Not a lot of hoopla during this week’s council meeting, unless you consider Hizzoner’s useless and snide comment about Deborah Gavello’s absence, hoopla. We don’t. In fact, we don’t consider much of anything Jerry rants about as worthy of comment. But, we are a public service and, as Jerry said at the last meeting about his own driveling, we feel it’s our duty to report his boorish behavior to our readers.
The public hearing on the Community Development Block Grant went pretty much without a hitch. Elizabeth gave her usual precise, if dry, PowerPoint presentation on the subject. Beckie Gomez brought up the issue of the Tustin Community Foundation and whether the TCF subcommittee that handles the grant consisted of only Tustin residents as required by the CDBG. As you know, we raised this issue some time ago when we found that John Nielsen’s wife, Erin, serves as the Executive Director for that non-profit. Elizabeth promised to get back to Gomez on the issue and we hope that the councilmember will not let her off the hook. We are not talking about a lot of money, but it is taxpayer money and the city should be following the rules.
Three items were pulled from the Consent Calendar for discussion. Surprisingly, even though Deborah Gavello was not present, the issue regarding the cooperative agreement on signal synchronization with Irvine and Newport Beach was pulled by Al Murray. Murray must be practicing his oratory skills as he pulled this item and the item on POD dispensing equipment for no other reason than to make pedantic commentary on both issues. Jerry, squirming in his seat on the side, couldn’t stand not to be the center of attention for so long and finally had to interject with his own blathering about how great the project was and how the three cities could sit down and sing Kumbya.
The big ticket item of the evening was the solicitation ordinance that would essentially prohibit panhandling from high traffic streets and skateboarding on private property. As we said in our last post, there is quite a bit more to this ordinance, but we won’t bore you with the details. Tustin Police Captain Charles Solano gave a brief and professional presentation on the proposal. However, during his presentation, he pointed out the very issues we have with this ordinance.
To begin with, he said consideration was given to making the ordinance “content neutral”. Anytime I hear that phrase, I think, “oh we made sure that even those who would have no reason to be affected by this ordinance, is included so we can’t be accused of coming down on the homeless.” And, that is the real rub. The ordinance will prohibit solicitation, or panhandling, on high traffic streets. Now, the ordinance applies to the homeless as well as you and me. But, face it, when was the last time you saw me standing out on the street corner asking for money from passers-by (OK, if you are really wondering, the answer is, NEVER). So, why the issue with “content neutral”? because, then the city can’t say they are picking on the homeless, even though that is what this part of the ordinance is designed to do. And, although the ordinance only covers less than 2% of Tustin roads, it is the 2% that is some of the most highly traveled, and therefore highly lucrative, in our town.
As Captain Solano pointed out, there are five parts to the proposed ordinance, including the panhandling issue. The proposed ordinance also deals with solicitation on commercial property, door to door soliciation, as well as trespassing on commercial properties during non-business hours and skateboarding on private property. I have to tell you, listening to the presentation, it was apparent that a lot of thought was put into most of this ordinance before it was presented to the Council. Issues regarding 1st Amendment rights as well as inferring that our homeless were not cut completely off from being able to solicit you for that extra change in your pocket were considered.
I also don’t have an issue with an ordinance that would allow commercial property owners to protect their customers from the onslaught of solicitation that we are assaulted with almost daily when we go shopping at almost any venue from Trader Joes to the District. Private property is just that, private. and owners should be allowed to limit their liability and allow only those they wish (their customers in most cases) to enter. They should also be allowed to limit their liability from those who skateboard on their property, although we question why skateboarding was singled out from other activities. And, although it will leave our homeless in Tustin with fewer places to rest their weary bones after a hard day of panhandling, I also agree that business owners and their customers should not have to be greeted first thing in the morning with someone sleeping in the doorway of their business. Maybe, someday, Tustin will put as much effort into helping the homeless as they do in protecting businesses. Until then, move along, you weary homeless.
There is also no issue with the revamping of the door-to-door solicitation code. I get many solicitors each year on my doorstep. They want to sell me everything from religion to shoes. In most cases, when I am answering the door, I am thinking to myself, why doesn’t the city require a permit? So, this is a great section of the proposed ordinance right? Not really. There are several issues with this part of the ordinance. For one, the Livescan fingerprinting that would be required of each and every solicitor is expensive at about $120 a year. To me, this does not serve any outright purpose other than to create another burden on small business at a time when government, especially in California, should be looking to make it easier for businesses to operate. The city did this earlier this year in waiving license and permit fees to entice business in this sour climate. The Livescan really provides little more security than other laws that are already on the books. And, the permit that would be required should suffice in keeping track of the number of door-to-door salesmen in our town. Although Solano gave specific examples to support the need for the proposed ordinance, he gave none that actually occurred in Tustin proper. In fact, the closest incident occurred in North Tustin and he was pretty vague about the circumstances. That, in itself, should be reason enough to minimize this ordinance and its actual cost on business. Again, the permit requirement is a good one, just without the expensive Livescan fingerprinting requirement.
The presentation did answer one of our questions and that was that non-profit organizations like the Girl Scouts would be exempt from the Livescan fingerprint requirement, presumably because most of them already have stringent background requirements for their volunteers. And, the permit requirement would not apply to persons under 16 years of age, so your Girl Scout Cookie sales are safe.
Oh, but wait.
Councilmember Gomez brought up a couple of other issues as well. Bringing up the specific example of the no parking area of El Camino Real, she asked if the day laborers who congregate around the U-Haul building would be affected. And, although Captain Solano answered the question. I wonder if she got the answer she was expecting. The issue is whether the day laborers are actively soliciting as opposed to just sitting around waiting for someone to drive by and offer them a job. Hmm.
It gets better.
She then reminded the Captain that Tustin High School fronts El Camino and various school groups often have car wash fundraisers out there and actively solicit the public as they drive by. Would this
affect them? “Yes, they would technically be in violation of this ordinance.”. But, the following words really made me sit up and take notice: “In addition to that, I know that, Ms. Binsack could speak better to this than I could, we’ve been told in the past that there are water quality issues involved with having a car wash… there’s more than just this ordinance that would cause a problem for those types of activities.” Really? Come on, a crummy car wash to benefit the pep squad is going to crush the environment here in our town? What happened to Tustin loves Schools? As we said last time, maybe it should read, “Tustin Loves Schools….Most of the Time”. Kids, expect to see Elizabeth’s Code Enforcement SS at your next car wash fundraiser.
Of course, there was a lot of discussion during the public forum, most of it surrounding the issue of the non-profits and how the permitting process would be a burden to the volunteers. Most of the speakers were moms, who are Girl Scout leaders, who shared their concern over the ordinance and how it would affect their ability to sell cookies door-to-door. And, this is where Hizzoner and I agree: Don’t stand in the way of our cookies. The issue even drew the Chief Operating Officer of the Orange County Girl Scouts who shared her concern and the fact that they draw their business permit and carry it with them to show when necessary.
In the end, the City Council did the right thing and sent the ordinance back for revision to allow for the Girl Scouts to allow selling their cookies (and other large non-profits) without an undue burden, and that is a good thing. So, all is well and good in the city of Tustin….. except……
Everything was going smoothly. Parents and COOs were speaking their peace, including one unidentified Girl Scout mom who spoke about how the ordinance, as written, would be an undue burden and that the current ordinance was just fine. As she was leaving, again without identifying herself, Mayor John Nielsen clearly violated the Brown Act when he said, “Thank you. And, if you would fill out the form, so that we can…from the city clerk right here? Right here? In front of you? And, give it to this young lady here on the side right there, she’ll raise her hand… there you go. Thank you. Great.”
Uh, did John not see my previous post back in January on this issue? By directing the speaker to fill out a speaker request form, he clearly, once again, violated the Brown Act by requiring a speaker to fill out the form. And, before he attempts to defend himself from the issue by saying she could decline to do so, he is reminded that an open government expert, Terry Francke said in an article from the Voice of OC,
“You don’t have to enforce what appears to be a mandate in order to chill persons from coming forward,” Francke, who is general counsel for Californians Aware and Voice of OC’s open government consultant, has said. “There’s no legitimate reason I can think of for requiring speakers to give their names.
“Doing so”, Francke went on to say, “is a violation of both the Brown Act and the First Amendment.”
So, how many times will we have to suffer the onerous behavior of the Gang of Three who clearly think they are above the law? Will it take a complaint to the FPPC or to the District Attorney? It is unfortunate that the most corrupt District Attorney in the State of California is so aligned with the Republican right that getting a violation of this sort investigated is a non-issue. Hopefully, if and when Todd Spitzer has quit playing County Supervisor and gets elected to the job he was really meant for, he will have the courage to investigate his own, even for seemingly minor violations such as this.