will run for a second term. Beckie Gomez has not given any indication whether she will run. She has been able to stay the course against an often overwhelming, and frequently obnoxious, bunch of good o’ boys. to at least keep a light on at city hall. As an incumbent, she would most likely win a second term without much effort and the “boys” are not likely to mount much of a campaign on anyone’s behalf to usurp her.
Although Murray’s tenure has been mostly limp, he has managed to irk the residents of Old Town with the Wilcox Manor debacle. Old Town should have expected this play, however, if for no other reason than payback for the city’s (read Elizabeth Binsack’s) loss against Brett Fairbanks.
Hmmmm. Well, I was going to write a future article on the progress of the city but, I think I just did. In any case, it should be interesting to see who gets appointed to what (paid) board for the coming year. And, of course, we still have to report on how much all of our city council members made this year, offering their services for free.
OK, the city definitely fixed the video issue they had a couple of weeks ago that kept the May 7 council meeting from being published on the website for almost two weeks. That, of course, makes me wonder if there really was a problem or were they trying to delay the public finding out about something.
Tuesday’s city council meeting was mostly routine with some of what Mayor Al Murray dubs his “favorite things”. Hewes Middle School and Fire Chief Richter got their 15 minutes of fame and Al got to act the big shot mayor again. One thing for sure, Murray needs to obtain an abridged edition of Roberts Rules of Order and read it. He is clueless in how to call for a vote and had to be corrected several times by both the city attorney and his colleagues. It gets a bit tedious after awhile.
As expected, there was nothing to report from the Closed Session and the council, surprisingly, only asked to pull one item from the Consent Calendar, the minutes from the May 7th meeting. Councilmember Gomez had an issue with something she reported on during her council comments.
On to the Regular Business where there were a slew of Second Readings including the ordinance on the so-called minor text changes in the Tustin City Zoning Code which we reported on earlier. That and the approval of the special tax refunding bonds for Community Facilities District 04-1 were voted and approved unanimously.
When it came to Item 8, a tax levy on certain properties in one area of the Legaqcy properties, Councilman John Nielsen again recused himself from the discussion due, we think, to his purchasing or owning property in the area. So, I guess those rumors of him actually living with his girlfriend in South County are just that.
Mayor Murray, who seems to have trouble understanding Roberts Rules of Order, was all set to breeze through this for his buddy but Councilmember Beckie Gomez asked for discussion on the issue. Her concern, as is ours, is the fact that, not only is this tax being levied on unsuspecting homeowners without their consent, it has no end date. “I am a bit concerned about this special tax, with the intent that it’s indefinite. There is no number of years such as Mello-Roos you pay it out for 20 years or whatever…”
She went on to say that she understood the city does not receive the same property tax as in other parts of the city but, she would like to see a review every 5 years or so. She said that, although this council may not be here anymore, “I think the record should reflect that it isn’t necessarily an indefinite type of tax.”
Surprisingly, City Manager Jeff Parker agreed with her. In making a brief explanation of the reason for the tax, he said the city council had the authority to demand that and even sounded as if he approved of the “5 years or so” Gomez suggested. Unfortunately, Mayor Murray, who seems to think future staff and councils will remember this forgettable moment just because they discussed it, asked that it be put into the record rather than made a part of the ordinance as it should have been. Even worse, Gomez approved of that move rather than take the time to do it right. So, I guess we’ll see in five years whether that review actually takes place. The roll call vote was unanimous with Nielsen recusing himself. Good luck you suckers in the Legacy that were sold a bill of goods.
Items 10 & 11, regarding the land swap with the community college district and construction of a new street also brought some discussion over the amount of traffic that would be generated by the new street. Community Development Director Elizabeth Binsack advised the council on a last minute letter received the day of the meeting. That letter was not in the staff report but Elizabeth was kind enough to send us a copy. The letter, from the city of Irvine, basically lamented their concerns over traffic and asked the city to include a larger area for traffic study. Binsack explained the issues had been answered, at least to Tustin’s satisfaction and said nothing further would be done at this time (how many ways can we say it, Irvine?). These items passed unanimously after discussion.
Without further ado, the item concerning the stipends for commissioners and their removal upon attainng a city elected office was read and passed with Councilmember Gomez dissenting. As we said before, apparently the Fab Four didn’t want the same thing to happen to the commissioners, who actually spend a good deal of time on city business, as happened to the city council in regard to stipends. Gomez rightfully questioned this but was met with the wall of silence in her protest.
The final item of the night was the Legislative Report and it was, again, councilmember Gomez who showed she was the only one with an independent mind on the dais. While the Fab Four were willing to be led blindly by their collective noses, Gomez asked for time to study the bills they were supporting and opposing. Lawyer Kendig, who is always in a hurry to align himself with staff, indicated there was an urgency factor in responding to the letters.
Now, most of my loyal readers know that Councilman John Nielsen is a lifelong Boy Scout and will fall all over himself to praise, publicize and applaud the BSA to the point where one might wonder who he actually works for. All I can figure is it must be like the Skull and Bones Society – one has to be in on the secret to know why all the members have that stupid smirk on their face.
Anyway, the motion on the Boy Scouts passed 4-1. Both of the other letters passed unanimously.
Not much in the way of councilmember comments although the Podiatrist Councilman must not have gotten much sleep (and his exciting dissertation on his political life and tie wardrobe was putting us to sleep). For those that don’t know, Channel 7 came to the Creme Pan Bakery in Old Town where Mayor Murray and Councilmember Gomez helped represent the city along with a slew of kids from our high schools. Although my daughter wasn’t there, the Foothill High School Madrigals sang a song or two and made us proud.
We have a couple of weeks before the next exciting installment of the Tustin City Council. In the meantime, join us for the Annual Tustin Chili Cookoff on June 2. The first chili tasting is on me. Also, please join in one of the many upcoming memorial services in the county on Memorial Day. You will find me at the Westminster Memorial Park where various veteran and community organizations, including the last of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association will lay wreathes at their military memorial.
It didn’t take long for the newly seated city council to stir things up and create a little controversy while violating the Brown Act at the same time. Tuesday’s Tustin City Councill meeting demonstrated their ignorance when it comes to conducting city business. Of course, John Nielsen wasn’t there to guide them and it was left up to Mayor Murray to carry the ball. We did not expect much from Murray and that is what we got.
Chad Ortlieb, an Orange city planner and Old Town Tustin resident who previously spoke on the subject of the Wilcox Manor, showed up during public comments to complain about the apparent gross errors of the Fab 5 in handling the continuance of the Wilcox Manor CUP application last meeting. If you recall at last month’s meeting, Ortlieb appeared to question whether any type of event center was appropriate for the Old Town residential neighborhood. His discussion at that meeting generated a flurry of activity on the dais as councilmembers, looking like Keystone Cops, raced for the door saying they had to recuse themselves from any discussion. It also raised with us, at the time, the question of why the item would be continued for eight months. It was pretty obvious to us the reason the councilmembers were in such a hurry to exit the dais.
So, Ortlieb came back this month to ask the question we have wondered all along: Why an eight month delay? He also asked a few other questions concerning the validity of the application itself and whether city staff were playing footsie with the applicants to accommodate them. To their credit, this time the city council remained in their seats. From Ortlieb:
The rights of Tustin residents to have the council decide the continuance of the Wilcox Manor project were violated. At one point, in the meeting, councilmember Gomez asked the city attorney. ‘Does this item require action?’ The city attorney’s response was, ‘No. It’s already been agendized as continued’. Staff did not have the right to remove the continuance from the council’s consideration. The consideration is exclusively the council’s purview. If you want to take a look at Government Code section 94955, I think that’s a good starting point. But, to ask the question, can the city council continue something to a date, but have staff continue it for the council without any direction by the council? The answer is, no. Had the project been advertised differently, without staff saying it’s continued, a different public attendance and public participation could have resulted. The council had the right to deny the continuance request and even a right to make a decision on the project at that meeting. For the record, I don’t believe that a continuance to September is reasonable. Confusing matters is that, even though there was no quorum, the council, applicant representative and staff all conducted council business and spoke regarding the project. But, nobody else from the public was extended that opportunity. One of the attorneys present should have noticed the lack of a quorum. Also, just to pose the question, why did the applicant attorney show up if the matter was continued automatically by staff?
Ortlieb goes on to say the project should be re-noticed and advertised to the public with the city council subsequently deciding what, if any, extension will be allowed. He went on to say that the use [as a non-profit venue] was never allowed in the type of zoning the residence is in to begin with. He also stated that staff should never have considered the CUP as the type of venue is not allowed. “Staff should not be allowed to set land use policy of this magnitude even for a non-profit use.” Ortlieb further said the consideration by the city council was improper in the first case. Even though the original CUP went before the city planning commission, the applicants substantially changed the application request before it landed in front of the city council. That, according to Ortlieb, meant the application should have gone before the planning commission one more time.
Of course, we agree. As we had pointed out, Linburgh McPherson and Michael Demoratz, the trustees and owners of the Wilcox Manor, have misled the city during this entire adventure. They originally told the planning commission they had set up off-site parking when, in fact, they had done nothing of the sort. They amassed huge support at the planning commission meeting last year by busing in representatives from non-profits that had used the facility. The trouble is, most of those non-profits were from outside of the city where parking, trash and crowds would have no impact on them. The fact that several councilmembers have directly benefited from the use of the facility for fundraising as well, was not lost on the many residents who reside near the Manor.
The primary issue at this point was whether the staff had the right to automatically continue a matter before the council, on behalf of the council. We don’t think they did. We never got a good look at the audience for last month’s meeting but it seems to us that, even if one person who wished to speak was there, they should have been given that opportunity before a continuance was granted. Eight months is a long time for a continuance and, quite frankly, it appears as though the city council majority (we won’t count Gomez in this) was hoping that the lapse in time would allow them to return a favorable vote for the owners without raising eyebrows. To that effect, the city attorney bumbled his way through some sad explanation that it would be right for the councilmembers to recuse themselves, thereby eliminating the ability to act on the matter, but that one of the conflicted could subsequently return to the dais after drawing straws. How could there not still be a conflict for that councilmember? Better to have required a new application.
Ortlieb was left standing at the podium as the good Mayor thanked him for speaking and sent him packing. It should be interesting how concerned citizens react when the CUP is brought before the city council in September. As we told you before, we aren’t going anywhere and we plan on reminding our readers when the issue comes up again. At the very least, the city council should take a hint and refuse to hear the highly-modified CUP application when it comes before them. What should really happen is the applicants should be directed to start from ground zero with the city planning commission. The planning commission, of course, should research the issue as we believe Orlieb is correct in his assertion that the type of events McPherson and Dmoratz have been holding, have been illegal all along.
Like 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 <DKendig@wss-law.com> wrote:
Good morning, Deborah,
It has been brought to my attention that your website (www.DeborahforTustin.com) 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.
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?