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On The City Council Agenda – May 5, 2015

conspiracy-theoryAfter a two week hiatus, the Tustin City Council should be ready to tackle the second unit ordinance for Old Town Tustin this Tuesday. After extensive discussion by the councilmembers at the April 21st meeting, they voted to continue the item so that city staff could come up with answers to the chief complaint: parking.

Staff return this week with a second unit ordinance fortified by a recommendation for parking. Well, it’s not really a recommendation, just a copy of an existing policy on the adminstration of parking permit systems in Tustin. Mind you, there is no draft ordinance prepared for a potential permit system in Old Town and the city council may still have to consider the parking issue separately. I’m not sure that is what they wanted. One has to wonder why the delay in the second unit ordinance at all if they were just going to address the parking issue separately anyway.

The second unit ordinance proposal and the parking issue, as it turns out, are only vaguely related. Over the past year or so, parking has become a real problem in Old Town, particularly on the west side around Pacific and Main Street. Part of this is surely due to permit parking the city created a few years ago for the area around the condos on Main Street West of Pacific.

Driving along Pacific Avenue on any evening reveals a gauntlet of cars and trucks streching nearly to Main Street. While many of these may be attributed to the residents in the area, many of them, it turns out, are from either the previously mentioned condos or -as I’ve personally witnessed- from beyond the freeway overpass. There also appears to be a pattern with the number of out-of-area cars on our streets increasing toward the end of the week.

While I am not a proponent of permit parking on city streets (its that libertarian streak in me), it may be the only answer to the problem. In any case, parking should be addressed regardless of the second unit ordinance. The question then will become one of enforcement. Will the 2am to 6am cops want to travel the streets in search of errant parkers?

Lately, I have been questioning the validity of the second ordinance unit itself. As it turns out, there is no pressing need to make any changes. Although the city said in their presentation that affordable housing mandates are a factor, they really aren’t. Affordable housing requirements are for the city, not a specific area.

And, though the city also says that a 2002 Assembly Bill signed by Gray Davis requires the city to ministerially (say that three times real fast) consider second residential units, it does not require any changes be made to current ordinances. California Government Code 65852.8 states:

When a local agency receives its first application on or after July 1, 2003, for a permit pursuant to this subdivision, the application shall be considered ministerially without discretionary review or a hearing, notwithstanding Section 65901 or 65906 or any local ordinance regulating the issuance of variances or special use permits. Nothing in this paragraph may be construed to require a local government to adopt or amend an ordinance for the creation of second units.

So, from a legal standpoint, there is no mandate to change current law.

The biggest argument for change to an all second unit ordinance is the elimination of deed restrictions on proposed guest units. A few years ago, Elizabeth Binsack and Jerry Amante arbitrarily decided to place the requirement for deed restrictions on guest accessory units. This was in obvious retaliation for their defeat in the Fairbanks issue, a city-created debacle.

Since the proposal for the second unit ordinance was raised a few months ago, city staff have received more grief than praise. Parking has been just one of the issues raised by residents. Concern for density and a general degrading of the Old Town area have also been cited by home owners. Yet, Binsack amd her chief hatchet man Scott Reeskin, have used a variety of unsubsantiated arguments for enactment of the ordinance they appear to want so badly.

So, why the push for unneeded change? Surely, if deed restrictions are an issue, they can be done away with. And, since they are policy and not law, they only require a change in the mindset of city staffers.

In any case, residents have another opportunity to state their case for or against the ordinance. Judging from the city’s indifferent attitude toward opponents of the ordinance, I would suggest they turn out in force to state their case. Calls to councilmembers John Nielsen and Beckie Gomez may be the best bet toward swaying votes or, at least, extending further argument.

Other issues before the city council are pretty much routine. Aside from the usual business, the Consent Calendar is littered with requests to award contracts for various construction projects at city hall and parks.

The sole item for consideration under Reglar Business is an Amendment of Waste Disposal Agreement between the city and the county. Amon other things, the amendment will allow the county to continue to import wast from outside the county and to share the revenue generated with the city. It could be worth a cool $76,000 to the city.

In an unusual departure from the norm, due to a Water Management Workshop at 5:30 pm, the Closed Session has been moved to the end of Regular Business. With only a few items on the agenda, discussion of labor negotiations will likely take up the majority of the session.

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On The Planning Commission Agenda – April 14, 2015

Wisam "Sam" Altowaiji Tustin Planning Commission

Wisam “Sam” Altowaiji
Tustin Planning Commission

This week’s meeting of the Tustin Planning Commission will be decidedly shorter than two weeks ago. Hopefully, Sam Altowaiji has come off his high horse and settled down again. At the last meeting, if you recall, he was pulled up short by Commmunity Development Director Elizabeth Binsack. Sam apparently thought that, as planning commissioner, he was Elizabeth’s boss. Sorry Sam, maybe you should confer with City Manager Jeff Parker for clarification about who runs what in the city. While you’re at it, ask him about the Brown Act and serial telephone meetings.

The first thing on the plate for the new/old planning commission is to elect their respective Chair and Vice-Chair. My bet is on Austin Lumbard to take the chair. Lumbard is reportedly (mostly by his dad) running for city council next year. It only seems natural that he demonstrate his leadership ability as chair of the planning commission. Hmmm. Let’s see, the affable but clueless Ryder Smith sounds like a good candidate for pro tem. But, the commisssioners may want to keep Jeff Thompson in there as he has experience with these sorts of things. The only bad thing about Jeff is he keeps recusing himself for anything that comes within 5 miles of Old Town.

Yes, like a bad penny, the resolution on Second Residential Units keeps coming back to haunt us. Fortunately, this time, it is just to rectify a staff mistake in numbering. With any luck, Altowaiji won’t attempt to turn this into another Binsack bashing.

The only other item of note on the agenda is a Public Hearing. Item 4, Appeal of Notice of Invalid Business License, should prove interesting if the owner shows up to defend himself.

Lodestone Chiropractic practices out of an office building on Irvine Boulevard. According to the staff report, the city became alerted to an irregularity in their business license when a massage therapist came in to obtain their business license as an independent contractor for “Lodestone Therapy”. It was noted then that the chiropractic business states on their license application they did not provide massage therapy services at their business. The ommission is what prompted a revocation of his license and this appeal.

Lodestone’s owner, Antoni Nguyen, defended his application by stating that he is a duly licensed chiropractor and, according to state law, massage is listed as a normal practice for chiropractors. So, Nguyen didn’t need to state that he offers massage therapy separately on the license.

Uh-huh……..

Well, I’ve been going to my chiropractor for 15 years and she also practices massage therapy. I think what the state had in mind was more in line with what she offers and how she offers it. Her massage is incidental to her chiropractic work and does not involve dressing up in skimpy outfits ala housemaid.

When the city looked into Nguyen’s business practices, they found a web ad on backpage.com for “Full Body Massage”, 7 days a week from 10am to 9pm. The accompanying photos show a young lady looking back over her shoulder while wearing a skimpy top. I seriously doubt she knows swedish massage techniques. As a matter of record, she is also not a licensed chiropractor.

Now, I don’t blame Nguyen a bit for taking the position he does in his appeal. State law specifically allows licensed chiropractors to provide massage as part of their therapy for a patient. But, the state law he cites is for licensing chiropractors, not their business. The city says he failed to note the massage therapy, provided by an independent contractor, on the license. This is pretty much a no-brainer. The length of the discussion, however, will depend on how much the commission wants to hear themselves talk as well as whether Altowaiji wants to somehow work this into another diatribe against Elizabeth Binsack.

In any case, I expect our fair city to be shy one more business supplying dubious “therapeutic massage”. While there are a few spas and independent massage therapists in Tustin offering legitimate services, there are at least as many the city should go after for illicit trade. Maybe Chief Celano can get a volunteer to run a sting operation and flush out the sex trade.

We always like a good laugh and this week’s meeting should provide a few. I’ll let you know if there is anything noteworthy to report.

Oh, if you want to look at the pictures, guys, they can be found in the staff report here.

Welcome to the Police State, Tustin Style

doomacracyThe first order of business for the Planning Commission a couple of weeks ago was to install the “new” commissioners whose terms had previously expired. What? You didn’t know there were expiring terms? Well, that’s because, thanks in large part to retired Irvine police officer and current Tustin Councilmember Al Murray, there was no announcement.

At the February 3rd meeting of the city council, Murray decided it was too much of an inconvenience, given the fact he had already made up his mind to vote for the incumbents, to actually advertise for and interview other aspiring candidates to the Planning Commission. “You know, we’ve gone through this process quite a bit and, one of the things we should consider is we have really, really good people on the current commissions and we entertain people in the community to go through somewhat rigorous interviews and, in many cases, we reaffirm who’s on there.”  Going on to claim he heard that the process was futile for most and they would lose heart, he apparently felt the kindest thing to do was save them the heartbreak.

Alan Bernstein, who hasn’t had an original thought since he was elected to the city council, quickly chimed in with some diatribe about how everything is wonderful in the city of Tustin so, we don’t need to bother with a longstanding policy. Mayor Chuck Puckett quickly agreed, breathing a sigh of relief he wouldn’t have to come early to the next city council meeting just to interview a bunch of wannabes.

Unsurprisingly, Councilwoman Beckie Gomez spoke out against maintaining the status quo of simple re-appointment. Saying that there are always applicants in numbers for available positions, she wanted the opportunity to interview and examine applications for the best persons for the job.

The biggest shock of the evening was Councilman John Nielsen agreeing with Gomez that the process is necessary. Nielsen recalled recent history where incumbents had, in fact, been ousted in favor of new applicants. He also correctly stated that applicants have a tendency to become involved with civic affairs in other venues such as the Tustin Community Foundation (hmmm…). Wow. John and I actually agree.

After a lengthy 8 minute discussion on the issue, a motion was made by Puckett (I guess, hoping to take the heat off Murray) to forego city policy and fairness in favor of cronyism. The motion was quickly seconded by Bernstein. The split vote, with Nielsen and Gomez dissenting, was cast and that’s why you didn’t get your notice on commission openings.

Puckett was on hand at the next Planning Commission meeting to re-appoint three commissioners, Austin Lumbard, Steve Kozak and Ryder Smith. Now I might want to point out that, while not all planning commissioners are future candidates for the city council, it has been heard around town (mostly by his dad shooting off his mouth) that Austin Lumbard will be running for a seat. That would be the seat of termed out Mayor pro tem John Nielsen next year. You may want to keep this bit of information close as you read further.

With no public speakers on hand to liven things up, the commissioners moved on to regular business. Most of the items were routine including the approval of a new Old Town home for the historic register.

A Design Review on the request by the owners of the restored Jabberwocky building caused Jeff Thompson to leave the dais as he is a resident of Old Town. The review was prompted by the expiration of a prior agreement to use the city’s fee-based common street parking. The only discussion was when Ryder Smith, who obviously hasn’t paid attention to previous discussions on the subject, asked about the $60 per space cost. That initiated a full and complete (and boring) discussion of the why’s and wherefores of the fee-based parking. A 4-0 vote took care of the matter.

The only other item on the agenda and, by far the most important for Old Town residents, was the public hearing on a code amendment that would change the ordinance on second residential units.

The presentation by staff on the ordinance was simply a reiteration of the last public hearing on the issue. If you recall (or

The only known photo of Sam Altowaiji

The only known photo of Sam Altowaiji

look at my writeup), that hearing resulted in more work for the planning commission as former city staffer and current commissioner Altowaiji asked to accommodate the large property owners by slicing them out of the deal. That initiated a lengthy discussion that led to several failed votes and a final vote to continue the item until this meeting.

Scott Reeskin, a Senior Planner with the city, explained all of this in the most current presentation. The suggestions were all over the place and, in the case of Altowaiji, reflected his obvious sense of elitism by indicating he favored an enhanced ordinance for lots 12,000 square feet and over. Now, mind you, Altowajai nearly recused himself because of his realty holdings and his wife’s realty business that often find them in Old Town.

So, what was City Planner Scott Reeskin’s reply to the commission’s meddling suggestions?
Phfffffffffthththththtttttttttttt!!!!!

Citing state law on affordable housing and the requirements to keep any structures in Old Town “compatible” with the neighborhood, Reeskin’s presentation basically said the suggestions would not fly. He then chided the council, advising them to remember their role and responsibility in maintaining the Cultural Resources District.

Reeskin pointed out the cold, hard facts. Either of the alternatives to the current proposal would result in as many as two times the residential increase of the original proposal made by Binsack’s staff. While Reeskin was at it, he backed up his first punch by slapping down the commission’s idea that maybe the standards should be set citywide. Of course, that would initiate a major study and possibly affect the Cultural Resources District itself. Did they really want to do that?

Altowaiji was clearly perturbed at city staff for not taking his suggestions to heart. “Not allowing the lots with 12,000 the right to build as the right to build today is… not providing flexibility [read elitist status], is reducing their flexibility of doing what they needed to do.” So, perhaps that perceived conflict of interest reared its ugly head after all.

Altowaiji then went on to disrespect the Tustin residents who, at the earlier public hearing, voiced their opinions on the ordinance. Saying their opinions were “all over the map”, Altowaiji ranted that staff statistics were not realistic and that only two properties had even applied for second residential units.

At this point, I wondered if Altowaiji could hear himself speaking.

If Altowaiji’s ranting wasn’t enough, Elizabeth Binsack felt she had to justify/explain/excuse her staff for not coming up with the alternatives Altowaiji demanded at the last meeting. She did it quite deftly by shifting blame back to the commissioners who, she said, couldn’t agree on the original proposal.

What it came down to, she said, is city staff were confused about exactly what the commissioners wanted so they came back with the same proposal with ramifications of changing the proposal so they could see the error of their ways.

I don’t blame her. We were confused, too.

So, Altowaiji complained further, alleging discussions that did not occur at the last meeting. He then proposed a “phone” meeting, that smacks of violating the Brown Act, that would have cleared this up. Binsack, being nice but also showing that she was also getting ticked off, explained how that could not occur.

“I apologize if we missed the mark”, she said through clenched teeth. “We intended to correctly and professionally respond to what you asked for”. I have to say, that is the closest I’ve seen to Binsack losing it.

Future wannabe councilman Lumbard responded by explaining how he had trouble looking at more than one option at a time so he would rather not get into another long-winded discussion…..probably over something he had zero interest in anyway.

Another ten minutes of discussion and Altowaiji reiterating his elitist remarks, this time with the inference that anyone that didn’t like his motion was an idiot, a motion was made on the original proposal (with some recommendations to the council thrown in) by Commissioner Lumbard and seconded by Commissioner Kozak. The vote was 3-1 to send it on to the city council.

This is probably the most entertainment I’ve had since Jerry Amante left office. Watching another Little King rant and rave brought back memories. And the look on Elizabeth Binsack’s face as she patiently explained her position, well, it was like an old MasterCard commercial. It’s nice to know there are still hot topics to occasionally write about here in our town Tustin.

On The Planning Commission Agenda – September 9, 2014

old town tustin signIt’s party time in Tustin. At least, the Tustin Planning Commission will be making a determination for another community facility in the Tustin Marketplace tonight during a public hearing.

Edwards Theaters recently vacated the building on the Tustin side of the Marketplace. The area, according to the staff report, is 23,000 square feet. The city decided we need a building in the area and has negotiated an agreement with the Irvine Company that will allow the building to be used for anything from staff meetings to quinceneras.

The agreement would also allow further development of the remaining area as well as eliminate fees the Irvine Company has chaged in the past for two other retail centers in the area.

We’re not sure whether the city actually needs another community center (to be called the “City of Tustin Community Center at the Marketplace”. We haven’t heard anyone from the east side of town complaining about a lack of facilities and, quite frankly, the city shouldn’t be in the business of creating and maintaining rental space.

That said, the amendment to the agreement does appear to make it easier for other retail areas to be developed. Fees charged are consistent with other facililties the city operates and the city will be given use of the the facility for community events without cost.

The only other item on the agenda is a second Public Hearing for a zone change and Conditional Use Permit. The parcel in question is the small respite park located on El Caminor Real south of Main Street. The parcel is owned by the citty and the front third of it has been used as a small park since 2007.

This park is a gem of Old Town and the only ones who should have any complaint, if any, would be the property owners on either side. One question that should be asked is, what will the city use the remaining 100 feet of land behind the park for? It seems odd the city wouldn’t find a use for it. We can think of at least one – a community garden that locals could grow vegetables in. Such use would be consistent with the respite park.

So, another exciting week in the City of Tustin. With the approval of the first public hearing, the city should have its hands full planning events for the new community center. It should be interesting to see what kind of events will find their way there.