Compared to our neighboring cities, Tuesday’s Tustin City Council meeting was downright festive. Even the council members were dressed casual Friday. Irvine, as you know, is attempting to hoodwink their residents into thinking that plans for the veterans cemetery died with the NO vote on Measure B. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth and now the factions that covet the ARDA location for 5 Points are scrambling to find a different, albeit suitable, location at the Great Park.
Meanwhile, the City Council of Santa Ana voted to place a sales tax measure on the November ballot. The measure would add an additional 1.5 percent to the current 7.75 percent tax making Santa Ana the most expensive city to shop in Orange County. They will still be lower than Long Beach, Santa Monica and most of the South Bay cities who come in at a whopping 10.25 percent.
I knew that our city council meeting would probably have higher than normal participation this evening. Even I was surprised to see a nearly full house, however. I knew some of us were here to support the proposed reinstatement of the Historic Resources Committee. A look around the room showed a number of signs opposing the Sanctuary State and there were a good number of folks wearing red shirts which I’m sure meant they stood in solidarity for something, I’m just not sure what.
The meeting started late due, I’m sure, to a lengthy Closed Session. There were 7 items, including labor negotiations discussions with all of the unions and associations representing municipal and sworn employees. Other than the denial of one claim, our intrepid city lawyer, David Kendig, reported no other action taken. We’ll never know for sure since closed sessions are….closed.
After the opening ceremonies, Mayor Al Murray opened the Public Comment section of the meeting. There were several speakers who voiced their opposition to SB54, the sanctuary state law saying it had nothing to do with keeping children of illegal immigrants with parents and everything to do with keeping our children safe. The council sidestepped the argument, at least temporarily, by pushing the subject to the September 4th meeting. I think we can expect a full house on that evening. I’m sure the city council would like everyone to forget but it’s our duty to remind them.
Most of the Consent Calendar was passed unanimously. A couple of items were pulled for discussion. One of those items was the HVAC cooling tower replacement for the shuttered library. Apparently there was a last minute change in vendors. The good news announced by Mayor pro tem Beckie Gomez is the long awaited reopening of the library building itself. Saying they would begin moving the books from the temporary library back to the shelves of the main building, Gomez expects the doors to reopen by August 22nd.
Somewhere in the course of the evening, the subject of the Voluntary Workforce Housing Incentive Ordinance came up for discussion. And this, I discovered, was the real reason for the crowd. Residents complained the ordinance was being slipped through without proper notice. Some were concerned the ordinance was an opening for homeless housing, a highly contentious issue we haven’t visited since last year. Others, it was obvious, were just plain confused on what the ordinance was about. They were just certain it had to be a bad thing.
So, the city council did the only logical thing possible. They pushed the issue off to the next meeting in September. Again, I’m sure Al, the Doctor and the ladies hope the delay will work in their favor. We’ll have more on the proposed ordinance in a separate (hopefully informative) article.
Backpedaling to the public hearings, Mayor Murray opened the floor to public comment on a proposed code amendment to the local alcohol beverage laws. No comments after a first reading means the proposal should pass in September. For those who couldn’t attend, it merely changes the square footage requirements and some of the separation requirements for alcohol sales. The new law will require a Conditional Use Permit for all alcohol beverage sales. That means the city will have a lot more say in where and when alcohol can be sold, including possibly extending hours.
The second public hearing wasn’t quite so simple. The Planning Commission had previously denied a variance to a resident who wished to store their RV in the driveway of their property. Several speakers came forward and complained of code violations they had recently received regarding their RVs. Many complained they had stored their RVs in the same place on their property for years without a problem.
In hearing comments from the dais, it was apparent that no one, including the city staff, was sure of exactly what the code intention was. Doc Bernstein sounded as confused as ever, making comments that….well, didn’t make much sense. After hearing the public comments (plus a few shout outs from the audience) Councilwoman Clark said she was concerned about how the city is communicating with residents and enforcing code.
When she stated her concern that there may be other residents inadvertently violating the code, an anonymous voice from the audience said, “Yeah, about a thousand!” So, she further wondered if the code still met the needs of the residents. Watch it, Leticia, someone may think you’re a sane voice on the panel.
Mayor Murray agreed with Clark and asked the city to hold the appellant’s application in abeyance (OK, he didn’t really use those big words) and take another look at the application of the code. He didn’t give a timeline but it is likely to be late September before we see this on the docket.
There was a lengthy discussion on, what I felt was, the most important item on the agenda, the reinstatement of the Historical Resources Committee. Although the item was ripe for discussion and Old Town resident, Linda Jennings waited her turn patiently to speak on the matter, it was pretty obvious that most of the council was either too tired or not informed enough on the issue to discuss it. It is, however, important enough for us to talk about it in a separate article.
No, I didn’t stay to hear all the exciting places Doctor Allan and the Mayor went to this month in their personal reports. And, although the Mayor mentioned that Councilman Puckett was absent due to being “under the weather”, he left us wishing the best for him. He has a month and a half to get better as the city council is conveniently dark for the month of August.
If the Fourth of July fireworks at Tustin High School last week were not enough for you, try coming to this Tuesday’s City Council meeting. The topic of discussion, of course, will be the growing community of homeless living next to the Tustin Library. I’d compare it to the tent camp along the Santa Ana Riverbed except it isnt nearly that size – or that filthy.
The camp has become a source of concern, discussion and -in some cases- entertainment on the local website, Nextdoor.com, a sort of local email/blog where anyone can start a discussion on just about anything they like. Over two dozen people have contributed over 300 comments on the homeless encampment alone.
It all started several months ago when the Tustin Branch Library was suddenly shuttered for repairs after suffering massive water damage. Although officials said the water damage was minimal and the library would re-open in a few week, it remains shuttered two and a half months later. The library itself is a county issue and the city has little power to move things along.
Shortly after the closure, a few homeless began hanging out in the area. With no one to bother them, they eventually set up a dozen tents, mostly in the plaza next to the library, and remained low key. With little traffic in the area, they went pretty much unnoticed on a daily basis.
That all changed about a month ago when citizens came, en mass, to the June 20th city council meeting to ask the city what they planned to do about it. The city council listened to concerns but was unable to address the situation because the subject wasn’t on the agenda.
Surprisingly, the city is responding with restraint. City Manager Jeff Parker said that a solution would be to declare the area around the library a city park, allowing police to arrest campers. “But, that doesn’t seem morally appropriate.” We agree, of course, as it won’t solve the problem. The city recently put a “Homelessness” button on the front page of their website.
Tustin has never had a very large homeless population (the staff report pegs it at two dozen). Prior to the library encampment, most of them hung around Peppertree Park and the Old Town area. Closing down the encampment will just push them back onto the streets and into our neighborhoods. The city claims they regularly try to provide comprehensive services but, frankly, most of the homeless camped there (yes, I stopped by and dropped of water on a hot day) are not interested in services or alternatives to their lifestyle.
For the time being, the encampment may be the best way to handle the situation. At the very least, the homeless are pretty much in one location. Concerns over drug and alcohol use are minimal, although arrests for both have been made. The police check the area regularly and, unlike the Santa Ana Riverbed encampment, the place is clean – I daresay, neat and tidy. Some residents have opined that moving them to an industrial area and providing sanitary services would solve the problem. The trouble is, the homeless may not agree. And contrary to what some would like, they can’t just be rounded up and shipped out.
In any case, if you are one of the two dozen or so folks who have made their feelings known on the neighborhood blog, you will have the opportunity to address our city council on the matter this Tuesday at 7pm. You may want to get there early and, if you forget your water, you can probably bum a bottle from one of the homeless camped out back.
September 18 – It looks like the strike may be off for at least a few more hours. UFCW had earlier said they would strike Sunday evening if talks did not proceed. Shortly before the deadline of 7:10 pm, both sides advised the media that talks were continuing and that workers would not strike as long as both sides remain at the table. This is good news all around. Talks could continue through the night. We’ll keep you posted.
September 15 – We just got word the grocery workers may strike as early as Sunday. The grocery workers and stores were ordered to go back to the table three weeks ago for “intense” negotiations. Those talks have apparently broken down and, unless the two sides can come to agreement, a strike may arise as early as Sunday evening.
Last week I was going through the grocery line at the local Von’s. As the cashier was processing my order, I asked her how the talks were going. “Who knows”, she said. “They don’t tell us anything.” She said that she really hoped they would not strike because she couldn’t afford it. Too bad I didn’t have a bigger order that would have let me talk to her longer. I would have told her that her hardship would be felt by more than just the strikers. As I left, I noticed her nametag said “serving since 2001.”
Whether you agree with the strike, support the unions or believe the whole thing is a waste of time, one thing is certain- a strike will hurt everyone. Hopefully, both sides aren’t taking the day off from negotiations and the strike notice is merely cautionary. I like and shop at several non-union stores in our town. But, I like Albertson’s as well. I’ve read several comments on stories about the strike. Some say they will, some say they won’t cross the picket line. One thing is for sure. In this economy, the strikers will find a lot less support than last time.