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No Protests But Plenty of Voices

blazing-saddles-355I hope everyone enjoyed the Chili Cookoff on the 1st. With no Planning Commission meeting scheduled this week, I had plenty of time to look over the Tustin City Council meeting from  the week before.

First up were several speakers, including Marie Sales, who continue to complain to the city council about police brutality and how nothing has changed. Sales made unsubstantiated complaints of harassment of her family and harassment at the chili cookoff (I never saw them) and demanding that policies and procedures be changed.

The most eloquent speaker was tattoed young lady whose name I didn’t get. I only mention the tattoos as it was a pointed and impressive reference to profiling. This young lady was the first to request that the names of the police officers involved in the incident be released. She reminded the city council of the supreme court ruling that now prevents government from withholding the names of law enforcement involved in shootings under the guise of “investigation”. As with most of the other speakers on the subject, she alleged police harassment of minorities in our community.

To hear these speakers, it sounds like the city is turning a deaf ear to the minority community and, particularly, the family of Robert Villa who was killed in a police shooting on February 10th. But, in speaking with Tustin Chief of Police Charles Cellano last week, the city has reached out to the family on multiple occasions in an effort to start a dialogue. In fact, Chief Cellano offered to have a meeting with the family and other interested parties. To date, he says, they have not answered. Why?

Perhaps it is easier to come to a city council meeting and demand names and policy change “right now” rather than to hold a discussion that, in the long run, could effect substantial change for the better of the community. So the real question is one of intent – are the protesters interested in justice or are they interested in getting their name in the newspaper? It may be better to stop being influenced by outsiders, who come to Tustin to grab a headline, and start a real dialogue with city officials. Perhaps then Mrs Villa can get that closure she is looking for.

For the first time in awhile, the Consent Calendar was voted on in its entirety without comment on any particular subject.

That allowed the meeting, which was already proceeding into its second hour, to move to the Public Hearing on the downtown consultant agreement. Phil Cox, owner of Cox Market Plaza and kin to Columbus Tustin (he made sure we all knew that), was first to speak. Besides having a business interest in downtown, Phil is probably one of the biggest preservationists of Old Town. He is also one heck of a speaker.

The topic tonight? Ficus trees and their damage to the sidewalks of Old Town. Phil gave a detailed discussion on the damage the trees are doing to the sidewalks and other infrastructure of the city. Although he had to cut his presentation short, he was able to show the unseen damage the roots are doing to the city sewer system.  The gist of Phil’s presentation was that the ficus trees should be replaced with environmentally sound trees that will not damage what we currently have in Old Town. Notwithstanding Mayor Murray’s trying to run him off, Cox made his point.

There was a question from Councilmember Gomez as to why the extra funds were needed. Community Development Director Elizabeth Binsack said, essentially, the CDBG funds were only part of the funding for the consultant (if I heard right, it was $500k total). The funds were being requested now because it was unclear if funds would be available next year as well.

Councilman Nielsen asked for clarification of the boundaries of the study. Binsack stated the boundaries were that of Old Town itself but could include “interface areas” suggested by the consultant as well. The motion passed unanimously so, hopefully, we will get that study this year. As Mayor Murray pointed out, there is a “synergy” in Old Town with new buildings about to be occupied and even newer ones (hopefully) going up.

The repeal of the sex offender ordinances garnered a bit of commentary. It was clear that no one was happy about the repeal of the ordinance that was caused by the Godinez court decision. That appellate decision invalidated a number of city and county ordinances in Orange County.

Mayor Al Murray, a former police captain was clear that he felt the city ordinance was necessary protection for the community, Councilman John Nielsen, who voted in favor of the original ordinanceJohn Nielsen 2 voiced an even stronger opinion. Saying he made no apologies in enacting the ordinances, Nielsen felt they were necessary in going further than state law to protect the community. As a matter of principle, he said he would vote no on repealing the ordinance.

While Murray and Nielsen both stated their opinion by voting against the repeal, I hope they will follow up with action. If the city feels this strongly that state law is inadequate, action should be initiated through one of the many lobbying organizations the city belongs to, to sponsor effective state legislation that would do the job. The advantage, as I have written before, would be to enact consistent law that can be effectively enforced by law enforcement at all levels of government.

John was on a roll as the city council moved on to the last item on the agenda, Consideration of Support for AB1453 – Veterans Cemetery and Prop 13. Nielsen stated he felt a resolution was necessary due to all the rumblings going on at the Capitol over changing Prop 13. He felt that the bent of the legislature made it mandatory to use the strongest language possible to “protect the citizens” in keeping Prop 13 intact. Councilmember Beckie Gomez said she failed to see a serious attack on Prop 13 and was ambivalent to either a resolution or a letter of support.

While Nielsen may have stated altruistic motives for his pro-vote, his real concern is what the legislature has lately discussed. Knowing the strong opposition from California voters over a complete overturn of Prop 13, discussion has centered around splitting the tax rolls and effectively eliminating Prop 13 for businesses. Nielsen, who has consistently demonstrated his love of business (particularly political contributors) over the citizens of the community, finds a win-win in championing a supporting resolution from the city.

It’s sad that AB1453, which would authorize a state veterans cemetery in the county, didn’t receive the same level of support. But then, none of our sitting council has ever served their country in the military so the idea of a veterans cemetery is probably lost on them. Oh, and the bill is authored by a democrat.  At least we got a letter of support.

Enjoy your week. The Tustin Police Department is sponsoring a couple of upcoming events including the annual Police Open House this Saturday in front of city hall. There will be demonstrations and tours of the police building. You may also get a chance to meet our new Chief of Police, Charles Cellano. Unfortunately, don’t be surprised if a few protesters show up.

Impatient Protesters Push Council’s Buttons

credit: Voice of OC

credit: Voice of OC

Apologies, I have been away from the computer for a few weeks due to heavy commitments. This week doesn’t look much better. However, I thought I would at least try to bring you up to date on an issue that doesn’t seem to want to go away – and for good reason.

While preparing my regular report on the upcoming city council meeting, I had a chance to view the video from the May 6th meeting where local  citizens and activists from other cities managed to take up some time in public comments to -once again- protest the police shooting of Robert Villa. As you recall, protesters and outside rabble rousers managed to disrupt the city council meeting several weeks ago. At that meeting, the protests became so disruptve a visibly shaken Mayor Al Murray had to recess the council meeting. To his credit, he did not react to force the protesters outside. The May 6th protest was substantially less disruptive with protesters carrying signs and speaking in turn at the podium.

Villa’s mother was the first to speak and asked simply for the name of the officers who shot her son. Two other relatives of Villa also pleaded with the city council for action. One speaker, an outside rabble rouser who admitted he goes to various cities where police shootings have occurred, spoke “in support of the family”.

Mayor Murray, ever the gentleman, responded that the Orange County District Attorney’s Office was investigating the incident and the city would “make the findings known” to the public.

But, they weren’t done yet.

Other protesters, including the mother of Paul Quintanar who was killed in 2011 in a bizzare accident after a police contact, spoke to the council about putting a policy in place that would “help” the family members. The accident was investigated by the CHP and, I am sure, by the Tustin Police. I’m not sure what Marie Sales, Quintanar’s mother was looking for but it is a bit of a stretch to even blame the police for the young man’s demise since it was his running away from the police that inadvertently caused his death to begin with. Family members say they have trouble understanding why he chose to run. I imagine the police do too.

Sadly, Quintanar’s death followed that of his grandmother, who was also killed in a tragic accident near the location at where he died. That incident did not involve police contact, although the driver of the vehicle that hit her was not charged.

In any case, it is interesting to see the protesters coming from other cities (as if they don’t have enough to do in their own) to “support” the victims families here. It’s also interesting to see how the criminal and mental health history of the individuals is minimized by the protesters. While it is a sad day when anyone has to die, all circumstances must be taken into account. I would say after the District Attorney’s actions in the Kelly Thomas case, where a jury found the officers not guilty, his office is not likely to whitewash future officer involved shooting investigations.

Some of the protesters mentioned they would be back at future city council meetings. If the reason is to force the police and DA into moving faster, they are wasting their time. If a police coverup is suspected, I remind them that all officer involved shooting in this city are investigated by the district attorney’s office. Perhaps they should move their protest there, instead. In any case, your voices have been heard by the public and the city council. Murray has responded in the only way he could, given the circumstances. At the least, future protests should wait until the outcome of the investigation, which Murray said would be made public.

As I mentioned, Mayor Murray reached out to the protesters saying City Manager Jeff Parker and Chief of Police Charlie Celano were more than willing to sit down with families and protesters to discuss the incident and what was being done. When I contacted the city, I was told that not one protester has called to set up that offered meeting. One has to wonder what the true reason for the protests were if not to begin meaningful dialogue.

On the City Council Agenda – March 4, 2014

sex slavery statisticsIt is looking a little racy for the Tustin City Council this week even though the agenda is pretty slim.

On the Closed Session, the usual suspects appear with two each conferences with legal counsel on the initiation and exposure to litigation. There may be more soon, considering the city denied the claims of several folks last meeting. To boot, I am sure the lawyer from Anaheim representing the family of Robert Villa is wasting no time in preparing his case.

There are also three other claims up for consideration by the council. Don’t expect to see resolution on any of these as the city’s usual modus operandi, no matter how legit the claims, is to force the claimant to court in the hopes they won’t bother.

There are also several conferences with real property negotiators on the agenda. One of these is with the Tustin Unified School District. Among other things, the two entities are discussing the continued use of Heritage School as a continuation high school and administrative offices for the district. I was told the school district may open the school (with or without the continuation school) for it’s original intended use even though they may not have the number of students they like. A combo use could help alleviate the perceived situation by the Columbus Square folks but I wonder how they would feel about their kids going to school alongside “those” kids.

A Public Hearing heads up the Open Session Agenda with the Appeal of Denial of Massage Establishment Application for Tustin Day Spa. Regular readers will recall the Planning Commission tackled this issue a few weeks ago along with a permit for another spa. Both of these were requests from folks that had connections with spas that were shut down by the Tustin Police Department last year for criminal activity. The Planning Commission denied the applications and, hopefully, the City Council will do the same.

Surprsingly, the Consent Calendar has nothing noteworthy on it. Oh, wait, there is that vehicle purchase of three utility trucks and a rotary lawn mower. The city will be using the State contract to purchase the trucks so I guess I can’t gripe (like I normally do) about their purchasing out of the area. In fact, I volunteer to drive one of the trucks down from Elk Grove for them. At least the lawn mower purchase is local. At over 12 years minimum age each, at least they got their money’s worth for the old trucks (unlike the PD)

Oops. There is also the lease for the new fire station on the Legacy property that will replace the old station on Service Road. OCFA gets the place rent free for services rendered. It should be interesting to see what, if anything is done with the old station.

That’s it for the week. I hope the owner of the day spa requesting reconsideration isn’t holding her breath for support of her appeal. Most folks in Tustin would be just as happy not having these types of business around. If anything interesting happens at the meeting, we’ll be sure to write about it.

No Rush to Judgement

credit: Voice of OC

credit: Voice of OC

If you attended the city council meeting on Tuesday, you might have decided to leave before the real business went down. That’s because an angry mob descended on the council hall demanding justice for a young man shot by Tustin Police last week. If you watch the video, as I normally do, you won’t see much of the crowd. That’s because the city, in its infinite wisdom, decided  to black out that portion of the video when the crowd got aroused and nearly stormed the dais. I’m sure that someone thought that was a good idea. What it really does is help inculcate a sense of a coverup.

Even though the city’s video cameras went dark during the protest, “someone” thought to notify the media who arrived with at least one camera crew to catch the action the city hoped they could squelch. So, if you want to see the missing 4 minutes, you can watch the entire sordid affair below.

In just over 4 minutes, the crowd of at least fifty people armed with protest signs, face masks and other assorted protesting paraphernalia,  interrupted, yelled, screamed and wailed laments toward the dais and the few “regular” folks who looked around for an easy escape. Many of the protesters were obviously locals or friends and family of Villa. However, there were quite a few protesters who were just as obviously from out of town. Notably, at least one Guy Fawks mask was seen and it’s a good bet that an organized protest like this would bring out the professional rabblerousers.

To bring you up to speed, on February 9th Tustin Police responded to a domestic violence call in apartments near Redhill and Nisson Rd. When they arrived on scene, according to the TPD press release, they were confronted by 23 year old Robert Villa armed with a knife. What occurred next is unclear but “more than one” officer shot the suspect who was later pronounced dead after being transported to Western Medical Center.

As is often the case, so-called “witnesses” came out of the woodwork to refute the claim of a knife. The OC Weekly, which takes every opportunity to slam police regardless of locale or reputation, was quick to interview family members who weren’t there and accept at face value their opinions on whether deadly force was necessary.  The family retained a lawyer (fancy that) who quickly disputed the police claim of a knife. They also indicated what a swell guy Villa was by saying he was reported to be working a regular job and attending college. He also had a family.

The lawyer, by the way, is Humberto Guizar who also represents the families of two men shot by police in Anaheim in 2012. Apparently, he makes a living on other peoples tragedies.

What no one bothered to say about the 23 year old Villa that you can pick up in the OC Register story (if you have a subscription) is that a man by the same name and birthdate had, “several previous run-ins with the law, including pleading guilty to felony burglary, felony inflicting corporal injury and misdemeanor violating a protective order in 2012, and pleading guilty to misdemeanor inflicting corporal injury on a spouse or significant other in 2011.”

At this point, there is not much to go on. Contrary to popular belief, the Tustin Police are not trying to hide evidence. There is no grand conspiracy to “get the cops off”. The truth is, like any investigation whether it involves cops or not, the facts must remain in relative confidence until it the situation can be sorted out.

But, the rabblerousers who hate authority and the police in particular, have been fueled by the Thomas Kelly murder, riots in Anaheim and recent officer involved shootings in Santa Ana. What they fail to understand is that Tustin Police Department, besides the OC Weekly’s meager attempts at slur, is an exemplary, accredited department. The former chief, with the help of our new Chief Charles Celano, had taken extraordinary steps to insure a high degree of professionalism and training of our department. I’ve had the opportunity to see that training in action more than once as they deal with mental health issues in our community. In fact, it was Chief Celano that initiated a short course in dealing with the emotionally charged, and often, mentally ill offender. The purpose of this training is, of course, to mitigate situations like the one that caused the death of Robert Villa.

For what it is worth, the Orange County District Attorney’s Office, of which at least one investigator hails from Tustin Police Department, is investigating the officer involved shooting. So, no matter what the result of the investigation, in the eyes of Villa’s friends and family, it is already tainted and no outcome short of lynching the officers, whom they have already tried in the court of (their) public opinion, will satisfy their lust for vengeance.

As a former police officer and current peace officer with the second largest law enforcement agency in the county, as a 20 year resident of this community, I have a vested interest in this case. I don’t know any of the parties to the incident. What I do know is that we cannot take this case at face value. It is incumbent upon the community to await the outcome of the DA investigation and the city’s response.  While I would like to think the officers conducted themselves in appropriate fashion and used the appropriate amount of force, I am willing to see what the investigation reveals.

In the meantime, if the family really wants justice, they should not buy into the kind of antics and rhetoric displayed by outsiders and “Occupiers” at Tuesday’s council meeting. Mob rule is no rule. Wait to see what the investigation reveals. If there was impropriety by the police, those responsible should be called to account for their actions. To do any less is to bring less than honor to the memory of their lost one.