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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 WordPress.com 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 17, 2013

boring meetingAs with the past few meetings of the Tustin City Council, the topic of business licenses will take up a good portion of what should be the last meeting of the year.

The city council will be asked to decide if and how information related to gross receipts are received by the city. Gross receipts are used in many businesses to calculate the business license fees. Currently, businesses are required to offer proof of gross receipts in the form of a redacted tax return that protects any personal information from being disseminated through public records access. The average fee is $60.00

One of the proposals is to establish a flat fee of $100 for a business license. This would eliminate the requirement to supply tax information altogether and, on its face, appears to be a good alternative.

The third option, which I am sure Councilman Nielsen prefers, is to rely on the good word of the business owner to simply state how much his or her gross receipts are. The staff report points out the glaring problem with this alternative. Obviously, it would require a periodic audit to ensure businesses are telling the truth.

Nielsen, of course, would prefer this method because he is all for anything that protects businesses from the prying eyes of government. By doing so, he proves allegiance to his patrons at the various business councils and real estate associations that have funneled tens thousands of dollars through sham PACs into his and his fellow councilmens’ campaign coffers.

In reality, it is probably time the city looked at raising rates anyway. In the recent past, the city has foregone license and new construction fees to foster a business climate. I suspect most cities in Orange County have moved or are moving toward a modification in fees to increase funds coming into the city coffers. Making everyone pay the same fee, regardless of the value of the business, though, seems a bit unfair. The old system has worked fine and it seems Nielsen is the only one to complain.

In other business, the city council will be asked to approve the publication and appointment (or re-appointment) process for several city commissions seats. Seats open include 2 each on the Planning, Community Services and Audit Commissions.

Both Jeff Thompson and rookie commissioner Sam Altowaiji seats are up this term. I would be surprised if either were to leave now. Jeff is the old salt on the commission, having served several terms. Jeff has a history of community service including Chair of the OCTA Citizens Advisory Committee which advises OCTA on transportation issues.

Altowaiji, who worked for the city before he joined the board, is likely Elizabeth Binsack’s eyes and ears on the commission. However, he was also the only person to run (the only  other guy was disqualified) and could potentially be unseated by another (any other) qualified candidate. We have one in mind but he is keeping mum on whether he will run for a seat..

The final item under regular business is consideration of an ordinance establishing a formal purchasing process, something that is long overdue in a city the size of Tustin. Not that we are accusing anyone of misfeasance. On the contrary, city staff, other than the occassional bonehead move by a department head, are pretty thrifty with our dollars. A formalized purchasing process will keep it that way.

That’s it for city council business this week and for this year (unless someone calls a “special” meeting). The next time the city council meets, it will be to ring in the new year. We hope the Christmas Spirit envelopes the dais (except for the Podiatrist Councilman – a belated Happy Channukah) and they all come back with a sense of renewed community spirit.

Retreads

do_oveAs if once wasn’t enough, the Tustin City Council has decided to have another do over. Last Tuesday’s city council meeting resulted in the re-election of Al Murray as Mayor and Chuck Puckett as Mayor pro tem for the coming year. While not unprecedented, it was a bit surprising as we expected Chuck Puckett to ascend to the top spot.

Our biggest fear was assuaged in that the Podiatrist Councilman was given neither position. Beckie Gomez, of course, was not even considered since her political leanings are far from the right side of the dais.And John Nielsen, who has shown his own brand of disdain for Tustin residents over the years, has his hands full with his not-so-secretive year and a half long divorce proceedings from Erin.

It’s not coincidental that Murray was re-elected by his peers. The Mayor is up for re-election this coming year and it is anyone’s guess Jeff with Councilman Al Murray Interviewwho will run against him and Beckie Gomez. The most recent campaign statements filed with the city show both accounts with minimal balances. We doubt there will be much change with end of year filings as campaigning and its associated fundraising probably won’t heat up until March or April.

And, although the voters ignorantly did away with council stipends, thinking it would straighten up the city council, no one should believe there are altruistic motives for running. As of the end of this year, Al will have made $6,000 as a member of the OCTA Board where, last we heard, Tustin’s official position has been to wholeheartedly support toll lanes for the 405 Freeway.

We understand Al doggedly made every meeting of the Orange County Fire Authority Board which means he made another $3600 for his “service” (it is difficult to tell as the OCFA website is about as transparent as the lead shielding at San Onofre…oh, wait…) Murray also sits on the renegade Association of Cities – Orange County, which was formed at the behest of Jerry Amante and other dissidents after they were slapped down by the Orange County Grand Jury. Finally, Al stands to make $11,000 or so for sitting on that board as well.

Not bad for a volunteer position. We’ll have a complete rundown of just how much each councilman (Beckie did not reap one dime for her service and refused city supplied medical benefits) made in the near future.

Mind you, we are not really opposed to Al’s reappointment. On the outside he is, for all intents and purposes, what a typical small town mayor should be – affable, congenial and willing to show up at every event, big or small, in the city. His retirement means he can devote as much time as needed to attending functions and read the entire agenda, even without an iPad. As a single source, he has not been the root cause of any of the last few years of acrimony engendered by some of his colleagues. In short, he is a pretty good guy, if a little short-sighted when it comes to fulfilling his responsibility to the people who actually live here.

There is no doubt that, with a second appointment as mayor, Al Murray will run for a second term. Beckie Gomez has not given any indication whether she will run. She has been able to stay the course against an often overwhelming, and frequently obnoxious, bunch of good o’ boys. to at least keep a light on at city hall. As an incumbent, she would most likely win a second term without much effort and the “boys” are not likely to mount much of a campaign on anyone’s behalf to usurp her.

Although Murray’s tenure has been mostly limp, he has managed to irk the residents of Old Town with the Wilcox Manor debacle. Old Town should have expected this play, however, if for no other reason than payback for the city’s (read Elizabeth Binsack’s) loss against Brett Fairbanks.

Hmmmm. Well, I was going to write a future article on the progress of the city but, I think I just did. In any case, it should be interesting to see who gets appointed to what (paid) board for the coming year. And, of course, we still have to report on how much all of our city council members made this year, offering their services for free.

On the Agenda – December 3, 2013

Hidden Agenda ClipartWith 25 meetings, including those very special meetings where the public was not invited, the Tustin City Council is on the verge of calling it a wrap. I was about to bet my readers they would not hold a final meeting on December 18th but history shows this is the meeting they slap each other on the back for a job well done and pick each other (or mostly so) for mayor and mayor pro tem.

In the meantime, this week’s agenda starts off with the usual Closed Session Items. We notice that they have not apparently made much progress on any of these, particularly the issue with the Army Reserve Center swap that was a feature item in Regular Business exactly one year ago. At that time, the Army made it clear they were not interested in a swap and were quite happy with what they had. I guess everyone has their price. The city just hasn’t hit theirs yet.

Regular Business will start off with The American Legion Post 227 posting the colors. Their Color Guard, by the way, has won awards at The American Legion State Conventions in the past.

Under Public Hearing Items, the city will have the second reading and adoption of State Buildling Codes, a procedure that is mostly formality. As the city was having problems (again) with posting the video of the last meeting, I’m not sure if anyone even bothered to show up for this. In any case, staffers recommend passage.

The second item, is a routine funding for COPS. $100,000 is slated to be received by the department. No real changes to how the department intends to use the money for a Crime Analyst position and related software. Except for complaints by former councilmembers, most of us think the police department does a pretty good job of allocating resources where they are most needed.

Under Regular Business, the council will be asked to approve an amendment to the classification and compensation plans to award the Director of Finance, Pamela Arends-King, a whopping $8,000 raise for essentially doing what she has always done, manage the finances of the city. The staff are correct in their report that it will save the city money. But, considering the Finance Director was already probably checking the previous Treasurer’s work, did she really rate a raise, particularly when every other line staff took it in the short end during contract negotiations?

After the fiasco caused by the city’s use of a shady collection agency to catch business license scofflaws, the staff have come up with a proposed ordinance to exempt real estate agents from obtaining business licenses. The recommendation is to pass the ordinance on a single reading and be done with it. I guess they are hoping to sweep the whole issue under the rug.

The final issue at hand for our busy city council is to select the new mayor and mayor pro tem for the coming year. As usual, I have no doubt this years selections have been made and they do not Allan Bernstein, Scofflawinclude the sole female on the dais. That’s a shame because, out of all of the bodies on the city council, Beckie Gomez has proven to be the most level headed among the crew. But, intelligence and experience have no bearing here. The most likely candidate for Mayor is, of course, Chuck Puckett. Chuck has the experience although we suspect he will be about as effective as the current mayor in conducting city business to the betterment of our residents. At least Chuck returns our phone calls.

What we really have to worry about is that they will make the Podiatrist Councilman the Podiatrist Mayor pro tem. That would leave him as heir-apparent next year. That is a scary thought…