Shades of Tammany Hall
Yup, the smoke-filled backrooms behind bars have not faded into the distant past. At least, not here in Orange County.
Yesterday, the ever-declining-in-viable-news Orange County Register reported that shadow politics is alive and well here in the Real OC. If you’ve ever wondered how Tustin City Mayor Chuck Puckett arrives at his decision to
deny appoint a fellow councilman a seat on a meaningful political committee or board (think OCTA), he has help.
Every year in November, representatives of the various city councils meet in conference to decide who will be added to what sitting boards. These boards and committees run everything from water and sewage, to transportation (think OCTA again), to even library boards. In fact, membership on almost any oversight board that is not directly elected by the good citizens of Orange County, is likely to be filled here, (now, try not to laugh) in the murky depths of the shadow government.
And, they’re in trouble.
Apparently, this super-secret cabal met November 13th at the Hilton to see who would sit where. And, it seems the Orange County Board of Supervisors is not happy about certain alleged Brown Act violations and they have called the cities out to rectify the situation. Specifically, the BoS is unhappy with the failure to give proper notification of the meeting, as required by law. The answer, of course, is to rescind all appointments and set a new, properly noticed meeting.
The “City Selection Committee” is actually the responsibility of the Clerk of the Orange County Board. So, one would think the whole thing would be watched closely to make sure all the t’s are crossed and the i’s dotted. Unfortunately, as this political body is prone to do, they sluff off the tough jobs to others, providing little or no oversight, assuming it will run itself. And, when things fall apart or as in this case laws are violated, they do their best to blame others.
In this case, the other is the “League of California Cities” which had been coordinating the the meeting for years until Orange County left the LCC for the “more conservative” ACC-OC. You see, whenever the local government doesn’t like the way things are going, they just pick up their ball and go to another sandlot. They apparently don’t think the public cares enough about day-to-day politics to notice. After all, they’ve been getting away with it this long, haven’t they? And, in the case of starting the ACC-OC, they weren’t going to have the rest of California tell Orange County how to run their show.
The apologists at the Register tried to tone down the violations by saying that not everyone in the room was aware of the apparent transgressions. Then Tustin Mayor, Al Murray, reportedly asked if the meeting had been noticed and he received an affirmative answer. Technically speaking they were right. The meeting had been noticed – to the city council and other political bodies. It just hadn’t been notice to the general public, as required by the Brown Act. Methinks Al, being a retired cop and all, should have investigated further.
At stake here is hundreds of thousands of dollars in stipends and benefits. Oh, you didn’t think that just because you all voted stipends for the city council out of existence they still didn’t get perks, did you? Don’t be silly. Of course there is still money to be made – and lots of it. All paid by you and me, the taxpayers of this county.
- Al Murray, OCTA Board of Directors – $5,900 (2013)
- John Nielsen, OC Sanitation District – $4,921 (2013)
- Chuck Puckett, Transporation Cooridor Agency – $4,829 (2013)
I’ve written about this in the past when the (of) late Jerry Amante (who also made a heck of a lot of money in stipends) was mayor.
Of course, there are plenty of non-compensated board positions to be had as well. Otherwise, where would the conservative bastion stick their liberal counterparts and enemies of the (Republican) state? Case in point: Beckie Gomez, who has a somewhat perennial seat on the library board and a few other non-prestigious and unpaid committees. Republicans like John Nielsen and Chuck Puckett are not about to go against the tide and nominate liberal members of the council to paying (and influential) positions. Never mind that Gomez refused to take benefits when offered by the city when Nielsen and his cronies continued to gobble them up.
Of course, this leads us to question our own backroom politics. Prior to attending the November meeting Murray, who was mayor then, had to have some guidance on choosing the right man….er, person… for each board assignment. He certainly didn’t do it in a vacuum. So, where on the list of meetings for the past year, is the one where committee assignments were discussed in public? Going back through the archives, there is no record of a “pre-assignment” meeting. You don’t think our own city council would have violated the Brown act (again), do you? Maybe we’ll put a call in to Chuck or Al and ask them.
As a result of the outing by the OCR, the Clerk of the Board of Supervisors, Susan Novak, told the Register she would be taking over the duties as the committee’s recording secretary. She also said a new meeting would be set up after the holidays to re-appoint members to the various boards. Care to bet who will not be nominated to a paid board position? A hint: she’s a she.
On the City Council Agenda – December 16, 2014
There were no surprises in the recent off-year elections. Al Murray and Beckie Gomez were re-elected to their respective posts as were the TUSD incumbents. It is disappointing to see that not much has changed since the days of Il Duce Amante and his reign of terror over the city.What I am talking about, of course, is the obvious disrespect the good ol’ boys show the only female on the dais by not electing her Mayor for at least one term. It not only shows their true color as chauvinists but borders on discrimination as they are all cut from the same political cloth. Fortunately, the Mayor’s post, in this city, is largely ceremonial with the setting of the agenda probably the most important task. Yet, the Funtastic Four could not see fit to give up even that small amount of power to a woman.
That said, we’ll congratulate Mayor Chuck Puckett to his (re-)ascension to the throne. Anyone care to guess who the next mayor will be?
In closed session tonight, the council will have opening discussions on upcoming labor negotiations with city unions. After the fabulous way they treated the upper crust management last year, everyone should be expecting a reasonable raise. City negotiators lamented the low sales tax return and the high cost of running the city last year, using it as an excuse to not cut a square deal with the employees. That excuse has run its course. We’ll see if the employees are willing to take a stand for a raise this year.
Likewise, in closed session, the city has several property negotations to discuss. This includes a property swap with the Tustin Unified School District. Also under discussion is property negotiations with Arte Moreno’s group, Pacific Coast Investors. The line item says, “Price and Terms of Payment”. Let’s hope it is not for the new Angels-of-Anaheim-at-Tustin stadium. And what is the status of those negotiations, anyway?
First up on the Regular Session, after the usual opening prayer and Closed Session report, is a presentation to Tustin Community Foundation from the website, Great Nonprofits. TCF has been named a Top Rated 2014 charity by them. It’s nice but doesn’t really mean much. Great Nonprofits appears to base their selection on consumer reviews. Think Yelp for charities. I read a few of the more than three pages worth of “reviews” and find them…..well, contrived.
There is a great article on a more believable charity oversight website that sheds some light on the GNP website and their review model. Charity Watch had this to say about their process:
At first, this may seem like a good idea. After all, consumers commonly use reviews on sites like Yelp and Trip Advisor to help them choose restaurants and hotels. What is wrong with using crowdsourced reviews to help donors pick nonprofits?
One problem is that reviewing nonprofits is far more complex than reviewing consumer products and services. When a customer at a restaurant pays for a meal, he can smell, taste, and experience it. In contrast, when a donor gives to a charity, he pays for goods or services that someone else receives. His review is often not based on any firsthand knowledge of the quality or efficiency of the charity’s programs.
As an example, Charity Watch points out that the Childhood Leukemia Foundation received a “nearly perfect score” from GNP while their own website rated it an “F” because and in-depth look at their finances revealed dismal performance in areas that count. And, while Doctors Without Borders received an “A” rating from Charity Watch, GNP gave it a mere 3.5 stars (out of 5) due to two poor reviews, neither of which was of a significant issue pertaining to their actual performance. Neither Charity Watch or Charity Navigator rate TCF. Charity Navigator does not rate charities with less than a million dollars in revenue.
Oh, and of the 32 reviews, 30 of which are five star, only one is from a recipient. The rest are written by volunteers, board members and others with significant ties to TCF. Curiously, two reviews from volunteers rated the foundation as only four star. What’s up with that?
Now, we’re not saying Tustin Community Foundation is a poor choice. On the contrary, TCF has done some nice things here in Tustin. What we are saying is, awards from questionable sources might better be forgotten than noted in a public city council meeting.
On the Consent Calendar:
Item 5, Establish Prima Facie Speed Limits on City Streets, is the result of required studies by the state. Streets are required to be surveyed for appropriate speed limit changes in order for the city to continue to use radar and other traffic control methods. Eleven streets have been designated for increased or establishing speed limits. Interestingly, sixteen segments, including most of Newport Avenue North of Irvine Boulevard, have recommendations to lower the limit. The rest will be unaffected. Some of these changes are in rather unobtrusive locations so, make sure you remain aware lest you be stopped by one of Tustin’s Finest.
Item 11, Community Development Department Office Reconfiguration, is really an item that could wait until next year. The darling of the City Council, Elizabeth Binsack, is requesting an additional $68,000 in her coffers to accomplish the remodel which, quite frankly, should not be coming out of additional reserves. This sort of smacks of the Jerry Amante iPad debacle (where are those iPads, anyway?) where funds were allocated for a folly. Expect this item, as well, to be approved without comment. It’s nice to be the apple of someone’s eye.
Under Regular Business, several items stand out for discussion. The first is Item 14, Local Appointments List which publishes for the first time, the list of appointment to OCTA, the Water and Sewer Boards, as well as a slew of other paid and non-paid appointments. The Mayor has an opportunity to redeem himself and his cronies by appointing their arch-nemesis to at least one important (and paying) board position (not that the Library Board isn’t important). He could but don’t expect him to. Chuck has never been one to rock the city boat.
Other Regular Business items include a grant application to the National Endowment for the Arts to assist in funding the Tustin Pioneers Recognition Program and the transfer of city owned property to the Orange County Rescue Mission.
The Tustin Pioneers Recognition Program, if you recall, would allow the city and certain organizations to recognize important historical figures of Tustin’s rich history. The perceived method would be the erection of a bust of the noted individual in or near the location related to that person. An interesting idea, especially if you can get someone else to pay for it. It’s questionable whether that should be the taxpayer, however.
The city is looking at selling two four-plex apartment buildings it owns to Orange County Rescue Mission. The $533,000 price tag is probably well below market value but is the original cost to the city. The city also derives nominal rent they will be foregoing. The tradeoff is helping at-risk veterans. And, although the city will carry the loan for the property at a nominal three percent, the note will diminish so that OCRM will, in effect, owe nothing on the proeprty. The only issue would be that the property was initially purchased by the city for the extension of Newport Avenue to the south. Should that project ever come to fruition (we’re banking on a “no” from the other property owners), the city will take the property back.
So, there you go. It’s good to be back in the saddle…..er, back at the keyboard. We look forward to another year of mediocrity from the Tustin City Council as we forge ahead into another year. May you all have a Happy Christmas and/or Chanukah and a prosperous new year.
On The Tustin Planning Commission Agenda – August 12, 2014
I wonder if any of our intrepid city fathers attended the opening of the Sand Canyon rail undercrossing in Irvine today? This was a temendous undertaking due, in large part, to the inability of people to safely negotiate train crossings. I guess it is a side effect of the busy lifestyle Orange Countians lead.
In any case, I am sure we’ll find out if any of the Planning Commissioners attended at the close of Tuesday’s meeting. Prior to that, they have a bit of work to do.
On the Consent Calendar is a request for a zoning change, conditional use permit and design review for the construction of a half-dozen condominiums on San Juan Street. City staff are recommending a denial of the request based on a small difference in lot size that would technically disqualify the change. And, although 140 square feet is minimal, rules are rules (sort of).
I suspect the real reason for the denial is the three story size of the proposed condos. It seems the only way to get the required square footage is to go up due to the overal lot size. The neighborhood is mostly one story homes and older apartments and, as the staff report points out, the nearest three story residence is some distance away, making this project stand out like a sore thumb.
It should be interesting to see if anyone comes forward at the meeting to challenge this item. It would seem the only required fix would be to reduce the total number of condos from six to five. Legalities aside, I have to tell you I would not want these in my neighborhood. The design drawings are pretty ugly.
The only other item on the Planning Commission agenda is a Commendation and Tustin Historic Register Nomination for the Artz Building. You probably know this as Rutabeforz Restaurant, that trendy little mainstay known for its upside down Christmas tree and great soups. Gary’s Rack, a well-known men’s store is next door.
The building is 100 years old this year, according to the staff report. And, according to the city, the Preservation Conservancy or the Tustin Area Historical Society would normally make the nomination. Supposedly they didn’t (more on that later) and the city is making the move.
The building, built by Sam Tustin, son of founder Columbus Tustin, was originally leased by Charles Artz for a general store. It has been used over the years for a school and other commercial enterprises, finally ending up as our beloved Rutaz’.
So, why didn’t the local historical society or the Tustin Preservation Conservancy do the nomination as the staff report indicates they normally would? Originally the nominations were done by the Historical Resources Committee (made up, I surmise, of members of the ATHS and the TPC). It seems former councilman and despot-in-residence Jerry Amante may have had a hand in that when the Conservancy supported a local historic architect Amante kicked off the planning commission years ago. Since that time, according to my sources, the nominations have been done mostly by the planning commission.
And, even though Amante crony Elizabeth Binsack failed to mention it in the staff report, the Tustin Preservation Conservancy (and, I assume, the Historical Society) were contacted about the nomination and they are “delighted”.
So are we.
The building in question hardly needs much of a dissertation. But, if you want the rundown on the history, you can read the staff report here. The Artz building is also on the National Register of Historic Places. So, it is fitting it should also be recognized by our own city.
That’s it for this week’s Planning Commission. If you live in the area of San Juan and Utt, you may want to attend the meeting just in case the condo folks try to sway the commission. Of course, they can always (and probably will) appeal to the city council. I’m sure they have a friend on the council somewhere.