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It’s Pay for Play in Old Town Tustin

Cruella de Binsack

Binsack Takes Another Step in Her Evil Plan

There is only one item on the Tustin Planning Commission agenda that should be of concern to everyone who lives in Tustin. The item is inoccuously titled, Conditional Use Permit (CUP) 2012-10. This is a request for the planning commission to approve the use of the Wilcox Manor for up to 24 paid events a year.

The Wilcox Manor is a single family residence on the west side of Old Town Tustin. It was built in 1880 and is a cultural icon of historical significance. it was purchased several years ago by Michael Demoratz and Lindburgh McPherson who live at the house. Since taking the property over, they have opened their home to a considerable number of non-profits and others who have used the home and its grounds, to the chagrin of some of their neighbors, for events of varying sizes. The home, by the way, is at the end of a cul-de-sac in a residential neighborhood.

Not that you could tell that, by the way the agenda report authored by Elizabeth Binsack’s staff is written. The report downplays the fact the house in in the middle of a residential area, zoned for single-family residences. The report also attempts to tie in the condominiums directly south on Main Street, but the two neighborhoods are directly cut off due to the cul-de-sac and Main Street, a major thoroughfare between Tustin and Santa Ana. The report even tries to tie in the Pasadena Well Site, a city operated facility which has different zoning, as further justification. The nearest business is a half mile East on Main St..

McPherson and Demoratz have chimed in with their own interpretation of the Cultural Resource District mandates. They outline the extensive renovation of the property and state they opened their doors for the first time to visitors  and were so well received by the community that they have, through the use of the home, obtained “docents” for the manor. A major point they make (and that no one can deny) is about all of the charity events held at the house. With the almost professional dissertation made on the madates, one has to wonder if they were not coached by someone on Binsack’s staff.

What they fail, completely, to state is the number of Tustin councilmembers and politicians throughout Orange County who have directly benefited from the charitable (read free) use of the facilities for fundraising events. That list includes the recent fundraisers by Allen “Doc” Bernstein and Chuck Puckett, both candidates for city council. John Nielsen has received campaign assistance from the “Wilcox Manor Trust” which, ostensibly, manages the house. Nielsen’s estranged wife Erin, who heads the Tustin Community Foundation, has also benefited from the use of the Wilcox Manor for her foundation’s events.

It is clear that Demoratz, McPherson, who have an ally in Binsack, have spent the past three years carefully laying the groundwork for an assault on the serenity of Old Town Tustin residents. Having invested thousands of dollars and man hours in hosting events for free, they now seek to take a part of Tustin history and turn it into a money making venue. This is the end game for these two, who have apparently been less than the cordial neighbors they would like us to believe them to be.

During the Fairbanks debacle, in which the city spent tens of thousands of dollars on Elizabeth and Jerry’s failed campaign against Brett Fairbanks, the Wilcox Manor trustees repoirtedly feigned indifference and supported the city in its attempt to squelch property rights. And, while they have supported multiple charitable events over the past three years, it should not have been done with the expectation of a payoff by the city and that is what has occurred here. In the “Findings” section of the report, Binsack states:

The proposed paid outdoor event use supports the purposes of the CR District in that:

  • The proposed use would introduce many first-time Old Town visitor’s to Tustin’s historic resources which would foster knowledge, understanding and appreciation of Tustin’s past.
  • The proposed use would complement and bring refognition to a historic resource, which would promote the identity of Old Town Tustin.
  • The proposed use would allow for the enjoyment and use of a locally significan historic property by Tustin citizens and visitors.
  • The proposed use has the potential to directly and inderectly generate additional revenue for the City in the form of business license taxes, sales tax and transient occupany tax.
  • The proposed use could be conditioned to avoid potential conflicts between the events and the surrounding Cultural Resource District.

Among the proponents for the CUP are Orange County Supervisor Bill Campbell who, to my knowledge, does not live in Old Town Tustin but has attended events (including a recent birthday party) at the Wilcox Manor, Gretchen Whistler of the Tustin Historical Society which Binsack and Jerry have been using to promote their policies in OTT, and of course Erin Nielsen, estranged wife of John Nielsen and Director  of the Tustin Community Foundation which directly benefited from events held at Wilcox. All in all, the report lists 90 non-profits who they say have benefited from using the grounds of the Wilcox Manor. Many of these are not Tustin charities. And, of course, no one is listing the number of politicians who have benefited and who Demoratz and McPherson now appear to expect payback for their generosity.

To be sure, at least some of the residents in the area do not seem to be too concerned. Demoratz and McPherson have obtained a handful of support letters from a few of their immediate (and none from the rest of Old Town) neighbors who would be directly affected by this CUP. Those in the community who were requested to support and did not, such as the Tustin Preservation Conservancy, have been labeled “enemies of the state” by the two and are considered persona non grata at future events. I missed the part of the CUP that said they will put in guard towers and gun emplacements to keep the drabble at bay, but they could be hidden in the guest house.

And all of this plays in to the hands of Jerry Amante and Elizabeth Binsack who, together, have wreaked havoc in Old Town Tustin. Besides the Fairbanks issue, Binsack made the owners of the Del Rio Building project jump through hoops in order to obtain approval for the development of their property on El Camino Real. When the Del Rio’s wanted to change plans to include living space above their retail stores, they were told they would have to do more excavation to eliminate the chemicals that had leeched into the ground during the years of the Rightway dry cleaners. It’s interesting to note, however, that the same constraint has not, so far, been placed on the project located next to Mrs. B’s on Main Street that will house a restaurant and living quarters on the upper floor. That property has seen years of use as an auto parts machine shop and distributor and surely has ground contamination. All of this has been carefully orchestrated by Amante and Binsack. Now, they seek to invade the residential area with an events venue simply because it would “show off” a historically significant home in the area that can otherwise be seen on the annual historical society tour.

Sorry, it does not pass the smell test.

In the end, it will be up to the planning commission to make a recommendation to the city council on whether to allow, what amounts to, a spot zoning of residential property to commercial property. Ten of the neighbors have been duped or possibly paid off to support the CUP. But, this issue extends to every part of Tustin and Old Town Tustin specifically. If this is approved, where will the next CUP request come from? Could it be your neighbor who would like to convert their historically significant home into a bed and breakfast? And, what about those who wish to rezone for multi-family property to build apartments that would “conform” to the nature of the area? Can you see where this is going? I can. Aside from the political payback that is obvious with this application, the eventual  demise of Old Town Tustin as a unique family-friendly neighborhood and historical icon for the rest of the city, is all but assured.

Here is your chance to voice your opinion. Do the residents of OTT and the rest of the city wish to risk their Cultural Resources District with what could be a large number of CUPs all asking to run their business in a residential area? The meeting is on Tuesday at 7:00 pm in the City Council Chambers at 300 Centennial Way.

North Tustin 1, Catholics 0

This afternoon, Elysse James from the Orange County Register reported that Orange County Superior Court Judge Gail Andler ruled the Board of Supervisors used illegal spot zoning practices for a proposed senior living community in North Tustin. Since 2009, the North Tustin communities, which are not part of the city, have been battling the Catholic Diocese of Orange over a senior residential community proposed for a seven and a half acre parcel of land located on Newport Avenue, North of 17th St.Andler, who rules on complex civil case, is located in Santa Ana Main Courthouse.

The diocese spokesman, Carol McDermott called the ruling disappointing. She also said the Diocese would be evaluating their legal options and there may be an appeal in the works. The County spokesman, Howard Sutter, echoed the same possibility of an appeal by the county. From the Register Story:

County spokesman Howard Sutter said the county is assessing the impact of the decision. Staff members are waiting for a full copy of the judge’s decision before presenting the information to the Board of Supervisors. The board will consider the county’s legal options, Sutter said.

One option the county has is to appeal the ruling.

The Foothills Communities Association is a coalition of the communities in the area also known as Tustin Foothills. In a blog entry on their website, they congratulated the community leaders in being “tenacious” about the issue and not giving up.

The North Tustin Community is to be congratulated on being tenacious on this case and not giving up. FCA and the No-Rezoning Team appreciates the encouragement and the financial support of our community that has gotten us to this point.

The FCA entry goes on to say that the issue is not necessarily over and that an appeal could be in the works.

We agree with the FCA that this is a great win. While the idea of building a much needed senior living complex is a noble one, the area was specifically zoned for single-family residence. The Diocese of Orange had originally planned to build a church on the site. However, citing needs of the Catholic community in Orange County, they decided to build the Springs at Bethsaida which would largely incorporate apartment type living for seniors. The FCA asked the county to stand by the 1982 zoning agreement in place that would have prohibited such a facility. Their reasons centered mainly around the impact that the facility would have on existing infrastructure including parking and traffic with vehicles entering and exiting onto busy Newport Avenue. No one argued that the project was not a worthy one, just not one that fit into the foothill area. Even county staff must have recognized this as they also sought, as an alternative, a land swap with land on the Tustin MCAS that would have served the Diocese just as well.

Property rights are an issue everywhere, nowadays, and it seems that homeowners must fight each and every day to maintain their individual property rights against an ever increasing governmental force bent on enacting laws that intrude on every citizen’s life. Changing or “spot Zoning” for the benefit of one entity, in this case the Diocese, would set a precedent for others who would also like to bring in commercial types of business and facilities that are not in keeping with the original intent of the zoning. Many residents have moved to the area specifically because it was residential in nature and they do not want commercial properties in the vicinity. In an area where the threat of encroachment by business and other commercial facilities is ever immenent, it is refreshing to see a community come together in force, as the FCA has, to combat the autocracy that branded our local government.

It is interesting to note that the Foothills Communities Association, while joining forces for a common purpose, has made a statement in the community. They like to say they give as well as receive. You may have seen their booth last year at the Chili Cookoff. They also hold town hall meetings whose attendance I could only dream of for our own Tustin City Council Meetings. And, it seems, now  they are a force to be reckoned with.

The residents of the foothill communities can congratulate themselves for the win today. It is an important one as appeals courts are loath to overturn lower courts without good reason. We haven’t seen the written ruling from the judge yet, but we expect it to be specific and succinct. Let’s hope the County does not go off fighting windmills in a situation that should never have come to this point to begin with. We should know within the next 60 days.

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