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Oooops!

sorryEvery once in awhile, we make a boo boo which our readers are more than happy to point out.

In this case, we erred slightly when we told you that Melissa Figge of the Tustin Preservation Conservancy was going through the neighborhood, passing around flyers on the Conservancy’s opposition to the code amendment for second units appearing on Tuesday’s city council agenda.

Linda Jennings of the Conservancy Board emailed me to state, emphatically, the flyer did not say the Conservancy opposed the ordinance. “The flyer only says that we want everyone to hear the proposal and express their opinion”, she wrote.

Going back over the flyer, it does say just that at the bottom of the flyer. And, nowhere does it flatly state the Conservancy is opposed to the ordinance. However, it does outline a variety of issues that the ordinance would affect such as parking density and rental income for owners of second units.

If I were to read this without having a conversation with Melissa or anyone else from the Conservancy, I would infer (as I did) the Conservancy is opposed to the ordinance. To be fair, however, I’ll take Linda’s word for it that the Tustin Preservation Conservancy merely wants those living in Old Town to be informed and to speak their mind at the city council meeting.

So, did they?

Who knows? The city, which has had their share of problems with their video system managed to recess before the presentation by city planner Scot Reeskin and did not restart until Councilman John Nielsen started blathering about mother-in-law houses. I’m sure John was trying to get a point across. He just wasn’t doing a very good job of it.

Once again, Linda Jennings came to the rescue saying there were about 50 folks from OTT. Only a few spoke, with most of them against the ordinance. Linda said, “One mother was very moving, talking about why she moved here and how she doesn’t want to see it change.”

I also heard Lindburgh McPherson of the Wilcox Business Plaza in the West OTT spoke….in favor of it, of course. McPherson, and his buddy Silent Mike, are all for anything that will ruin the flavor of Old Town if it will make a buck for someone.

Councilman Nielsen did manage to blurt out his feelings on the parking issue, one that most of us have a concern about. But, it was Councilwoman Beckie Gomez who took it a step further by saying the parking in Old Town is already something the city should be looking at even without this ordinance. Calling it a dangerous situation, Gomez called for more parking enforcement and further resolution to the parking problems Old Town is experiencing.

Gomez also clarified what she thought was a misconception that the affordable housing mandate was being laid on the backs of Old Town residents. Saying the city is addressing the issue in different parts of the city, she inferred that was not the case. I’m not sure if whe misunderstood the issue or wanted to make sure they were being fair.

It was the city that raised the affordable housing mandate in the ordinance. The inference was clear that this was part of the ordinance. But the mandate is citywide, not just for Old Town. And if, as Gomez says, the city already has affordable housing in other parts of the city, why would it even be necessary to address it at all in Old Town, one of the most unaffordable areas? Old Town owners will charge a premium for the privilege of living in their historical district. I seriously doubt anyone would accept an affordable housing mandate on their second unit.

Gomez also pointed out that, if more than a few owners decide to build second units, it would definitely affect the character of the historical district, a concern shared by most of us.

After extended discussion with the city staff, the council voted to continue the item until a time when the staff could figure out parking and other issues associated with it. I’m not sure where that puts the status of the ordinance as normally there would be two readings and a vote to enact. But these folks, in an effort to not create liability on themselves, have to make even the easiest ordinance difficult. What this really told me is that no palms have been greased, ala the OC Business Council and John Nielsen. Perhaps they are waiting for someone to show up with money in hand.

In other business, the city council voted to approve the Veterans Memorial Preferred Concept Plan. This presentation by city staff went off without a hitch and councilmembers got a nice view of the concept.

Allan Bernstein commented that the inclusion of a Purple Heart Memorial at the park was absolutely imperative. We agree. We were also surprised that Allan could say the entire thing without glancing at his notes (or was that the Dodger score on his iPad?).

City Manager Jeff Parker Let us know exactly what and who is behind the drive for Assembly Bill 1217. This bill would reduce the number of members on the OCFA Board and give the County a larger say while reducing the same in cities like ours. Assemblyman Tom Daly, a well known lacky for the public unions, is carrying water for the Orange County firefighters union who hope to have more access to the Board (read influence during negotiations), according to Parker.

Parker said that every city who is a member of the board has opposed this measure. That is, except for Santa Ana, which would get an automatic vote at the table. Some omen, Jeff. Saying the city managers and city councils were trying to send a message, Parker essentially said the state has no business getting into the workings of a local district. Well, looking at Daly’s history with unions, it is no wonder why he is sponsoring this bad bill. The city council voted to send their own message by opposing the measure.

Playing it Safe

Playing it safeIt was a reasonably quiet hall for Tuesday’s city council meeting. Part of that was due to the fact that neither Councilmember Beckie Gomez or John Nielsen was in the house. I suspect more of it was due to the boring nature of the agenda items, however.

With two councilmembers absent, there weren’t enough backs around to pat for Public Hearing Item No. 1. This item is one of the biggest residential developments to date on the MCAS property. And, while everyone was buzzing about it, the mayor announced the (yes) vote on the item would be postponed until the next meeting when all members of the council could be here.

The second hearing item on the CDBG funds was a non-issue with almost no discussion and a quick vote to accept. Likewise, with the consent calendar where, if Gomez had been there, we might have seen the police vehicle purchase pulled for some type of discussion. At least this moves one of Mayor Murray’s goals to enhance public safety (more on that later).

Who’s Got the Money?

The regular session highlights included a report on the CAFR. Finance Director, Pamela Arends-King gave the city council a bit of good news, letting them know the city is in the black due to sales tax and other revenue resources. She also let them know there were no audit findings. Maybe Pam is worth that extra 5% after all. Needless to say, the bewildered city council (remember, Beckie wasn’t there) had no questions or comment other than to thank the “team” for what they do.

For what it is worth, the Finance Department has done an outstanding job, although we suspect it is more to do with the city riding the economic recovery train than any magic coming form the cubicles. The finance department, giving the mid-year budget review also gave us good news concerning the economic recovery and its impact on revenue. Of course, what is taken in is spent. The best news was that reserves would not be dug into as deeply and the reserve funding would rise to 31 percent.

A significant item Tuesday, at least for those of us in Old Town Tustin, was the request to advertise for a consultant to develop  what the city is currently calling a “commercial core plan”. We like it. Now Mayor Murray needs to remember that, regardless of how boring the meeting (and how few of the public are in the room),  many of us watch on cable TV or the video and the presentations are often as important for the publicity they generate as informing the council. So, next time they want to do a presentation just say, “Oh, by all means…”

After listening to Elizabeth Binsack’s presentation, though, we wonder why they need a consultant. Binsack outlined a pretty comprehensive plan for the downtown area and it wouldn’t take much to flesh it out. The selected consultant would be required to work with a city staff steering committee, taking input from community focus groups and workshops. Sounds pretty in-depth and something that could be done in-house. Now, if they could just get going on the residential area with the second unit ordinance they promised.

We get it, Chuck

You know it is an election year. people start doing odd but obvious things to promote certain cronies for office. It’s no coincidence that Al Murray was unanimously elected Mayor by his peer for a second year. Mayor sounds slightly better than Councilman on the ballot.

And, we really didn’t need Chuck Puckett’s thirty second dissertation on how great Al is and what a wonderful speech he is going to give at the Mayor’s Inaugural Speech later this year, and how he just can’t wait for the State of the City speech… well, you get the drift. This is the most animated I’ve seen Chuck since he took office.

Murray himself is playing it safe. His recently stated goals for the coming year are about as non-committal as it can get.

Touching on what he will do for public safety and for seniors, he establishes a strong tie with both by building on what is already there. CALEA Accreditation was earned on former Tustin Chief ScottAl Murray Stock Jordan’s watch. It had been a long time coming and, frankly, the city council can do little to help. Let’s hope Interim Chief Celano is up to the task. If Murray really wanted to solidify public safety, he would push City Manager Jeff Parker into finding a permanent Chief.

The Senior Center at Peppertree Park is but one facet of what the city needs to help the senior community here in Tustin. Our city is growing, however, and a better aim might be to establish another center elsewhere in our town.

But, we will take the bocce ball courts, thanks.

Murray has not forgotten to let his business cronies know that he will be looking for support from them this year. Goal two is to improve and facilitate economic development through business attraction and retention. We love the goal. We just hate how some of it has been to the detriment of the residents over the past few years.

Murray has also stated that he wants to implement a transparent and sustainable community outreach (communication) program. Yes, a new website would be nice. What would be better is a Public Information Officer that will speak to the public, press and blogs, even when they don’t always have nice things to say about them. With a city manager that refuses to speak to anyone critical of city management (the city manager in particular), it is difficult to see how Murray intends to accomplish this. A bright, shiny new website will only go so far in establishing transparency and open government. A PIO who can take the occasional public hit would be better.

And while I am glad to see the Mayor wants to recognize our military history, perhaps he should start by asking former (and current) councilmembers why they did away with one of the finest Veteran’s Day parades, whittling it down over the years to a small celebration that, had it not been for our local American Legion Post 227, would have died even sooner. The city did everything in its power to quash any celebration of our military history. For several years, there was bad blood between the Legion leadership and the city. And, nothing has really been done to effectively change the situation.

Mayor Murray probably won’t have to worry. He is about as safe and sane as Red Devil fireworks. And, during his tenure, he has shown that he can stand up to the pressure of leadership. The devastation of the killing spree that wound up in Tustin last year was an example. Murray conveyed the collective despair of our city while keeping the public informed. And, except for the occasional bewildered look when the finance director drops a 40 page summary on his desk, he manages to take care of the city business. And, he doesn’t carry a stupid dog with him when he rides in parades.

We hear there will be no mudslinging from either of the two incumbents running this year. Whether that deal holds together will probably depend on who runs against them. But both Murray and Gomez are in a pretty safe place right now. Let’s just hope Nielsen stays too busy with his pending divorce to “help” Al.

Again, No Video. What Gives, Jeff?

VHS-tapeWell, I am sure Tuesday’s Tustin City Council meeting was decidedly drab. The highlights, I am told , were the presentations made at the beginning of the Open Session. You and I may never know. So far, there has been no video posting of the meeting on their website. This is the second meeting in a row that has not been posted. The September 3 meeting, had an update of the Strategic Plan that we have been waiting to hear about.

So, what gives? Usually, even when there is a glitch, the media team manages to put up a non-functioning link that indicates the video will eventually be posted. So far, nothing for any September meeting. We sent an email off to the city clerk. Hopefully, she can shed some light on the issue.

The city has been posting video as well as broadcasting the meeting on cable TV for some time. I am not sure how many folks avail themselves of the video but, in my opinion, it is vital to continue as a show of open access to government City Manager Jeff Parker and the City Council continue to tout.

Granted, the city has been plagued with seeming glitches that frequently prevent the video from being accessed in a timely manner. But, it has always been posted eventually.

As James Taylor sings, shed a little light on this, Jeff.

Update – Shortly after we finished this article, I received an email from the city clerk’s officer explaining the problem and apologizing for the inconvenience. In part, the email said, “In August we started experiencing problems uploading the meeting videos to the website.  Our IT staff is currently working with the Granicus support staff to correct the issue and we hope to have it resolved soon. ” We still question the timing of the breakdown. However they also offered to send a copy of the video which, in the interest of open government, I took them up on. I’ll let you know of any conspiracies I find.

Of course, in the end, this sort of shoots down former councilman Jerry Amante’s complaint against his peer Deborah Gavello when he complained of the hundreds of dollars and manhours it cost the city to produce a DVD for her of each meeting.

Go figure…