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On The City Council Agenda – January 7, 2014

Hidden Agenda ClipartWelcome to a brand new year and the same old city council. I hope someone told the Podiatrist Councilman about the apparent change in the Agenda. The Closed Session, which normally begins at 5:30 pm, prior to the Open Session, has been moved to the end of the evening. It doesn’t appear to be a permanent change as the current Agenda says the Closed Session will resume it’s regular spot at 5:30 pm on the 21st.

After the usual Presentation of Colors by our friends at The American Legion Post 227, there is a presentation by the White Cane Society regarding Glaucoma Awareness Month.

The Consent Calendar hosts the usual mundane items that don’t usually warrant discussion. There should be a bid award to International Computing Systems of Buena Park for construction of the water element at Frontier Park. Past discussion on this item estimated the cost at $115,000. ICS came in with the lowest bid at $148,500. The money comes from Community Development Block Grant funding and the extra amount was secured by staff. This may warrant discussion so that staff can explain how funds that were previously allocated were supplemented. If this is a reallocation of funds from other projects, there may be a problem.

Another construction project on the Consent Calendar is the Warner Avenue and Armstrong Avenue Extensions that will connect Redhill, Tustin Ranch and Barranca Parkway near the District. The projects are ready to bid, although it isn’t clear how this will affect or be affected by the Army’s refusal to give up their current Reserve Center site as the city has been trying to talk them into the past year or so.

An item that definitely deserves discussion, even at this early date, is the jet fuel pipeline construction listed in Item 5 of the Consent Calendar. Kinder Morgan Energy Partners is proposing to construct a 5 mile long pipeline through south Tustin to connect existing pipelines to John Wayne Airport.

The city had quite a bit to say about the proposal. The construction would extend from a connection point at Edinger Avenue and Tustin Ranch Road and head roughly south on Redhill Avenue near the airport. The construction consists of motor-operated valves and the pipeline.

City staff have reviewed the project and prepared a letter concerning the Initial Study. Most of the issues appear to be based on assumptions from the company concerning the construction hours and location of equipment storage. Staff have also asked for a public outreach campaign to affected residents and businesses to keep them informed of the project. A sound idea, in our opinion.

As the Initial Study was just issued, it doesn’t look as if this project is looming to close to the horizon. Hopefully staff will continue to demand diligence from the parties involved. Oh, and in case you are worried about the sudden appearance of jet fuel in your backyard from seeping pipelines, several have crisscrossed Tustin over the years without problems.

Still, a little discussion from the city council informing the citizens of this project couldn’t hurt.

Of the two items under Regular Business, the Mayoral Appointments to Committees prove the most interesting.

Of the thirteen seats on committees, boards and agencies up for grabs, only five net the councilmen any cash or benefits (we won’t include lunch or dinner in these). And, coincidentally, those five seats will continue with the 2013 appointments:

  • Foothill /Eastern Transportation Corridor Agency ($120 p/meeting, 18 meetings per quarter) Puckett/Murray
  • Orange County Fire Authority ($100 p/meeting, 12 meetings per year) Murray/Puckett
  • Orange County Sanitation District ($100 p/meeting, Up to 6 meetings per month) Nielsen/Bernstein
  • Orange County Vector Control ($100p/meeting, 12 meetings a year ) Bernstein
  • SCAG Southern California Assocation of Governments ($120 p/meeting, up to 6 meetings per month) Nielsen

Thrown in as a bone for her good behavior, Beckie Gomez picks up an alternate spot on the Newport Bay Watershed Executive Committee to go with her 4 other non-paid appointments. And, while this may not be a paid seat, it is one of the more important ones in the county.

You can see all the appointments for the various seats here. If anyone thinks being an unpaid councilman is easy (or, in some cases, free) they should take a close look at this.

We did notice an apparent discrepancy on the official Form 806 the city is required to turn in to the state. The form lists John Nielsen and Chuck Puckett as the OC Sanitation Nielsen Town Hall MeetingDistrict Representatives with a stipend of $100 per meeting. Yet, the Orange County Sanitation District website shows board stipends to be $212.50 per meeting plus mileage. Considering our councilmembers like to tout their “free” service, it is a pretty blatant error.

John Nielsen, fulfilling his role as OCSD board member, was paid nearly $5,000 for his participation on the board in 2012, the most recent full year reported by the OCSD. He is, by no means, the most highly paid either. That honor goes to Councilman John Anderson of Yorba Linda who made $12,301 dollars for his contribution to the cause. Not bad for a part-time job. Anderson, you may recall, was the subject of a failed recall attempt after the city council voted to oust their city PD in favor of the OCSD. I wonder how that would play out here?

Nonetheless, you can see that the city council, despite voters nixing salaries and benefits last year, can be a lucrative position. That’s, of course, if you are willing to play ball with the council majority. For the past few years, Beckie Gomez has been given seats on boards without stipends. Likewise, Deborah Gavello, as the arch nemesis of John Nielsen and former councilman Jerry Amante, was given no worthwhile appointments, paid or otherwise.

That’s it for the upcoming city council meeting. We will do our best to report back any worthy information we glean from the meeting. Thanks for reading.

Deborah, Where are Ya?

Courtesy of Broke-ass Stuart

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

Courtesy of Tustin Acura

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.