Teri Sforza over at the OC Register Watchdog page has a report on a state audit on the City of Bell.
Noteably galling: A former mayor bought land in 1981 for $480,000, then sold it to the city for $4.8 million -- and it remains unused. Additionally, the city gave $10 million in contracts to two development firms owned by the city's own Planning Director.
A city-owned parcel owned by the city on Stonehill Drive in San Juan Capistrano is worth about $9 million, representatives of The Home Depot told officials in a September 9 letter.
The city and The Home Depot are discussing a home-improvement store on the parcel, which is just west of the San Diego Freeway and Camino Capistrano. The Home Depot wants to enter an exclusive negotiating period with Capistrano officials.
“A definitive purchase price will be developed during the exclusive negotiation period when the development costs have been developed,” says the letter, from Beverly Metz, senior real estate manager for The Home Depot.
Ironically, The Home Depot was rejected for the same parcel in an advisory measure put before San Juan voters four years ago. Now, City Council members—including some who led the fight against the store then—say they need the sales-tax revenue The Home Depot could generate.
I saw a drawing that showed The Home Depot more than 175 feet from the back fence of the mobile-home park just north of the property. That's more than in a previous plan, which was killed with opposition centered in the park.
I can already hear council members' protests, but the Orange County Register is reporting that City Manager Joe Tait is among California's highest-paid.
Tait's salary of $324,000 puts him at No. 8 on the list statewide, the report says. It also notes that he does not receive any benefits. (Actually, as our Utilities Director, too, he gets use of a city vehicle, including driving it home to San Diego County.)
City Council members have repeatedly defended Tait's salary, saying he's being paid as the City Manager and Utilities Director, and not receiving benefits.
That of course, generally glosses over the fact that we have one person doing the work of two full-time employees, and some residents have pointed out that if one person can do two jobs that are normally full time positions, maybe we don't need one of those jobs.
Council members also point out that Tait is spearheading an important City Hall reorganization, which is taking a bit longer than expected but will be worth it when done. Additionally, he's invaluable in the city's negotiations with Chevron over the MtBE in the city groundwater, council members say.
Mayor Lon Uso told us at Coffee Chat last Friday that there'd be a day when everyone was thankful that Tait worked in Capistrano.
Continuing Life Communities proposes to build a large retirement community at the north end of town, on land previously owned by Rancho Capistrano.
The Open Space Committee is behind the plan, and even helped negotiate the deal that would see the city pay $10 million in property taxes (destined for the redevelopment agency) to buy 116 acres of the land for open space.
A new proposal calls for the city keeping the tax revenue (maybe spending it downtown, as redevelopment intends) allowing a little more development and still getting more than 100 acres of permanent open space.
The wrinkle is that discussions seem to indicate the private crossing over the rail lines that now allows access to the Rancho Capistrano property needs to become public. That request has to come from the city.
But the Orange County Transportation Authority, which governs rail lines here -- the ultimate decision is wiht the Public Utilities Commission (where staff has said they will recommend against any changes) -- wants to install another rail line parallel to the existing line. The tracks would be used as a siding to allow other trains to pass. OCTA initially wanted the second tracks to run from Laguna Niguel to La Zanja in Capistrano.
The city said no to that, and now the proposal is to run them to Oso Road. We'll see what happens there.
But in the meantime, here's something else to consider: a federal court just ruled that local agencies cannot limit how long a train idles at a stop. Air quality regulators tried to do it. Clint Worthington, who is running for City Council and works as a train engineer, told the council that he's sat on trains idling for 17 hours at times ... seems like might not be a good neighbor in town.
Worthington also said railroad rules require horns and whistles as trains pass each other, even on sidings, and as trains leave sidings, etc. So, he said, spending money on "quiet zone crossings" at La Zanja, Oso Road and Rancho Capistrano is a waste of money because the horns will sound anyhow.
But back to the idling.
Here's from the LA Times:
Air quality watchdogs in Southern California can't impose limits on emissions from idling trains because they could interfere with interstate commerce that the federal government regulates, a federal appeals court ruled Wednesday.
The decision dealt a blow to attempts by air quality regulators in the Los Angeles region, who have been attempting to limit emissions in the densely populated areas around San Pedro Bay ports, through which 40% of the nation's containerized cargo flows. Emissions from trains, trucks and ships carrying the freight out to the rest of the country have been blamed for 2,100 early deaths each year, according to statistics from the California Air Resources Board.
The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a previous decision from the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.