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On the Agenda – December 3, 2013

Hidden Agenda ClipartWith 25 meetings, including those very special meetings where the public was not invited, the Tustin City Council is on the verge of calling it a wrap. I was about to bet my readers they would not hold a final meeting on December 18th but history shows this is the meeting they slap each other on the back for a job well done and pick each other (or mostly so) for mayor and mayor pro tem.

In the meantime, this week’s agenda starts off with the usual Closed Session Items. We notice that they have not apparently made much progress on any of these, particularly the issue with the Army Reserve Center swap that was a feature item in Regular Business exactly one year ago. At that time, the Army made it clear they were not interested in a swap and were quite happy with what they had. I guess everyone has their price. The city just hasn’t hit theirs yet.

Regular Business will start off with The American Legion Post 227 posting the colors. Their Color Guard, by the way, has won awards at The American Legion State Conventions in the past.

Under Public Hearing Items, the city will have the second reading and adoption of State Buildling Codes, a procedure that is mostly formality. As the city was having problems (again) with posting the video of the last meeting, I’m not sure if anyone even bothered to show up for this. In any case, staffers recommend passage.

The second item, is a routine funding for COPS. $100,000 is slated to be received by the department. No real changes to how the department intends to use the money for a Crime Analyst position and related software. Except for complaints by former councilmembers, most of us think the police department does a pretty good job of allocating resources where they are most needed.

Under Regular Business, the council will be asked to approve an amendment to the classification and compensation plans to award the Director of Finance, Pamela Arends-King, a whopping $8,000 raise for essentially doing what she has always done, manage the finances of the city. The staff are correct in their report that it will save the city money. But, considering the Finance Director was already probably checking the previous Treasurer’s work, did she really rate a raise, particularly when every other line staff took it in the short end during contract negotiations?

After the fiasco caused by the city’s use of a shady collection agency to catch business license scofflaws, the staff have come up with a proposed ordinance to exempt real estate agents from obtaining business licenses. The recommendation is to pass the ordinance on a single reading and be done with it. I guess they are hoping to sweep the whole issue under the rug.

The final issue at hand for our busy city council is to select the new mayor and mayor pro tem for the coming year. As usual, I have no doubt this years selections have been made and they do not Allan Bernstein, Scofflawinclude the sole female on the dais. That’s a shame because, out of all of the bodies on the city council, Beckie Gomez has proven to be the most level headed among the crew. But, intelligence and experience have no bearing here. The most likely candidate for Mayor is, of course, Chuck Puckett. Chuck has the experience although we suspect he will be about as effective as the current mayor in conducting city business to the betterment of our residents. At least Chuck returns our phone calls.

What we really have to worry about is that they will make the Podiatrist Councilman the Podiatrist Mayor pro tem. That would leave him as heir-apparent next year. That is a scary thought…

Tustin’s Wish List – 3 Items to Watch in the Coming Year

fingerscrossed(This column appears in the December 20, 2012 Tustin News – ed.) The post-election lull is in full swing here in our town Tustin. Following a contentious battle for three seats on the city council, the new supermajority, led by our new Mayor Al Murray, will have to hit the new year running. If we had a wish list of issues this council will have to tackle, it would start with these three.

Tustin Unified Lawsuits – January rings in a new year and 28 days later the city goes to trial in the original lawsuit with Tustin Unified School District. Earlier this year, the city increased the schism between the two with another lawsuit against the school district for changing the use of the Heritage Elementary School. Originally built to service the residents on the MCAS property, the district decided to temporarily house continuation schools and administrative services there when they couldn’t find enough school age kids to open the school as originally planned. The city opposed the move with ill-contrived legal arguments that were laughed out of court. Even with a change of venue, the city could not get past poor legal arguments and lost the suit a few months in.

That leaves the original lawsuit brought by the school district which has been continued at least twice. And, even though there is still time to resolve this without a trial the city is likely to lose, there may not be a will. During a harsh campaign season, Mayor pro tem Chuck Puckett was largely non-committal and Councilman Allan Bernstein was beating the drum loudly against the school district, vowing stay the line on the lawsuits. We suggest now that campaign season is over, they put away the war bonnets and sit down one last time. It seems over two million dollars of taxpayer money could have been better spent elsewhere.

The Hole in the Budget – For the past few years, the city council has been relying on reserves to balance the budget rather than make hard decisions regarding finances. Although they touted several budget cutting measures this year, including the golden parachutes for 35 retiring employees, it remains to be seen what -if any- money will have been saved. Lawsuits with the school district have drained over a million dollars from city coffers and, if the city loses the lawsuit in January, they will likely be forced to pay out another million or so to the school district for their attorney fees.

A New City Council Supermajority – There was a lot of glad handing at the latest city council meeting when new councilmembers Puckett and Bernstein were installed and John Nielsen rejoined them for a second term. Councilmember Al Murray, now a veteran, was chosen to be the first African-American mayor of the city. And, in a move that surprised no one except Councilmember Beckie Gomez, newly installed Councilmember Chuck Puckett was given the Mayor pro tem position as a final slap in the face to what is left of the liberal base on the dais. Chief combatants, Jerry Amante and Deborah Gavello, are history leaving a supermajority of pro-business councilmen to tend the city.

Before they sell the city to the highest bidder, however, they might remember that only 400 votes separated the winners from the losers. The voters have little tolerance for the antics of the past few years and there is another election coming only two years from now. The redeeming quality of the council overall is the experience that all but one brings to the table. Puckett is not only a council retread, he has kept his hand in city politics as a planning commissioner and has stayed active in civic affairs. Not so for freshman councilman Allan Bernstein, an unknown who clawed his way to victory as an Amante-backed business advocate with no civic or political experience. To make his mark, he needs to tone down the rhetoric heard during his campaign and focus on learning the job.

The city council should take the time in the new year to reflect on a true vision for this city that will benefit the residents who live here. Finding a true fix to the budget and mending fences with the school district would be a good start.

On the Agenda, March 6, 2012

Not much afire at the Tustin City Council Meeting this week. Some issues to wind down the now defunct Redevelopment Agency. We were wondering how the city was going to incorporate the 5 RDA employees back into the city structure. From the last meeting, it appears they will continue to be housed in the “annex” building, an office suite across the street from City Hall. There are a couple of items on the agenda addressing issues of the new oversight board. Eyebrows should be raised over the proposed makeup of that board.

Closed Session

An exposure to litigation and initiation of litigation, two cases each, head up the closed session agenda. Of course, we have our existing litigation in reference to Tustin Unified School District and T-Mobile West. The Tustin News ran an interesting piece Sunday regarding the T-Mobile litigation and litigation between Orange County cities and wireless companies in general. The issue at hand with Tustin has to do with opposition to  proposed wireless systems in Cedar Grove Park. The design review was given a final thumbs down in January and T-Mobile subsequently sued the city.

The litigation between the city and TUSD has gone on for too long. The city made a lame offer to settle the lawsuits which would have done nothing to resolve the issues at hand. We understand that the oldest of the lawsuits is scheduled to go forward in April. Hopefully, our new city manager, Jeff Parker, will get both sides to listen to reason and settle this beforehand.

Open Session

Presentation, Quiet Zone, OCTA – One of our favorite local politicians, Orange Mayor, Carolyn Cavecche, will be offering a presentation on Railroad Quiet Zones that have been established throughout Orange County. While I miss the sound of the horns from the trains, I imagine folks living closer to the railroad crossings are quite happy. We look forward to hearing what Mayor Cavecche has to say.

Public Hearing
Item 1 on the open agenda is a Public Hearing on a draft ordinance that would affect the way Zoning Districts are referenced in the Zoning Code. The Planning Commission adopted the necessary resolution at their last meeting to send this forward to the council. Unfortunately, we understand that no one testified publicly about this proposed ordinance during the Planning Commission meeting. Our issues are, of course, with the substantially added wording that appears to have come about in the aftermath of the Fairbanks issue.

Consent Calendar

Urban Areas Security Initiative Grant – Tustin will share in a federal grant money given to Santa Ana for the Urban Areas Security Initiative. Money from this grant can be used for training and equipment to assist cities in “building and enhanced and sustainable capacity to prevent, protect against, mitigate respond to and, recover from acts of terrorism.” We are near one of the top choices for terrorism, Disneyland, after all (I kid you not).

Item 5 is a request to approve plans for battery backup for traffic signals along Irvine Blvd. A great idea and glad to see our town working on this effort to reinforce the infrastructure.

Item 7 Consultant Services Agreement with Willdan Homeland Solutions – Willdan is a top trainer for homeland security in the state and across the country. Their specialty is integrating services between federal, state and local governments in the event of major disasters or incidents. It is good training that will serve the police department and our top city staffers well. A bit expensive at $40,000 or so but we are told it is well worth it.

Item 10 Appointment of Oversight Board Members by Tustin Mayor should be pulled for discussion but it probably will not. The three good old boys are already in agreement that Councilmember Jerry Amante should take the oversight position for the Successor Agency to the former RDA. Becky Gomez has shown that she is not willing to suffer the wrath of the three kids so there may be no opposition. On the other hand, we anticipate more fuel for the fire as Jerry will be up to his usual self-serving…self. Other members are appointees from the OC Board of Supervisors, Flood Control District, Community Colleges and TUSD. These should be interesting meetings that we will keep you apprised of.

11. Set Interview Date for Commission Seats – This would be the Planning and Community Services Commissions. I hope interested parties got their applications in. I would like to see both Jeff Thompson and former Mayor, Chuck Puckett stay on. Overall, both have shown they identify with the values of Tustin residents and Jeff lives in Old Town so we value his opinion when it comes to this valuable resource.

Regular Business

Item 13. Second Reading and Adoption of Ordinance, Planning Commission Authority – Another action required due to the demise of the RDA. Authority being taken over by the Planning Commission is logical and we recommend the City Council adopt the ordinance.

That’s it for this week in our town Tustin. Just enough action on the dais to keep things interesting. We will report on any items of issue (or fireworks from the dais) as they occur.

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Twitter War Becomes a One Horse Race

Just when I was looking forward to a great war of words, Chuck Devore has announced he is pulling out of the race for Orange County Board of Supervisors and heading to Texas to accept a position with the Texas Public Policy Foundation.

Citing family issues, Devore says on his website that his family must come first and that is what really drove the decision to move. Other things, like Texas’ low tax rate and a declining number of clients have helped him make the decision. For those who think he is absconding with their campaign donations, he says he will refund the surplus in his campaign account…eventually.

Chuck goes on in typical fashion dissing California, now that he is heading for greener pastures in Texas. He laments the poor business climate and the unmitigated budget issues. He states that almost 2 million people have moved out of the Golden State, many of them going to Texas, but says nothing of the huge rise in population due to three times that many coming into the state during the same ten year span. Oh yeah, and he is going to write a book. A big book about how superior Texas is to California. Good luck with that.

About the Board of Supervisors race? Of that, he says:

I am expecting that a successful business person, someone with a strong record of promoting fiscally responsible policies, will soon step forward to run for the important office of Orange County Supervisor. When that person emerges, I expect you’ll know who it is and that they have my full support.

Well, I guess that means he won’t be supporting the OC GOP favorite, Todd Spitzer. But maybe, just maybe, this is Jerry Amante’s big chance.

What do you say, Jerry? Are you up to the task? You live in the District (is your business in the District?). You  have plenty of money from your two recent and highly successful fundraisers. You even have experience running a failed political campaign into the ground. It should be easy for you  to learn the basics of Twitter and you already have a Facebook page (although you still haven’t accepted my friend request). Yes, this could be just the ticket for you. And, most importantly, you would surely get Chuck’s endorsement since you endorsed him, right? I’m sure he would overlook the squandering of taxpayer dollars on frivolous lawsuits and firing the new City Manager because he wanted to settle the lawsuit with TUSD. And, don’t forget, most Republicans like cronyism and you especially shine in that department. After all, you’ve managed to bring your shill city manager and the soon to be ex-assistant city manager back with hefty raises that were covered up in the usual Republican rhetoric. All we have to do is install Facebook and Twitter apps on your taxpayer paid iPad and you are good to go.

Well, Chuck, I was really looking forward to watching the Twitter wars between you and Spitzer. It will be difficult to find a candidate as articulate and politically knowledgeable as you. But, you will be successful wherever you go as you are an intelligent and well-spoken person. In other words, for a Republican, you’re a pretty good guy. Godspeed.