Blog Archives

On The Planning Commission Agenda – February 24, 2015

Hidden Agenda ClipartUpdated 2/23/15 10:00 pm – 

Tuesday’s Planning Commission meeting agenda has only five items on it with two of those being routine Consent Calendar issues. Unless someone raises an issue with the 2014 General Plan Report, it should sail through on the vote.

Less likely to just sail through without comment is the Public Hearing, Item 3, Code Amendment 2015-01 – Second Residential Units in the Cultural Resource District. Two years ago, the city held community workshops on modifying second unit and guest home ordinances in Old Town Tustin. It looked like they would continue working on the matter when, suddenly, the project was dropped. The city’s response to inquiries was, “the study will be completed sometime but it is not a priority.” Huh.

So, the project languished for another year after workshops that more than 40 people attended. Supposedly, another workshop was held in 2013 but we can’t find any record of that or who may have attended. The project foundered again until the city revived the issue without warning or notice for this meeting.

In all, the proposed ordinance will eliminate the construction or remodeling of accessory buildings into guest rooms. At the same time, many of the former restrictions on 2nd units will be lifted, including that of minimum lot size. The proposed ordinance would also:

  • Eliminate maximum lot coverage (formerly 30% of rear and side yards)
  • Require one garage or carport parking spot
  • Maximum size limited to 50% of primary dwelling not exceeding 600 square feet

Everything else would remain the same as the existing ordinance for 2nd units. Current, legal guest houses would be allowed to continue with the same restrictions (including the dreaded deed restriction) or, if they conform to the new ordinance, would be allowed to be reclassified at the owner’s option.

The down side, of course, is the probable increase in traffic and population in Old Town. The proposed ordinance would allow 149 more properties in Old Town to construct 2nd units. It’s doubtful that many folks are clamoring for building permits, though. So, the impact would likely be minimal.

In any case, it would help to eliminate the embarrassing situation the city found itself in a few years ago when the Community Development Department, doing then Mayor Jerry Amante’s bidding, attempted to deconstruct apartments built behind a home on Pacific St. The resulting rancor soured many Old Town residents on the city and their nanny-state attitude. It didn’t help that the city spent thousands of taxpayer dollars on their vendetta.

In an about face, the city has worked with the residents of Old Town to craft a workable ordinance that will enhance property values, increase income to the city through property tax values, and allow property owners to enhance their properties with minimal interference from the city. That’s a win-win situation. Thanks, Elizabeth.

Under Regular Business, we mistakenly thought Item 4, Tustin Historic Register Nomination, was the first of the city pioneer busts to be erected. A little closeer look, of course, reminded us of the historic plaque program and the Tustin Historic Register.

The nominee for the plaque designation this time is the home at 178 North C Street. Known as the “Knapp House“, the home was constructed in 1920 and is listed in the Register as a California Bungalow. It is a beautiful house and a treasure in our Old Town area. If you haven’t seen it, it’s worth the walk over to C Street. Heck, make an evening of it and wander over to Morey’s Place on El Camino for dinner.

According to supporting documents, the Knapp sisters lived at the residence, the last one passing away in 1975 at the age of 96. It seems we have some long-lived residents here. Must be the water.

The final item on the docket is Item 5, Withdrawal of CUP and Design Review for an antenna farm that would have been located in a storage facility near Tustin Ranch Road. Verizon Wireless had been planning a new cellular antenna when they suddenly decided to drop the application. Not sure why.

If you live in the Old Town area or have an interest in our Cultural Resources District, you may want to join the party on Tuesday at 7 pm just to make sure “new” items don’t make their way into the proposed 2nd unit ordinance.

We spoke with a few residents this evening who are concerned about the 2nd unit ordinance. If the Planning Commission thought it would be an easy night, they better cancel any after meeting plans. I get the feeling there will be plenty said during public comment from both sides of the issue.

On The City Council Agenda, March 5, 2013

political junkets

My apologies for not staying up to date for the past week. I am still recovering from inuries sustained in a traffic accident. The plastic surgeon did a great job (I look just like Sean Connery) and I have the firefighters at Station 21 as well as the accident investigators and motor officers of Tustin PD to thank for their timely response. As I am on the mend, I’ll get back into the swing of things.

The Tustin City Council faces their longest and probably busiest agenda of the year so far. Let’s just hope the Podiatrist Councilman can keep up without an iPad.

Rather than the usual closed session preceding the regular meeting, the council will hold a special meeting at 4:30 pm to interview candidates for three open seats on the Planning Commission. Election and appointments will also be conducted.

I just spoke with the city clerks office who informed me that 18 candidates have filed for the three open seats. All the commissioners whose seats are up have filed for reappointment. In order to allow enough time for interviews, the city pushed back the interviews for the other commissions to late in March. Let’s hope 2 hours is enough time.

Although the incumbents are heavily favored in this match, the city council could decide to bring in fresh faces that are not aligned with the old guard. It is the current commission sans Chuck Puckett which, amidst local opposition, approved a heavily modified CUP for the Wilcox Manor. That modified CUP was appealed directly to the city council where a number of councilmen have admitted conflict of interest. This lack of the planning commission to handle their own issues is, to our mind, an excellent reason to choose new blood.

The Regular Meeting of the Tustin City Council will commence at 7:00 pm beginning with presentations and pubic hearings.

The Public Hearing concerns the annual evaluation and acceptance of the Action Plan for the Community Development Block Grant prepared by staff. At stake is $590,000 in funding. No action is expected on the item other than to hear testimony from interested parties.

A major issue sure to come up is the us of the Tustin Community Foundation as the manager of the CDBG funds. Erin Nielsen, director of the Tustin Community Foundation, is the wife of Councilmember John Nielsen. Nielsen earlier this year recused himself from discussion on the Wilcox Manor CUP referencing his relationship to TCF and their fundraising activities at the Wilcox. Erin Nielsen, for her part, receives about $32,000 a year according to court documents. When we reported on this conflict last year, there were conflicting statements made by the city and the TCF concerning their exact role in the management of these funds. When we accused the parties of collusion, TCF issued a curt statement in their newsletter saying they do not “manage” the funds. That was sort of backed up by Community Development Director, Elizabeth Binsack, who said the purpose of having two hearings was to give those who did not qualify the first time around, another chance for a slice of the pie. As we stated then, however, we found it hard to believe the TCF wasn’t in fact, the manager of the funds.

Add to this a whole slew of conflicts of interest. While the relationship of the Nielsen’s is enough, Mayor pro tem, Chuck Puckett, is a past president of the TCF Board. And, Planning Commissioner Steve Kozak, who has applied for re-appointment to the commission, is a current member of the board. Who else? How about Linburgh McPherson, co-owner of the Wilcox who is currently listed as their Vice-president, Resource Development, a catchy title for the chief fundraiser.

In any case, if the city council really wants to show they no longer favor the TCF arrangement (and, why should they since our two protagonists are reportedly divorcing) they could return to the previous process of having a Citizens Participation Committee to handle administration of the funds. The council may well take a different direction considering the staff report makes no mention of TCF.

Although councilmembers may wish to pull items from the Consent Calendar, most items appear to be routine or, at the least, have funding attached. The synchronization of signals on First Street/Bolsa Avenue is a multi-jurisdictional project requiring funding from all participants. Tustin’s part is $42,000 and, if it helps traffic flow, is well worth it.

Perhaps Mayor Al Murray will pull Item 9, an agreement to transfer ownership of Ari, one of Tustin’s police canines if only to give him proper recognition for his retirement. He has served the TPD for over 6 years and I am sure his service will be missed. His current handler, Officer Eric Kent, will take possession and provide him a great home with, what we hear, a couple of other family dogs. Good luck in retirement, Ari. TPD’s newest canine, Elko, will have big shoes….uh, paws to fill.

We are not sure if the Community Development Department is trying to pull (another) fast one with Item 10. They bring up some “minor” changes to the guidelines for hearing officers for administrative citations. We approach this with natural suspicion since things have gone mostly south for Binsack and her crew after the Fairbanks prevailed in their property rights case. And, it is always suspicious when staff are unwilling to show you the draft. So, why even bring the issue up? There is little doubt the city wishes to stack the deck in their favor for future administrative hearings. Keep your eyes peeled for this one.

Item 11, on the Regular Business Agenda, a request for travel by the Podiatrist Councilman, bears discussion. The Association of California Cities-Orange County, a renegade association created by local entities for what they saw as a lack of interest in Orange County’s problems by a larger state organization, is sending a joint delegation with the Orange County Business Council (who donated to Bernstein and his two councilmen buddies) on a political junket to Sacramento. We would have an issue with this type of travel anytime the city is facing budget shortfalls as it currently is. But, as luck would have it, Mayor Al Murray is also attending on OCTA’s dime, making this an absolutely unnecessary for crony Bernstein on the Tustin taxpayer dollar. Why do we need two delegates attending this junket? Or, as it is a joint endeavor by ACCOC and OCBC, why isn’t OCBC, who will surely benefit the most from the meeting, footing the bill? All of this when the city council delves into reserves to balance the budget. We got rid of city council pay but other perks still remain. I bet you they won’t be staying at the Best Western or eating at McDonalds.

Item 12 should be of particular interest to folks living or thinking of living in the Legacy. This item, without apparent need of approval from residents, creates another Community Facilities District to levy more taxes on homeowners who choose to buy in the area. Mello-Roos has been the favored method of obtaining funding for infrastructure for the MCAS property and has been the subject of much argument as to whether folks are getting their money’s worth for taxes paid.

As we said before the Closed session, with the usual suspects, will come after the Regular Session to facilitate the Planning Commission interviews. The main item of interest is the commencement of labor negotiations for all line staff and public safety employee unions.

Public Hearing Items

Community Development Block Grant Subrecipients Performance Evaluation and Potential Reallocation of Funds

Consent Calendar

Approve Plans and Specifications re: Roadway and Sidewalk Repair – The annual plan for the repair of roads and sidewalks within city limits. Authorizes City Clerk to advertise for bids.

Approve First Street/Bolsa Avenue Sginal Synchronization – Authorizes agreement with OCTA and several cities plus expenditure of $42,000 for Tustin’s share of project.

Agreement to Transfer Ownership of Police Canine Ari – Caretaker Officer to pay the city $1 for transfer.

Request for Travel Approval – To allow Councilmember Bernstein funding for travel to Sacramento for ACCOC/OCBC joint junket.

Approve Creation of Community Facilities District 13-01 – Authorizes city manager to petition for creation of CFD on parts of Tustin Legacy property.

Second Reading and Adoption of Ordinance No. 1426 – Approves Specific Plan Amendment 2012-002 re minor text amendments of the MCAS Tustin Specific Plan.

Closed Session

Conference with Legal Counsel – two each, initiation and exposure to litigation.

Labor Negotiations – TMEA, TPMA, TPOA, TPSSA and unrepresented employees.

On the Agenda November 15, 2011

A few items of interest pepper the Tustin City Council agenda for Tuesday night. The Council apparently decided to split the Closed Session off to it’s own agenda and call it a “special meeting”. That is, presumably, so they may make decisions on hiring the new city manager. We’ll explain below.

Before that, however, the city has the second reading and adoption of the “new” PERS retirement tiers for miscellaneous and public safety employees. The cops will be returning to the old 2%@50 formula for all new hires. This tier actually should provide police officers deciding to retire at 55 with a rate of 2.6% or so. This is a pretty reasonable response and one that many other cities are taking as they grapple with rising pensions costs caused by changes in the way pensions must be accounted for. We’d go into it but that is fodder for another article, another day.

Also on the agenda is the final reading for the Body Art Ordinance. I may start a pool to see when the first tattoo parlor arrives in our fair town. This ordinance was actually well thought out by both the Planning Commission and the City Council with some good input from the community. A moratorium had been placed on these types of facilities when it was first found that excluding them was unconstitutional. Did you get that? “We can’t prohibit these nasty places from coming into the city, so we will temporarily prohibit them from coming in.” Oh, never mind. Some things city councils do are just beyond understanding.

Of course, there is the final reading of the “Ordinance Clarifying the Meaning of Legal Nonconforming Uses and Structures in the City of Tustin”. The simple title is, “How can the City of Tustin eliminate any historical building we wish, just give it time.” This is the culmination of Jerry Amante and Elizabeth Binsack’s war against Old Town, sparked by the simple act of a homeowner wishing to sell his property. That fight is still being held and is in the hands of a hearing officer who we understand offered his services to mediate a solution. The city, meaning Jerry and his talking head, Binsack, refused the offer. Hopefully, the hearing officer will be reasonable in his findings and will issue a just edict for Bret Fairbanks and his family. In any case, I suspect the entire issue is far from over.

As we said, Item 16 promises to be the highlight of the evening. It looks like Interim City Manager, Bill Huston, will be out of a job pretty soon. We hear he didn’t really want to come back anyway, and did it out of a sense of responsibility. It seems our double-dipper has some ethics. After all, who else could put up with Hizzoner? Well, we are about to find out.

The Super Secret Committee

The Super Secret Selection Committee

Rumors around City Hall are that the super secret committee charged with hiring a new city manager have found their candidate and have authorized the super secret headhunter to make an offer.

Hopefully, we will have the name of a new city manager Tuesday night. I just hope there is a clause in the new manager’s contract that limits the

amount of yelling and screaming from Jerry by decibel/time. Maybe there is a whip and chair involved.

Only one more City Council meeting this year. Not many more chances for Jerry and His Kids to blow up at Gavello.