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Coming Home

veterans cemeteryI never thought that is is where I’d settle down,

Thought I’d die an old man back in my hometown,

They gave me this plot of land,

Me and some other men,

For a job well done.

Arlington – Trace Adkins

By now, you have probably heard the news about a push for a veterans cemetery in Orange County. The idea isn’t new. Almost since the Marines left El Toro and Tustin, veterans have been pushing for a place to host their final rest. Unfortunately, most of it was just talk as politicians were too busy deciding which of their cronies would benefit from some of the most valuable land in the county. And, although some may have briefly discussed the idea in conjunction with the Great Park or other developments, the idea kind of fell into the background of discussions.

Recently, though, the idea of a veterans cemetery has been revived and is, in fact, gaining a lot of support both here and in Sacramento. On Saturday, I attended a meeting in Buena Park (lured by the prospect of a free pancake breakfast) hosted by Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva. Earlier this year, Quirk-Silva introduced a bill that would clear the way for the establishment of a state run veterans cemetery in Orange County. AB1453 was wisely written with the idea of powerful developers nixing the use of valuable property near the Great Park and allows for the establishment of a cemetery “somewhere” in the county.

This is important legislation as, without it, a veterans cemetery would likely not ever come to pass. That’s because the Feds have a corner on veterans cemeteries in the area. And, because there are open cemeteries within 65 miles of Orange County, they will not consider constructing one here. That leaves the Golden State to do the job, if they are willing – and they are.Quirk-silva

Assemblywoman Quirk-Silva came to the breakfast meeting with an appetite and good news. AB1453, introduced in January of this year, sailed through the Assembly and is now going through the legislative process in the Senate. In fact, Senator Lou Correa’s Senate Veterans Affairs Committee passed the bill on June 24th and sent it to Senate Appropriations Committee with recommendation to the Consent Calendar. To date, there have been zero “no” votes on this bill.

In Orange County Board of Supervisor Todd Spitzer’s most recent missive, you would think the whole thing was his idea. Never one to miss an opportunity for self-aggrandizing, Spitzer has a photo of him and Veterans Advisory Council Chair, Bobby McDonald prominently displayed at the top of his weekly newsletter. He talks about how he is looking for a donation of more than a 100 acres and then goes on to suggest a location near Modjeska Grade Road (100.03 acres, to be exact) as a possibility.

The Third District is a natural fit to provide a home to a veterans cemetery because it has the canyons and a significant and substantial amount of the most open space in the vicinity of the Marine Corps Air Station El Toro,” Spitzer said. “It’s time to come together in the Third District to find a viable option. I’m inviting Orange County leaders in the Third District to get the word out that we are in search of a land donation of over 100 acres to build a veterans cemetery.

Notice Spitzer doesn’t mention the old Marine Corps base property as a viable location. Perhaps that’s because, according to the Liberal OC, developers are doing their best to deflect the idea. Five Points Homes, a large developer of the old base property, is not too keen on  the idea. In fact, they made a presentation at the Irvine Ad Hoc Committee for a Veterans Cemetery and Memorial meeting in June to propose other locations around Orange County. Alternatives for them included the Tustin MCAS, Los Alamitos Joint Forces Training Base and the Seal Beach NWS. The one “ideal” space was curiously located in San Juan Capistrano, just off Interstate 5, about as far away from the Great Park as you can get.

Although there is no script to go along with the PowerPoint slides, one gets the idea: Great Park Bad, other spots (any other), good. Face it, who would want to have their kids grow up around a nasty old cemetery. And, just think of the drop in home prices.

Never mind that, according to reliable sources, Orange County is home to the highest number of veterans (and homeless veterans) in the nation. Never mind that Orange County had and still has a huge military presence and history with all services represented. About the only ones who don’t think placing a veterans cemetery at the Great Park is appropriate are those who desperately want the income that would be lost by establishing one.

We think MCAS El Toro is the most appropriate location to honor our veterans. The city of Tustin has wisely joined a majority of cities In supporting AB1453. It’s unfortunate that neither John Nielsen (who was more concerned his business cronies would have to pay more property tax) or Beckie Gomez thought enough to support it with an official resolution, opting for a letter instead. Now, what would have been great is if Chuck Puckett and Allan Bernstein would put as much effort in locating the cemetery at MCAS Tustin (near the blimp hangars would be good) as they are in getting Arte Moreno to relocate the Angels.

Surely, the time has come to bring this dream to fruition. Every veterans organization from the Orange County Veterans Advisory Council to The American Legion, to the Veterans of Foreign Wars are actively involved with this project. More than 200 veterans and interested persons showed up to hear Assemblywoman Quirk-Silva’s update on AB1453 and efforts to put this plan together.

Importantly, Quirk-Silva said AB1453 is just the beginning. Once the legislative authority has been granted, money still needs to be raised. Hope lies in the Feds who, although they won’t establish a cemetery here, will provide grant money to allow the state to establish and run one. Speaking as a veteran, I don’t really care one way or the other where the money comes from. The important thing is to honor our veterans by giving them a final resting place near their home. By rights, that resting place should be on, what The American Legion 29th District Commander, Bill Cook, called “Sacred Ground”.

Veterans-CemeterySubhead

 

On The City Council Agenda – February 4, 2014

help-wanted-classified-adWhat does the city of Tustin and the County of Orange have in common? With a record low number of applications the city, much like the Grand Jury, is having trouble filling their commissions with qualified cronies applicants. With a suggested extension for interviews, the council will not have to bother with adding to an already full agenda.

The city council may be spending as much time on Closed Session items as they will with the Public Session. One item, Edison Relocation on Barranca Parkway, is listed separately on the Conference with Legal Counsel, indicating it is an important item. We’ll try to find out more and let you know.

New claims by Tustin resident Abid Hussain, Jesse Magana, Wilhelmina Zuckerman and Karen Stewart will be considered (and probably rejected) by the city. There are also two ongoing cases to be discussed. One of these is People v. Douglas Trumble. Trumble was arrested in 2013 for sale/possession of narcotics. The case was recently dismissed in Orange County Superior Court. Wonder what they have to talk about?

The final items on the Closed Session agenda have to do with property purchases and swaps, all on the MCAS property. The city recently concluded a deal that would move the US Army Reserve Center over by the OC Sheriff’s Academy and other like institutions. Ever since the city has taken over as Master Developer, things have been moving nicely on the old base.

Two Public Hearings head up the open session agenda. The first is a handshake on the development of 375 detached homes on the east side of the MCAS property. The hearing will include information on the taxes and facility fees to be paid. Standard Pacific Homes is the developer.

The second item, which could garner some public comment is for the Community Development Block Grant funds. Staff is asking to reallocate funds from administration to development of projects such as the Bocce Ball courts recently approved by the planning commission. Funds will also be reallocated to “way finding signage” for Old Town Tustin.

Some of the money will also go to developing a master plan for Old Town Tustin to encourage economic development. Although I appreciate that the city has made it easier (in some ways) to start a business inside of Old Town, we are always wary when the Community Development Department takes an interest in any way. The results are mixed and often to the detriment of the Old Town neighborhood.

Item 7 on the Consent Calendar – Police Department Vehicle Purchase, should be pulled for discussion. Supposedly, the vehicles are being replaced due to high mileage and/or safety issues. The mileage on these vehicles is far from extreme, with the highest mileage vehicle being a 2006 Dodge Durango at 69k. With staff requests to pull reserve funds (see later) to pay bills, it doesn’t make much sense to replace vehicles simply because they are a few years older, particularly since these are “undercover” vehicles. No safety issues have been articulated so we figure is it just our cops wanting to be in style?

Normally, we would grouse about the fact the city did not shop locally. Unfortunately, it looks like our local dealers weren’t interested in bidding.

Under Regular Business, the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report for Fiscal Year 2013 will be available. Our accounting firm should be on hand to answer any questions concerning the report.

I wonder if they would also comment on why city staffers are now revising the budget on the mid-year review and asking to draw heavily from reserves? Item 14 Fiscal Year 2013-14 Mid-Year Budget Review has staff asking for an additional $4 million dollars from various reserve funds ($2 million from water funds alone).

While some of the expenditures, such as unexpected costs for water purchases could not be foreseen, others could. These include the relocation of sewer lines on Tustin Ranch Road and appropriation of equipment that should have been placed in the original budget proposal. Drawing from funds during a recovery phase is not the way to appropriately manage city finances. It’s a wonder the city is crowing about saving money while digging into reserves. The staff report justifying the added draws can be found here.

The final item on the agenda is to authorize the advertisement for a consultant to develop a Commercial Core Plan for Old Town Tustin. We are glad to see this on the agenda as the city has, for too long, neglected the commercial revitalization of Old Town. Perhaps this will also get Elizabeth Binsack to also bring the second unit issue back to her desk for further consideration this year.

That’s it for this weeks meeting. I recently upgraded my U-verse from DSL so my speed increased from slow-as-mollases to just plain slow. Now you know why I want AT&T to get approval for those darn boxes. In any case, I should be back to being able to view the meeting videos in a timely manner so that I can report back to my readers. Now, if I can just get my computer to cooperate.

On The City Council Agenda – January 21, 2014

Hidden Agenda ClipartI hope everyone is having a great Martin Luther King Day. We are finally cooling off as the rest  of the country embraces another round of freezing weather. It is days like this that remind me why I live in our town Tustin.

It seems the city and the US Army have finally come to an agreement on a property exchange. For more than a year, the city has been pestering the Feds to exchange their current real estate, next to the District Shopping Center, for another parcel located near Warner and Redhill. The idea, of course, is to allow the District to expand while keeping the Army Reserve Center within the confines of the city. Actually, I think the city council could care less about the Army but they do want to serve their masters at the District. Sales tax, after all, is the bread and butter of a city.

This works out for all parties as the Army was in the process of planning new facilities at the current reserve center. According to the staff report, those efforts will now be directed toward the new location. The Army has agreed to submit their plans for comment and to obtain grading permits. This should be interesting over the next few years to see what happens if the plans don’t conform to Elizabeth’s vision. The city has a habit of holding up the permit process when they don’t like what they see. The Army, on the other hand, has a habit of not caring about permits, etc.

Oh yeah, and the “no-cost” agreement includes $170,000 payment to the feds by the city for they cost of the transfer. They also have to make sure water and sewage are in place.

The rest of the agenda has the usual suspects. Along with the final discussion on the Army property swap, there are two other issues, including on between the city and the school district.

Staff are asking the one Public Hearing Item on a development agreement for a 375 home housing tract on the MCAS property be continued to next month due to legal issues. Expect this to be worked out and back on the agenda.

There is little on the Consent Calendar of real interest. However, it should be noted the staff are planning a bocce ball court at Peppertree Park. A great addition that I’m sure our senior will appreciate. But, why only two courts? Oh, and staff may want to revisit the proposed resolution as, according to that, the original intention was to establish a water play area.

Item 13 on the consent calendar is for a grant application for federal funding for parks related programs. The $260,000 grant can be used for virtually anything park related. Staff have already targeted Frontier Park for the bulk of the proceeds. This is one item that could probably use some discussion either now or when the grant is approved.

That’s it for this week’s Tustin City Council meeting. The year is starting off by cleaning up old issues. With an election year up for grabs and two city council seats up for grabs, lets hope it stays that way so our intrepid heroes can concentrate on the important stuff.

On the City Council Agenda – November 19, 2013

Hidden Agenda ClipartWe didn’t bother to post the agenda for the Planning Commission last week due to its brevity and lack of interest. The only item of note was an item on AT&T utility cabinets for servicing their U-Verse internet and cable-like system. It seems the city’s resolution of their video issues was short-lived as, a week later, the video is not up so we can’t report on the outcome. We’ll keep you posted.

Tuesday’s Tustin City Council meeting should be a bit more interesting with several items of interest, both on the Consent Calendar as well as the Regular Business Items.

Not much on the Closed Session for the City Attorney to report on even if there is any movement. There is one new item listed as existing litigation regarding the estate of an individual and the police department.

Police had previously declined to discuss the case publicly, stating potential litigation as the reason. TPD did have an encounter with the young man, nineteen year old Paul Quintanar, prior to the accident that took his life. No one has been charged in the incident.

There are also several continuing negotiations concerning MCAS property and swaps with both the TUSD and the US Army Reserve.

The Regular Meeting Agenda is headed by three presentations including one for outgoing Audit Commissioner Richard Hilde.

One glaring item on the Consent Calendar that may be pulled for discussion is Item 4, City Option to Retain or Delegate Authority for Award of Ambulance Contract. Currently, the city retains the authority and, judging from the issues the county is having with its ambulance services, it sounds like it might be a good idea for the city to retain that authority rather than delegate it to the County. The staff report indicates city staff feel the same way.

We’re not sure if Item 5, AB109 MOU on Realignement which would authorize a bank of overtime cash is just for purposes of obtaining what OC Supervisor Janet Nguyen calls, “free money”. AB109 involves the realignment of responsibilities of post-release supervision of prisoners to the community. Previously, most of this was handled by state parole agents. It is now handled almost exclusively by county probation officers.

In reading the agenda report for this item, we found the city has assigned a “Compliance Detective” to monitor the activities of released offenders. Of course, this is what the Orange County Probation Department, who has a full-time deputy probation officer assigned to Tustin, does. So, we’re not sure why the need for additional manpower in this area. We do recognize the detective also monitors sex and drug registrants, not a bad thing in our book.

Under Regular Business, city staff have finally answered all the questions the city council had when they last addressed a recommendation to appoint City Finance Director, Pamela Arends-King as the city’s Treasurer. As we’ve noted before, we endorse the idea of Arends-King being officially appointed to the position. We are opposed, however, to the hefty $8,000 increase in pay, particularly since the previous City Treasurer, George Jeffries, did the same job for half the amount.

The staff report indicates a savings to the General Fund and the Water Enterprise Fund of $19k but they provide no evidence, other than “because we said so”, of the savings. Where is the transparency to the public when calculating these so-called savings?

It seems Boss Tweed Parker is cementing his executive relationships at taxpayer cost.

Item 8, Business License Program, is a request by city staff to continue to use a questionable company to assist them in business license compliance. MAS, a company that has made a living off cities by making it a practice to offend the business owners, has a checkered history in collecting fees for errant businesses who have failed to obtain a license to operate in the city.

When the city first contracted with MAS to collect delinguent business license fees and taxes, we foretold the issues they would have. Businesses have reported harassment and unqualified accusaitons as they have been contacted by MAS representatives who have combed the city on a witch hunt for transgressors. The backlash to the city appears to be catching up with them as they back track on collections.

The proposed recommendation involves refunds and reassessments of the operations. What it should involve is a complete investigation into the business practices of the contractor to determine whether this is appropriate action for a city like Tustin, who purports to be business friendly, to be conducting.

To deflect attacks from the root problem, the staff report addresses the questions asked by the city council regarding business licensing for realtors. The city currently has a policy in place that seems adequate. Perhaps they should leave well enough alone and concentrate on MAS operations.

That’s it for this week’s meeting. We’ll try to keep you posted on any changes.

Closed Session

Conference with Legal Counsel

Two items each Exposure to and Initiation of Litigation.

Existing Litigation – Marie Sales on Behalf of Paul J. Quintanar v. City of Tustin et al.

Confernence With Real Property Negotiators

MCAS properties, 14 lots, OC Property Company (Cushman Wakefield).

Price and Terms of Payment APN: 430-391-12, 430-391-09, and 430-391-03, Tustin Unified School District.

Property Address/Description 2345 Barranca Pkwy and 15 acres of the N/E corner of Red Hill Avenue and Warner Avenue – Army Reserve negotiating.

Regular Business Agenda

Consent Calendar

Item 4, City Option to Retain or Delegate Authority for Award of Ambulance Contnract.

Item 5, Master MOU Between City of Tustin and County of Orange for Public Safety Realignment and Post Release Community Supervision Authorized Expenditures.

Regular Business Items

Item 6, Approve Agreement with the City of Irvine, et al, to Fund the Peters Canyon Wash Channel Water Capture and Reuse Pipeline.

Item 7, Recommendation of the Finance Director’s Appointment as the City Treasurer.

Item 8, Business License Program.