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On The Planning Commission Agenda – May 12, 2015



Only one item on the Planning Commissin Agenda this week.

The Tustin Unified School District and the city have apparently come to terms in negotiations for land to be used for a intermediate-high school (whatever they call them these days). The school will be located on the southwest corner of Valencia Avenue and Tustin Ranch Road. At this time (one never knows with the school district), The Tustin Academy will be a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) school for grades 6-12.

The Tustin City Planning Commission is being asked to approve a resolution to determine the site (a) is in conformance with the Tustin General Plan; (b) the 40 acre site identified is suitable for a school and (c) that the city acknowledges TUSD’s plan to overrule the zoning applicability to a 40 acre site.

We Appreciate the Approval but We’re Gonna Sue You Anyway

It is the last part that has me a bit confused. I’m sure it will confuse a few of the commissioners as well. Look for stupefied faces on the dais Tuesday night.

In reading the staff report, it looks like the snag may be with all the “extras” the school district wants to include. Of particular note is the inclusion of new TUSD District offices and an “alternative education” facility. That usually means continuation school.

So, Hillview is already taking up space at Heritage Elementary School. Does this mean they will move that facility to the new (and dare I say more appropriate) site? That would resolve a lot of heartache the city has had with the school district over the use of Heritage. The school district has previously said they plan to open Heritage for its intended purpose in 2016. They were, however, planning to leave Hillview there as well. So now, perhaps this will resolve the complaints.

Or not.

The issue could simply be one of location and the number of schools. The school district had intended originally to open a high school on an identified 10 acre site. Other schools were planned as well. The inclusion of proposed population numbers, housing build-outs, etc., is an indicator that will change. Oh yeah, and they basically said the new magnet school will handle the entire Tustin Legacy population.

All in all, it should make for an interesting, if not lengthy, meeting for the planning commission. Even with Binsack patiently explaining things to Ryder Smith and Austin Lumbard, I think they may need a whiteboard (or the creative use of a choo-choo) to chart it all out for them. Oh, and expect an amiable lawsuit out of this as well. I know, I read the staff report (and I’m still confused).

Postponed, Again…

In an unsurprising move, Orange County Superior Court Judge John Gastelum postponed the trial between Tustin Unified School District and the city of Tustin. The parties were due to go to court yesterday, after more than 2 years of failed negotiations, to resolve grading and permitting issues. Last month, the city of Tustin lost a lawsuit brought against the District for moving a continuation school into a newly constructed school meant for elementary students. In that case, the court said the city had no business telling the school district how to manage their school properties.

The postponement, first reported by Dan Chmielewski of the Liberal OC, was due to a heavy court docket, according to the judge. However, we find the timing a bit curious. Judge Gastelum has been trying to mediate a settlement with the parties since the inception of the suit. The trial is now scheduled to begin January 28, 2013, giving both sides a little breathing room and a second chance.

Councilmember Deborah Gavello has opposed the lawsuits from the beginning. At an early meeting, she stated, “The entire basis of fear and consequences is crazy. The cost the taxpayers have spent in attorney fees of over a quarter million dollars is more than any fine ever given to a city. I believe the contractors know the laws and so did the state architects. We haven’t had an issue with school grading to date on schools that have been around for a long time.”

Gavello says she has spoken at length with officials at the Regional Water Quality Board on several occasions and has even attempted to get them to attend a city council meeting. In those conversation, according to her, officials can recall only one issue with Fullerton School District. Officials also say that, when there is an issue, fines are not the complete answer and other environmental work ensues.

So why, if even the regional water boards have not had issues with school districts in the past, does Tustin continue to chase windmills?

In reality, this is the second best outcome of the lawsuit. The issue is sure to become a political football during the Fall elections with candidates taking positions on both sides. Candidates should be aware by now that this city council has dug themselves into a pit they seem unwilling or unable to dig themselves out of. Jerry Amante is out. Should cooler heads prevail in November, a new council majority could still resolve the lawsuit through mediation before heading into another million dollars to defend a defenseless case.

The City Folds. Where Was the Transparency?

I just got back from my fishing trip and my mailbox is abuzz with the news. First, I got a comment from reader “Cedar Grove Loses” who said the City Council caved on the T-Mobile lawsuit. If you remember, we wrote about T-Mobile’s multi-faceted attempt to install a cellular site at Cedar Grove Park. After several years of design reviews, in which a site that was originally meant to house multiple cell company equipment, the Tustin Planning Commission lamely went against the wishes of the community and approved the design review. The issue was promptly appealed to the Tustin City Council who, in a moment of clarity, voted to deny the review. Of course, Hizzoner, Jerry Amante, blasted the rest of the council, sans his hitman, Al Murray, for not taking T-Mobile’s money and running. Well, Jerry was never much in touch with the real residents of Tustin, right? And, we did tell you that T-Mobile would pay a small fortune in lease fees so that Jerry could re-fund the reserves which he drew down to buy toys for the city council? In Al’s defense, at least he was concerned about the safety aspect, even though we thought it a bit overreaching.

In any case, T-Moblie, after complaining about those mean people in Tustin Ranch that they attempted to appease with multiple design reviews, said they would plant their cell tower on the puiblic right-of-way where the city would have no say. They inferred they intended to make it really ugly, too, just to spite the area residents. Of course, they lied. Their next stop was in Federal Court where they filed a lawsuit, alleging the city could not prevent the inevitable.

And, apparently, they were right. Or, at least, the city was not willing to do the right thing and oppose the lawsuit any further. Funny how they will squander money on lawsuits they can’t possibly win against the school district, but will readily roll over when the Feds come a knockin’.

On May 8, 2012, settlement and stipulation documents were filed with the Federal Court. They became effective when the judge signed them. What the stipulation order says is that the city council’s denial of the design review is moot and the planning commission’s approval under Resolution No. 4163 stands as if there had been no appeal. This effectively allows T-Mobile to continue with the licensing process. It does not necessarilly mean they will get approval. Not only must they obtain the proper licensing, they must comply with all of the requirements of Resolution No. 4163. Also, this may re-open pending design reviews in other neighborhood parks.

Now, all of this is disconcerting, I admit. It looks grim for the folks in Tustin Ranch who fought long and hard to keep this monstrosity out of their parks. It is even more disconcerting that we are talking about a third-rate cellular carrier whose total income is dwarfed by the Big Three.

But, how can one explain the fact that the City of Tustin, who touts their transparency and even has a “Transparency in Government” web page, did not issue a press release or even post a comment on their website or through their social media campaigns on Facebook and Twitter. Even worse, the litigation, which had shown up on the city council agenda since its inception, suddenly disappeared and no action on, what was apparently a closed session item, was reported by the city attorney. Could it be because Hizzoner, still pulling the strings of city staff who willingly do his bidding, did not want it publicized for fear the citizens of Tustin Ranch might rise up again and cause them problems before T-Mobile could get to work?  After all, the stipulation order became effective on May 8, 2012. The important date here, however, is June 17, 2012, which is the time limit for the city to rescind all the denials and allow construction to begin. There is no denying that the city hoped to have T-Mobile placated and in construction mode before the citizens of Tustin Ranch could storm the council chambers.

All is not lost. There is a lot of leeway for the city to act, or more precisely, not act. The residents of the area, should be vocal in making their opinion on just how underhanded the city acted in this matter and their apparent attempt to prevent the opposition in Tustin Ranch from discovering the acquiescence of the city council in this matter. A good time to do that would be on Friday between the hours of 3:30 pm – 5:00 pm which Mayor John Nielsen has established “office hours“. We suggest you call first as he may be MIA this week. On the chance that he is not, perhaps someone will ask him why he caved on an issue he felt strong enough to support in public and why the city attempted to hide the issue from the public. If you cannot make it to his office, you can always email him and the other councilmembers. Their email addresses can be found here. Just don’t expect to get an answer. We have been trying to get them to answer us by email for months with no success.

Thanks again to “Cedar Grove Loses” for letting us know just how much our city council thinks of the residents of our town Tustin.

Settlement Time?

We just got a tweet from the Tustin PIO that an emergency closed session of the City Council has been called for this evening at 5:30 PM. The topic of discussion appears to be the original lawsuit between the City and TUSD. A few weeks ago, the City sent an open offer of settlement to TUSD which their PIO told me was likely to be refused. That offer included resolution of both lawsuits, including Heritage Elementary School. It now looks like there may be a counter-offer on the table for the grading permit issue.

In any case, we’ll keep our ear to the door and let you know as soon as we find out anything.