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On The Planning Commission Agenda – January 14, 2014

Credit:  Norroen-Stjarna

Credit: Norroen-Stjarna

Out the gate for 2014, the Tustin City Planning Commission doesn’t have much on their plate for the actual meeting. Two public hearings, that I doubt will engender much discussion, head up the agenda. It is what happens before the regular meeting that may allow the Commissioners to earn their stipend this week.

Finally, We Can Agree On Something

It may be hard to believe but, the city of Tustin and the Tustin unified School District finally agree on something. Prior to the Planning Commission Meeting, the PC will meet as the Board of Appeals to hear an appeal from  the Irvine Company concerning school tax assessments.

The Irvine Company is building apartments on parts of the MCAS base and was sent a bill by the city regarding school fee assessments. The Tustin Building Official assessed the developer almost $2.3 million dollars for a multi-building apartment complex that includes in its square footage calculations, entry corridors and storage areas.
The Irvine Company inquired about the fee assessment and how the city went about calculating fees. Tustin responded by saying the fees were within statute and standard city practice:

The 2009 International Building Code defines a “Walkway, pedestrian” as providing “a connection between two buildings.” In addition, Section 1107A.23W of the 2010 California Building Code states that “a walkway is a surface pedestrian way, not contiguous to a street, used by the public.” The corridors proposed with the Legacy Villas development provide access to and egress from the proposed apartment units, are located within the perimeter of the exterior walls, and are not open to the atmosphere above. The listed exception for a walk or “walkway” is not the same as an interior corridor.

The city went on to say that statutory code allows them to interpret space for calculation purposes in accordance with their common practice. That is to say, they can do it pretty much the way they always have. To back that up, they gave an example of how they calculated the space with another apartment complex and, because the developers did not complain, it must have been right.

The Irvine Company fired back with an appeal, saying that the city was reading the statutes wrong. Essentially, the developer’s argument is that the interior corridors should be treated as “walkways” and that the city’s interpretation of the state code conflicts with the plain language intent:

“‘Assessable space,’ for this purpose, means all of the square footage within the perimeter of a residential structure, not including any carport, walkway, garage, overhang, patio, enclosed patio, detached accessory structure, or similar area.”

Essentially, the developer argues that the legislature, through statutory language, limits assessment to living space.

Irvine Company lawyers also attacked the question of the city’s determination of what is assessable through its “standard practice”. The developer states that the city belief that its standard practice” for determining assessment allows them to supersede state law when that part of the statute really only allows them to follow a standard practice in the application of their ministerial duties of collecting the assessments, not determining what can be assessed.

It is no surprise that Tustin Unified School District has weighed in on the matter, although we wonder why the Irvine Company asked them to.  In what in court would be called an “amicus brief”, the district chimed in saying the city is correct in their interpretation of the law. Laughably, the district chooses to determine the legislature’s  intent when they wrote the statute:

…the Company argues that the above-listed areas share the common attribute that they “are not areas people live in” therefore, the Legislature intended that all non-livable areas should be excluded from “assessable space.” This is incorrect. If that was truly the Legislature’s intent, it could have easily defined “assessable space” to mean the spaces people lived in. Instead, the Legislature listed specific areas to be excluded.

Well, it’s obvious the writer doesn’t read many legislative Bills when they are introduced. Much of the language coming from the California Senate is vague, usually in an effort to be all-inclusive. What winds up in the finished product is usually after multiple amendments in a further attempt at clarification (that usually fails).

Judging from the fact the current Planning Commission is made up of cronies of the Tustin City Council, you can bet that plenty of folks have put their heads together on this. Of the two primary issues at hand. Tustin’s “standard practice” as interpreted by the Irvine Company should be relatively simple to resolve. Unfortunately, it is this type of thinking, that state law can be superseded at the whim of the city, that often gets them in trouble. The Community Development Department has not had a good track record when opposition is mounted.

I would take no bets on the issue of interpreting “walkways”. The Irvine Company makes a good argument that, basically, only livable areas designed for actual occupation should be included in school fee calculations. When they are not backed by constituent passion (like gun control), legislators have a habit of ballparking issues in generalities, hoping the details will work themselves out. Sometimes that works, sometimes not. Tustin, for its part, has historically relied on their past practice or “standard practice”, as they call it here, to justify their actions. If anything, it should be an interesting fight. I am willing to bet this will wind up in court where the city is sure to spend tax dollars defending a questionable issue.

And the school district? Well, they had nothing to lose by chiming in on the city’s side. After all, it is in their best interest as they will reap the benefit of a successful action by Tustin. The difference is over $500,000 in school fees. That can buy a lot of iPads.

2013 In Review – Wake Me Up When You’re Done

If you haven’t noticed, this blog is hosted by WordPress. And, they do such a great job marketing my brand that I wouldn’t blame you for not noticing. As with the past few years, the stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog and I wanted to share some of the results with you.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 41,000 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 15 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

For a non-election year, it has continued to be fairly busy around Our Town Tustin. With 107 posts last year, I have attempted to keep you informed while not invading your life with news you get elsewhere. Commentary is important and, with over 41,000 hits, my readers seem to think so as well. Interestingly, it is previous year posts that garnered the most interest.

Among the top posts this year was “Big Brother is Watching” posted the last week in March of 2012. That post discussed the FBI’s defeat in court over GPS tracking without a warrant. And, although it was big news at the time, the recently revealed NSA spying of Americans has kept this post popular with others on the internet. So popular, in fact, that hardly a day went by the post has not received multiple hits.

Running a close second in hits was the “On the Agenda” for the city council for the previous year, November 20th 2012 which discussed the Anton Legacy project and associated bonds. The MCAS property has been a hot spot for discussion in a variety of settings, particularly with respect to the loss of multiple lawsuits by the city to TUSD. Heritage School, originally meant to service families in new housing, was the hot potato with a Riverside court telling the city that it could not tell the school district what to do with their property. Since then, the two entities appear to have made amends and, hopefully, will work together this coming year for the benefit of the kids.

Surprisingly, another 2012 post made the third spot. “Is Tustin a Nice Place to Live”, written in August 2012, came in third place. This post was actually a takeoff from a post on The Liberal OC where our friend, Dan Chmielewski, wrote about how nice it is to live in Irvine (yes, well….). We had some fun with that one and hope you enjoyed it.

The coming year is one of challenge. As we gear up for another election in November, we find two spots on the council, both of which are eligible for re-election.

Al Murray has proven himself to be an affable leader with a laid back style. For obvious reasons, he was nominated as mayor for a second term. I doubt he would need the extra push. He is popular among his colleagues as well as his constituency and that gives him a big edge. He was fortunate to ride on the success of previous councils with the Tustin Ranch Road extension opening this year. He has also  benefited from the restart of development on the MCAS property. And, while we were not privy to the communications, we have to believe he was instrumental in repairing the damage done by Nielsen, Amante and their cronies, to the city’s relationship with the school district.

Beckie Gomez has been instrumental in keeping a liberal face on the dais. With the departure of Deborah Gavello last year, we feared she would be targeted by the opposition in an attempt to run the liberals out of town. Gomez has steadfastly refused to run and has contributed greatly to the debate on various topics over the past year. The big question is, will she run again or is she fed up with the kowtowing on the coundil?

I apologize for the early campaign discussion. However, this promises to be an interesting year in other ways. With the FPPC rulings regarding anonymous and hidden donations, you can bet all candidates will have to be careful where they step. And, we will be there with the pen to record each cow pie they step in.

Yes, it promises to be a good year. And, I make a promise to you. As the year progresses, I will attempt to bring more relevant information to you and do it more often. We are not in a cocoon here. So, I will also post commentary on the cities and towns around us as well. The only thing I ask in return is to read and comment on those issues of interest to you. And, of course, if you hear something, let us know and we’ll investigate.

May you all have a Happy and Prosperous New Year.

On the Agenda, December 18, 2012

Hidden Agenda ClipartAs the year comes to a close, the new Tustin City Council is tying up loose ends and preparing for another year. Among other things, they will have one last opportunity before year end to discuss the lawsuits between the city and the school district. Here is an opportunity to turn thing around and stop the idiocy that has overshadowed the council chamber for the past couple of years.

Open session will also see the awarding of the contract for construction of the Legacy Fire Station and a land swap deal for the District and the Army Reserve which is asking to rebuild a reserved center on the old MCAS property. Sidewalks and street improvements are also on the agenda.

Closed Session

Items 1 & 2 – Conference with Legal Counsel, Initiation and Exposure to Litigation

Item 3 – Conference with Legal Counsel, Existing Litigation – Tustin Unified School District v. City of Tustin

Consent Calendar

Item 3 – Award of Construction Contract, Tustin Legacy Fire Station – Staff recommendation to award bid to lowest bidder, Erickson-Hall Construction Company for $4.1 million dollars.

Item 4 – Approve Cooperative Agreement with OCTA for SLPP funding of projects – Four projects including one held jointly with Santa Ana are slated for funding under this program. All funding is matched by M1-M2 funds.

Item 6 – Annual Review and Adoption of Investment Policy – With Deborah Gavello out of the way, the city council is free to continue to allow George Jeffries to illegally invest funds in accounts he should not be investing in. Of course, never mind the fact that the city appears to be Jeffries only client these days. He is way past is prime and city manager Jeff Parker should be looking at succession planning in this area.

Regular Business

Item 8 – Tustin Response to EA/DFNSI for Army Reserve Center – Apparently the city is not happy with the proposed exchange of property with the District and the subsequent construction of the Army Reserve Center on Barranca Parkway. They are proposing the Army either swap land for another parcel off Redhill and Warner or submit their plans to the city to ensure compliance with federal and state clean water acts. This is pretty laughable seeing as how the city is already on the losing end of a lawsuit with the Tustin Unified School District over these same issues. One has to wonder how much taxpayer money this city council will squander in lawsuits with the U.S. Army. OK, you really have to read the letter here to understand the joke.

Item 9 – 2013 Mayoral Appointments List – The annual list of council appointments to various boards and authorities can be found here. Most of these are of little consequence to the proposed members as they have no fiscal impact. However, if you thought city council members would not be compensated for their time, guess again. Even though Measure HH did away with city council compensation, it did not do away with board and authority remuneration. Beckie Gomez, who is probably still incensed that her gladhanding did not even net her the pro tem position, is the sole loser here with virtually no paid positions to her credit. At least she is consistent.

On the other hand, the Fab Four will net handy stipends of anywhere from $9,000 to $15,300 per year for attending meetings for everything from transporation to sewage. In many cases, this will be on top of health and retirement benefits. It looks like former mayor John Nielsen will pick up some nice change as he is slated for a couple of these jobs. He will need it as I hear he was recently terminated from his employment. Rumor also has it a moving van was seen near his home of record. Laughably, Nielsen has also been nominated by Mayor Al Murray to be the liaison for Tustin Unified School District. I guess Murray is even less interested in resolving the problems with the school district than Amante was.

In the final meeting of the old year, the city council has chosen to live the words from a famous George M. Cohan song, Always Leave Them Laughing When You Say Goodbye. We look forward to many new laughs from the Fab Four and their misguided DINO in 2013.

On the City Council Agenda, December 4, 2012

Hidden Agenda ClipartYes, it’s slowing down around Our Town Tustin (politically speaking). Don’t worry, we will continue to provide you with the latest in local political tidbits of interest. They just may be few and far between.

Topping the Tustin City Council Agenda for this Tuesday is the certification of the election results and the administration of the Oath of Office for new and old Tustin City Councilmembers. I am sure this will be quite a show. I expect the usual custom of having as many of the good ol’ boys past and present for cake afterwards will present some interesting photo opportunities. We plan to be there as we always believe in having our cake and eating it, too.

I was looking over the Agenda Report for Item 7 on the Consent Calendar. This item is an agreement to install Category 6 computer cabling for the city. It is interesting to note the city has a prevailing wage clause in the awarded contract wtih Vertex but does not require any kind of verification. How difficult would it be to have someone look over a provided report to insure all aspects of the contract are being enforced? I would suggest our council take a look at this minor but important issue.

Item 11 on the Regular Business Calendar is the second reading of the ordinance to approve the First Street Specific Plan. Elizabeth Binsack’s crew did a good job of refining this plan to accommodate the needs of the Old Town residents affected by the original plan as the business demographics of the city have changed drastically over the years. The minor changes to planning and zoning will ensure the Old Town area remains intact as a historical resource. Now, if we could just get the council and Binsack to keep businesses out of the residential areas, we’d sit down and shut up – OK, not really…

Closed Session

The main items of interest to the new council should be the lawsuits between the City of Tustin and the Tustin Unified School District. The original lawsuit filed by the school district in 2010 is scheduled for trial beginning January 28, 2013 in Judge Gastelum’s courtroom. There is time to resolve this unwinnable situation before then. We know that John Nielsen and the podiatrist councilman have no interest in resolving the issue, preferring to stick their heads in the sand and hold up a middle finger to the taxpayer while hoping for a miracle. Not even Mayor Nielsen’s new found religion will change the facts, however.

We are a bit concerned that the other lawsuit regarding the Heritage Elementary School remains on the agenda. Please don’t tell me they are actually considering an appeal…

Consent Calendar

Item 5 – Consent to Representation in Real Property Negotiations – Provides the city with required waiver letters to allow representation by Amy Freilich and the law firm of Armruster, Goldsmith and Delvac of the city in negotiations with a previous client, Regency Centers.

Item 7 – Agreement for Category 6 City Wide Cabling Infrastructure Project – Installation of highspeed cabling between city facilities.

Item 9 – Award Contract for Traffic Signal Battery Backup Phase 2 – Second bank of battery backups for traffic signals. The bulk of these will be installed along Newport Avenue.

Item 10 – Award Contract for the Edinger Avenue Well – Phase 1 Drilling Project – The project was moved up to coincide with the construction of the new hotels in the area.

Regular Business

Item 11 – Second Reading and Adoption of Ordinance Approving Amendments to the First Street Specific Plan – We recommend the city council adopt this resolution as it has been prepared. Good Job, Elizabeth & Co.

That’s it for the business part of the evening. I have it on good authority that cake will be available afterward. I am sure there will be more than a few photo ops of councilmembers, past and present, with cake on their face.