By Tina Richards
Residents of North Tustin were updated on topics of local interest – from airport noise, to zoning, to park planning, to the hard-fought battle to protect the community’s specific plan – at the annual Foothill Communities Association (FCA) meeting, March 6.
Third District Supervisor Todd Spitzer, considered by many to be the “mayor” of unincorporated North Tustin, was the keynote speaker. Spitzer, who supported the community in its fight against a senior living facility that violated its specific plan, and spearheaded the vote to make the resident-preferred East Orange County Water District the area’s sewer service provider, prefaced his remarks by joking, “I know what you’re thinking, 'what have I done for you lately?'”
One suggestion, offered by several audience members prior to the meeting, was stopping a 22-home project a developer wants to inflict on Newport Avenue. The tract homes would sit on 10,000-sq.-ft. lots, which is half that specified by the property’s zoning.
Residents have asked the developer to consider fewer houses on larger lots to fit the neighborhood and conform with the zoning, to no avail. The project was rejected by the North Tustin Advisory Committee, but the developer vowed to move forward anyway, and go directly to the county for approvals. When that happens, Spitzer will likely be asked to advocate for the community’s specific plan once again.
“It’s not on my radar yet,” Spitzer noted. “I’ve heard about it, but it will be some time before it gets to the planning commission. It’s too early in the process.”
A separate peace
The supervisor did report that he has continued to negotiate with the owners of another property, central to a previous North Tustin zoning fight. The seven-acre parcel on Newport Avenue came close to housing a multi-story senior living facility in 2011. The FCA sued and won; the builder appealed and won. Spitzer, then newly elected as third district supervisor, convinced his board colleagues to rescind the amendment to the North Tustin Specific Plan that would have allowed the facility to be built. “It didn’t happen on my watch,” he said of the original board approval to build the Springs at Bethsaida, “but I want to get it settled while I’m still your supervisor.”
“I was hoping to have something to tell you tonight about that property,” he said, “but it isn’t final yet. I’ve been negotiating a settlement that the community can live with. I should have a presentation for you in 30 to 40 days.”
No flight of fancy
Addressing airplane noise and flight paths that impact the area, Spitzer noted that the county has challenged the FAA in court, calling the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) supporting a new satellite-based air traffic control system “flawed.”
The EIR found that new flight paths would generate “no significant impact.” But Spitzer (and many living beneath the flight lanes) argue that it has. “Have you noticed a different noise level of late?” he asked. “The planes are lower, houses are shaking. There’s also some cheating, cutting corners on flight paths. They do that to save time and money, and stay ahead of the curfew. The county is asking the FAA to redo the EIR.”
In keeping with the “what have I done for you lately theme,” Spitzer reported his rejection of a plan to move a trash sorting facility onto the former landfill east of Jamboree. “The trash is combustible,” he said. “I didn’t want embers flying into Peters Canyon Park.“
He also cited the county’s intent to turn the 2.6 acres at the northwest corner of Newport and Crawford Canyon into a passive park. The county is currently working on drainage improvements in that area. Once complete, a conceptual plan will be created, and community input sought. The project is expected to cost $2.3 to $2.6 million, and OC Parks intends to find grant money for it.
The lightning round
Following the keynote, the supervisor was joined on the dais by his colleagues from other county agencies to take questions from the audience. Asked about zoning variances sought by builders who don’t want to stick to the North Tustin Specific Plan, County Planner Colby Cataldi reported that the county actually recommends denial, but the applicant “has the right to proceed.”
Regarding the surge of assisted living homes in the area, specifically four within a small area, Spitzer advised the questioner that group homes with six beds or less are legal, but that North Tustin should continue to project a “united front” against them.
Another homeowner noted the “insane density” creeping through Orange County, and commented about the recurring battle between “big money and the community.”
“The pressure on the county to build housing is off the charts,” Spitzer said. “Building is good; I’m a capitalist, but I don’t want gridlock. My job is to be responsible about it.”
The supervisor, who was introduced by FCA President Rick Nelson as the “Spitzer bullet” -- pointed, fast and accurate – at the onset of the meeting, was thanked at the end with equal praise. “He’s been a good friend to North Tustin,” Nelson summarized, “yesterday, as well as today.”
About 200 North Tustin residents gathered at Hewes Middle School for the annual Foothill Communities Association (FCA) general meeting, March 6.