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On The Planning Commission, April 9, 2013

transparent governmentJust a couple of items on the Tustin City Planning Commission agenda this week. One of them, however, could engender quite a bit of discussion. That is, unless the commissioners choose to, once again, violate the Brown Act (with the city attorney’s blessing, of course). More on that later.

First up is a Public Hearing for a Conditional Use Permit to use an existing warehouse as a commercial gym. Spectrum Fitness is planning a small, personal trainer type facility in a warehouse area of the city. The proposed use is a gym catering to “small group high intensity workouts”. The facility would be open early morning until mid-evening. The area, located on Chambers Road, west of the freeway near Tustin Ranch Road, is rife with warehouse and manufacturing facilities and noise should not be a problem. The applicant expects 16 attendees per class and classes run about an hour at a time. the staff report assures the Planning Commission of adequate parking and required facilities to accommodate the gym. According to the report, the project is exempt from CEQA. It looks like a good fit for the community. Let’s hope the folks on the Planning Commission think so as well.

The second item is also a Public Hearing on Ordinance 1429, Zoning Code Update. This is the same item on the February 26th agenda and I still have the same concerns regarding the minor text amendments “that would incorporate policy practice into the Zoning Code.” The cited example was the requirements in policy for guest quarters to have a deed restriction recorded. Again, the lack of transparency is appalling but not surprising for this bunch. Apparently, I was not the only one to express concern as Chad Ortlieb submitted a letter of concern at the March 12th meeting. That meeting also generated discussion among the commissioners including Jeff Thompson and Fred Moore, who stated emphatically the comments and concerns raised by Ortlieb be thoroughly reviewed and considered even though the comment period had closed. Moore apparently took issue with the staff splitting hairs on the comment period closing a scant couple of hours before Ortlieb got his letter in.

Ortlieb, who is a former city planner with Tustin and currently works for the city of Orange, has expressed concern over the city’s handling of the Wilcox debacle. He has been a more vocal opponent of the plans to turn the historic manor into a three ring circus for the benefit of outside non-profit organizations who have little stake in how the planned commercialization would affect the Old Town neighborhood. In his letter to the city, he accuses the Planning Commission of violating the Brown Act in not allowing the proposal to be fully discussed in a public hearing as he was cut off when attempting to speak at the February 26th meeting.

The staff report includes an almost line by line response to Ortlieb’s allegations.  One of those is the city attorney’s response to the alleged Brown Act violation. The city attorney defends the commissioner’s actions by saying they have a right to place reasonable regulation for each speaker (we’ll note that is not each individual, but all speakers in general – something Ortlieb pointed out). Kendig’s explanation drones on into how the courts have upheld these regulations and then says, emphatically, there was no Brown Act violation. Of course, the only trouble with this is whether the spirit of the law or the letter of the law was violated. So much for open and accessible government. But, then, we know Kendig has no problem with the public being involved with the legislative process – as long as it doesn’t interfere with people who run the show.

Oh, and lest you think the city is not planning on destroying Old Town, page 4 of their response indicates they have already made up their mind:

Wilcox Manor applicants requested a CUP for outdoor event uses. They did so under a special provision and because the site is within the Cultural Resource (CR) District and Single Family Residential (R`) District…. the Tustin City Council may consider a proposed non-listed use of a property within the CR District when the use supports the purposes of the CR District… The Planning Commission recommended approval of the requested use to the City Council with conditions.

Uh, huh. Also, with the whole-hearted approval of Community Services Director, Elizabeth Binsack, who’s department has gone out of their way to appease the owners of the Wilcox. That, presumably, is in support of the majority faction of the city council, all of whom have received direct and indirect support by use of the facilities for political fundraising.

So, let’s see how the commissioners handle the issues and whether they will pass the ordinance with the unsubstantial amendments made by city staff. I should note that most of Ortlieb’s concerns have been blown off in the latest staff response. It remains to be seen whether Thompson’s and Moore’s concerns were genuine or just whitewash for the public. I see the paintbrush coming out.

On The Planning Commission Agenda, February 24, 2013

Hidden Agenda ClipartMy apologies for the lapse in reporting this past few days. It seems that I was the victim of the classic left-turn-in-front-of-the-motorcycle type accident as I was traveling Main Street in Old Town last Wednesday. A few cuts and scrapes later, I am not much worse for the wear but the doctor demanded I not do much for a few days. I made it as far as Sunday evening and then couldn’t stand it anymore. So, here I am.

Not a whole lot to discuss at this coming Tuesday’s Planning Commission meeting. Assuming no member of the public will be speaking, one has to wonder why they are meeting at all, other than to collect their $250 and give some of the staff a bit of overtime.

The first item is the General Plan Annual Report. According to the staff report, staff are proposing text amendments to the Zoning and City Code that will maintain consistency with the General Plan and State Law. The plan has been updated several times since its inception in 1966. I’m not willing to bore myself with reading the 87 pages of documentation but you can if you like. Let me know if you see anything interesting.

The only other item on the agenda is the Transmittal of Code Amendment 13-001, Zoning Code Update. The staff report summary assures these are mostly minor text changes and changes that will “modernize” the code. It also consolidates some sections for easier navigation. One thing that puzzles me, however, is the section that “incorporate policy practice into the Zoning Code”. The example cited is that guest quarters will be subject to a recorded deed restriction. What happened to our town hall meetings on the subject, Elizabeth? Or is this just another example of smoke and mirrors by the Community Development Department in holding meetings to distract the homeowners while Binsack and her wrecking crew stamp their own brand on Old Town? Other “minor text changes include establishing open space requirements for residential districts establishing what amounts to new uses that were not defined before. It would seem these are not just minor text changes but, I guess that depends on your interpretation.

This is a draft of the amendments that staff are providing, as they say, in a timely manner. The public hearing will be held at a March meeting of the Planning Commission. We may be asking the city to provide more information on the “minor text amendments”.

That’s it for this week’s meeting. I am doing my best between pain pills to get back in the saddle. I’ll have to ask you to bear with me.

Tustin Approaches the Fiscal Cliff

fiscal-cliff-congress(This article appears in the January 10, 2013 edition of the Tustin News – ed.) You could hardly pick up a newspaper or turn on a news broadcast these past few weeks without hearing about the Fiscal Cliff the country is facing. Here in Orange County, many cities, including Tustin, are facing their own fiscal cliff of sorts.

According to an Orange County Register story, the state recently demanded “that 19 Orange County cities and the county itself turn over a combined $263 million in unused funds previously earmarked for low- and moderate-income housing.”

“Some cities have already paid up, including Anaheim and Buena Park,” the article says. “Others are fighting the demand, saying the state’s calculations are wrong.”

Tustin’s share of that is $14.3 million dollars. The deadline to turn over the money was December 13th. Although there has been no mention of it on the agenda, the city has taken steps to return or justify the retention of the funds.

Tustin City Manager Jeff Parker said that at the time of the state’s request, $7.5 million dollars remained in the redevelopment fund with no foreseeable plans for use by the city. It has already been returned to the state.

The remaining $6.5 million dollars has been handed over to the state under a protest procedure, he said. Hopefully, that money will be returned as it had been earmarked for low and moderate income housing on the MCAS property.

Councilmembers Chuck Puckett and Beckie Gomez, and Mayor Al Murray did not return calls for comment.

What if the state refuses to return the money? “We may file a lawsuit against the state relative to the $6.5 million,” Parker said.

That could, at least give them a bit of breathing room and, face it — thanks to the long running lawsuits against Tustin Unified School — they are getting to be experts at frivilous litigation.

One thing is for sure: Paying the funds back could be a real financial problem for the city, although Parker assured me the bulk of the $6.5 million was paid out of land use funds with just a small amount coming from the General Fund reserves. He maintains that reserves are still above 20 percent.

At the beginning of this year, then-mayor John Nielsen promised to keep city reserves above 15 percent. It is quite possible that goal will be just a pipe dream when the state is through.