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On The City Council Agenda – August 5, 2014

credit: Dustbunny.com

credit: Dustbunny.com

I suspect some of the items on the Consent Calendar for the Tuesday Tustin City Council meeting are on there, rather than under Regular Business so the councilmembers can scoot out early and join the National Night Out at the District. Nonetheless, there are a few items which should be pulled as they will not go unnoticed by their adoring public.

The most glaring issue is Item 6, Extension of Contract with CR&R Incorporated for Solid Waste and Recycling Services. In 2007, CR&R was given what amounts to a 10 year contract by the city (remember, John?). The first seven years had no realistic “out” clause and the residents of Tustin have been saddled with whatever service CR&R has provided or failed to provide.

Prior to the contract being awarded to the lowest (and, in our opinion, most incompetent) bidder, waste service was provided by Federal Disposal. In 2000, Federal Disposal came under fire by the residents who wanted to retain the city’s 30 year trash hauler, Waste Management. As was the case in 2007 with CR&R vs. Federal, the issue was one of the absolute lowest bidder as opposed to responsible bidder. Unlike Federal, which turned out to be competent and responsive to city residents needs, CR&R has been just the opposite.

We’re not sure who paid off city staff to report that: “CR&R has provided consistent service with reputable customer satisfaction…” over the past few years, I have heard nothing good about CR&R service. Customer service representatives, if there really are any, are rude, surly and act as if they are doing the customer a favor. This, of course, comes from the fact they have the city locked into a seven year contract. Further, the bins used by the contractor are fragile at best and, apparently, not subject to the scrutiny of the city for quality.

The saving grace in extending the contract is that there will be no rate increase for the next year. However, regardless of the city’s assertion in the staff report that CR&R may not recoup those rate costs in any way, expect us to be paying more in future years should the contract be extended.

Item 7, Revised Resolution Submitting a Ballot Measure to Voters, is a revisit of a July agenda item to raise the bed tax in Tustin. Currently at 6%, Tustin’s bed tax is among the lowest in the county. In fact, it may be the lowest since Costa Mesa raised their tax a few years ago. The proposed measure was returned by the Registrar of Voters to the city for a one sentence modification.

Bed tax proposals are among those that are almost assuredly passed by voters as they see little effect on themselves. In our case, we have a couple of bright, shiny new hotels with reasonable rates to attract out-of-town visitors. Although this measure would almost double the current tax, it would still keep us below the average and among the lowest in OC.

Item 8, Amending the Classification and Compensation Plan will add a Public Works Manager as a lmited-term (cough, cough) position to the public works department. The “Manager” will be under the direction of the Deputy Director of Public Works and will be responsible for projects at the Legacy. We wonder if City Manager, Jeff Parker, will wield his authority to circumvent the personnel rules in order to hire another crony? As you recall, Parker talked the city council into amending the hiring rules to allow him to hire virtually anyone he chooses without going through the hassle of advertising the position and accepting general applications.

The Water Police are Coming – In the trickle-down theory of politics this state insists on, Tustin will recognize its responsibility to conserve water. That recognition comes in the form of regulations that will forcibly curb water use. The current reduction will mean the average residence will pay five dollars more for forty units of delivered water. The idea, of course, is to get you to lower your water usage. Tustin plans to use the carrot and stick method to obtain compliance. Warnings will be issued prior to citations and the reduction in water usage comes with a bonus savings, according to the staff report.

On the other end of the equation, however, is the threat of fines up to $20,000 and the implied threat that water rates will increase due to the decrease in actual usage. Staff ran the numbers and, if we decrease our usage by 20%, the water fund will suffer a $1.5 million dollar decrease. and will limit their ability to build the Water Enterprise Fund. Let’s hope the drought ends quickly. My lawn is already dead.

Closed Session

Conference with Legal Counsel – Initiation of Litigation, 2 cases

Liability Claim – Tiffany Trujillo

Consent Calendar

Agreement with All City Management Services – Crossing Guard Contract

JPA Agreement with Integrated Law and Justice Association of Orange County – Adds CSUF Police to the existing JPA

Extend Contract with CR&R for Solid Waste Disposal

Approve Extension of 911 Ambulance Service Contract – Doctors Ambulance Service as providers until County assumes responsibility

Draft Tustin Pioneer Recognition Program – Proposal to implement a monument program for certain noted Tustin historical figures.

 

Coming Home

veterans cemeteryI never thought that is is where I’d settle down,

Thought I’d die an old man back in my hometown,

They gave me this plot of land,

Me and some other men,

For a job well done.

Arlington – Trace Adkins

By now, you have probably heard the news about a push for a veterans cemetery in Orange County. The idea isn’t new. Almost since the Marines left El Toro and Tustin, veterans have been pushing for a place to host their final rest. Unfortunately, most of it was just talk as politicians were too busy deciding which of their cronies would benefit from some of the most valuable land in the county. And, although some may have briefly discussed the idea in conjunction with the Great Park or other developments, the idea kind of fell into the background of discussions.

Recently, though, the idea of a veterans cemetery has been revived and is, in fact, gaining a lot of support both here and in Sacramento. On Saturday, I attended a meeting in Buena Park (lured by the prospect of a free pancake breakfast) hosted by Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva. Earlier this year, Quirk-Silva introduced a bill that would clear the way for the establishment of a state run veterans cemetery in Orange County. AB1453 was wisely written with the idea of powerful developers nixing the use of valuable property near the Great Park and allows for the establishment of a cemetery “somewhere” in the county.

This is important legislation as, without it, a veterans cemetery would likely not ever come to pass. That’s because the Feds have a corner on veterans cemeteries in the area. And, because there are open cemeteries within 65 miles of Orange County, they will not consider constructing one here. That leaves the Golden State to do the job, if they are willing – and they are.Quirk-silva

Assemblywoman Quirk-Silva came to the breakfast meeting with an appetite and good news. AB1453, introduced in January of this year, sailed through the Assembly and is now going through the legislative process in the Senate. In fact, Senator Lou Correa’s Senate Veterans Affairs Committee passed the bill on June 24th and sent it to Senate Appropriations Committee with recommendation to the Consent Calendar. To date, there have been zero “no” votes on this bill.

In Orange County Board of Supervisor Todd Spitzer’s most recent missive, you would think the whole thing was his idea. Never one to miss an opportunity for self-aggrandizing, Spitzer has a photo of him and Veterans Advisory Council Chair, Bobby McDonald prominently displayed at the top of his weekly newsletter. He talks about how he is looking for a donation of more than a 100 acres and then goes on to suggest a location near Modjeska Grade Road (100.03 acres, to be exact) as a possibility.

The Third District is a natural fit to provide a home to a veterans cemetery because it has the canyons and a significant and substantial amount of the most open space in the vicinity of the Marine Corps Air Station El Toro,” Spitzer said. “It’s time to come together in the Third District to find a viable option. I’m inviting Orange County leaders in the Third District to get the word out that we are in search of a land donation of over 100 acres to build a veterans cemetery.

Notice Spitzer doesn’t mention the old Marine Corps base property as a viable location. Perhaps that’s because, according to the Liberal OC, developers are doing their best to deflect the idea. Five Points Homes, a large developer of the old base property, is not too keen on  the idea. In fact, they made a presentation at the Irvine Ad Hoc Committee for a Veterans Cemetery and Memorial meeting in June to propose other locations around Orange County. Alternatives for them included the Tustin MCAS, Los Alamitos Joint Forces Training Base and the Seal Beach NWS. The one “ideal” space was curiously located in San Juan Capistrano, just off Interstate 5, about as far away from the Great Park as you can get.

Although there is no script to go along with the PowerPoint slides, one gets the idea: Great Park Bad, other spots (any other), good. Face it, who would want to have their kids grow up around a nasty old cemetery. And, just think of the drop in home prices.

Never mind that, according to reliable sources, Orange County is home to the highest number of veterans (and homeless veterans) in the nation. Never mind that Orange County had and still has a huge military presence and history with all services represented. About the only ones who don’t think placing a veterans cemetery at the Great Park is appropriate are those who desperately want the income that would be lost by establishing one.

We think MCAS El Toro is the most appropriate location to honor our veterans. The city of Tustin has wisely joined a majority of cities In supporting AB1453. It’s unfortunate that neither John Nielsen (who was more concerned his business cronies would have to pay more property tax) or Beckie Gomez thought enough to support it with an official resolution, opting for a letter instead. Now, what would have been great is if Chuck Puckett and Allan Bernstein would put as much effort in locating the cemetery at MCAS Tustin (near the blimp hangars would be good) as they are in getting Arte Moreno to relocate the Angels.

Surely, the time has come to bring this dream to fruition. Every veterans organization from the Orange County Veterans Advisory Council to The American Legion, to the Veterans of Foreign Wars are actively involved with this project. More than 200 veterans and interested persons showed up to hear Assemblywoman Quirk-Silva’s update on AB1453 and efforts to put this plan together.

Importantly, Quirk-Silva said AB1453 is just the beginning. Once the legislative authority has been granted, money still needs to be raised. Hope lies in the Feds who, although they won’t establish a cemetery here, will provide grant money to allow the state to establish and run one. Speaking as a veteran, I don’t really care one way or the other where the money comes from. The important thing is to honor our veterans by giving them a final resting place near their home. By rights, that resting place should be on, what The American Legion 29th District Commander, Bill Cook, called “Sacred Ground”.

Veterans-CemeterySubhead

 

AT&T – Phone Home

theNix

credit: theNix

At first, we thought there may be no Planning Commission meeting on Tuesday. A quick second look shows there to be a one-item agenda that may or may not go quickly. That’s because it brings up the resolution denying the design permit for a number of U-verse boxes AT&T has been trying to install in our town for, at some estimates, 15 years.

More than 10 years ago, AT&T applied for the installation of nearly 100 utility boxes in the city. The original application was turned down and the project languished in the halls of Ma Bell for several years until another, more serious attempt was made in 2005. Calling these “upgrades”, somewhere along the way the city discovered that much -if not all- of the installations were actually going to house new equipment that would include computers and fiber optic equipment for the U-verse technology AT&T invented to bring fiber optic quality internet and TV to the public. Back then, the boxes would all be above ground and a bit bigger than the current SAI boxes that house the copper wire phone and internet equipment we all see around town.

We don’t know if it was the aesthetics or the tacitcs that soured the Community Development Department. We do know that, when city staff discovered the switch, they were quick to deny the application as it had been presented. And, once again, the project lay (mostly) dormant. Fast forward to November, 2013.

At the November 12th hearing, AT&T made an application to install 25 VRAD boxes around the city to further their U-verse environment in the city. For more than an hour and a half, Leslie Monty, an engineer who represents AT&T fielded questions and answered commission concerns. Well, sort of. If we may digress: If Ma Bell wants to sell the product, they need someone who is prepared and unafraid to speak in front of a crowd bigger than say, five people. Monty’s discussion was less than adequate and amounted to AT&T’s opposition to any changes to their original application.

She did say that AT&T was opposed to painting the cabinets because, supposedly, the beige and green the cabinets are normally painted to aid in dispersing heat (so, why do the new VRAD boxes have AC built in) and that their technology did not allow for underground installation, another request from the city.

Well, maybe.

She later came back and said that any underground installation would require an access area that would be significantly larger than the underground vault itself and, if I heard right, would require an upper structure anyway to house the AC. She couldn’t answer why other utilities seemed to have overcome that problem and maintained that underground units were incompatible with their current technology.

Further questioning revealed the underlying issue: money, of course. The cost of placing utilities in underground vaults is, to no one’s surprise, more expensive than setting ugly boxes above ground in front of peoples homes.

Now, the city did say that only 4 of the boxes had to be underground. It was just a preference for the other boxes. Those four boxes were eliminated from the revised project presented in January of this year. At that meeting, the commissioners were looking for ways to get this project approved as it would offer another choice to consumers. But, they were pretty unified that a project would not go through if it impacted the aesthetics of the community.

Several of the commissioners, particularly Ryder Smith the self-appointed nerd on the dais, asked about camouflaging the boxes with art work as has been done in Santa Ana and other

Someone tell him that's anti-graffiti paint

Someone tell him that’s anti-graffiti paint

communities. The city does have a goal to establish a public art program in the future and wanted an option to at least make the boxes more presentable than the beige and green globs we are used to seeing.

Oh, no, that wouldn’t be possible. According to AT&T’s Monty, the technology has not reached far enough to allow proper cooling, even with an AC unit, unless the boxes are painted an ugly beige or green color. And, even if they could be, the boxes which are supposedly painted with anti-graffiti paint, would no longer be warrantied.

We swear, we are not making this up.

In the end, the commission voted to deny the design review for the VRAD cabinet project in its entirety. The chief concerns came down to AT&T’s opposition to complying with design guidelines that had been established years ago and that they were well aware of. Added to that were concerns over resident objections. As Commissioner Lumbard said, “I know our residents are not going to be pleased when there’s a box in front of their house or, in front of the store they’d like to go to or on the side of the street where they park their car.”

Of real concern to us at Our Town Tustin is the makeup of the 3-2 vote of denial. It seems that Commissioners Jeff Thompson and Ryder Smith decided the boxes would be OK. In fact Thompson, adding minor and inconsequential changes, made a motion to adopt the original design review. Stating that he believed AT&T when they said that underground technology for the equipment cabinets just wasn’t there, he readily moved the item. And, although Chair Steve Kozak seconded the motion, he later withdrew it, saying he only seconded it for purposes of discussion.

Jeff Thonmpson

Jeff Thompson

The reason we bring this up is because there are two Planning Commission seats open for appointment by the city council. One of those is Thompson’s. And, although he has applied for reappointment, we wonder if he has not outlived his usefulness on this influential panel. Over the past couple of years we have noticed he has not had the best interests of the residents in every issue that has come before the planning commission. This is not the first time he has danced a soft shoe in trying to accommodate a business or utility. He continuously worked to compromise the untenable Wilcox debacle and other recent issues in Old Town, even though he is a resident there. Jeff’s best qualification for the seat is his civil engineering background. We would argue, however, that is what the Community Development Department is for. In our opinion, it is time for a change.

Next stop, should AT&T choose, the Tustin City Council where, presumably, AT&T has friends…

On The City Council Agenda – February 4, 2014

help-wanted-classified-adWhat does the city of Tustin and the County of Orange have in common? With a record low number of applications the city, much like the Grand Jury, is having trouble filling their commissions with qualified cronies applicants. With a suggested extension for interviews, the council will not have to bother with adding to an already full agenda.

The city council may be spending as much time on Closed Session items as they will with the Public Session. One item, Edison Relocation on Barranca Parkway, is listed separately on the Conference with Legal Counsel, indicating it is an important item. We’ll try to find out more and let you know.

New claims by Tustin resident Abid Hussain, Jesse Magana, Wilhelmina Zuckerman and Karen Stewart will be considered (and probably rejected) by the city. There are also two ongoing cases to be discussed. One of these is People v. Douglas Trumble. Trumble was arrested in 2013 for sale/possession of narcotics. The case was recently dismissed in Orange County Superior Court. Wonder what they have to talk about?

The final items on the Closed Session agenda have to do with property purchases and swaps, all on the MCAS property. The city recently concluded a deal that would move the US Army Reserve Center over by the OC Sheriff’s Academy and other like institutions. Ever since the city has taken over as Master Developer, things have been moving nicely on the old base.

Two Public Hearings head up the open session agenda. The first is a handshake on the development of 375 detached homes on the east side of the MCAS property. The hearing will include information on the taxes and facility fees to be paid. Standard Pacific Homes is the developer.

The second item, which could garner some public comment is for the Community Development Block Grant funds. Staff is asking to reallocate funds from administration to development of projects such as the Bocce Ball courts recently approved by the planning commission. Funds will also be reallocated to “way finding signage” for Old Town Tustin.

Some of the money will also go to developing a master plan for Old Town Tustin to encourage economic development. Although I appreciate that the city has made it easier (in some ways) to start a business inside of Old Town, we are always wary when the Community Development Department takes an interest in any way. The results are mixed and often to the detriment of the Old Town neighborhood.

Item 7 on the Consent Calendar – Police Department Vehicle Purchase, should be pulled for discussion. Supposedly, the vehicles are being replaced due to high mileage and/or safety issues. The mileage on these vehicles is far from extreme, with the highest mileage vehicle being a 2006 Dodge Durango at 69k. With staff requests to pull reserve funds (see later) to pay bills, it doesn’t make much sense to replace vehicles simply because they are a few years older, particularly since these are “undercover” vehicles. No safety issues have been articulated so we figure is it just our cops wanting to be in style?

Normally, we would grouse about the fact the city did not shop locally. Unfortunately, it looks like our local dealers weren’t interested in bidding.

Under Regular Business, the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report for Fiscal Year 2013 will be available. Our accounting firm should be on hand to answer any questions concerning the report.

I wonder if they would also comment on why city staffers are now revising the budget on the mid-year review and asking to draw heavily from reserves? Item 14 Fiscal Year 2013-14 Mid-Year Budget Review has staff asking for an additional $4 million dollars from various reserve funds ($2 million from water funds alone).

While some of the expenditures, such as unexpected costs for water purchases could not be foreseen, others could. These include the relocation of sewer lines on Tustin Ranch Road and appropriation of equipment that should have been placed in the original budget proposal. Drawing from funds during a recovery phase is not the way to appropriately manage city finances. It’s a wonder the city is crowing about saving money while digging into reserves. The staff report justifying the added draws can be found here.

The final item on the agenda is to authorize the advertisement for a consultant to develop a Commercial Core Plan for Old Town Tustin. We are glad to see this on the agenda as the city has, for too long, neglected the commercial revitalization of Old Town. Perhaps this will also get Elizabeth Binsack to also bring the second unit issue back to her desk for further consideration this year.

That’s it for this weeks meeting. I recently upgraded my U-verse from DSL so my speed increased from slow-as-mollases to just plain slow. Now you know why I want AT&T to get approval for those darn boxes. In any case, I should be back to being able to view the meeting videos in a timely manner so that I can report back to my readers. Now, if I can just get my computer to cooperate.