I just spent an interesting hour with our mayor, John Nielsen, and about 75 Old Town residents and business owners. Billed as a “town hall” meeting, we were enticed to attend with the promise of fruit punch and cookies. There were plenty of each, along with the expected rhetoric.
Arriving with my daughter in tow, I was immediately greeted by one neighbor and snubbed by our Community Development Director, Elizabeth Binsack. Hey, I wasn’t there to hob nob with city staff anyway. I was there to hear what Nielsen had to say about my part of town and the plans the city had for it.
John began the evening with a slick PowerPoint presentation that he read almost word-for-word. He talked about the recently approved projects and the changes in parking that will make it easier to build in the area. He spoke eloquently of how Old Town is the “heart” of Tustin and thanked all of us for coming to his meeting where he could tell us what the city had in store for the good folks of the area. He didn’t talk about the stonewalling the Community Development Department did in handling the new Del Rio Building project or the difference in how Binsack’s department handled the ground contamination at Del Rio and the new Restaurant to be built across from Rutabegorz. He also didn’t talk about the tens of thousands of dollars and hundred of man hours spent opposing Old Town Homeowner Brett Fairbanks. Water under the bridge.
It was during the question and answer session when it became obvious that Nielsen really only wanted to show off and possibly get a little free campaigning without really having to go head-to-head with residents.
Good questions were asked by local business owners, particularly about parking enforcement, or the lack thereof. The owners of Fred and Daffy’s Antiques on El Camino Real asked about parking enforcement which generated quite a bit of interest. Nielsen had a captain from the Tustin Police Department answer questions pertaining to enforcement. Unfortunately, he had a hard time addressing the issue and kept putting it back on the business owners because, as he put it, “we can’t be down there all the time patrolling”. Really? I guess the parking guys have much more important things to do like chase the street sweepers around.
Other questions were asked about traffic patterns and what was being done about putting Newport Avenue through to Edinger. Incredibly, staff blamed the demise of Redevelopment Agencies for the lack of speed on the project. The Acting Public Works director, Doug Stack, stated that much of the design work had been done but it was a $41 million dollar project with no funding. So, even though it is, according to him, the second highest priority item in front of the council, don’t expect to see it completed in the foreseeable future.
Discussion was also held concerning the Old Town residential area. And, here is where it became obvious that our good mayor did not really want to deal with the riff-raff of Old Town.
A neighborhood resident said she heard a rumor that the owners of The Wilcox Manor on Pasadena Street, will be asking the city for a Conditional Use Permit to be allowed to hold paid events on the property. We had heard this rumor ourselves but it was apparent many in the room had not. I heard more than a few gasps of surprise.
Owners Lindburgh Mc Pherson and Michael Demoratz have opened the Manor up for events for several years. They, apparently don’t charge and they offer the use of the grounds as well as their glass and dinnerware. The Tustin Area Council for Fine Arts, the Preservation Conservancy and many other non-profit organizations through the years have used the beautiful grounds of the manor to host their events, all for a good cause. And, in keeping with that, the immediate neighbors have been gracious as far as the traffic and noise go.
After Community Development Director, Elizabeth Binsack verified for all that it was true, it became clear that Nielsen did not want to discuss the matter. Laughably claiming that, since the issue could come up before him for consideration, he didn’t want to discuss it, he attempted to squelch the issue. You see, he did not want there to be any appearance of bias.
It is also likely he did not want anyone to know that the Mc Pherson and Demoratz have been quietly sowing the seeds for this project for some time. They recently held fundraisers for city council candidates and Amante allies, Allan Bernstein and Chuck Puckett (We wonder how Puckett, who recently resigned from the Planning Commission, would vote on this issue). The Wilcox Trust has also made at least one campaign contribution to Johnn Nielsen’s re-election during the last reporting cycle. The owners have been steadily mailing requests for support for their endeavor to many of the non-profits who have used their facilities in the past, regardless of whether they are in the city limits. If that is not enough, until recently, there was a blurb on OCFabulousEvents.com that listed the Wilcox Manor as an event venue. Clearly, Mc Pherson and Demoratz expect a return on their investment. It is kind of funny, though, how they sided with the city in the Fairbanks matter, calling his issues with the city no big deal.
So, do you really think there will be no bias when the CUP application comes before the Commission or the City Council? Rumor has it that Binsack has her rubber stamp poised to approve. Of course, we won’t know for sure because she wouldn’t talk to us at the meeting. So much for friendly Tustin staff.
In the end, it was just another dog and pony show for Mayor Nielsen and his talking head, Elizabeth Binsack. It was a chance to remind the Old Town folks of who is in charge. It was unfortunate the good mayor was more interested in telling Old Town resident and business owners what the city had planned rather than to listen to their concerns. After all, isn’t that what a town hall meeting is supposed to be for?
As the kids head back to school (I can’t get that Staples jingle out of my head) and the leaves begin to fall here in Tustin, campaign season is already in full swing. Most of the candidates have had a fundraiser or two in the past few weeks and more are heading your way.
New candidate, “Dr.” Allan Bernstein, has had two fundraisers that we know of, one at the Wilcox Manor and the other at that bastion of Republicanism in Old Town, Quinn’s Old Town Grill. And, just remember, you may be able to buy the “Best of” designation from the Orange County Register (who’s the judge?) but you can’t from the OC Weekly where the people speak. And, as far as I know, Quinn’s hasn’t even made the finals at the OCW in any year since they have been open. We were invited to the party but, somehow, I doubt we would have gotten in the door.
Bernstein is sort of an enigma around town. He first appeared at the Tustin Chili Cookoff sporting a judges badge and a pin that looked a lot like the City Seal of Tustin with the word, “candidate” underneath. He has also sent out campaign material with a photo of him on the dais of the Tustin council chambers with the Tustin City Seal above his head. Both of these are campaign violations but no one seems to be too concerned as we have notified the OC District Attorney’s Office. Maybe a call to the FPPC? Bernstein had $2700 in his campaign account as of June 30,2012
David Waldram held a kickoff event at his home a few weeks ago, complete with bounce house for the kids. Waldram had a nice turnout for his inaugural event with folks stopping by for hot dogs and lemonade. David spoke about his idea of service of as councilman, promising true fiscal responsibility and civility on the dais. He is also an outspoken opponent of the TUSD lawsuits and has publicly stated he will do all he can to settle the issues. As TUSD School Board President, Jonathan Ablelove appears to be a supporter, I would say that will be doable, should David win a seat. David recently told me that his website is now fully functional. You can see Waldram and his platform here. Waldram had less than a thousand dollars in his campaign account as of June 30, 2012.
Last week, Tracy Worley-Hagen held a joint fundraiser with David Waldram at the Loveland Residence and they confirmed they will run as a “team” for two of the three open seats. Attending the fundraiser was school board president Jonathan Ablelove and Tustin City Councilmember Beckie Gomez. The mixer allowed the two to discuss their concerns about the current state of the city and its finances.
Tracy is a former mayor and councilmember of Tustin, holding office from 1994-2006. She was elected Mayor and Mayor pro tem by her peers 4 times during her tenure. During that time, she also served on the boards of OCFA, the Transportation Corridor Agency and the Sanitation District. She is also active in the community as a member of the Assistance League, The AAUW and the Tustin Ranch Homeowners Association III President.She is also active with the schools and, like Waldram, is appalled at the city’s poor relationship with the school district that has allowed millions of dollars to be wasted over a pig fight. Several school board members have endorsed her candidacy.
Tracy’s website shows an extensive list of endorsements from all facets of our community. Her website, written more in a blog fashion (I like), has her campaign issues and her background as well. Worley-Hagen had just over $13,000 during the latest reporting period.
David Waldram and Tracy Worley-Hagen will be holding another fundraiser at the Hewes House on September 14, 2012 from 5-7:30 pm.
Chuck Puckett is another retread from the Tustin City Council. He was Mayor in 1991 and, until recently, was chair of the planning commission.
Puckett is a long time Amante crony and appears to be interested in keeping a business friendly climate as a priority. He also takes a more moderate view of the TUSD lawsuits saying that he will “strive to obtain a better relationship” with the school district. He does not give any indication that he would work to resolve the lawsuits. Like Allan Bernstein, Chuck also held a fundraiser at the Wilcox Manor. Don’t these conservatives just love Old Town?
I met Chuck at a recent event at the Hewes House where he spent a few minutes telling me I had him all wrong. He has promised me an interview and we’ll publish that down the road. Chuck’s website could use some updating in some areas and is a bit difficult to navigate. But, he has everything up there to give you the big picture. I would look at his endorsement page which, aside from the usual Republican suspects, includes the Marconi Automotive Museum. Now, didn’t Chuck vote on a few things for them as Planning Commissioner? Oh, and lookie, there’s Steve and Pam Godderham, too. In the latest reporting cycle, Chuck reported just under $4,000 in the bank.
The final candidate for Mayor, uh, I mean, city council, is none other than John Nielsen. Right after being elected mayor for this year, John foretold his re-election as he said he would be mayor again next year. Well, maybe. He has a few hurdles to jump. For example, his website is woefully out of date. He boasts a slew of endorsements, many from businesses and conservative Republican associations, but the page has not been updated since 2010. His positions have also not been updated, which is why he apparently has not said anything about the lawsuits. He did, however, discuss them with me in an interview earlier this year. At that time, he defended everything the city council had done so far in regard to the school district.
John may have too many irons in the fire, including a divorce he filed for in April of this year. Yet, he has had photo ops with Erin Nielsen, his wife, since then. It’s interesting to note that no paperwork beyond the initial filing has been completed. He may have decided to wait until after the election to make it known or (we hope) Erin and he have reconciled.
In any case, John has plenty of cash, which may explain why he has not had a fundraiser yet. In his most recent filing, he reported having over $20,000 to ensure his re-election to the city council. It also shows heavy funding from businesses throughout Tustin and Orange County. Assuming voters are willing to overlook his family issues, he shouldn’t have any trouble defending his spot on the council.
So, that’s the latest snapshot of our five candidates for Tustin City Council. As things progress, we will keep you updated. By the way, don’t look for campaign filings on the city’s transparency page of their website. They have not been posted even though everyone turned theirs in by August 1st. Go figure.
Yup, we are still in Northern California, where at least one commenter would prefer we stay. We’ll be back next week. In the meantime, enjoy-jg
We recently received a forwarded email from David Waldram. As you may know, David previously ran a strong but unsuccessful campaign for Tustin City Council, barely being edged out by Beckie Gomez. He is running again in 2012 and has declared his candidacy on his website and in this email:
During the last campaign for City Council, I was so appreciative of the support and endorsement of many of you. Since then, Kendra and I have had many wonderful life changing moments including the birth of our daughter and purchasing our first home here in Tustin. Having been born in Orange County and raised in Tustin, I am blessed to now be raising my own daughter in my hometown. We are facing a momentous election season. We will be voting not only on whom should be our President, but ultimately which course our country should take to best strengthen our economy and remain the moral compass of the free world. In our own hometown we have a similar choice ahead of us.
With the many challenges facing America, believing in your hometown is needed now more ever. After much prayer and consideration, I have decided that I should run for City Council in this upcoming election. I believe in Tustin just as I believe in the greatness of America. Giving back to both is why I am running for office.
Waldram also has a website with much the same message on the home page. This website is a retread apparently and there are no links on the home page to other pages. However, if you want to see the rest of his site, go here. On the website, he has a link that will take you to a questionnaire that allows the user to enter the issues he or she thinks is most important to them regarding the city.
Waldram claims he will be fiscally responsible and points out the fiscal irresponsibility of the current council with such facts that the city council has been running a deficit budget for the past two years (but we already knew that). He also points out the unnecessary increases to water rates.
One thing we especially liked seeing on his website is, “Rudeness towards citizens and each other [is] unacceptable at City Council meetings. I will show respect to all & listen to all views.”
That would be a refreshing change.
Next week, filing begins for the Tustin City Council race. It is interesting to see that we have two declared candidates and one who has all but declared already in the running. Get your wallets out. Although city races don’t usually require a lot of money, I suspect the one who reaps the most in political contributions will have a distinct edge.
One question remains. Will Deborah Gavello run again? In a recent interview with her, she said that she had not decided. She feels strongly that, with the right mix of people on the city council and a toning down of the rhetoric that has become too common lately, she could continue to be an effective voice for city residents. One thing for sure, she has at least $17,000 in her campaign account as of the first of the year. We understand she has been busy garnering new contributions and that number could be quite a bit higher during the next reporting cycle. That is huge jumpstart in a race where even a few dollars can make a difference.