Unless the councilmembers suddenly get an urge to actually discuss something, it looks like it will be a fairly short meeting of the Tustin City Council on Tuesday. Councilman Bernsein, are you back yet? Chuck missed you.
The Closed Session, which begins at 5:30 PM, hosts the usual suspects. Several discussions regarding existing or potential litigation include a long standing case, now an appellate case, between the city’s old Redevelopment Agency and the Department of Finance. And, while the city attorney decided to keep the wraps on the case, we’ve been able to surmise it involves several million dollars of disputed RDA funds. It turns out the parties reached an agreement in December and we should soon see this issue drop off the radar.
Redevelopment agencies were dissolved by law back in 2011. Unfortunately, as is the usual case with a half-baked legislature, they only did half the job and made up for it by creating, so-called “successor agencies”. Much of this was in the middle of the state attempting to remain solvent by grabbing as much tax money from cities and counties as possible. This, of course, generated millions of dollars in business for lawyers which, I’m sure, our city attorney is happy to keep going as long as possible.
Most of the Regular Session items are on the Consent Calendar. Perusing the Demands and Payroll, the only item of interest is the apparent high cost of our contract city attorneys at Woodruff, Speadlin & Smart. Perhaps City Attorney David Kendig is trying for partner. Total cost of our attorney services this month is $17 thousand and change. That’s apparently in addition to the $34 thousand plus the lawyers charged for Successor RDA work and other legal fees
hidden sprinkled throughout the report. You’ll have to be the judge of whether we are getting our money’s worth.
Most of the other items on the agenda are routine business and we doubt they will generate much discussion. Item 6, Long Range Property Management Plan and Item 7, Amend and Reinstate the Working Capital Loan, etc., are two more pieces to the puzzle left by the RDA. We know the city council would love the legislature to reinstate the RDAs in California. Like most cities, they have been dragging their feet and crossing their fingers in hopes of resurrection. With any luck, they will run out of excuses and money to play with and disappear completely before that happens.
Two items will round out the Regular Business. Item 8, Comprehensive Annual Financial Report for Fiscal Year 2014 is the annual financial analysis of the city. I’m not much for numbers but you can read the report here. The short version is here.
Item 9, Commission Vacancies, lists the expiring terms of the Planning, Community Services and Audit Commissions. There are three terms expiring on each. Most of these carry a tidy stipend for a bit of community service. As soon as they are posted, we’ll let you know (along with who has applied).
That’s it for this meeting. We’ll let you know if anything interesting happens…..or anyone shows up for the meeting.
By the way, welcome back Chief Cellano.
The Planning Commission will have a pretty short meeting Tuesday, with only one item on the calendar. That, of course, is barring any lengthy comments from the public. There is also an ominous “presentation” by Elizabeth Binsack at the end of the evening regarding an unnamed subject.
The sole item of interest is on the Consent Calendar and, unless someone pulls it for discussion, it will pass along with the approval of the previous meeting’s minutes. The item, a request for a Use Determination and Conditional Use Permit, would allow Golubitsky Fencing Center to establish a training facility in a light industrial business park on Edniger Avenue near Redhill.
I’m not sure why it needed a sales pitch but, the description of the facility discusses Golubitsky’s involvement with fencing and his awards which includes a silver medal at the Olympics. In any case, it’s a great addition to the recreational venues available to Tustinites and the location is appropriate.
That’s probably a good thing because they have been operating out of this facility for awhile now and the city apparently just caught up with them. The location requires a CUP because “fencing” doesn’t appear in the city codes as an allowable activity (how short sighted). In any case, the city seems to like the idea hence the placement on the Consent Calendar.
Hot on the heels of the recent opening of the new El Camino Cafe in the Del Rio Building in Old Town Tustin, the city has finally released the draft Commercial Design Guidelines for the Cultural Resources District. If you are a glutton for punishment, the 194 page document can be found here. Remember, I warned you.
According to the introductory letter, the guidelines will be used for property preservation and development within the overlay district. It will also:
…provide enhancement or appendix for other city codes for features such as:
- Business identification signs to help preserve and enhance the character of Old Town Tustin.
- Tips for energy efficiency to promote sustainability in your project or property.
- Ideas for landscaping on private property and the public right of way, and suggestions for improving the overall street environments.
- Photos and graphics that help explain improvements that can be made to properties.
- Resources and websitelinks to make it easier to find additional information.
Overall, having a comprehensive set of guidelines is important, particuarly to Old Town residents and businesses. Historically, however, city staff has taken a heavy hand toward anything that doesn’t meet their own personal standard of how the area should look. In addition, the city has a history of showing favoritism to certain residents and businesses. These folks have either been influential because of their standing in the community (not necessarily a bad thing) or their political contributions (a bad, bad thing).
Evidence the fact of the city’s real intent is in the draft guidelines. At one point in the introduction, the dissertation reads:
The Guidelines are intended to serve as a “yardstick” against which proposed projects may be measured. The Guidelines are not intended to be strict development standards as are found in the Zoning Ordinance. It is recognized that not all design principles or criteria may be workable or appropriate for each project, but all applicable projects are encouraged to follow the Guidelines to the greatest extent possible. Therefore, they may be interpreted by the City with some flexibility when applied to specific projects.
This, of course, gives the city an out in regard to how forcefully they will enforce the guidelines against individual businesses. In other words, if you are in, you are in – if you are out, you can kiss your project goodbye.
And, the issue comes to the forefront in regard to “new infill development”. Albeit, there are few lots in the business district in Old Town that are vacant, we do have some. A recent example is the Del Rio building that was built on the old Riteway Dry Cleaners. That lot had a business and an apartment on the rear of the lot. When the new owners wanted to develop the lot, they asked for a business on the first floor with a residence on the second floor (presumably owner-occupied). The city nixed the plan, saing that further contaminant testing would be required than was already accomplished. It should be interesting to see if they require the same depth of testing for the proposed restaurant and living quarters being built on the old auto parts store lot next to Mrs. B’s.
So, will the public or local business owners chime in on the draft plans? They should as this document will (or shold) be used to regulate future business and building in Old Town Tustin. This is probably the most important step toward reahbilitation of the area that should be as viable as the historic downtowns of Fullerton and Orange. And, it’s all in the hands of a (so-called) trusted few.
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.
As labor talks with the county’s public safety arm have ground to a halt, the Board of Supervisors are openly debating whether negotiations should be open to the public. Supervisor John Moorlach is leading the effort to open negotiations and openly criticized Todd Spitzer for holding private sessions with the deputies union in an effort to hammer out a deal.
The county recently sought to impose their “last, best and final” offer on the deputies union. That proposal would have imposed pension and other costs on deputies without a pay raise. While sounding good on paper, it would essentially have cost deputies up to 16 percent of their salary in take home pay. The previous contract imposed a tiered and measured implementation of costs designed to soften the blow on families. The stark approach imposed by the county this time around has left members of the deputies union fighting mad. And, they took that fight to court where a superior court judge ruled the county negotiator acted in bad faith.
Now, Moorlach is touting the idea of completely open negotiations – for labor, that is. In a recent missive to his constituents, Moorlach outlined his proposal to bring Costa Mesa’s COIN ordinance to the county. Essentially, the COIN (Civic Openness in Negotiations) ordinance would allow public review and input into the negotiation process, allowing everyone to see the fiscal impact of any proposals. Supervisors have already implemented several of the key points of COIN such as hiring an outside negotiator. Moorlach seeks to implement the entire ordinance.
As reported in the Voice of OC, union officials applaud the idea but say the ordinance should extend to all large contracts, including those with vendors the county does business with:
“Transparency should extend to members of the board of supervisors regarding contracts which they award to their political contributors, friends and lobbyists who bundle contributions from entities and individuals that are seeking public money,” said Nick Berardino, general manager for the Orange County Employees Association.
“They should disclose ex-parte discussions with lobbyists, contributors and other representatives seeking public money and political contributions received from those parties,” he added.
Of course, some Supervisors disagree. Shawn Nelson laughingly said that he is more worried about his own people than the contracts negotiated in the county. In an attempt to deflect the focus from contracts in general, Nelson said the issue was labor contracts because that’s what the people have to pay for and only find out the cost after the fact.
Berardino is correct, however. Nelson may foolishly think the public is only concerned with labor costs. There is a growing advocacy for complete openness in government where all contracts and their associated costs are discussed and debated in open forum. These costs, whether it is for labor or public/private contract, need to be publicized within the context of other issues such as recruitment and retention or cost of in-house versus contracting in order to get an accurate picture.
While COIN is a good start toward open and transparent government, it is far from ideal. Side discussions and most closed session discussions would not be covered. That leaves a huge information gap and a potential for inefficiency when questions regarding motive and reason remain unanswered. The public, while not wanting to dredge through the day-to-day business of government (I just want my potholes fixed), is growing concerned over costs and would welcome a bit of sunshine on the process. To infer it is none of their business, as some city and county officials have, is disingenuous.
While the county debates the pros and cons of COIN, it is time for the Tustin City Council to do the same. In past years, their efforts toward open and transparent government have left much to be desired. The antics of former councilmembers notwithstanding, the city has been lavish with it’s compensation toward executives and upper management while giving the rank-and-file employees the short end of the fiscal stick. Then there is the so-called Strategic Plan that is supposed to be a guideline for city staffers. The plan originally was supposed to contain an ethics component that never made it into the final draft (or, if it did, it’s buried under the bodies). In formulating the plan, Management Partners, outlined some serious issues mostly centering around poor community relations. Those, too, were never taken seriously.
Tustin city planners like to think of themselves as forward thinkers, ahead of the game. An ordinance focusing on open government that would leave little to interpretation in regard to fiscal and ethical policy, would go along way toward demonstrating that trust. Open negotiations in all labor talks, whether they be for executive managers or rank-and-file employees with public notice of proposals from either side should now be an essential part of any open government mandate. Likewise for public/private contracts where tax dollars are expended. Government, particularly at the local level, should not be run under a lampshade.