Faced by angry residents waving supposedly secret documents and charging conspiracy, Santa Ana City Council members were pressured to answer questions at length Tuesday night on their city's show of interest in North Tustin.
The 45-minute confrontation late in the meeting had one council member calling the city's involvement a "reconnaissance mission," while another likened it more to a "kamikaze" attack.
The official city line remained that Santa Ana was doing nothing wrong, but one council member ended up calling a pre-annexation agreement drafted by the city for a North Tustin group "a mistake."
The issue resurfaced at the public comment portion of the meeting Tuesday when two North Tustin residents--backed by others in the audience--demanded an explanation for a 19-page draft document outlining possible terms of annexation for the area by Santa Ana.
The draft agreement was given to North Tustin Tomorrow, a group of North Tustin residents who are studying annexation and incorporation options for the upscale community of about 33,000. The group said the document demonstrates Santa Ana's good faith and has asked officials in Orange and Tustin to submit similar drafts explaining the conditions of becoming part of their cities.
Tustin officials, however--who are proceeding with their own annexation plans--and some North Tustin residents have criticized Santa Ana's interest as mettlesome, because the city has no common boundary with North Tustin, a requirement for annexation. Under state law and with the current boundaries, only Orange and Tustin could annex the unincorporated community.
"It was kind of a waste of time," Douglas Chapman, a North Tustin resident who spoke at the meeting, said Wednesday.
Chapman, who favors annexation to Tustin, said of the Santa Ana officials: "They didn't really answer my question: How in the world would they do this legally?"
Santa Ana Mayor Dan Young, who was absent from the meeting, said last week that he considered the boundary issue a "technical" matter that could possibly be worked out if most North Tustin residents want to annex to Santa Ana.
Phyllis Spivey, another North Tustin resident who opposes Santa Ana's involvement, asked the council: "Who are you negotiating with? Has this document been reviewed by the city attorney? . . . You could direct City Manager (David N. Ream) to answer some questions."
Santa Ana Vice Mayor Patricia McGuigan told Spivey that the period for public comments was just that and that the council could take no action on the matter because of state law. Council member Wilson B. Hart then asked whether Ream could "take Ms. Spivey aside and answer some questions."
His suggestion was greeted by a chorus of boos from the audience. North Tustin residents have been critical of what they say is a concerted effort on Santa Ana's part to keep the public in the dark on the city's plans. Spivey called the city's behavior a "conspiracy of secrecy."
At the request of other council members, Ream finally offered some clarification of the city's involvement in the issue.
"We certainly have no push on to annex this area," Ream said, repeating the city's position since the issue arose at a council meeting two weeks ago.
"Evidently, there's an awful lot of touchy people involved in Tustin or North Tustin," he said. "We are monitoring and attending meetings, answering questions, providing information. We are not negotiating with anyone in North Tustin."
'There Is No Dark Plan'
At one point during the meeting, Hart said he was "getting really tired of hearing about this. . . . This thing is not even a blip on a radar screen. We have not given any serious thought to annexing any part of anywhere. . . . There is no dark plan to extend our borders to the east."
Council member John Acosta, who has questioned his own city's interest in North Tustin, said, "It's going to make a little tiny blip on the screen after I get through talking about it."
Acosta later asked Ream to provide a "full disclosure" of all items on file in the city concerning North Tustin. Hart endorsed the idea.
Hart also called the draft agreement--which he said neither he nor most other council members had seen--"a mistake on some staffer's part. That is becoming very clear in my mind."
Hart said some council members perhaps saw an "opportunity to expand" a year to 18 months ago, when North Tustin began exploring its local government options.
"We sent out a mission, misguided perhaps--a reconnaissance platoon," he said.
"Or a kamikaze," Acosta interrupted.
"The chances (of annexing North Tustin) were always remote, they're increasingly remote, they're getting more remote by the minute," Hart said. "We didn't have a whole lot on our minds for this thing. Perhaps we never have a whole lot on our minds."