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A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Car Wash

Actually, it’s what happened at the January 24th Tustin Planning Commission meeting that really concerned me. Let’s start with Chairman Jeff Thompson violating the Brown Act during the public comments section of the meeting. This is the part where citizens, far and wide, may come up to the podium and express their view on anything that comes under the purview of the Commission. At the beginning of the public comment section, Chairman Thompson said, “Fill out one of those forms that are at the podium and you can hand that off to Adrian. And, uh, let us know your name and address.” Oops. Did anyone inform Jeff that you don’t have to give your name and address before addressing a public meeting? Even infering that one must do so, as he did, is a big no-no.

In a Voice of OC article last year on this subject, Terry Franke, the Voice’s open government consultant said,

You don’t have to enforce what appears to be a mandate in order to chill persons from coming forward. There’s no legitimate reason I can think of for requiring speakers to give their names,” Francke said. “And I believe doing so contravenes both the Brown Act and the First Amendment, under which anonymous speech about public issues is a fundamental right recognized by the U.S. Supreme Court.”

Given the fact that this city has had problems with certain councilmembers who chose to squelch both the general public and their peers by demanding they sit down and shut up, Jeff should be very careful. This is especially so since the city has chosen to use both the council chambers and the planning commission as battleground for their fight with Bret Fairbanks in Old Town Tustin. Just a word of advice, Jeff, but you may want to watch what you say on the dais.

But, it gets better.

The Commission had just approved the consent calendar. One of the items was the express car wash we had written about earlier. Kal Patel, the complainant, who just happens to own a competing car wash nearby, was in the audience. After approving the consent calendar, Jeff elected to allow Patel to speak. He was unsure, however, just how to proceed under, as he put it, Roberts Rules of Order. Apparently, the city’s mouthpiece wasn’t at the meeting so Community Development Director and aspiring lawyer, Elizabeth Binsack, decided to dispense legal advice:

Through the chair, it might be appropriate for you to re-open public comments and ask Mr. Patel to address the commission.

Yeah, right. Thanks Ms. Binsack, esq. Except that isn’t really the way it works. Oh, yes, Thompson is free to take public comment as he sees fit. I am not aware of any rule against that. But, to what point? The vote has been taken. It would be a bit difficult to have a do-over.

So, Patel gets his 3 minutes and what does he complain about? The vacuums. The sign says they are free which, according to him, is not typical of an express car wash. He then goes on to complain that he doesn’t think these stalls should be taken up by the vacuum stations. Did he not actually read the staff agenda report that discussed this issue? Patel went on but it became obvious that he was singing the same old tune again. What he should have said was, “I don’t really appreciate you allowing another car wash with lower prices and a convenience market where my customers are more likely to go now” Oh, and Jeff? You can probably forget about that campaign contribution from Mr. Patel should you decide to run for city council.

Here is the bottom line. Mr. Patel should have asked to have this item pulled for discussion or asked to speak at the beginning of the meeting to express his concerns. Instead, Thompson pandered to him and allowed him to speak after the fact. Lawyer Binsack merely facilitated that by expressing a legal opinion when she needs to stick to directing her department (and, where was the real lawyer anyway?).

Thompson did do the right thing by directing staff to work on the issue and make sure the business was being conducted legally and within the permits issued by the city. If we had one thing to say, Jeff? Get a (real) lawyer.

On the Agenda, January 24, 2012

One thing I like about our Planning Commission is the speed with which they respond to issues and concerns brought to them by local citizens. You may not like the answer you get, but you will get an answer.

Express Car Wash The first item of business on the Tustin Planning Commission agenda is to address concerns raised at the last meeting by Kal Patel. Patel was concerned that changes had been made after approval of permits for a car wash located near his business. Patel was concerned that substantial changes were being made to the self-service car wash and that it was actually going to have employees who would work on the cars. His concerns extended to the parking lot as well. The proposed car wash is, in fact, part of a larger gas and mini-mart operation already located at the business and changes allowed were for unforeseen circumstances. The business has reassured the city that it will be a self-serve car wash as planned. Oh, and Mr. Patel’s business? That would be the car wash located nearby which, by the way, does have employees and quite a bit more than just car washing. They also get a two and a half stars on Yelp.

2011 Fire Hazard Severity Zone Maps Since last year (and probably before), Cal Fire, OCFA and the city of Tustin have been struggling back and forth over Fire maps that would delineate the areas the fire department feels are at high risk for fire. The requirements under the maps would create unfunded mandates and the maps are, according to the city, inaccurate as they include portions of East Tustin that are obviously not in danger. At the Council’s and Planning Commission’s behest, staff have conveyed to Cal Fire the city’s disinterest in adopting the maps.

Of course, we agree. This is, first and foremost, a private property issue. Further, anything that can be required by adoption of the maps is already required by law. And, anyone who can’t look around their property and determine whether they are in a fire hazard area can call the fire department. They’ll be happy to assist.

Residential Design Guidelines for the Cultural Resources District This item hits close to home for us, for obvious reasons. We live in Old Town and have seen, firsthand, the way certain “leaders” in our community are determined to wreck this great asset. The Cultural Design Review Guidelines are, according to one source, “intended to help property owners carry out maintenance, rehabilitation, and remodeling projects that are compatible with the architectural style of their house and the character of the surrounding neighborhood.” They are also there to provide guidance in building new structures in a manner that will compliment the historical district. Our Town Tustin has been vocal about the trampling of property rights by the city. Bret Fairbanks in Old Town continues to be harassed by the city staff who, apparently, did not like the latest determination by the hearing officer and appealed, once again, his order stopping the red tagging of Bret’s buildings. So, forgive us if we observe with a jaded eye, the following from the staff agenda report:

The illustrations, how-to methods, and design ideas shown in the “Residential Design Guidelines” are to be used as a “yardstick” against which to measure proposed projects; they are not intended to be development standards as are found in the Zoning Ordinance. Therefore, they may be interpreted with flexibility. Applicable projects are encouraged to follow the spirit of the guidelines to the greatest degree possible.

They left off the words, “or Jerry Amante and his talking head, Elizabeth Binsack will hunt you down and ruin you both financially and spiritually.” But, that’s OK. We know what they meant.

In any case, anyone who has an interest in the Design Review Guideline should take a look and, if necessary, attend the next Planning Commission meeting to voice their opinion.

By the way, I just saw the latest addition to the city’s website. On the right hand side, you will find the “Old Town Guide“. A great resource if you want to check out Old Town.