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On the Planning Commission Agenda, April 24, 2012

Planning Commission Chairman, Jeff Thompson

Planning Commission Chairman pro tem, Chuck Puckett

First things first. Congratulations to Jeff Thompson and Chuck Puckett for their re-appointment to the Planning Commission. We like them both and feel that, overall, they have done a pretty good job for our town Tustin. Apparently Jeff’s minor faux pas last year was forgotten by Boss Tweed Amante.

Heading up the Planning Commission Agenda for this Tuesday is a Public Hearing on one of our favorite subjects, cellular towers. This time it is pretty inconsequential as it is a modification to an existing cell tower and an increase in the number of transmitters at the site. It will also increase the height of the tower by 4 feet. No one driving by the site, a couple of business buildings on the North side of Edinger Avenue West of Redhill, is likely to notice the change as it blends in nicely with the buildings. All of the equipment and the tower are on private property as well. This should be a no-brainer unless one of our anti-RF folks laments about the increased energy being radiated across Currie Middle School.

The only other item on the agenda is an update on the projects and plans coming in front of the Community Development Department since January. Some items of interest

  • Changes to the Tustin Auto Center, including Tustin Toyota taking over the old Joe’s Garage and Hyundai taking over the old Tustin Chevrolet dealership.
  • The office building on the corner of Yorba and Irvine Blvd. This building that burned down last year has had the demolition completed and permits have been issued for new construction. Hopefully, the new will complement the old that was left untouched by the fire.
  • A new 7-11 Market on Newport Avenue. Plans are under review.
  • New Car Wash on Edinger Avenue. This was an issue of contention, mostly by a neighboring car wash that seemed to view it as a threat to his business.
  • The Meyers Building on El Camino Real, a beautiful addition to the Old Town business district. The building is partially occupied.
  • The proposed Del Rio Building, across the street on the old Riteway Cleaners property in Old Town. Design issues have held up progress on this building. Again, this will be a nice addition to Old Town if the CDD will get it together and approve submitted plans.
  • Mixed-use Hotel Project – We recently wrote about this project. It is located near the Micro Center on Edinger and is a needed addition to Tustin. We currently do not have any mid or upscale hotels with adequate facilities for business and pleasure.
  • Parking Requirement Exception for Old Town Business District. This change to the in-lieu parking fees will make it easier for Old Town businesses to build or remodel.

Among other items reported are changes to the MCAS Specific Plan that will, hopefully, jumpstart development for the old base property. Both the City Council and the Planning  Commission have spent a huge amount of time on the MCAS property, including the development of the District Shopping Center, which has had its’ share of problems in attracting and holding on to retail stores. This aggressive stance is what is needed to market the area and entice developers into building.

Of course, one of the best things the city did this year was to waive construction and business license fees through July, 2012 on most new construction. So far, over $248,000 in license fees have been waived. This includes 4,670 existing business license renewals and 469 new business licenses. I would say the economy in Tustin is recovering nicely.

That’s it for the meeting. Hopefully, it will be short and sweet so we can let those hard working Commissioners get back to their families.

On the Plannning Commission Agenda, April 10, 2012

This should be another quick meeting of the Planning Commission, with only one item on the Regular Agenda.

R.D. Olson has submitted a Concept Plan and is asking for approval of a Design Review and Conditional Use Permit to develop a 196,000 square foot commercial area located between Microcenter and the 55 Freeway.  The proposal includes development of a Fairfield Inn & Suites, a Residence Inn as well as a restaurant and retail area.

Tustin currently has no hotels of the type proposed. That has left visitors with the option of either staying at one of several local motels, some of which are of a dubious nature, or staying in a neighboring city. The closest hotels of this type are in Santa Ana and Irvine. The Embassy Suites comes to mind here.

The hotel complex will make a great addition to the area. Both hotels sport modest accommodations with exercise rooms, meeting rooms and the usual amenities of mid-priced hotels. It should make an attractive venue for both business and casual visitors looking to stay off hotel row in Anaheim or Irvine. The Restaurant and retail area will be a plus (not that Tustin lacks in great restaurants). Let’s not forget the construction jobs and permanent jobs this project will generate.

If you want to drudge through all 178 pages of the staff report you can find it here. Of course, after reading it, you may wonder why certain members of our Community Development Department are wasting their time as city employees when they are clearly cut out for public relations (see page 14).

That’s it. I am sure Elizabeth Binsack will want her staff to give a full report which could extend the meeting for some time. But, we think this is a worthwhile project as long as her department doesn’t throw any unnecessary roadblocks in their way. Oh yeah, free building permits, Elizabeth?

On the Agenda, February 14, 2012

It’s Valentines Day and love is in the air. I have my shopping done for my wonderful wife but, unfortunately, I will be unable to share the day with her as duty calls. Here’s hoping the Tustin City Planning Commission has St. Valentine on their side as well and they can get through their decidedly short agenda(s) in record time. I know their wives will appreciate it. Oh, by the way, I strongly suggest Villa Nova restaurant in Newport Beach for a romantic outing. Great food and views with a menu that will bust your palate, not your wallet. If you want Italian (hey it’s traditional for V-day) here in Our Town Tustin, try Ciao Bella over on 1st and Newport (the oldPeppinos). Good food, nice ambience. Very romantic in our book.

It looks like the Planning Commission will first hold a special meeting as the Tustin Building Board of Appeals. The sole item on the agenda is the approval of the minutes from the last meeting in which the Fairbanks issue was resolved.

On the Planning Commssion Agenda, the first item is a public hearing on a General Plan Amendment and Specific Plan Amendment. While much of this is pro forma, it would not be surprising to see some discussion on this particularly since the amendments include changes to the housing on the MCAS property. There is also the elimination of a 9 acre sports park from the plan. A shame since Tustin’s PIO was lamenting to me the other day the lack of available open space in south Tustin.

There is also a Code Amendment Draft Ordinance 1411, listed as a “Minor Zoning Text Amendment Ordinance”. We always look at these minor changes with a jaded eye. In this case, the Community Development Department decided to add quite a bit of language to certain sections, calling them “minor changes.”  In fact, sections 9212 and 9213 have both been substantially re-written to include specifying language that was not there before. In truth, much of this seems to be in the aftermath of issues in Old Town, where Community Devlopment Director Elizabeth Binsack has repeatedly left her mark.

Speaking of, I hear our neighbors at 455 Main Street have been asked to sign a Deed Restriction in order to complete the guest unit on their property. We will be getting in touch with them soon to see what they outcome of the latest attack on Old Town will be.

And the Fat Lady Sings

Courtesy of Four ProvincesSome interesting things happening this week in Our Town Tustin. If you peruse the city’s website, you may have noticed The Planning Commission, acting as the Building Board of Appeals, held a special meeting on Tuesday, February 7, 2012. The sole item on the agenda was the resolution to the Bret Fairbanks property. Fairbanks, as you may know, is a homeowner in Old Town Tustin. He owns a historical house that dates to the 1920’s and it is a beautiful property.

We have written several times in the past about Bret Fairbanks and his saga, which started in July of 2010 when he decided to sell the house he had owned for years because his family had outgrown it. He was fortunate to find a buyer, even in this market, and the lender asked for a letter from the city stating the two “apartments” in the rear of the house could be rebuilt in case of fire or earthquake. What started out as a simple request from the city turned Fairbanks’ world into a nightmare, complete with scary ghouls and ghosts. Not only did the city refuse to sign a letter, they demanded to know by what authority he had apartments on his property that was not zoned for them. The “apartments, by the way, are 300 and 400 square feet, respectively.

The city inspectors came out and inspected the property for an entire 20 minutes.  It is conceivable they spent more time writing the letter that they sent Fairbanks, informing him that the apartments were not permitted (of course, the city has no permits for anything that old because they were destroyed by… the city) and, therefore, were considered a public nuisance. They demanded that numerous violations be cured and that the buildings be brought into conformance with the Tustin Building Code. Of course, the issue was raised that these are historical buildings and the State Historical Building Code should prevail but the city, headed by Community Development Director, Elizabeth Binsack and her hired hand, Henry Huang, would have none of that. The law was the law.

Fairbanks then appealed his case to the Planning Commission and they, being of sounder mind and less vehemency toward Old Town, found in favor of the homeowner. Then, for some reason, possibly because of his love of all things redevelopment, Mayor Jerry Amante got into the act (or, was he already involved, pulling a few strings). It became clear that Jerry and his talking head, Elizabeth, were out to take down the rebel Fairbanks. They had little use for Old Town as a whole and, obviously, the city would be better off if they were just allowed to declare the entire area “blighted” so they could bulldoze it and turn it into condos.

Lines in the sand were drawn and it was clear that not everyone in the city was happy with the way things were going. When the order of the Planning Commission, who found largely in favor of Fairbanks, was appealed to the City Council, even Jerry could not muster the votes required to overturn the Commission’s decision. Sitting there redfaced and about to blow steam, he blustered about while glaring at his arch-nemesis, Deborah Gavello as he searched for the comforting arm of Elizabeth.  That vote, of course, should have been the end of it. Bret met with city officials and attempted to hammer out an agreement. At their behest, he hired an architect and a structural engineer both of whom inspected the property and wrote reports. In his report, the structural engineer also found a cracked beam in the garage that had previously gone undetected by the “professionals” at the city building department. The City Building Official and Binsack’s hired hand, Henry Huang, then asked the two professionals their opinion on whether the buildings could continue to be occupied before the repairs were made. Both the architect and the structural engineers opined the apartments were safe for occupancy as long as repairs were made in a timely manner.

So, what did Elizabeth Binsack do? In what could only be construed as retaliation for questioning her authority, she immediately directed staff to red tag the buildings, declaring them unsafe for occupancy and forcing the residents to move immediately. There was no subsequent inspection by the city. In fact, Dennis McCreary of Tustin’s Community Development Department stated he had taken some of the photos the city has used to cite safety violations. McCreary said he had not revisited the property since September. He was in the car when the notice was posted, but did not get out or examine the guest homes beforehand. They city simply cited the same conditions noted back in September of the previous year. The tenants were relocated immediately and Fairbanks went back to the city. The city appointed a hearing officer and, for the next 5 months, hearings were held on the matter. Public testimony was taken but it has not been publicized, probably because the city does not like to air its dirty laundry.

Had they done so, the public would have found out that Building Official Henry Huang has a faulty memory. So much so, they might question his ability to continue working for the city. During the hearings, Huang’s most often used phrases were, “I don’t know”, and “I don’t remember” (Henry, that’s what notebooks and PDAs are for) The public would have found that Huang could offer no real reason for red tagging the buildings, as neither he nor his staff reinspected them, and merely cited the original violations even though the Building Appeals Board had provided an effective remedy. It would have become clear to the public, at this point, that he had his marching orders. From who? His boss is Elizabeth Binsack and quite probably her puppet master, Jerry? It has been obvious that Binsack was more than willing to do Amante’s “wet work” in the past. Amante attended at least one or two of the appeal hearings, even though he was not giving testimony. What other appeal  hearings has he attended as “an interested party”? I would wager to say, none.

I was speaking to another resident of Old Town who is close to Bret and his wife. He told me what is amazing about all of this is that the city has drawn out this issue for a year and a half and they have little to show for it. In fact, the resolution that resolved this entire issue on Tuesday, has basically the same remedies that were originally required of Fairbanks to fix the property and get his letter. The only other items required were the beam that the city would never have known about had it not been for Bret’s structural engineer, and that the 2010 building codes would be used. There was one other item to remove the carport between the garage and house for fire clearance issues. Minor stuff at best. And, where was Jerry? Sitting smugly in the audience, looking as if he had won something. Someday, someone will tell him who the real losers are in this.

Something else the resident also said should chill the heart of every homeowner in Tustin:  “The City is making property owners give up the land-use rights” by forcing them to sign deed restrictions for guest units that are passed on to subsequent buyers forever. And why? There is no state law. There is no county ordinance. There is no city ordinance. But, unless someone, like Bret Fairbanks, stands up to the city tyrant and his talking head, we will all be subject to the law of Jerry.

Thankfully, this city-bred nightmare is over for Bret Fairbanks and his family. I would like to congratulate them and thank them for not succumbing to the draconian force of the city and it’s so-called fathers. It is unfortunate that it has cost him in time, money and probably a few years of his life. He will probably sell his house and move from Old Town Tustin and that is a big loss to all of us who will have benefited from his trials. Our Town Tustin wishes him well.

As for the rest of Old Town, we have ten more months of Jerry and who know how long we will suffer the wrath of Binsack? One thing’s for sure, the ordeal is over for Bret and his family and I distinctly heard the fat lady sing.