There is not much happening on the Planning Commission agenda this week. After last week’s near riot at the Tustin City Council meeting, the city staff are probably thankful for a little boredom. There are no public hearings but city staff will present the draft of the Commercial Design Guidelines for the Cultural Overlay District.
The Agenda Item states the draft is ready to be released on the city website and to stakeholders for a 30 day review period. Interestingly, the city does not consider the local residents of Old Town to be stakeholders. As this is our area of town, one would think they are interested in what the city intends to do with it, commercially or otherwise. Of course, the residents of the area have never been much of a consideration for the Community Development Department.
We only have a copy of the memo to the Planning Commission to go on as well. Apparently, the city didn’t think enough to include any presentation or the guidelines handbook itself. So, we’ll just have to wait until the city updates their website.
If the memo gives us any hint, the design guidelines are established to keep a sense of continuity in Old Town (a good thing) while allowing a degree of flexibility in design and use of materials. The handbook will also address “adaptive reuse” where a historic structure is repurposed for another use. This sort of happened at the Utt Juice Building where the original structure was torn down and live/work lofts were built. Some of the brick used in the original structure was reused in the facade of the new building. Hey, at least it is something.
In any case, the CDG is also supposed to go hand in hand with the RDG (Residential Design Guidelines). Maybe after this, they can finish up the second structure issue.
The only other item on the agenda, this week, is the 2013 General Plan Annual Report for the MCAS Tustin Specific Plan. The plan is required to be approved by the city council and staff are asking for permission to send it along. This is a routine item but, in case you haven’t seen it before (or your a glutton for punishment) you can access is here. Warning, it is 213 pages long.
That’s it for the week. Congratulations to Sam and Jeff for their reappointment. It’s no real surprise and one wonders, if the incumbents were re-applying, why they bothered extending the timeframe for folks to apply to the commission. A lot of good applicants in the field that had their bubble burst thinking they might have a shot. That’s politics.
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.
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
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.
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…
The city of Tustin is looking for a few good people to serve on various commissions.
Two seats on the Planning Commission are available due to term expirations. Selected applicants will serve for two years. Jeff Thompson and Wisam “Sam” Altowaiji terms expire March 1st.
Thompson is a longtime member of the Planning Commission who has extensive experience in planning and construction. Jeff lives in Old Town Tustin but has not always sided with Old Town residents. When he feels squeezed, as he did with the Wilcox debacle, he chose to sit out on the proceedings even though he was qualified to vote.
Altowaiji is the new kid on the block… sort of. Sam worked for the city (and for Elizabeth Binsack) until he retired last year. He immediately sought appointment to the Planning Commission and was accepted by the good ol’ boys on the city council. An insider, he has not held any controversial positions on issues and always votes in lockstep with the city staff recommendations.
The Planning Commission meets twice a month in city council chambers and compensation is $150 per meeting. I have heard of two qualified candidates that are considering applying. If they do, we will let you know our opinion (we like them both).
There are also two vacancies on the Community Services Commission due to term vacancies. Both Chairman Ken Henderson and Amy Nakamoto have expiring terms. The Commission meets at 6:00 p.m. on the third Wednesday of each month and serves as an advisory body on recreation, parks, park design, facilities, and programs in Tustin. Compensation is $100.00 per meeting. Applicants are required to be residents and registered voters in the City of Tustin.
On the Audit Commission, R. Lawrence Friend and Gregory Moore have expiring terms. Terms on the Audit Commission are four years and the stipend is $100 per meeting. Commissioners meet 5 times a year and have recently added duties overseeing the city investments.
Applicants must be registered to vote in the Tustin area but, unlike the other to commissions, up to two of the commissioners may be residents within the Tustin Water District but not necessarily the city itself.
Applications must be submitted no later than January 29, 2014 at the close of the business day. You can find the application and further information here. Applications can be submitted in person or emailed to the city clerk’s office at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A special treat for those who can make it, is the city’s occasional tour of public and private projects throughout the city. The upcoming tour will be held prior to tonight’s Planning Commission meeting. The initial tour will meet at city hall. If this tour is like previous ones, there are limited seats on the city limo so expect to take your own car. Stops will be at: Rawlings Reservoir –5:15, Marriott Hotels and Retail Site –5:45, Fire Station #37 –6:15, Tustin Ranch Road –6:25, Coventry Court at Columbus Square –6:35, Return to City Hall –6:50. You should try to make a seat on the bus. I hear Elizabeth made cookies.
The regular Planning Commission meeting will be held at 7:00 pm with a fairly quick agenda. There are no public hearings scheduled and the Consent Calendar consists of only the approval of the previous meeting’s minutes.
Item 2 under Regular Business is the Proposed Amendment of the Tustin Subdivision Ordinance. This is a first look at the amended code the Community Development staff have drafted. They are asking the issue be discussed and set for a Public Hearing. According to the Staff Report, the update will remove outdated language, ensure consistency with state language concerning subdivision law and “process streamlining.” According to the report, the third item is the most significant. In any case, most of it won’t apply to Joe Resident other than the responsibility for all subdivision, including lot line adjustment and final tract and parcel map applications, would be placed under the Community Development Department rather than Public Works.
Item 3, Commendation Nomination, recognizes Old Town properties that deserve special merit. Although the city can make an award quarterly, for some reason there has not been a commendation since 2010. The latest to be recognized is the Primrose House at 138 North B Street, owned by Kevin and Sarah McGee. We have to agree with Lucy Burch, who nominated the home for the award. It’s a beautiful home and a gem of the neighborhood. Congratulations.
The final item on the agenda is a followup discussion of the city tour. Since we can’t be there for the tour itself, I am hoping some of our more notable residents will attend and provide feedback to the Planning Commission on all of the projects.
That’s it for, what should be, an interesting evening. We’ll be watching the video (assuming they don’t muff it again) and let you know of anything of interest.