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Oooops!

sorryEvery once in awhile, we make a boo boo which our readers are more than happy to point out.

In this case, we erred slightly when we told you that Melissa Figge of the Tustin Preservation Conservancy was going through the neighborhood, passing around flyers on the Conservancy’s opposition to the code amendment for second units appearing on Tuesday’s city council agenda.

Linda Jennings of the Conservancy Board emailed me to state, emphatically, the flyer did not say the Conservancy opposed the ordinance. “The flyer only says that we want everyone to hear the proposal and express their opinion”, she wrote.

Going back over the flyer, it does say just that at the bottom of the flyer. And, nowhere does it flatly state the Conservancy is opposed to the ordinance. However, it does outline a variety of issues that the ordinance would affect such as parking density and rental income for owners of second units.

If I were to read this without having a conversation with Melissa or anyone else from the Conservancy, I would infer (as I did) the Conservancy is opposed to the ordinance. To be fair, however, I’ll take Linda’s word for it that the Tustin Preservation Conservancy merely wants those living in Old Town to be informed and to speak their mind at the city council meeting.

So, did they?

Who knows? The city, which has had their share of problems with their video system managed to recess before the presentation by city planner Scot Reeskin and did not restart until Councilman John Nielsen started blathering about mother-in-law houses. I’m sure John was trying to get a point across. He just wasn’t doing a very good job of it.

Once again, Linda Jennings came to the rescue saying there were about 50 folks from OTT. Only a few spoke, with most of them against the ordinance. Linda said, “One mother was very moving, talking about why she moved here and how she doesn’t want to see it change.”

I also heard Lindburgh McPherson of the Wilcox Business Plaza in the West OTT spoke….in favor of it, of course. McPherson, and his buddy Silent Mike, are all for anything that will ruin the flavor of Old Town if it will make a buck for someone.

Councilman Nielsen did manage to blurt out his feelings on the parking issue, one that most of us have a concern about. But, it was Councilwoman Beckie Gomez who took it a step further by saying the parking in Old Town is already something the city should be looking at even without this ordinance. Calling it a dangerous situation, Gomez called for more parking enforcement and further resolution to the parking problems Old Town is experiencing.

Gomez also clarified what she thought was a misconception that the affordable housing mandate was being laid on the backs of Old Town residents. Saying the city is addressing the issue in different parts of the city, she inferred that was not the case. I’m not sure if whe misunderstood the issue or wanted to make sure they were being fair.

It was the city that raised the affordable housing mandate in the ordinance. The inference was clear that this was part of the ordinance. But the mandate is citywide, not just for Old Town. And if, as Gomez says, the city already has affordable housing in other parts of the city, why would it even be necessary to address it at all in Old Town, one of the most unaffordable areas? Old Town owners will charge a premium for the privilege of living in their historical district. I seriously doubt anyone would accept an affordable housing mandate on their second unit.

Gomez also pointed out that, if more than a few owners decide to build second units, it would definitely affect the character of the historical district, a concern shared by most of us.

After extended discussion with the city staff, the council voted to continue the item until a time when the staff could figure out parking and other issues associated with it. I’m not sure where that puts the status of the ordinance as normally there would be two readings and a vote to enact. But these folks, in an effort to not create liability on themselves, have to make even the easiest ordinance difficult. What this really told me is that no palms have been greased, ala the OC Business Council and John Nielsen. Perhaps they are waiting for someone to show up with money in hand.

In other business, the city council voted to approve the Veterans Memorial Preferred Concept Plan. This presentation by city staff went off without a hitch and councilmembers got a nice view of the concept.

Allan Bernstein commented that the inclusion of a Purple Heart Memorial at the park was absolutely imperative. We agree. We were also surprised that Allan could say the entire thing without glancing at his notes (or was that the Dodger score on his iPad?).

City Manager Jeff Parker Let us know exactly what and who is behind the drive for Assembly Bill 1217. This bill would reduce the number of members on the OCFA Board and give the County a larger say while reducing the same in cities like ours. Assemblyman Tom Daly, a well known lacky for the public unions, is carrying water for the Orange County firefighters union who hope to have more access to the Board (read influence during negotiations), according to Parker.

Parker said that every city who is a member of the board has opposed this measure. That is, except for Santa Ana, which would get an automatic vote at the table. Some omen, Jeff. Saying the city managers and city councils were trying to send a message, Parker essentially said the state has no business getting into the workings of a local district. Well, looking at Daly’s history with unions, it is no wonder why he is sponsoring this bad bill. The city council voted to send their own message by opposing the measure.

On The City Council Agenda – April 21, 2015

Where-s-the-Fire-The Tustin City Council will have a full plate at the Tuesday meeting beginning with the Closed Session. There are actually two Closed Sessions on the agenda with the last one taking place after the Regular session. The sole purpose will be discussion of labor negotiations for all represented and unrepresented employees. Let’s hope the city employees listen to their union reps this time and don’t screw themselves out of a raise (note: the recession is over).

Aside from the usual suspects on the Closed Session agenda, Item 4.1 Conference with Real Property Negotiators should be of particular interest to Old Town residents. The description indicates Habitat for Humanity is looking to improve the property at 140 South “A” Street. Most of us who live here know this is an eyesore on an eyesore. It is one of the few (are there any others?) empty lots in Old Town Tustin. The house was torn down years ago and the owners back then attempted to put up a shack which the city quickly took care of. Since then, it has sat empty, begging for a relocated house. I don’t know what Habitat has in store but I’m sure Elizabeth Binsack will keep them in line.In any case, it is good to see some action being taken on this lot.

After the usual presentations and fanfare, the city council has scheduled the first of two public hearings on the Code Amendment allowing Second Residential Units in the Cultural Resources District. This ordinance garnered a lot of attention during hearings by the Planning Commission. Sam Altowaiji just about blew a gasket over Elizabeth Binsack’s response to his demand to change the ordinance. Several residents spoke both for and against the ordinance.

Interestingly, Melissa Figge, who lives in Old Town and commented on a recent post about the ordinance, happened to come by my house as I was mowing my lawn (hey, it’s the only exercise I get) today. We had a nice conversation concerning the proposed ordinance as she was walking the neighborhood and distributing a flyer. The flyer was to inform residents of the Tustin Preservation Conservancy’s opposition to the ordinance and outlined their reasons. As someone who is on the other side of the street, I was interested in the arguments against.

What I really appreciated was the fact her flyer was well thought out and the Preservation Conservancy’s reasoning was clear. Just because we don’t happen to agree, doesn’t mean we can’t converse. We found ourselves in agreement on a couple of key issues, one being the parking. As a (little l) libertarian at heart, I find the city’s answer of “We’ll just issue permits” , abhorring. I already pay plenty of taxes that go to the maintenance of public streets. I should have the right to drive or park on them as I please. Melissa didn’t sound enthused about permits either. There has to be a better way.

In any case, both Melissa and I have the same message: If this issue is important to you, show up at the city council meeting and make your feelings known. They may have already made up their minds (well, everyone except Allan Bernstein) but, it wouldn’t be the first time an angry mob changed the minds of the city council.

The last item of note on the Regular Session is Item 15, Approve the Veterans Memorial Preferred Concept Plan. Now, to be clear, John Nielsen had nothing to do with this, no matter how much he tries to take credit for it. The memorial, long overdue, is a project the city sought input on from their natural stakeholders, the veterans themselves. And, there are plenty of them in Tustin. The city held two workshops and the project managers were very receptive to ideas they received. I think the finished memorial, to be placed at the recently renamed Tustin Veterans Sports Park, will be a jewel in Tustin’s crown.

Another important issue, although nothing the city can really do anything about, is Item 16, Resolution Opposing Assembly Bill 1217. This Assembly Bill seeks to reduce the number of the Board of Directors for the Orange County Fire Authority from 25 to 13. This, of course, means Al Murray would lose his lucrative position on the OCFA Board (What? You didn’t know he gets paid for that?). More importantly, it means Tustin would likely lose its voice on the board. While 25 members (one for each member city plus two from the OC Board of Supervisors) seems like a lot, it gives fair representation to a government district that would probably run amok on its own. The oversight is necessary and each member city should have its say on the board.

Moreover, as the staff report states, there is no history of problems or issues stemming from the size of the board. The new system, under this bill, would allow the Board of Supervisors an unfair balance of power, outweighing the population served. In addition, there could be undue influence in the selection process that could give the county an even larger edge. Why Tom Daly, a Democrat, is proposing such an idiotic scheme is beyond comprehension. Oh, wait, there is the politics of the matter. In any case, I hope the city council hasn’t fallen asleep by the time this issue comes up. They should be doing all they can to oppose this. Face it, the OC Board of Supervisors can’t even choose a reputable ambulance company to take care of us. Why would we trust them with oversight of OCFA?

As always, you are welcome to chime in on any of this. Just keep it civil. We’ll keep you posted on anything interesting.

We Are Not A House Of Prostitution

BocceBellasIt looks like this week’s meeting of the Tustin Planning Commission has been cancelled. So, let’s talk about what happened at last week’s Tustin City Council meeting. It was fairly short, at just over an hour, and half of it was taken up by the public hearing on an appeal for a massage parlor license.

As you probably recall, the Planning Commission tackled this issue a few weeks ago and denied a license for a “day spa” at a location where the cops had previously busted the business owners for prostitution. Day spa, by the way, seems to be the euphemism for massage parlor. It’s unfortunate because legitimate spas have a hard time overcoming the stigma attached to this.

The City Council heard the appeal and I was surprised at, not only the number of people that spoke in favor of this appeal, but also who spoke. Prior to discussion by the public was a presentation by city staff on the prostitution bust last year of the previous business as well as testimony by one of the Tustin PD officers who investigated the massage parlor in a sting operation. It was so cool when the cameras were diverted so the undercover officer couldn’t be identified. I would have opted for altering his voice as well just in case he ever works on phone sex stings.

Surprisingly, one of the first to speak in favor of the appellant was the owner of the building where the massage parlor planned to do business. Mary Ann Miller and her husband both attended the meeting to decry the way the city was treating the applicant. Miller made sure everyone knew her husband is not only a businessman in Tustin but also a former city councilman who “sat in those seats up there”. She also made sure to mention how she has also been involved in the community they live in. In her own words, she stated she and her husband are fine, upstanding citizens of Tustin.

Miller went on to say that her building has had a spa tenant for the past ten years and never had a problem….at least that she heard about. She said she would check the landscaping and other maintenance issues but, apparently, it wasn’t until recently that she went to enter the building using her key and found the locks changed. Huh. She stated that she never once heard anything about “the prostitution issue”.

Miller stated she was confronted by the building owner from next door who she claimed to know well (except the person didn’t know her) and was asked if she was the madame of the massage parlor. “I didn’t even know what she was talking about”, claimed Miller. She went on to lament how her and her husband were being found guilty without a trial and they knew nothing about the prostitution.

According to Miller, the city is holding that against them as they attempt to rent the building out to the new spa business. Complaining that their livelihood is at stake, saying that she interviewed the new prospective tenants, she has found them to be of good character and decided they wouldn’t be involved in prostitution like the former tenants.

Too bad she didn’t read my blog or she might have seen how the new tenants of good character are tied directly to the old, disreputable tenants.

It’s interesting our state legislators are about to wrestle with this problem – again.

According to Capitol Alert, cops and cities are hoping the legislators will work out the kinks in massage parlor regulation that is scheduled to sunset soon. A sunset oversight committee of the business and professions committees will review the upcoming debate over the California Massage Therapy Council that was created to assist in regulating the industry. Unless action is taken, the Council will discontinue and massage licensing will revert entirely to local control.

Since it was created, the CMTC has certified and licensed massage practitioners and given general oversight to the industry. The idea was to eliminate the “bad” elements and legitimize the practice. By and large, the industry backed the CMTC hoping for some continuity in regulation that, up to then, had been mostly ineffective

The new regulations and licensing established by the CMTC do not seem to have worked as advertised and now, many in the industry as well as the League of California Cities is asking legislators to restore some local control. That’s because businesses that utilize massage therapists certified by CMTC are not subject to the same scrutiny as those who don’t. So, all a massage business has to do is to hire “legitimate” therapists or have their own certified and then have them do what they want them to.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t solve the problem in an industry driven by sex slavery or who employ those who are forced into prostitution for financial need. These are the stark realities that the legislature has, so far, chosen to mostly ignore.

So, forgive me if I have little concern for the Millers financial plight.

Others, mostly on the Miller’s side, spoke in favor of the appellant even though it was clear there was a tie with the previous owners who had been busted for prostitution. And, while I heard everyone saying give her a chance, what I really heard was the jingle of coin in the background, telling me the real reason for supporting a shady business such as this.

Now, the real kicker was when the spokesperson for the appellant stood up at Councilperson Gomez’ invitation and lamented how the poor appellant (who did not speak because she doesn’t speak English very well) was the victim of the previous owner who told her everything was fine. It cost her $80 thousand to find out it wasn’t fine. So, by their way of thinking, Tustin should approve the license. Hey, I know Tustin is reported to be a business friendly town but…..

It took the City Council all of three minutes to deny the appeal and uphold the denial. It would have gone faster but John Nielsen had to take a page from the Jerry Amante playbook and do a little grandstanding about a subject he obviously knew nothing about.

In other business, the city council discussed the lease for the new fire station 37 which will take the place of the old fire station on Service Road. Questions regarding response time from the new station to the old areas traditionally served were answered and everyone was reassured that they would continue to receive great service from our fire department. Interestingly, Councilman Nielsen asked that the item be pulled from the Consent Calendar for discussion and then recused himself. We had previously opined that he had just bought or rented a place on the base, pending his divorce. Hopefully, he won’t keep us in suspense much longer.

The only other noteworthy item (in our opinion) on the calendar was to approve the construction of the Bocce Ball courts at Peppertree Park. It will cost almost $117 thousand but the smiles on our seniors faces as they roll those colored balls will be priceless.

On The City Council Agenda – November 5, 2013

Hidden Agenda ClipartWith only one public hearing item on the agenda, the upcoming meeting of the Tustin City Council has no hidden surprises for the us particularly since the one potential controversy will be postponed again until later this month.

The Closed Session lists the usual suspects in conference with legal counsel for  two each items of exposure and initiation of litigation. One item under consideration of particular interest is the Department of Finance case that has been pending for several weeks.

The bulk of the Closed Session will consist of real property negotiations, mostly for MCAS property. It includes discussions with the Tustin Unified School District. It seems the friction between the two has been eliminated and the city and district are moving past Heritage.

The city is also negotiating with the US Army Reserve Center to complete a land swap that would free up the land next to the District that is currently housing the reserve center. We can see the city’s reasoning but, after visiting the center during the recent Veteran’s Stand Down, we’d be hard pressed to see why the Army would want to give up nice buildings on frontage property without some hefty compensation.

On the Regular Meeting agenda, three presenations are scheduled. One of these is from Lisa Telles of the Transportation Corridor Agencies. We figure anything she has to say, she will be preaching to the choir. This city council continues to buck the majority opinion in this county regarding the proposed Foothill Extension as well as OCTA’s revival of the toll road idea for the 405 Freeway carpool lanes.

The sole Public Hearing item on the agenda is a run-of-the-mill ordinance adoption for the California Building Code. With few exceptions, the city generally follows the state guidelines on code matters. Those exceptions center mostly around the low rainfall and hot climate we find ourselves in. The limitations center on building materials suitable for the area (think untreated wood shingles, for one).

As we said, the sole item of possible controversy on the agenda has, once again, been postponed until November. Item 4, City Treasurer Appointment, will be continued to the next meeting supposedly to allow staff to continue their research and review.

The city treasurer’s position has been vacant since the death of George Jeffries in April. City Finance Director, Pamela Arends-King was appointed interim treasurer at the time. We have been in favor of Arends-King taking over the duties of Treasurer but not at a rate and benefit increase amounting to over twice what was paid Jeffries. Parker’s previous recommendation of an $8,000 raise of the finance director to take over what is, arguably, a minimal addition of duties, is absurd. The city recently raked the line staff employee union over the coals, demanding takeaways and offering virtually no raises. Parker continues to reward high level management with the savings, lavishing newly retitled positions and raises for their fealty.

At the October 1 meeting, Parker offered another alternative that was not in the staff report. That would be to incorporate the Audit Commission as another “set of eyes” for city investments. This seems a wise thing to do, although as Parker pointed out, city’s are highly restricted in their investment lattitude since the Orange County Bankruptcy days.

It’s curious that Parker fibbed to the public and the city council when remarking that the city would save money by keeping the City Treasurer’s job in-house. How do you do that and give your crony an $8k raise? Apparently, even Councilmember Gomez is content with this raid of public funds as she made no mention of it at the October meeting.

Of the Regular Business items, the item regarding Commissioner Interviews and Appointments Process may initiate substantial discussion. However, it is the item before that, the Second Amendment to Amended Orange County Fire Authority Joint Powers Agreement, that should raise a few eyebrows.

On its face, the proposed amendment seeks to establish equity payments between OCFA member cities that belong to the Structural Fire Fund (paid through property tax) and Cash Contract Cities (such as Tustin). What the agreement glosses over is the issues between Irvine and OCFA.

Earlier this year, the city of Irvine sought refunds of money paid, declared its intent to withdraw from OCFA in 2020 and establish its own fire department. According to an article in the OC Register, the city felt it was being overcharged by $35 million dollars a year. OCFA says it is closer to $18 million. The rift has caused concern for the Authority as both sides say that Irvine’s participation is vital to the financial health of OCFA.

Even the players appear a bit shaky as they are also asking for authority to seek court approval of the amendment.

In any case, Tustin could be the beneficiary of equity payments in some years. And, as we all know, our city council loves money regardless of the consequences or where it came from.

Closed Session

Conference with Legal Counsel – Exposure & Initiation of Litigaton, 2 items each.

Conference with Real Property Negotiatiors – Multiple Lots on MCAS, Two Parcels w/TUSD, Tustin Housing Authority parcel on Newport Avenue, Land swap with US Army Reserve.

Joint Regular Meeting

Public Hearing

1.  Ordinance 1435 Amending Certain Chapters of Building Code Related to California Building Standards With Recommended Exceptions.

Consent Calendar

4.  City Treasurer Appointment – (recommend continuance to November 19th)

Regular Business

5.  Second Amendment to Amended OCFA Joint Powers Agreement.

6.  Commissioner Interviews and Appointment Process – Establish a subcommittee process for selecting potential commissioner candidates.