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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.

On the City Council Agenda – October 1, 2013

transparent governmentTwo Public Hearings head up the Tustin City Council meeting tonight. Prior to that, the dais will be treated to several presentations, including one for The American Legion Boys State Program made by The American Legion Post 227. We understand they fielded two candidates to Sacramento this year for a week of running a shadow government. Our personal opinion is they could do a much better job than our current crop of legislators.

The first Public Hearing will be to issue water revenue bonds in the amount of $15 million dollars. The money is ostensibly to be used for repair/replacement of the Simon Ranch Reservoir Booster Pump Station and Pipeline as well as the Tustin Avenu Well Replacement Project.

If we recall correctly, these items had been the subject of approved water bonds several years earlier when Deborah Gavello was around. It could just be a coincidence, however. Let’s not forget the city has allegedly been considering the purchase, either directly or indirectly, of desalinated water from the planned Poseiden Plant under negotiation in Huntington Beach. One has to wonder why anyone in this part of Orange County, with such a vast aquifer, would require water that reportedly will be selling for three times the price of local water.

One thing we agree with is the city’s consultants who have determined that, if you must issue bonds, this is a great time to do it, while rates are low.

The second Public Hearing will be on the City’s Housing Element Update. This is probably more technical than reality driven. A public workshop was held in April and the results have been incorporated into the proposed plan. Most of the response had been in the area of updating the plan for affordable and special needs housing. You can see the report here.

A couple items on the consent calendar should be pulled for discussion.

The first is Item 5, which calls for the electronic storage of records. It is a great idea and we are surprised out Community Development Director is just now thinking about it (although the last time the city got rid of records, they tried to use it against an Old Town Resident).

This deserves discussion if only for the fact that there is no indication the project went out to bid. Further, the item description is a bit confusing and it is unclear until one looks at the resolution whether it is for both the scanning and destuction (it is) or just the destruction of the documents. The report also states there is no fiscal impact. We seriously doubt ECS is providing their services for free. Likewise, it’s doubtful the city will just dump these records in the trash. Using a document destruction company will engender costs. And, have either been budgeted for or are funds expected to come out of reserves?

The city seems to be struggling with the strategic plan. Item 8 calls for a rejection of all recently received bids on the graffiti abatement contract. The reason? Staff can’t keep their records straight and allegedly put out obsolete data on the RFP.

The only other Item of note on the Agenda, is Item 9, Recommendation of the Finance Director’s Appointment as the City Treasurer. We previously said it would be a wise move for the city council to appoint the Finance Director, Pamela Arend-King, as the permanent Treasurer for the city. However, we do not see the minimal added duties as warranting an increase in salary of over $8 thousand dollars plus a commensurate boost in pension benefits.

If you remember, our former City Treasurer George Jeffries, a well-respected member of the financial and (Republican) political community, netted a salary of $4 thousand dollars a month for the exact same duties that Arends-King would be taking on as an addition to her “regular” duties.

There is no other justification for such a raise during this phase of the city’s economic recovery. It is also a slap in the face to the rank-and-file employees who just recently concluded a largely give-back contract with the city that resulted in zero pay raises for the majority of employees. Don’t look to this lazy city council to do anything but acquiesce to the will of the new Boss Tweed, Jeff Parker.

That’s it for the week. If this was too much doom and gloom for you, we will remind you that Tustin Tiller Days is coming this weekend at Columbus Tustin Park. Don’t forget the annual Tiller Parade down Main Street in Old Town Tustin. We will be in our usual place on our front porch ready to say hi to the good councilmembers. We wonder how many will be willing to face Our Town Tustin. C’mon, guys, we just want to say hi.

Could The Tustin City Council Learn Something From Santa Ana?

you can't teach an old dog new tricksThe Voice of OC ran an article today on a meeting held in Santa Ana over the weekend. The meeting was a first for Santa Ana officials and residents who numbered over 200. The meeting, held at the local senior center, allowed residents to discuss and give input on a variety of topics ranging from public safety to job training for young people.

The meeting was apparently a result of the new sunshine ordinance enacted last year by the Santa Ana City Council. At the time the ordinance which, among other things required adequate notice of meetings and community input during early phases of development projects, was called a “red-tape” proposal by Mayor Miguel Pulido. Opposed to any form of open-access government, Pulido said the ordinance would hinder development.

On the other hand, Councilman Vince Sarmiento said the law should have been in place years ago and could have prevented the “park poor” image Santa Ana now has.

We first wrote about the Santa Ana ordinance in September of last year, seeing the law as a big step toward making amends to a citizenry the city council had largely ignored. At the time, we wrote the biggest reason for having an ordinance of this type:

If you have to ask why an ordinance like this is needed, it was summed up when Councilmember Carlos Bustamante asked SACReD organizer Ana Urzua what she would gain by knowing who the councilman is meeting with, she replied, “So we know we cant trust you.”

At nearly the same time as the Santa Ana proposal came before their council, then councilwoman Deborah Gavello asked that a sunshine ordinance be agendized for discussion at the Tustin City Council meeting. John Nielsen, a Jerry Amante protege’, nixed the idea, saying the city was already working on a strategic plan that included an ethics component. That plan, however, did not mention anything about an anti-lobbying piece that Gavello felt key to the issue.

It was pretty obvious the idea of bringing sunshine into the city of Tustin was not going to go far, particularly considering the acrimony between Gavello and the rest of the council. Unfortunately, the city’s Strategic Plan, when it was unveiled, had obviously been worked over by the city staff, who did not appreciate the findings of Management Partners. The authors of the plan found a lot to be concerned with in the ethics department and said so publicly.

There was a lot of hoopla and backslapping by the city council when the strategic plan was finally approved. But, there has been no update since the plan was implemented and we are kind of wondering if the whole idea has been cast to the sidelines.

At the time Gavello introduced the idea publicly, that our city might be working more in shadow than in sunlight, we agreed with other community leaders that an ordinance was in order. Now, as our neighbor to the West, Santa Ana, has come to terms with their own ordinance, they are seeing the benefits to allowing the public freer access to city government.

As residents spoke, city officials wrote their opinions on large paper sheets, easily consuming dozens of them. The youth education and recreation topic alone received more than 100 ideas scribbled on yellow Post-its.

It was all part of a process that is new to Santa Ana: a strategic plan.

Santa Ana has elected to take the ideas of their residents, rather than only developers business owners as Tustin has done, to shape the future of their city. And, while their sunshine ordinance leaves a lot to be desired, it is obvious that city leaders are not doing just the minimum to comply with the law. Rather, they are taking the matter into their own hands and letting sunshine flow where the shadows of government used to lurk.

On The City Council Agenda, May 21, 2013

VHS-tapeThe city apparently fixed the video problem they had with the May 7th meeting and the video is finally up for viewing. We’ll let you know if we find anything interesting that we haven’t already reported on. We are wondering if the issues had to do with their recent changeover to allow direct downloading of the video, something we applaud as a step toward a more open government.

May 21st could be a busy day for the city council. The Closed Session, which begins at 5:30 pm, makes no mention of labor contracts. Negotiations have been in progress for the past couple of weeks. Most of the employees in the city are represented by the Orange County Employees Association. The grapevine tells me the city may be looking for increased pension payments as they are in a hurry to catch up the unfunded liability. City employees belong to CalPERS, not the County pension system, OCERS. Too bad. OCERS is doing quite well at this time, even though the OC Board of Supervisors would like the voters to think otherwise.

Most of the Closed Session will discuss property negotiations on the MCAS base. The fact they are discussing terms is a good sign the development of the base is finally picking up. As we said before, the best thing the last city council could do was to make the city its own master developer for purposes of developing and selling the property. It seems when that occurred, development picked up drastically.

The Open Session begins with presentations to Hewes Kids, OCFA Fire Chief Keith Richter and the National Student Leadership Council of SADD. Chief Richter was recently awarded the Fire Chief of the Year Award by the Metropolitan “Metro” Fire Chiefs Association. Undoubtedly, the city council will bestow a certificate or two on him as well.

Two items on the Consent Calendar deserve discussion. The first is the contract with the Orange County District Attorney to prosecute violations of city code. The DA provides prosecution for the city for any violation of state law without cost (the people vs. etc. etc…). Violations of city ordinances, on the other hand, must either be handled by the city attorney or the district attorney under contract. Now, I could really slam the ineptness of the city attorney here but his law firms expertise is in government not criminal law. So, he is off the hook.

The DA has proposed a contract with a reasonable rate increase ($150 p/hr Attorney & ($84 p/hr Clerical) that we doubt the city could find elsewhere. The indication is the OCDA’s services are rarely needed and the contract is based on use rather than time. It is interesting to note the burden of deciding prosecution remains with the DA rather than the city. This is the same as it would be for any felony prosecution.

Item 4, Asset Capitalization Threshold, should also be pulled for discussion. There is a (very) brief discussion on the issue in the staff report that outlines the issue. The economy has outgrown the previous amounts used for capitalization of short and long term assets. City staff are proposing new thresholds but, we question how they came up with those numbers. In fact, judging the economy from a consumer standpoint, we wonder if the new thresholds may be too low considering the skyrocketing cost of infrastructure constructions nowadays.

The final item on the consent calendar is the Quarterly Investment Report. Since the passing of George Jeffries, responsibility for investment of city funds has been delegated to Finance Director, Pamela Arends-King. We’ll reserve judgment as this is her first time out. Suffice it to say the funds are intact.

While most of the Regular Calendar consists of Second Readings of various ordinances affecting MCAS property, one item stands out as a bit of good news for homeowners.

The Approval of Issuance of Special Tax Refunding Bonds should be good news for some homeowners in the Tustin Legacy. About 563 homeowners will see their Mello-Roos lowered by a tax refunding bond. If you are a glutton for punishment, read the 232 page staff report that details the background and refunding of the money. Of course, all of this assumes the economy will continue to improve, a hedgy bet at best.

A second reading will also be heard on amending an ordinance to allow city commissioners to remain on their commissions until such time as they are elected to city office or replaced by the city council. This change will not only bring the city in line with most other cities policies in Orange County, it actually makes sense. One item of contention at the March meeting when this was first discussed was commissioner compensation. If we had to guess, we would say the current city council is not happy with the way the previous council screwed them in regard to compensation.

When Jerry Amante first proposed the voters have a say in compensation, it was clearly a tactic to hurt Councilwoman Deborah Gavello, whom he considered his arch nemesis. That he could care less about the city and future councilmembers, who largely foot the bill for their own expenses, was obvious. By shaming them into compliance, he convinced John Nielsen and Al Murray, both of whom were on the council at the time, into voting to place an ill-conceived ballot measure before the voters that eliminated compensation for city councilmembers. This has placed an undue financial burden on all of them and could hurt the city when it comes time to find otherwise qualified candidates for office.

Seeing the damage it has done so far has apparently caused the Gang of Four to reconsider compensation and not do the same thing to city commissioners. This makes the city commission seats, as influential as they are, a more palatable choice for those who choose to serve the city in a volunteer basis.

The final item, as usual, is the Legislative Report. Staff are recommending support for several bills in Sacramento.

The first, AB229, is specifically geared toward creating tax districts and, in Tustin’s case, on former military base property. Essentially, when redevelopment agencies went away last year, it left Tustin in limbo regarding financing of infrastructure on base property. They joined other government entities who had former base properties in legislation that would allow them to continue to operate similarly structured enterprises. This is, of course, an end run around the demise of redevelopment agencies and is actually RDAs on steroids. We have to wonder why Democrats continue to give gifts of bad public policy to the Republicans.

We do agree with the city’s opposition to AB667 which would require an Economic Impact Report in “economic assistance areas”. This is essentially a “rent control” for businesses that would require a superstore, such as Wal-mart, to study the economic impact on small businesses in a city before they would be allowed to build a superstore. On its face this is protectionism at its worst and should be defeated. What makes this bill even more ominous is the fact the city could be allowed to conduct the so-called study itself, leaving business development even more prone to corruption than it already is. The fact is, there are already enough impediments to business, big and small, that no more should be required by law. Two previous bills like 667 were vetoed by the governor. Support and opposition are typically aligned with unions and business.

Likewise, we agree with the city in their opposition to SB323 which would exclude tax exemptions for private non-profit organizations whose membership requirements exclude certain classes of citizens. SB323 is clearly aimed at the Boy Scouts who continue to exclude gays from their organization. In doing so, the author of the bill, Assembly Speaker John Perez, who is openly gay, is willing to chance the disbanding of other organizations that cannot meet the strict definitions of membership in their organization. This is nanny state government at its worst. Better the BSA debate should remain in the public opinion arena rather than rely on implementation of socialist laws that serve a narrow purpose.

That’s it for the week. If you attend the meeting this week, drop me a line and give me your thoughts.