Barbara Ferreira encourages FCA members to help “fix our zip.”

North Tustin homeowners get issues update at FCA meeting

By Tina Richards

The Foothill Communities Association’s (FCA) annual meeting featured updates on issues of interest to residents, presentations by county representatives, and a keynote address by Supervisor Todd Spitzer.

The 250 attendees at the March 7 meeting at Hewes Middle School were welcomed by FCA President Rick Nelson, who summarized the organization’s priorities. They are: the contested Newport Avenue property; East Orange County Water District’s (EOCWD) bid to take on local sewer service; the effort to re-place Golden State Water Company with a local provider; acquiring a dedicated North Tustin zip code; furthering the goals of the Fire Safe Council; and increasing FCA membership.

Todd Spitzer was roundly applauded for his role in reversing an amendment to the North Tustin Specific Plan (NTSP) that was counter to its original intent, and “spot zoned” a seven-acre parcel on Newport Avenue to allow development of a commercial senior housing complex.  The amendment, passed under the watch of Spitzer’s predecessor, was challenged in court by FCA, but ultimately upheld.

Squeaky wheels

When elected, Spitzer promised the community he would do what he could to reverse the amendment, and after more than a year of preliminary staff work, he convinced his board col-leagues to restore the integrity of the NTSP.  The 3-2 vote (Shawn Nelson, Lisa Bartlett, Spitzer in favor; Andrew Do, Michelle Steel against) rankled the Catholic Diocese (property owner), Cisco Senior Living (builder), many OC developers, and one vocal North Tustin resident. A lawsuit has been filed against the county, and Spitzer says he, too, is defending his actions in court.

“North Tustin is very time-consuming,” Spitzer kidded the audience. “You’re only 18,000 of the 600,000 people I represent, but I spend an awful lot of time on you.”  Regarding the fate of the Newport property, he advised FCA “to get that land issue resolved while I’m supervisor.”  He’s running for another four-year term, and will continue to support the community in that role, but he won’t be there forever.

“That seven acres is still sitting there,” he said.  “When I’m out, you have no idea who will be in office. I can tell you, my colleagues weren’t happy with me.  You need to take care of that issue while I’m still here.”

Spitzer also noted his role as one of the LAFCO commissioners who will decide the fate of the local sewer system. The Irvine Ranch Water district and local provider EOCWD both want to take it on. FCA favors EOCWD, as do the cities of Orange, Tustin and Villa Park.  “You’ve asked me what my position is,” the supervisor acknowledged.  “There’s still a lot of information coming in.  I haven’t decided.  But I’m very aware of the issues.”

Good-neighbor policies

He also assured the community that he does not want to see a paved bike trail in Peters Canyon (a proposal universally opposed by park neighbors), and that OC Parks is exploring an alternative bike path that would travel behind the Fire Authority on Jamboree, and run closer to the toll road before reconnecting with bike routes beyond the park.  He reported that OCTA may have funding for such a trail, and that a public meeting on the topic will be held towards the end of this year.

Colby Cataldi of OC Public Works told the audience about the department’s Neighborhood Preservation unit.  “It’s purpose,” he explained, “is to work cooperatively to enforce codes before a neighborhood goes downhill.”  The unit works with property owners, tenants and businesses to address violations that could threaten health and safety, and ensure that residential and business properties are orderly, operable, neat and clean.

Such violations include overgrown vegetation, collections of junk or debris, polluted swimming pool water, unpermitted grading, deteriorated fencing, illegal garage conversions, graffiti, and inoperable vehicles stored in yards. Cataldi noted that there are 52 open cases in North Tustin for 2016.

Truth vs. statistics

Sheriff Lt. Robert Gunzel reported that residential burglaries east of 17th street are down this year, but that many of those reported were due to partially open windows, unlocked or open garages and gates. He stressed the value of alarm systems, because when one goes off, an officer is dispatched. “You then have a patrol car present on your street,” he said.  “But in order for alarm systems to work, you have to use them. Turn them on!“

And don’t be afraid to call the sheriff if you see something suspicious,” he added. “A lot of you say you don’t want to bother us.  We’re not bothered.  It’s our job.  Even if it’s a false alarm, having law enforcement driving through your neighborhood is always good.”

Although crime in North Tustin is generally low, statistics paint a different picture.  That’s because the sheriff’s department and insurance carriers collect data by zip code. North Tustin’s 92705 zip code used to include that area only, but in 1995 the postal service expanded it to encompass several thousand Santa Ana residences and businesses.  As a result, reported crime statistics for 92705  are  significantly  higher than they would be if North Tustin stood alone.

FCA volunteers have been working to change that, to get a new, separate zip code for the area.  Advocates believe that statistics collected from a dedicated zip code would more accurately reflect actual demographic data, and give North Tustin a community identity much like that of Villa Park or Anaheim Hills.  They took advantage of the FCA annual meeting to gather support, hand out brochures, and collect signatures on a petition to “fix our zip.”