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Shell Games?

Legacy-shell-gameNews flash for Austin Lumbard: Austin, you’re no Jeff Thompson.

Lumbard was under the vague impression he could possibly be mistaken for Chairman Jeff Thompson, who was absent, and wanted to clear that up before the meeting adjourned. Let’s see how well that works for him when he runs for city council.

Last week’s meeting of the Tustin Planning Commission was not long but it answered a couple of key questions regarding plans for schools on the old MCAS base property – sort of. I suspected Item 2, regarding a General Plan Conformity Determination for school property, was merely a shell game for the moving around of acquired school property. And, I was right.

Item 2, General Plan ConformityDetermination for the Disposition and Acquisition of School Site at Tustin Legacy, et al, asked the planning commission to validate the intentions of TUSD in dumping a 10 acre site previously marked as another elementary school in favor of building a 40 acre 6-12 super magnet school that would miraculously meet the needs of Legacy kids.

The presentation cleared up a few things in the staff report when questions were asked about whether the district offices that were previously moved down to the former Heritage Elementary School site would be moved to the 40 acre site. Sad to say, the TUSD representative said the offices that would be moved were the district offices in Old Town Tustin and the offices at Heritage would remain.

In addition, the timeline is pretty vague with the 6-8 magnet school being built by 2019 and the 9-12 school being built in 2020. No other timelines were offered and the school district will only say that the administration, warehouse and alternative education projects included in the concept will be built if funds are “available” (read, “if we can con the public into floating another useless school bond”).

A couple of residents in the area voiced concern and questions that were artfully dodged by the TUSD representative who basically said the schools that kids use now are the ones designated for use in the future until new agreements are made. So, really, nothing changes until it changes.

Overall, the procedure was succinct and to the point, even if it left everyone feeling a bit vague about what happened. The only one who was really lost was Commissioner Sam Altowaiji, who can’t seem to stay on point with anything.

My irritation with Altowaiji is his obvious disconnect with the proceedings. While the rest of the commissioners and the staff are talking about zoning issues and land swaps, Altowaiji wants the school district representative to be sure to make the driveways for moms dropping off kids so they don’t interfere with traffic. He’s a bureaucrat, Sam, not an architect.

You don’t make this stuff up. You don’t have to in Our Town Tustin.

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Death and Taxes

courtesy of the Back Pew

courtesy of the Back Pew

Apologies for not doing my usual writeups on the latest Planning Commission meeting but tax day is rearing its ugly head and I want to stay ahead of the curb for once. My tax forms sent off, electronically of course, I can focus on our local issues. Here’s a recap of what has happened in the past few weeks.

Police Highlights

Although there wasn’t much on the agenda, the March 17th Tustin City Council meeting went on longer than expected. A good chunk of it was taken up by a presentation by Police Chief Charles Celano. Celano who gave a “year in review” PowerPoint on the most recent activities and plans of his department.

Notably, crime is down thanks in large part to the CTAPS crime analysis program implemented under former chief Scott Jordan. In his typical low key style that I’ve come to like, Celano lauded both sworn and professional staff of his department and laid the blame for the general reduction in crime squarely on their backs. He delivered well-deserved praise for his people for their work.

Celano has had to weather his share of criticism in the past. It wasn’t too long ago outside rabblerousers invaded the city council chambers in an attempt to discredit the department. There were also attempts to turn low key events into high profile lawsuits (wonder if the plaintiff is the same Reznek from Huntington Beach fame).Those efforts have, so far, fallen far short due in large part to the professional efforts of the department.

Who’s Fault?

Prior to the police presentation, citizens spoke during the public comment section of the meeting to garner support from the city council for a proposed Community Facilities District for the Columbus Square area of the Tustin Legacy properties. A sizable group of residents were in the chamber as one of them, Paul Callahan, spoke about the Heritage School situation.
As you recall, new residents are paying for a school they can’t use. Heritage Elementary School was supposed to open in 2011. When the school district finally announced the opening of the campus, it was to say they would be moving Hillview Continuation High School and Sycamore Adult School to the new digs.

That, of course, didn’t set well with the residents, who had moved there expecting to send their kids to local schools, or the Tustin City Council. The city council, which had a longstanding feud with the school district due largely to former councilman Jerry Amante and his puppet John Nielsen, wielded more taxpayer money by suing the school district again. Claiming the Columbus Square kids would have to go to other schools with predominantly minority populations, the city whined the residents were being cheated.

Someone should have mentioned the demographics to Nielsen and Amante before they shot their mouths off, not that it would have done much good. Nielsen, for his part, got up in a subsequent city council meeting and groused about being called a racist. Hey, if the shoe fits….

Since those dark old days, the city and the school district have kissed and made up. That was due in large part to Amante’s departure and Nielsen’s apparent inability to garner enough support to keep the fight going. The winners and losers were Tustin taxpayers.

All the while, though, the good folks at Tustin Unified School District were enjoying the public flogging of the city council, transparent governmenteven as they plotted their own evil scheme against the residents by moving Hillview and Sycamore.

So, here we are in 2015 and the school district, no doubt feeling the pressure, has announced their intention to open the Heritage campus for its original purpose as an elementary school… in 2016. Yes, the district wants another year to get things as they should have been all along. I know it’s shocking but school district officials actually lied to the residents and taxpayers in the area when they said the Hillview move to Heritage was temporary. I mean, how long does it take to build a tennis court or two?

Apparently, it takes 5 years. Oh, and don’t expect Hillview to move out right away. We heard it through the grapevine that the school district has no intention of moving Hillview out before they open the site to elementary school age children. It will be a co-campus with both continuation high school students and elementary students sharing the grounds. We can’t find out for sure because the school PIO, Mark Eliot, has refused to answer our past emails (and, we gave up trying).
City Manager Jeff Parker shed some light on the issue at the end of the city council meeting.

“In part of that process was that we’ve already sent a letter to the school district saying we’re in line of thought that they move forward with the CFD [Community Facilities District]. A Community Facilities District is something that the school district actually forms, not the city. So, I wanted to make sure the public understands the process there.”

Parker wanted to make sure folks know who to blame in case something screws up. In following comments, he also made sure everyone knew the city remains a majority property owner in the area and, of course, it is the property owners who cast votes to form a CFD. That shouldn’t be too difficult to sell, even to the residents. They are, after all, desperate for a school they can actually use. Maybe the city should make the re-opening of Heritage as an elementary school exclusively, as a condition for their vote. In fact, that may be what the city is laying the groundwork for as Parker disclosed the working group that will “set the guidelines” for the CFD. In any case, don’t expect things to go that smoothly.

What they should be doing is working above board to insure the residents who desperately need these schools are informed. In reality, what will probably happen is the city attempting to influence the school district AGAIN in how they run their schools. Surely, transparency can’t be on their mind as the “committee” consists of TUSD and city officials with no representation from the affected residents. And, while I think it was underhanded of the district to actually pull the bait and switch the city earlier accused them of, it is just as reprehensible to believe the city should have any say in how schools are run. Leave that to the experts.

The last item, as a reminder, Linda Jennings of the Tustin Preservation Conservancy, appeared at the city council meeting to announce the formation of a GoFundme account for the restoration of the Jabberwocky. This Tustin landmark was restored from the ground up by the owner using local historic architect, Nathan Menard and other folks. There’s about $10,000 that was not covered by the insurance. Linda reminded folks they could help by donating whatever they could afford to the restoration effort by going to the Jabberwocky site (or see the link in our sidebar) . So far the effort has raised over $3,000 toward their goal.

On the City Council Agenda – January 6, 2015

Hidden Agenda ClipartHappy New Year to all.

Let’s be glad we still live where the city council is willing to at least give the appearance of listening to the residents of its community. In Los Angeles the city council has come under fire by community activists for letting in too much efficiency to the public forum.

On the home front, this week’s agenda is brief and pretty much to the point. Only the usual suspects inhabit the Closed Session Agenda and even the sole Public Hearing Item on the Regular Agenda is pro forma for this time of year. I will say, looking at staff reports on other items, it appears the city council and Angels owner, Arte Moreno, are close to finishing up a deal on Legacy Property. I doubt it will be for the new stadium, however (did I hear a collective sigh from the dais?).

The Supplemental Law Enforcement Services Grant is a regular January agenda item required by the feds to obtain funding under Citizens Option for Public Safety (COPS). The Chief, or acting chief, is asking for authorization to use the proceeds to staff a crime analyst position for the ninth year. Nothing new here, move along.

Item 4, Destruction of Records, is always a sore point with me. The city supposedly went to an electronic format for the storage of records awhile back. No mention of it here so, we don’t know if the records that are being requested for destruction will be saved electronically. Perhaps the council will care enough to ask.

Item 5, Selective Traffic Enforcement Program, is asking to use the proceeds from another grant for the purchase of replacement equipment. 5 LIDAR (think laser speed detection) units as well as various equipment for DUI enforcement are included. Again, nothing special……except…..

It seems the request memo was signed by Steven Lewis, “Acting Chief of Police”. So, where’s Chief Cellano? I sent an email to City Manager Jeff Parker who has not responded. No mention of any personnel action on the agenda…..hmmmm.

The only other item on the agenda, under Regular Business, is a request for a temporary sign program at the Tustin Legacy. At a cost of nearly $300 thousand dollars, the city council might want to consider an investment in permanent signage instead. This is especially true since, according to the Agenda Report, “staff will be returning with a permanent sign program in the near future…”. I love how the city manager’s staff love to spend other people’s money to make themselves look good.

Shades of Things to Come?

DullsvilleBarring emergencies, the Tustin City Council and Planning Commission will not meet again this year. In fact, the city has closed shop until after the new year. Hopefully, the police department will see a calm end of the year and we won’t see any firey crashes or folks too unhappy with their Christmas gifts.

Although the year passed quickly, we did have our fair share of problems. I don’t think the folks on Nisson Road will forget the sudden gathering of SWAT vehicles and cops looking for an armed suspect in a shooting near their apartment buildings.

In February, Tustin PD responded to a domestic violence call at apartments in the same area and were confronted by an armed suspect. The suspect was subsequently shot and killed, triggering protests both in the streets and in the city council chamber. Lawsuits have been filed and the DA is investigating. However, under their policy, the results of the investigation may never be known.

City fathers also had problems with the Orange County DA’s ill-conceived Sex Offender statute. After it failed to pass the smell test with the courts, various cities -including Tustin- quickly moved to repeal their ordinances that were mostly fashioned after the county’s. To date, nothing has taken it’s place. Oh, don’t worry. The state has laws the police can continue to enforce that will protect your children….and probably better than anything our used-car-salesman DA could come up with.

Our new Chief of Police, Charlie Cellano, may think he stepped into it. Fortunately, he is a veteran of the Tustin PD and (presumably) knew what he was getting into when he took over from Scott Jordan. The new chief was sworn in in February. You may not have noticed because, as he revealed to me in an interview, he has a rather unique style of management that encourages officers to work with residents. His “Coffee with a Cop” program has officers meeting and greeting at local coffee shops in an effort to make them look more approachable. Now, if we could just get the city council from showing up and trying to steal the show.

Police did make the city safer for us all when, sometime in October, they contained a rampaging Emu that had escaped it’s pen in Old Town Tustin. The police report claimed their was no threat or danger to public safety but, you know how those Emus are when they get riled. Rumor had it some officers were later asking for beak-proof vests but that hasn’t been substantiated.

And, of course, those of you who are into fantasy baseball, the new year continues to hold hope for the Angels moving to Tustin. Earlier in the year, team owner Arte Moreno broke off talks with Anaheim about renewal of their stadium lease. Moreno then made a big show of holding talks with other cities, including Tustin. The city council finally revealed they were in discussion with the owner about the move. Their attempt to laugh it off has been squelched by the continued Closed Session discussions with Moreno’s front corporation, Pacific Coast Investors.

I wouldn’t hold my breath. Moreno could be trying to put pressure on Anaheim. He has also spoken with Irvine, a more likely relocation of the team. If he is serious about making a move, he will most certainly demand a new tax-payer paid stadium out of the deal. That would put pressure on a city known better for its hometown neighborhoods than its entertainment prowess.

Old Town Tustin has also received renewed attention by the city. Normally, given the Community Develpment Department’s previous hatred of the area, I would tell you to be afraid, be very afraid. But, it seems our CDD Director, Elizabeth Binsack, has changed her stripes and is now looking to revitalize the area. A series of city sponsored outreach meetings have sparked interest by the residents and businesses of Old Town.

The ambitious plan includes making it easier to build on residential lots by changing the status of “granny flats” and apartments. As well, the city commissioned a study and a series of community meetings to engender support for an Old Town revitalization effort. The city has held two such meetings over the year and plans to hold at least one more.

Of course, part of this effort is due to cost. The effort is likely to cost the city a bundle of money, should proposals be realized. And, the likely increase in tax base from the sales will not dissuade Binsack from seeking further underwriting either through taxes or bond issues. Good luck with that.

So, although we had a few stumbles as we draw our city out of the depths of recession, things are looking brighter as we look ahead. It’s hard to believe our town now numbers over 78,000 residents. That’s an increase of 20,000 since I moved here in 1995. And we aren’t done yet. Since city manager Jeff Parker took back the reins of master developer of the Tustin Legacy, develpment of new tracts, homes and apartment buildings has taken off. Next year shows no signs of abatement.

While we’re at it, we’ll give kudos to Jeff Parker for his overall management of the city. While we can be (and are) harsh critics of individual issues that may come up, Parker and this city council led by Al Murray, have done a pretty good job of keeping the city on track through some pretty scary times. Let’s hope they keep it up.

And whichever way they go, we’ll be there putting their feet to the fire. Happy New Year.