Although we haven’t been receiving press releases from the city for some time (we’ve put in a new request), we do occasionally hit their website and troll for information we can bring you. Our latest foraging attempt netted us a press release announcing the re-opening of the Cedar Grove playground. Yes, this is the infamous park the Tustin City Council failed to protect from predators, but that is another story.
Those folks that live in area have known, for some time, the playground needed a facelift. Fortunately, this is one area where our city (read Elizabeth Binsack’s staff) really outshines themselves. Although they don’t design the playgrounds, they do approve the submitted plans and then hold the contractors to the fire to produce what is expected.
In this case, according to the press release, the net result is:
- A 2-5 year old play area with nature themed design including gigantic snake and frog play elements, climbing rocks and logs, and a shade sail
- Two climbing boulders connected by a two-rope bridge
- A 5-12 year old Nexus Playsystem which combines unique playground elements with physically challenging fitness components
- Greenfield Outdoor Fitness Equipment (7 pieces)
- Combination of wood fiber and rubber play surfacing
- ADA entry ramp
A small ceremony was held on Monday afternoon to dedicate the playground. Mayor Murray presided along with councilmembers and other involved in the design and construction. I am told a good time was had by all.
Tustin is fortunate to have great parks, sometimes a rarity in the older cities of Orange County. The Public Works Department works hard to keep them clean and in good repair and cost of shelter and facility rentals are reasonable when compared to surrounding cities. And, I don’t mind giving credit where credit is due.
If you get a chance, go by and take a look at the new equipment. While you are at it, swing by Peppertree Park, where the latest Broadway in the Park just concluded their engagement and check out the equipment there. Oh Yeah, take the kids. They are the real experts on playground equipment.
Redevelopment is dead. There, I said it. It seems even the Tustin City Council agrees, finally. Running dueling agendas, the City Council will meet as both the Council and the “Successor Agency to the Tustin Community Redevelopment Agency”. An accurate, if somewhat lengthy, title (perhaps Elizabeth Binsack can come up with a cool name). At a meeting in January, the City Council went about the business of transferring assets and obligations to a successor agency. The new agency will, presumably, only be able to handle the current affairs of the old RDA with no new obligations. A tough blow to Jerry and his Kids, who thought RDA money would see them and their business cronies thought the tough times. Now, we will see just how much business is willing to put into business ventures in Tustin without the aid of corporate welfare.
A bit of advice to Councilmember Gavello. Item 4 on the special meeting agenda establishes bank accounts and signatures. I know you hate Jeffries but just go with the flow on this.
On to the City Council regular meeting agenda.
There are the usual suspects on the Closed Session agenda, including T-Mobile which has sued the city over the design review of a cell tower in Cedar Grove Park. By now, a response should have been made to the initial petition. The petitions and all pleadings are public knowledge, by the way. So, we would suggest the city consider placing the documents on-line for full disclosure. That is, unless the city has something to hide.
There are also three lawsuits between the City and Tustin Unified School District. The oldest of these is scheduled to be heard in Orange County Superior Court in April. Two councilmembers have assured me they hope for a resolution before this goes to trial. With control over school construction at stake, and considering the apparent conflict of state law, I doubt TUSD is inclined to settle this beforehand. Certainly Tustin’s lame attempt at a settlement, which appeared to be more of an effort to garner public support, would not be the basis for a permanent agreement.
The final lawsuit is one filed by Doug Poling against the city. No word on the specifics but it does involve the National Junior Basketball Association. I have asked them to comment.
It is that time of year again. The seven and a half labor unions representing Tustin employees will come again to the table to discuss wages and benefits. I was sure at least the TPOA and TPSSA had multi-year agreements so this may just be salary re-openers. We will keep an eye on things and let you know of any developments. At least the city is smart enough to bring in a hired gun to negotiate rather than let city staff do it.
The first item on the open session agenda is a public hearing for the Community Development Block Grant. This is a federal program to return funds to communities to be used to “provide decent housing, suitable living environments and expand economic opportunities” for low and moderate income persons. This year, the city gets $587,277 in grant money. The city is required to hold two hearings, one of which will be Tuesday night. Of course, the City Council can disregard any testimony by the public and make up their own minds as to how the money will be spent. And, it seems, the staff have already made up their minds as to how remaining money from 2009 should be spent. A quick look at the goals and objectives shows worthy projects around our town.
One in particular is “Helping homeless persons…” Unfortunately, this is a low priority. It must be because of the low number of homeless persons we have residing in our community. It might be a worthy goal to get the few we supposedly have (I suspect we have more than the two hundred claimed in the agenda report) to make that final step off the streets and into housing. However, there are lots of worthy projects on the plate for CDBG money and not enough money to go around. In fact, the city will receive approximately 20% less funding this year than last. I am not one for welfare of any kind but this is, after all, our money and should be returned to the communities.
Regular Business Items
Item 12, Planning Commission Authority- Redevelopment Agency – It appears the City Council will vest some decision making authority in the Planning Commission regarding former RDA property. Hmmm. Could this be where Jerry ends up after his stint on the council? Hopefully, they will take a serious look at those term limits for planning commissioners.
Item 13, Commission Appointments – In Jerry’s current endeavor to leave a lasting mark on Tustin, the various Commission appointments have become the focus of the council. Applications and interviews have been postponed while the council decides on term limits. Councilmember Gavello, in an effort to bring the issue into perspective, has asked for a background report on the appointment process. Good show, even if they disregard you Deborah. You are doing the right thing.
Item 14, 2011-2012 Mid-year Budget Review – Are they kidding? sub-item 3 asks for a supplemental appropriation of $585,651 to cover capital project expenditures. How about the City Council start by giving back its iPads?
All in all, it should be an interesting meeting. I remind our readers that we only have 10 1/2 months of Jerry’s rule (sure, John… we know you are mayor…).
In a not-so-surprising move by a third-rate megacorporation, T-Mobile has sued the city of Tustin over the recent design reviews of cell sites.
For the past five years, T-Mobile has been trying to come up with a suitable design for a cellphone tower in Cedar Grove Park. The original design specifications called for a piggyback site that would accommodate two cellular companies, one of which was T-mobile. Several revisions later, at the last meeting of the Tustin City Council, the final design review was voted down.
Positions on this issue have been contentious. In an effort to appease residents of the area, who saw this as an intrusion on a local nature park, T-mobile came up with what they felt was the best compromise: Dump the dual-use part of the site and install a single-use site in the parking lot of the park. The design, incorporating the antennae into flagpoles, would have put the equipment storage in an underground vault with the entrance covered by foliage. It sounded like a good compromise until one took a look at the drawings. It was obvious even to the most casual user that there was more to these poles than just flags.
To be sure, T-mobile had it’s champions in the city. Both (former) Boss Tweed Amante and his cheerleader, Al Murray, couldn’t wait for the cell site to be built. In fact, at one meeting, when tensions were high in the room, Jerry blurted out that a lot was riding on this cell site. It seemed that the city was already set to allow cell sites in two other neighborhood parks, Pioneer and Citrus Grove. Jerry also lamented that the city was not being a good business partner because they would not roll over and play dead. Huh? Since when are we supposed to try and be good business partners? We are a city, Jerry, not a corporation. In the meantime Councilmember Al Murray took the usual rhetorical public safety stance of how residents out there would not be able to make an emergency call just when they most needed to. But, T-Mobile representatives had previously stated that the cell site was not being placed so much for area residents as it was for transient mobile traffic. And the data regarding measurements of cell signals in the area were not as clear as they should have been… or, perhaps they were.
Citizens who were against the cell site in any way, shape or form, organized and stormed city hall whenever the subject came up. Their complaints ranged anywhere from microwaves impeding the brain to the utter ugliness of utilities in general. They also had, what they termed, a better solution: Move the cell site to the nearby OC Fire Authority compound on Jamboree road. That location already had one cell tower with room for T-Mobile. And, although the height was less than what the company desired, it was offset by a higher overall elevation. This was not good enough for T-Mobile representatives or Hizzoner who clearly saw the other two park sites fading as well. Oh, and do we need to remind anyone that the city would receive a nice rent check from all three facilities if built?
In a final showdown, the grassroots opposition was strong enough to sway even Jerry’s (former) black ops guy, John Nielsen, who voted with the left side of the dais to finally squelch the deal. This elicited the expect response from T-Mobile who accused the citizens of Tustin of skullduggery. They said Tustinites had been dishonest while T-Mobile had acted in good faith. They also reiterated their threat to forgo the necessity of obtaining city approval and to just use the public right-of-way for future construction.
Of course, the specter of their threat looming over the head of the city like Damocles’ sword, lends us to wonder why they would spend money on suing the city rather than just build in the right-of-way. Is it really that easy or would that require T-Mobile to jump other regulatory hurdles? It is hard to believe that a cellular company could build an antenna tower on the right-of-way with no construction oversight. The implied threat was that the company could build whatever they liked without having to consider aesthetics. In reality, they could put up the most utilitarian structure they want on the right-of-way and I doubt anyone would care, even if they noticed it. But somehow, with this new lawsuit, I have to believe that it isn’t as simple as that.
In any case, this will prove to be an important issue for the future of Tustin cell service. We haven’t had an opportunity to read T-Mobile’s petition yet, although the California Broadband Council has posted a press release on their website. We will keep you apprised as this new saga unfolds and we get more information. One thing in Tustin’s favor: our new Mayor, John Nielsen, was not a proponent of the cell towers as former Mayor Amante was. That bodes well for Tustin Ranch. Hopefully, the city will not cave on this and the Central District Court will not trample the sovereignty of the city because they mistakenly think corporations are people, too.
Don’t be in a hurry to get to the Tustin City Council meeting tonight. The Close Session looks like a marathon. I am not sure they will make it out by 7pm. Depending on how you read it, they may be looking at either two or four new possible lawsuits. Most of the rest of it will be taken up with discussions with real property negotiators for Crossroads Church, the Army Reserves, and three others. Of course, I am always interested in why we are purchasing property in Anaheim and Aliso Viejo. I am sure it has something to do with the redevelopment agency.
The other two items on the closed session agenda are, of course, the lawsuits between the City and the Tustin Unified School District. I was advised today that the original lawsuit, brought by TUSD over the grading permits, is scheduled to go to trial in November. I won’t hold my breath on the date. I will keep you posted.
What I am really excited about is the last item, I. PUBLIC EMPLOYEE APPOINTMENT pursuant to Government Code Section 54957(b) – City Manager. Is it possible the search committee has finally found someone willing to come to work for this Council? Let’s hope so. It would be nice to have someone take over for our retired, interim manager and send him packing. Although I am sure, with a little brainstorming, they can come up with a new title and let Bill continue to work for the city as a double dipper as well.
As we get into the regular agenda, I would like to tip my hat to my good friend, Deacon Martin Ruiz, of St. Cecilia Catholic Church. Deacon Ruiz is also the Catholic Chaplain for Orange County Juvenile Hall where he ministers to our lost youth. He is one of the kindest and most joyful men I know. It is nice to see that he will be giving the invocation for the evening’s meeting. We all know they can use a little help from up above. And Deacon Ruiz is just the go-between they need.
Item number 2 is a public hearing on a “Design Review”. I love the names the staff give these agenda items. This is item has to do with the proposed cellphone towers to be located at Cedar Grove Park. I know there are people out there that are concerned about the health aspects of having a cellphone tower near their home. All I can say is, you can’t have your cake and eat it too. This item has been hanging around for way too long. Except for the fact that it will be a single user tower (T-Mobile), there really shouldn’t be an issue with this. Tustin suffers from poor cell reception in a lot of areas (like my house). The cell site will be asthetically pleasing, so I am led to believe. The Council should make a decision, one way or the other. Our Town Tustin recommends passage.
City staff and negotiators, along with the respective employee unions should be commended in coming to agreement on fair and equitable employee contracts that will help the city maintain solvency in future years. Agenda Item 10 proposes an amendment to the contracts for employees that will create (or recreate) a new, lower tier for both public and public safety employees in the city. It was a tough call that needed to be made.
Item 14 brings back the issue that Jerry Amante spoke of last Council meeting regarding Council stipends and benefits. Specifically, Amante asked for information regarding a ballot measure that would turn over the question of pay and benefits for council members to the citizens of Tustin. However, that is not what the staff came up with. The accompanying agenda report discusses a ballot measure that, if approved, would eliminate council stipends and beneifts. That is not exactly what Jerry said. Perhaps the staff shoujld spend more time listening to the video of the meeting.
While we are not big on city councilmembers receiving health and dental benefits, we do believe that stipends are necessary to compensate councilmembers, in part, for their time and service to the community. To eliminate stipends altogether may cause a problem when only the most well-to-do among us can serve. To that end, certainly a referendum should be placed on the ballot to allow voters to determine stipend amounts, if any. How? That deserves further discussion. But, we have plenty of time until the next election.