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On The Planning Commission Agenda, March 12, 2013

conspiracy-theoryThe Planning Commission will have a busy evening starting with a workshop on second residential units. The workshop is to discuss proposed changes to city ordinances pertaining to second residential units and accessory guest rooms. Staff believe there is a call for second residential units in the Old Town area in particular. That is a view that is not shared by all of my neighbors and readers. One person complained the city should be more worried about filling vacant commercial space rather than increase the population density in Old Town.

To a certain  degree, we agree with that. However, we are strong proponents of allowing folks to do as they please with their property as long as it conforms to the law and does not interfere with another person’s enjoyment of their own property (sorry, Wilcox boys).

In any case, the city will propose some conceptual amendments to the ordinances that would do away with accessory guest rooms but then allow second units on any residential lot, regardless of size. This, of course, would do away with deed restrictions and, possibly, the current requirement for a Conditional Use Permit. Sounds pretty good, huh?

Well, never let it be said the city would let a buck get away if it can capture it in fees or taxes. Also in the conceptual amendments is allowance for the charging of “impact fees” presumably for the added impact to parks, schools and other assorted needs provided by the city and others.

The February workshop had 40 people in attendance who voice their opinion on the various proposals and added some helpful comments (we like the idea of carports rather than garage parking for some cases). Concern was also voiced for the number of units allowed on one property and whether permit parking should be implemented. We particularly liked the opinion that small guest houses are compatible with Old Town. We agree, they add a bit of charm to the neighborhood. Our only concern with guest houses has been the requirement, which we question the legality of, for deed restrictions. Alas, until an owner is willing to challenge the requirement (or this conceptual amendment goes through) owners will continue to suffer the effects of the restrictions on their property values.

Hopefully, concerned citizens will show up again and voice their opinion on another one of Binsack’s follies. The workshop begins at 6:00 pm, an hour before the regular Planning Commission meeting. If you want to see the proposals, you can find them here.

Ooops. I take that back. The regular meeting of the Planning Commission only has one item on it. A Public Hearing on Code Amendment 13-001. As we stated in a prior article, the proposal has more than just minor text amendments and the city intends to incorporate the current practice of requiring deed restrictions into the ordinance.  As the current Planning Commission appears to be fully populated by “yes men” who are not willing to confront Binsack and her wrecking crew on issues important to the residents of the city, don’t expect anything other than the big rubber stamp to come out.

John Brings His Dog and Pony Show to Old Town

I just spent an interesting hour with our mayor, John Nielsen, and about 75 Old Town residents and business owners. Billed as a “town hall” meeting, we were enticed to attend with the promise of fruit punch and cookies. There were plenty of each, along with the expected rhetoric.

Arriving with my daughter in tow, I was immediately greeted by one neighbor and snubbed by our Community Development Director, Elizabeth Binsack. Hey, I wasn’t there to hob nob with city staff anyway. I was there to hear what Nielsen had to say about my part of town and the plans the city had for it.

John began the evening with a slick PowerPoint presentation that he read almost word-for-word. He talked about the recently approved projects and the changes in parking that will make it easier to build in the area. He spoke eloquently of how Old Town is the “heart” of Tustin and thanked all of us for coming to his meeting where he could tell us what the city had in store for the good folks of the area. He didn’t talk about the stonewalling the Community Development Department did in handling the new Del Rio Building project or the difference in how Binsack’s department handled the ground contamination at Del Rio and the new Restaurant to be built across from Rutabegorz. He also didn’t talk about the tens of thousands of dollars and hundred of man hours spent opposing Old Town Homeowner Brett Fairbanks. Water under the bridge.

It was during the question and answer session when it became obvious that Nielsen really only wanted to show off and possibly get a little free campaigning without really having to go head-to-head with residents.

Good questions were asked by local business owners, particularly about parking enforcement, or the lack thereof. The owners of Fred and Daffy’s Antiques on El Camino Real asked about parking enforcement which generated quite a bit of interest. Nielsen had a captain from the Tustin Police Department answer questions pertaining to enforcement. Unfortunately, he had a hard time addressing the issue and kept putting it back on the business owners because, as he put it, “we can’t be down there all the time patrolling”. Really? I guess the parking guys have much more important things to do like chase the street sweepers around.

Other questions were asked about traffic patterns and what was being done about putting Newport Avenue through to Edinger. Incredibly, staff blamed the demise of Redevelopment Agencies for the lack of speed on the project. The Acting Public Works director, Doug Stack, stated that much of the design work had been done but it was a $41 million dollar project with no funding. So, even though it is, according to him, the second highest priority item in front of the council, don’t expect to see it completed in the foreseeable future.

Discussion was also held concerning the Old Town residential area. And, here is where it became obvious that our good mayor did not really want to deal with the riff-raff of Old Town.

A neighborhood resident said she heard a rumor that the owners of The Wilcox Manor on Pasadena Street, will be asking the city for a Conditional Use Permit to be allowed to hold paid events on the property. We had heard this rumor ourselves but it was apparent many in the room had not. I heard more than a few gasps of surprise.

Owners Lindburgh Mc Pherson and Michael Demoratz have opened the Manor up for events for several years. They, apparently don’t charge and they offer the use of the grounds as well as their glass and dinnerware. The Tustin Area Council for Fine Arts, the Preservation Conservancy and many other non-profit organizations through the years have used the beautiful grounds of the manor to host their events, all for a good cause. And, in keeping with that, the immediate neighbors have been gracious as far as the traffic and noise go.

After Community Development Director, Elizabeth Binsack verified for all that it was true, it became clear that Nielsen did not want to discuss the matter. Laughably claiming that, since the issue could come up before him for consideration, he didn’t want to discuss it, he attempted to squelch the issue. You see, he did not want there to be any appearance of bias.

It is also likely he did not want anyone to know that the Mc Pherson and Demoratz have been quietly sowing the seeds for this project for some time. They recently held fundraisers for city council candidates and Amante allies, Allan Bernstein and Chuck Puckett (We wonder how Puckett, who recently resigned from the Planning Commission, would vote on this issue). The Wilcox Trust has also made at least one campaign contribution to Johnn Nielsen’s re-election during the last reporting cycle. The owners have been steadily mailing requests for support for their endeavor to many of the non-profits who have used their facilities in the past, regardless of whether they are in the city limits. If that is not enough, until recently, there was a blurb on that listed the Wilcox Manor as an event venue. Clearly, Mc Pherson and Demoratz expect a return on their investment. It is kind of funny, though, how they sided with the city in the Fairbanks matter, calling his issues with the city no big deal.

So, do you really think there will be no bias when the CUP application comes before the Commission or the City Council? Rumor has it that Binsack has her rubber stamp poised to approve. Of course, we won’t know for sure because she wouldn’t talk to us at the meeting. So much for friendly Tustin staff.

In the end, it was just another dog and pony show for Mayor Nielsen and his talking head, Elizabeth Binsack. It was a chance to remind the Old Town folks of who is in charge. It was unfortunate the good mayor was more interested in telling Old Town resident and business owners what the city had planned rather than to listen to their concerns. After all, isn’t that what a town hall meeting is supposed to be for?

On The Planning Commission Agenda, July August 28, 2012

After a short hyatus, the Tustin Planning Commission is ready to go with a relatively quick agenda for Tuesday.

The first order of business is to accept the resignation of Planning Commissioner Chuck Puckett, who is running for Tustin City Council. Chuck was also the Chairperson of the commission. The City Council will have to appoint a new person to the commission. The commission can appoint a new chairperson or they could wait until Puckett’s seat is filled. We’ll see how that works out.

The rest of the agenda consists of Consent Calendar items. I don’t see anything to ring any bells here. But, you never know what the neighbors are going to think.

Item 3, Commercial Design Guidelines and City Tour, asks the commission to hold tight while they put the finishing touches to the Commercial Design Guidelines. The agenda report also advises a tentative date of September 11, 2012 for a proposed City Tour. I have been told this tour is open to the public and seats are available on a first-come, first-served basis. This is tentative. Keep an eye out on the city website for the actual date. I’m sure they will want to publicize it.

Item 4, Conditional Use Permit for On-Site Alcoholic Beverage Sales at a New Restaurant, is for a new Japanese fusion restaurant that will be taking over part of the old Hollywood Video property in the Ralph’s Center on Irvine Boulevard. The surrounding restaurants, Lone Star and Cafe Rio, both serve alcohol so this should be an easy one for the commission. The main issue seems to be they want to stay open an extra hour past the other restaurants. Because of the area, staff are recommending the change.

Item 5, Use Determination and CUP, is an application from Goodwill Industries to establish a retail store and collection center in Larwin Square. Because thrift stores with donation areas are not identified as permitted or conditional permitted uses for the First Street Specific Plan (maybe the city should have looked at this when they were updating the Plan, doh!), it requires action by the Planning Commission. The staff have place several reasonable conditions on the permit to ensure collections are properly stored and not just dumped in the rear, which faces Centennial Way.

The City has received only one written public comment opposing the CUP from Vaughn Edewards, president of ACI Commercial Insurance Broker, Inc. He gives no specific reason other than it doesn’t fit with the First Street Specific Plan. But, isn’t that what CUPs are all about, Vaughn?

I have seen the types of stores Goodwill Industries is proposing for Larwin Square and it will make a great addition to a local shopping center that is in dire need of stable tenants. Goodwill Industries does not seem to open stores in locations unless they think they will make a go of it. And, there is that idea of providing local jobs for folks who might find it difficult to obtain a mainstream job. We have “Goodwill” workers in our facilities kitchen. I can’t think of harder working individuals who, because of the assistance and guidance of 87 year old Goodwill, are able to work and live independently. So, sorry, Vaughn, we support this as they support the community.

Oh, and Goodwill Industries is recognized as one of the seven Best Companies to Work for in Orange County by OC Metro Magazine, has been voted Orange County’s best thrift store too many times to count and is currently the #2 vintage store according to OC Register readers. Pretty awesome for a charity that puts 92 cents of every donated dollar to work for the people in our community that need it most.

So, there you have it. A pretty quick and concise agenda for the Planning Commission. Of course, the next question is, who will the City Council appoint to replace Chuck?