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.
The Tustin City Council will consider the appropriation of $369 thousand dollars for consultant services to perform an assessment of the Tustin MCAS hangar under its control. The consultant, Page and Turnbull, Inc., have specific experience in assessing the hangars, having completed an assessment of two similar hangars at Moffett Field in 2006.
It’s difficult to say what the favored disposition currently is at the City. During Boss Tweed Amante’s reign, several sham discussions were held to a pre-determined outcome that the hangar would be razed in favor of other land use. However, a few years ago, the County of Orange, which controls Hangar Number One, decided reuse of the hangar as part of a larger regional style park was high on its list. Perhaps that will be the catalyst for Tustin to make an effort to keep our beloved hangars.
In any case,the consultant agreement will get the ball rolling as a necessary item for final disposition of the hangar. I will tell you, if the Moffett Field report is a telltale, things don’t look good. Keep your fingers crossed.
Sex offenders are a bit easier, though harder to swallow, for our intrepid council. The final item on the agenda is a second reading of the ordinance repealing the sex offender ordinance enacted a few years ago. Although no one (except the sex offenders themselves) is happy about this, all is not lost. As we reported earlier, state law should be adequate to protect our kids. And, I’ve noticed over the years taking my daughter to the park, parents are the best police. Expect a lot of discussion, nonetheless.
In Closed Session, the city council will discuss the work of our contract attorney, David Kendig. In our opinion, the city needs to put out an RFP for legal services. Kendig is a hack attorney whose sole purpose in life is to draw a paycheck and pander to the city council majority. Woodruf, Spradlin & Smart have been the city attorneys for many more years than it should have. The citizens of Tustin should have been alerted to the conflicts a few years ago when former city attorney (working for the same firm) Doug Holland abruptly resigned saying he could no longer adequately represent the city. At the time, we opined the city should go out to bid for a new law firm. That didn’t happen and I would assume the the Amigos are pleased as punch with Kendig. Let’s just hope they haven’t already sealed the deal for a bigger payoff to the firm.
Public Employment – Performance Evaluation of the City Attorney
Student Safety Month – Steve Shirk, DCH Tustin Acura
2014 Water Awareness Poster & Slogan Contest
Development Agreement – City of Tustin and South Coast Community College District (land swap)
Establish Tustin Community Facilities District 2014-1 – Conduct “election” and establish CFD for portions of Tustin Legacy under development. Procedure allows the city to establish a CFD with a sham vote of the “property owner” prior to actual development and sale, leaving new homeowners on the hook for $29 million dollars in bond debt.
Adopt Resolution 14-43 – Adds Tustin Ranch Road extension and Warner Avenue to list of eligible streets for added federal and local funds.
American Red Cross Shelter Agreement – Permits the use of Miller Center, Senior Center and Coliumbus Tustin Gym as Red Cross emergency shelters.
Adopt Resloution 14-47 – Reaffirm support for Prop 13.
Approve Tustin Legacy Park Master Plan – First step in approving 31.5 acre multi-use park in Tustin Legacy.
General Municipal Election Candidate Statement Regulations – Establish the authority and timeframe for candidate statements for the municipal election.
Consultant Services Agreement Hangar No. 2 – Provide funds for procuring Page and Turnbull Inc. to perform a re-use and structureal assessment of Hangar No. 2 at the former MCAS
Appropriation Limit for Fiscal Year 2014/15 – Adopt a fiscal limit of $73,045,518. This is not the actual budget, just the fiscal limit.
Second Reading and Adoption of Ordinance No. 1444 – Repeals certain sections of the Tustin City Code pertaining to registered sex offenders in parks and other areas frequented by children.
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.
Recently we wrote about State Senator Leland Yee’s arrest by the FBI on corruption and gun running charges. In a late-breaking revelation, we have discovered a Tustin Connection to Lee, also known as “Uncle Leland” and his chief proponent, Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow, a known San Francisco gangland figure.
Yee, who was arrested last week, has been discovered to have orchestrated several trips to local restaurants in Tustin. The purpose of the trips were unclear but appear to have implicated local politicians in a web of money-laundering and political chicanery.
Notable in the affidavit used to issue the arrest warrant for Yee and others tied to the conspiracy was a reference on page 168 to a political “consultant” known in the document only as “Uncle Jerry”. The affidavit details meetings between Yee, “Shrimp Boy” and “Uncle Jerry” in a local teppan house to discuss an airsoft gunrunning operation run by “Uncle Jerry”. “Uncle Jerry ” proposed furnishing airsoft rifles and ammunition to Yee and his cohorts in exchange for becoming Yee’s chief houseboy from OC. The suspect has previously received awards from the Tustin City Council as an “agent of change” for his work toward rescuing abandoned Springer Spaniels and retraining them as lap dogs for the homeless. “Uncle Jerry” is also reported to have ties to the famous Hop Sing Tong operating as far north as Virginia City, Nevada.
A search warrant was reportedly served on the residence of the suspect who had been hiding his operation by claiming he breeds Springer Spaniel dogs in his garage. And, although the suspect has often been seen riding around in borrowed vintage vehicles with a brown and white dog on his lap, there are no reports by the city of Tustin for a kennel license. As added cover, his wife allegedly trains dogs in local parks. Again, no business license or other documentation has been provided by the city to verify this.
When agents searched the suspect’s home, they found several hundred high-end, automatic airsoft rifles and handguns with the orange tips removed. At least a hundred thousand rounds of ammunition were also located in dog crates with false bottoms. An OCFA Hazmat team and the OCSD bomb squad were called in to remove the pooh-covered weapons.
Another section of the affidavit detailing the Tustin operation revealed a connection to current city government officials. An undercover FBI informant allegedly met with a cohort and former colleague of “Uncle Jerry” on several occasions. Al “Starbucks” Murray allegedly had lattes and chocolate croissants with the suspects where “Uncle Jerry acted as an intermediary. The undercover informant, known only as “The Podiatrist”, does not specify what the conversation was about although he alleges several dollars and two rewards were transferred to Murray’s Gold Starbucks card after the meeting.
Yee has been released after posting a half million dollar bail. “Uncle Jerry” was reportedly arrested and offered $100 if he would choose to stay out of jail. His dog, however, was impounded and is being housed in protective custody at the Orange County Animal Shelter. Murray has not been charged.
We will keep you up to date as details become known. However, if you have not figured it out by now, perhaps you should look at the date and do not hold your breath for further information.