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Wake Me When It’s Over

wake me upOK, the city definitely fixed the video issue they had a couple of weeks ago that kept the May 7 council meeting from being published on the website for almost two weeks. That, of course, makes me wonder if there really was a problem or were they trying to delay the public finding out about something.

Tuesday’s city council meeting was mostly routine with some of what Mayor Al Murray dubs his “favorite things”. Hewes Middle School and Fire Chief Richter got their 15 minutes of fame and Al got to act the big shot mayor again. One thing for sure, Murray needs to obtain an abridged edition of Roberts Rules of Order and read it. He is clueless in how to call for a vote and had to be corrected several times by both the city attorney and his colleagues. It gets a bit tedious after awhile.

As expected, there was nothing to report from the Closed Session and the council, surprisingly, only asked to pull one item from the Consent Calendar, the minutes from the May 7th meeting. Councilmember Gomez had an issue with something she reported on during her council comments.

On to the Regular Business where there were a slew of Second Readings including the ordinance on the so-called minor text changes in the Tustin City Zoning Code which we reported on earlier. That and the approval of the special tax refunding bonds for Community Facilities District 04-1 were voted and approved unanimously.

When it came to Item 8, a tax levy on certain properties in one area of the Legaqcy properties, Councilman John Nielsen again recused himself from the discussion due, we think, to his purchasing or owning property in the area. So, I guess those rumors of him actually living with his girlfriend in South County are just that.

Mayor Murray, who seems to have trouble understanding Roberts Rules of Order, was all set to breeze through this for his buddy but Councilmember Beckie Gomez asked for discussion on the issue. Her concern, as is ours, is the fact that, not only is this tax being levied on unsuspecting homeowners without their consent, it has no end date. “I am a bit concerned about this special tax, with the intent that it’s indefinite. There is no number of years such as Mello-Roos you pay it out for 20 years or whatever…

She went on to say that she understood the city does not receive the same property tax as in other parts of the city but, she would like to see a review every 5 years or so. She said that, although this council may not be here anymore, “I think the record should reflect that it isn’t necessarily an indefinite type of tax.”

Surprisingly, City Manager Jeff Parker agreed with her. In making a brief explanation of the reason for the tax, he said the city council had the authority to demand that and even sounded as if he approved of the “5 years or so” Gomez suggested. Unfortunately, Mayor Murray, who seems to think future staff and councils will remember this forgettable moment just because they discussed it, asked that it be put into the record rather than made a part of the ordinance as it should have been. Even worse, Gomez approved of that move rather than take the time to do it right. So, I guess we’ll see in five years whether that review actually takes place. The roll call vote was unanimous with Nielsen recusing himself. Good luck you suckers in the Legacy that were sold a bill of goods.

Items 10 & 11, regarding the land swap with the community college district and construction of a new street also brought some discussion over the amount of traffic that would be generated by the new street. Community Development Director Elizabeth Binsack advised the council on a last minute letter received the day of the meeting. That letter was not in the staff report but Elizabeth was kind enough to send us a copy. The letter, from the city of Irvine, basically lamented their concerns over traffic and asked the city to include a larger area for traffic study. Binsack explained the issues had been answered, at least to Tustin’s satisfaction and said nothing further would be done at this time (how many ways can we say it, Irvine?). These items passed unanimously after discussion.

Without further ado, the item concerning the stipends for commissioners and their removal upon attainng a city elected office was read and passed with Councilmember Gomez dissenting. As we said before, apparently the Fab Four didn’t want the same thing to happen to the commissioners, who actually spend a good deal of time on city business, as happened to the city council in regard to stipends. Gomez rightfully questioned this but was met with the wall of silence in her protest.

The final item of the night was the Legislative Report and it was, again, councilmember Gomez who showed she was the only one with an independent mind on the dais. While the Fab Four were willing to be led blindly by their collective noses, Gomez asked for time to study the bills they were supporting and opposing. Lawyer Kendig, who is always in a hurry to align himself with staff, indicated there was an urgency factor in responding to the letters.

Now, most of my loyal readers know that Councilman John Nielsen is a lifelong Boy Scout and will fall all over himself to praise, publicize and applaud the BSA to the point where one might wonder BSA Gay Banwho he actually works for. All I can figure is it must be like the Skull and Bones Society – one has to be in on the secret to know why all the members have that stupid smirk on their face.

Anyway, the motion on the Boy Scouts passed 4-1. Both of the other letters passed unanimously.

Not much in the way of councilmember comments although the Podiatrist Councilman must not have gotten much sleep (and his exciting dissertation on his political life and tie wardrobe was putting us to sleep). For those that don’t know, Channel 7 came to the Creme Pan Bakery in Old Town where Mayor Murray and Councilmember Gomez helped represent the city along with a slew of kids from our high schools. Although my daughter wasn’t there, the Foothill High School Madrigals sang a song or two and made us proud.

We have a couple of weeks before the next exciting installment of the Tustin City Council. In the meantime, join us for the Annual Tustin Chili Cookoff on June 2. The first chili tasting is on me. Also, please join in one of the many upcoming memorial services in the county on Memorial Day. You will find me at the Westminster Memorial Park where various veteran and community organizations, including the last of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association will lay wreathes at their military memorial.

On The City Council Agenda, May 21, 2013

VHS-tapeThe city apparently fixed the video problem they had with the May 7th meeting and the video is finally up for viewing. We’ll let you know if we find anything interesting that we haven’t already reported on. We are wondering if the issues had to do with their recent changeover to allow direct downloading of the video, something we applaud as a step toward a more open government.

May 21st could be a busy day for the city council. The Closed Session, which begins at 5:30 pm, makes no mention of labor contracts. Negotiations have been in progress for the past couple of weeks. Most of the employees in the city are represented by the Orange County Employees Association. The grapevine tells me the city may be looking for increased pension payments as they are in a hurry to catch up the unfunded liability. City employees belong to CalPERS, not the County pension system, OCERS. Too bad. OCERS is doing quite well at this time, even though the OC Board of Supervisors would like the voters to think otherwise.

Most of the Closed Session will discuss property negotiations on the MCAS base. The fact they are discussing terms is a good sign the development of the base is finally picking up. As we said before, the best thing the last city council could do was to make the city its own master developer for purposes of developing and selling the property. It seems when that occurred, development picked up drastically.

The Open Session begins with presentations to Hewes Kids, OCFA Fire Chief Keith Richter and the National Student Leadership Council of SADD. Chief Richter was recently awarded the Fire Chief of the Year Award by the Metropolitan “Metro” Fire Chiefs Association. Undoubtedly, the city council will bestow a certificate or two on him as well.

Two items on the Consent Calendar deserve discussion. The first is the contract with the Orange County District Attorney to prosecute violations of city code. The DA provides prosecution for the city for any violation of state law without cost (the people vs. etc. etc…). Violations of city ordinances, on the other hand, must either be handled by the city attorney or the district attorney under contract. Now, I could really slam the ineptness of the city attorney here but his law firms expertise is in government not criminal law. So, he is off the hook.

The DA has proposed a contract with a reasonable rate increase ($150 p/hr Attorney & ($84 p/hr Clerical) that we doubt the city could find elsewhere. The indication is the OCDA’s services are rarely needed and the contract is based on use rather than time. It is interesting to note the burden of deciding prosecution remains with the DA rather than the city. This is the same as it would be for any felony prosecution.

Item 4, Asset Capitalization Threshold, should also be pulled for discussion. There is a (very) brief discussion on the issue in the staff report that outlines the issue. The economy has outgrown the previous amounts used for capitalization of short and long term assets. City staff are proposing new thresholds but, we question how they came up with those numbers. In fact, judging the economy from a consumer standpoint, we wonder if the new thresholds may be too low considering the skyrocketing cost of infrastructure constructions nowadays.

The final item on the consent calendar is the Quarterly Investment Report. Since the passing of George Jeffries, responsibility for investment of city funds has been delegated to Finance Director, Pamela Arends-King. We’ll reserve judgment as this is her first time out. Suffice it to say the funds are intact.

While most of the Regular Calendar consists of Second Readings of various ordinances affecting MCAS property, one item stands out as a bit of good news for homeowners.

The Approval of Issuance of Special Tax Refunding Bonds should be good news for some homeowners in the Tustin Legacy. About 563 homeowners will see their Mello-Roos lowered by a tax refunding bond. If you are a glutton for punishment, read the 232 page staff report that details the background and refunding of the money. Of course, all of this assumes the economy will continue to improve, a hedgy bet at best.

A second reading will also be heard on amending an ordinance to allow city commissioners to remain on their commissions until such time as they are elected to city office or replaced by the city council. This change will not only bring the city in line with most other cities policies in Orange County, it actually makes sense. One item of contention at the March meeting when this was first discussed was commissioner compensation. If we had to guess, we would say the current city council is not happy with the way the previous council screwed them in regard to compensation.

When Jerry Amante first proposed the voters have a say in compensation, it was clearly a tactic to hurt Councilwoman Deborah Gavello, whom he considered his arch nemesis. That he could care less about the city and future councilmembers, who largely foot the bill for their own expenses, was obvious. By shaming them into compliance, he convinced John Nielsen and Al Murray, both of whom were on the council at the time, into voting to place an ill-conceived ballot measure before the voters that eliminated compensation for city councilmembers. This has placed an undue financial burden on all of them and could hurt the city when it comes time to find otherwise qualified candidates for office.

Seeing the damage it has done so far has apparently caused the Gang of Four to reconsider compensation and not do the same thing to city commissioners. This makes the city commission seats, as influential as they are, a more palatable choice for those who choose to serve the city in a volunteer basis.

The final item, as usual, is the Legislative Report. Staff are recommending support for several bills in Sacramento.

The first, AB229, is specifically geared toward creating tax districts and, in Tustin’s case, on former military base property. Essentially, when redevelopment agencies went away last year, it left Tustin in limbo regarding financing of infrastructure on base property. They joined other government entities who had former base properties in legislation that would allow them to continue to operate similarly structured enterprises. This is, of course, an end run around the demise of redevelopment agencies and is actually RDAs on steroids. We have to wonder why Democrats continue to give gifts of bad public policy to the Republicans.

We do agree with the city’s opposition to AB667 which would require an Economic Impact Report in “economic assistance areas”. This is essentially a “rent control” for businesses that would require a superstore, such as Wal-mart, to study the economic impact on small businesses in a city before they would be allowed to build a superstore. On its face this is protectionism at its worst and should be defeated. What makes this bill even more ominous is the fact the city could be allowed to conduct the so-called study itself, leaving business development even more prone to corruption than it already is. The fact is, there are already enough impediments to business, big and small, that no more should be required by law. Two previous bills like 667 were vetoed by the governor. Support and opposition are typically aligned with unions and business.

Likewise, we agree with the city in their opposition to SB323 which would exclude tax exemptions for private non-profit organizations whose membership requirements exclude certain classes of citizens. SB323 is clearly aimed at the Boy Scouts who continue to exclude gays from their organization. In doing so, the author of the bill, Assembly Speaker John Perez, who is openly gay, is willing to chance the disbanding of other organizations that cannot meet the strict definitions of membership in their organization. This is nanny state government at its worst. Better the BSA debate should remain in the public opinion arena rather than rely on implementation of socialist laws that serve a narrow purpose.

That’s it for the week. If you attend the meeting this week, drop me a line and give me your thoughts.

Our Top Stories of the Year

Gnome-More-JerryHow quickly time flies. Our Town Tustin has been blogging for about a year and a half and the past year has kept us busy in our little corner of the county. Here are some of the top issues we have covered in 2012:

“Team Tustin’s” Hate-Filled Campaign – In what was probably the most contentious election to mark our city in year, the Republican led “Team Tustin” showed they could stoop as low as necessary to achieve their ends. Eight hit piece mailers went out against Tracy Worley and David Waldram nearly all of which were funded by a mysterious entity calling itself Tustin Residents United. Funny thing is, not one dime of money came from any resident of Tustin. Yet, thousands of dollars funneled in from the Orange County Business Council’s BIZPAC and other similar committees, all of whom had indirect ties to Nielsen and his team. While Nielsen, Puckett and the Podiatrist Councilman looked like the see-no-evil-hear-no-evil-speak-no-evil monkeys, Worley & Waldram held their heads high during a clean campaign.

Jerry Amante’s Use and Abuse of Power – Go ahead, believe our city fathers are not corrupt. If you do, I have a bridge to sell you. Early in the year, the

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Orange County Grand Jury issued a report accusing then mayor Jerry Amante and another councilman of attempting to coerce Brandman University officials into squelching a report critical of city manager compensation. The Grand Jury rightfull found the two were attempting, for their own gain, to get Chapman University President, Jim Doti, to pull the report before it could get out. Doti, acting the part, was simply aghast at the report (…here are your winnings, sir…). The city subsequently answered the charges with the usual, we didn’t do nothing wrong, it’s free speech. Selective use of rights, to say the least.

TUSD vs. The City of Tustin vs. TUSD – It is sad the city and the school district have, together, wasted well over $2 million dollars on lawsuits which have clearly become the hallmark of Jerry and John’s tenure on the city council. What originally amounted to a personality conflict, exploded into multi-million dollar multiple lawsuits against each other over control of construction. The highlight, of course, was when the city, under Jerry’s direction, sued the school district for having the nerve to transfer another school and administrative offices to a new school on the MCAS property. Armed with some of the lamest arguments heard by first year law students, the city was laughed out of a Riverside court and told not to darken their halls again. The other shoe drops first thing in 2013 and I am taking bets on the outcome.

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John Nielsen’s Unracism – In “Dear John”, we exposed the bigotry (among other things) of then mayor John Nielsen. In an attack on the First Amendment as well as the city schools, Nielsen attempted to defend his decision to allow a court document claiming Tustin schools were overcrowded and minority-ridden. Claiming he was a pillar of the community, he extolled his virtues all the while, filing for divorce and using the legal system to swat at TUSD officials. Oh yes, and the divorce appears to be proceeding nicely with new recent filings.

Cell Towers in Cedar Grove – The City Council didn’t seem to be able to get this lawsuit thing right. First, they continue to chase windmills with the lawsuits against the school district. Then, when they actually had a chance to stand up for the citizens of our community, they folded like a deck of Vegas cards. The cellular towers in Cedar Grove were one of the most high profile issues of the city and the city council, led by Jerry and his Kids, refused (or were in cahoots with) to fight T-Mobile over the installation. There was no effort, no transparency and no noteworthy action on the  city council’s part as they acceded tot he demands of Jerry’s business partners.

North Tustin 1, Catholics 0 – Unlike the Tustin City Council, the folks in North Tustin were more than willing to fight for what they believe in. When the Diocese of Orange, led by Bishop Tod Brown, banded together with the County to try and slip in a zoning change, the Foothills Community Association rallied the troops and sued them to stop the rezoning of diocese owned land that would allow them to build a senior living center on property originally zoned for a church. The city could learn a thing or two from these folks. Now, if they can stave off annexation.

Fairbanks vs. Hizzoner – In another embarrassing fiasco for the city, Jerry Amante and his mouthpiece, Elizabeth Binsack, were finally defeated once and for all in their attempt to prevent a jim_ho_nicholsonhomeowner from exercising his property rights. By abusing their power and the appeals process, Amante proved, once again, who calls the shots. Too bad it cost $83 thousand dollars to make his point. Then he lost anyway.

The Demise of Redevelopment – Seeing Through the Magic of Redevelopment as it related to the MCAS property was pretty signficant. Backed by the California Supreme Court, Governor Jerry Brown dealt a double death blow to the worst kind of corporate welfare imaginable. We pointed out that everyone was in on this deal with Democrats handing this gift over to Republicans years ago. Now, the other shoe drops as the state is demanding $263 million dollars from Orange County and its cities. Tustin has already coughed up $7.5 million but the state wants more.

Dear Assemblyman Donnelly – One could call this the biggest goof of the year. Jeff Donnelly, Assemblyman for the 59th  District, appeared to have a problem with guns and telling the truth. When he was caught in possession of a firearm while attempting to board an aircraft bound for Sacramento at Ontario Airport, he was detained by the police and TSA. His lame excuse was that he had received death threats and forgot the gun was in his bag. OK, except for the fact the gun was only partially loaded and sitting in a carry-on bag, the guy didn’t even have a concealed carry permit from what is arguably one of the easiest counties to obtain one. The Brady Bunch certainly did not have anything on this clown.

Silent Bob and Darth VaderLindburgh and Silent Mike Strike Back – Community Development Director, Elizabeth Binsack, can’t do enough to for Old Town Tustin. In fact, it is a toss up whether it was Binsack or Amante that actually wanted to slap down the Fairbanks family over the apartments located on their historic property. I imagine it was a free for all when she colluded with nearly the entire city council over allowing the owners of the Wilcox Manor to open an events venue at their residence. Armed with pretty stickers and hauling people in from around the county (very few from Tustin itself), Lindburgh McPherson and “Silent Mike” Demoratz sought a CUP by subterfuge and chicanery. When they were called out on the apparent fib they told about their parking arrangements, they sought to turn the tables on their Facebook page by saying their detractors turned everyone against them. They didn’t seem to get it through their heads that no one in Old Town wants a three ring circus at the end of their cul-de-sac.

Next year is already beginning to shape up as the new Tustin City Council opens the first meeting with a how-to on city affairs. As much as we hated Jerry Amante, he could at least keep us entertained with his self-serving diatribes and rants against Deborah Gavello. Now that they are both gone, we can only hope Mayor Al Murray and the Podiatrist Councilman will be able to look up at the audience as they read from their scripts in the coming year. I hope they have good editors.

On the Agenda, February 21, 2012

Redevelopment is dead. There, I said it. It seems even the Tustin City Council agrees, finally. Running dueling agendas, the City Council will meet as both the Council and the “Successor Agency to the Tustin Community Redevelopment Agency”. An accurate, if somewhat lengthy, title (perhaps Elizabeth Binsack can come up with a cool name). At a meeting in January, the City Council went about the business of transferring assets and obligations to a successor agency. The new agency will, presumably, only be able to handle the current affairs of the old RDA with no new obligations. A tough blow to Jerry and his Kids, who thought RDA money would see them and their business cronies thought the tough times. Now, we will see just how much business is willing to put into business ventures in Tustin without the aid of corporate welfare.

A bit of advice to Councilmember Gavello. Item 4  on the special meeting agenda establishes bank accounts and signatures. I know you hate Jeffries but just go with the flow on this.

On to the City Council regular meeting agenda.

Closed Session

There are the usual suspects on the Closed Session agenda, including T-Mobile which has sued the city over the design review of a cell tower in Cedar Grove Park. By now, a response should have been made to the initial petition. The petitions and all pleadings are public knowledge, by the way. So, we would suggest the city consider placing the documents on-line for full disclosure. That is, unless the city has something to hide.

There are also three lawsuits between the City and Tustin Unified School District. The oldest of these is scheduled to be heard in Orange County Superior Court in April. Two councilmembers have assured me they hope for a resolution before this goes to trial. With control over school construction at stake, and considering the apparent conflict of state law, I doubt TUSD is inclined to settle this beforehand. Certainly Tustin’s lame attempt at a settlement, which appeared to be more of an effort to garner public support, would not be the basis for a permanent agreement.

The final lawsuit is one filed by Doug Poling against the city. No word on the specifics but it does involve the National Junior Basketball Association. I have asked them to comment.

Labor Negotiations

It is that time of year again. The seven and a half labor unions representing Tustin employees will come again to the table to discuss wages and benefits. I was sure at least the TPOA and TPSSA had multi-year agreements so this may just be salary re-openers. We will keep an eye on things and let you know of any developments. At least the city is smart enough to bring in a hired gun to negotiate rather than let city staff do it.

Open Session

Public Hearing

The first item on the open session agenda is a public hearing for the Community Development Block Grant. This is a federal program to return funds to communities to be used to “provide decent housing, suitable living environments and expand economic opportunities” for low and moderate income persons. This year, the city gets $587,277 in grant money. The city is required to hold two hearings, one of which will be Tuesday night. Of course, the City Council can disregard any testimony by the public and make up their own minds as to how the money will be spent. And, it seems, the staff have already made up their minds as to how remaining money from 2009 should be spent. A quick look at the goals and objectives shows worthy projects around our town.

One in particular is “Helping homeless persons…” Unfortunately, this is a low priority. It must be because of the low number of homeless persons we have residing in our community. It might be a worthy goal to get the few we supposedly have (I suspect we have more than the two hundred claimed in the agenda report) to make that final step off the streets and into housing. However, there are lots of worthy projects on the plate for CDBG money and not enough money to go around. In fact, the city will receive approximately 20% less funding this year than last. I am not one for welfare of any kind but this is, after all, our money and should be returned to the communities.

Regular Business Items

Item 12, Planning Commission Authority- Redevelopment Agency – It appears the City Council will vest some decision making authority in the Planning Commission regarding former RDA property. Hmmm. Could this be where Jerry ends up after his stint on the council? Hopefully, they will take a serious look at those term limits for planning commissioners.

Item 13, Commission Appointments – In Jerry’s current endeavor to leave a lasting mark on Tustin, the various Commission appointments have become the focus of the council. Applications and interviews have been postponed while the council decides on term limits. Councilmember Gavello, in an effort to bring the issue into perspective, has asked for a background report on the appointment process. Good show, even if they disregard you Deborah. You are doing the right thing.

Item 14, 2011-2012 Mid-year Budget Review – Are they kidding? sub-item 3 asks for a supplemental appropriation of $585,651 to cover capital project expenditures. How about the City Council start by giving back its iPads?

All in all, it should be an interesting meeting. I remind our readers that we only have 10 1/2 months of Jerry’s rule (sure, John… we know you are mayor…).