NOTE: Indy reporter Sara Hall compiled this look back at what made headlines in the NB Independent during 2016. This week, we cover January through June.
— Officials for Ruby’s Diner, launched in Newport Beach in 1982 by Doug Cavanaugh and named after his mother, announced in early January that the popular restaurant lost their namesake.
Ruby Cavanaugh, the inspiration for the diner, passed away on Dec. 27. She was 93.
More than 150 people left comments on the Ruby’s Diner facebook page. Among the many tributes: “May she rest in peace and thank you for the wonderful restaurant she gave us all.”
— A Santa Ana man was arrested and charged with one felony count of murder in connection with the killing of the 23-year-old female escort whose body was found in a Newport Beach office.
Nain Isaac Nieto Hernandez, 29, pleaded not guilty during his arraignment on Jan. 4. His bail was set at $1,016,500. He faced 25 years to life in state prison.
Nieto Hernandez was accused of killing Sarai Alcaraz, 23, of Long Beach, on Dec. 29 at an office at 5030 Campus Drive, where he works as a janitor and has access to the building.
— Newport Beach City Council approved a project on Jan. 12 to swap out high-intensity discharge (HID) luminaires in 3,224 streetlights to high-efficiency LED (Light-Emitting Diode) luminaires.
City staff estimated $1.176 million project cost. An estimated $559,419 will be refunded through incentives and approximately $616,859 will be funded through “on bill financing,” a zero percent interest loan from Southern California Edison on qualified energy efficient projects that will be paid back through the utility bill.
Staff noted both financial and environmental benefits to the project. It will save the city $55,000 in annual maintenance and $100,000 on the utility bill. Switching over this many lights will reduce streetlight energy consumption by about 56 percent.
— City officials confirmed that the sunken Shellmaker scow would soon be above water and out of Newport Harbor.
The Gemini scow sunk in July 2013 under mooring J-98, off the tip of Lido Peninsula and the south west shores of Lido Isle. Buoys mark off the area where it currently sits underwater. The top portion of the vessel is visible during low tide.
Associated Pacific Constructors made a deal with Shellmaker, Inc., to remove the Gemini in return for two moorings transferred to APC, including the mooring where it sank.
— The public reacted strongly to the allegations of a hostile work environment as described in a recent lawsuit against the Newport-Mesa Unified School District and Superintendent Fred Navarro.
On social media, community members are calling the district troubled and dysfunctional. Most comments have been in support of the two former employees making the claims.
The lawsuit causing the turmoil was filed Jan. 28 with Orange County Superior Court by former director of district communications Laura Boss and former assistant superintendent Ann Huntington. The two claim Navarro created a “culture of fear, intimidation, and retaliation” against them and other employees and a “toxic” and “intolerable” work environment.
The district denied the claims in a prepared statement.
— The former treasurer for Congressman Dana Rohrabacher’s re-election committee was charged for embezzling more than $300,000 from campaign funds and a business where he previously worked.
Jack Wenpo Wu, 45, of Newport Beach was arrested Feb. 2 and charged with three felony counts of grand theft by embezzlement and 21 felony counts of forgery with several sentencing enhancements.
Wu, a former political columnist for the Newport Beach Independent, had also been appointed to serve on the city’s finance committee in early 2015 by City Councilman Marshall “Duffy” Duffield.
— The body of missing California State University, Fullerton student Praveen Galla, 23, was found in the ocean about 1,000 feet offshore from the Newport Pier at 11:25 a.m. on Feb. 9.
Galla was last seen leaving his off campus apartment on Feb. 1. He reportedly took an Uber ride to the university around 5 p.m. Authorities believe he took a bus from Fullerton to Newport Beach
A missing person flyer stated he had been depressed recently.
— City Council voted 4-2 on Feb. 22 not to broadcast the Planning Commission meetings.
Broadcasting the meetings would remove the incentive to attend, said Councilman Ed Selich, adding that those interested should “participate and not stay home and watch TV.”
Newport Beach & Company, the city’s contractor for NBTV programming, estimated the cost of televising 24 three-hour meetings at $3,600 per year.
Councilman Tony Petros passionately defended the idea of making meetings more accessible for those who can’t attend.
The few audience members who spoke on the issue were all in favor of broadcasting the Planning Commission.
— Newport Beach Police Department received several calls regarding birds that have been injured by arrow-like projectiles. The NBPD documented four individual birds – three Heermann’s gulls and one Mallard duck – that have been shot through the neck.
All of the projectiles are orange in color, approximately eight inches in length. Follow-up investigation has determined that the projectiles are most likely blow darts, used in conjunction with a blowgun.
— Contracts for the Park Avenue bridge replacement project were unanimously approved 6-0 by Newport Beach City Council on Feb. 23.
Several council members and staff emphasized that the $9.1 million project is 100 percent federally funded.
Travelers have been crossing the same bridge between the big and small Balboa islands for 86 years.
— On March 1, police arrested Thomas Ueno, 35, a domestic violence suspect, who had led police on a chase through Orange County to Newport Beach on Feb. 29 with his two sons and their mother in the car, then fled into Castaways Park after a long standoff.
The chase started in Buena Park and ended when the car’s battery died in Newport Beach on Dover Drive near Coast Highway, which is where the three-hour standoff began.
Ueno eventually let the family go and he fled into the fog at Castaways Park.
He was able to elude authorities for 24 hours until arrested in Cerritos, reportedly near his mother’s house.
— City Manager Dave Kiff promoted Deputy Chief Jon Lewis to lead the Newport Beach Police Department as its next chief of police, noting the leadership and integrity he’s demonstrated during his 25-year career with the department.
Chief Jay Johnson had retired from the department in December but stayed on as an acting chief until his replacement was chosen.
— At the March 8 City Council meeting, Council voted 7-0 to approve an Exclusive Negotiating Agreement between the city of Newport Beach and James Ulcickas and Richard Staunton of Bluewater Grill Restaurant, for preliminary design and lease negotiations for a new restaurant at the end of the Newport Pier.
The city-owned restaurant building at the end of the pier has been vacant since late 2012, when the Newport Pier Grill & Sushi Bar closed after many years at the site.
The estimated cost for conceptual design is $18,000, which will be shared between the city and Bluewater.
— More than 200 public safety and public agency personnel from state, regional, county, and other local cities, joined Newport Beach Fire Department local media professionals and community volunteers on March 22 for a massive maritime disaster drill at Corona del Mar State Beach.
The scenario involved the Aggressor, a 65-foot vessel from Newport Landing, which had collided with a fishing boat.
It was to test the land, sea, and air response and rescue operations.
— City Council members voted 6-0 on April 12 to approve modifications to General Plan and Coastal Land Use Plan to be consistent with the changes suggested by the California Coastal Commission for the Back Bay Landing project.
The most notable CCC suggestions include only allowing residential above ground floor commercial, eliminating the proposed 65-foot viewing tower, and expanding the public walkway around the existing mobile home site to connect to the Newport Dunes.
The developer, Bayside Village Marina, LLC, hopes to build residential units, marine-related and visitor-serving commercial and recreational facilities, and a boat storage facility on the 7-acre site.
— City Council unanimously approved an exclusive negotiating agreement with LAB Holding, LLC at its April 12 meeting without discussion for the sale of the Balboa Theater for its transformation into a multi-purpose event center.
At the core of the historic restoration of the 5,200 square foot building will be a small live music stage where Orange County musicians could perform to a standing crowd, and pub counter.
— Orange County Supervisors unanimously voted April 26 to amend the law regarding the restraint of dogs on public property to allow the county to designate off-leash areas for dogs.
The approved resolution specifically applies to the unincorporated property downstream from Pacific Coast Highway at the outlet of the Santa Ana River, between Newport Beach and Huntington Beach. The longtime de facto dog beach was dubbed “Doggy Disneyland” at a previous meeting.
Board Vice Chair Michelle Steel, whose district covers Newport Beach, proposed the item in response to requests from community members, mostly dog owners from Newport Beach.
Mayor Diane Dixon initially brought the issue forward.
— The Newport Beach Film Festival returned from April 21 to 28.
This year, the Film Festival has created a short suspenseful masterpiece called “We’re Being Watched” that’s a modern melding of “The Twilight Zone” and Alfred Hitchcock.
The 100 second “Watched” trailer was shown prior to each film in the festival.
— California Coastal Commission was scheduled to hear the Newport Banning Ranch project on May 12, but the applicant, Newport Banning Ranch, LLC, was granted a postponement.
Postponing the item didn’t stop more than 100 opponents from rallying at the Newport Beach civic center and speaking their minds during the meeting.
— Longtime Newport Beach resident Jim Emmi, a staff commodore at the Bahia Corinthian Yacht Club and a supporter of numerous artistic and educational institutions and organization, died May 14, a few weeks shy of his 100th birthday.
He died peacefully by natural causes at his home in Corona del Mar, with his wife, Catherine, son-in-law, Cameron, and close friends by his side.
— Newport Heights Elementary School student Brock Merrick McCann, 8, died May 25 after being struck by a CR&R trash truck around 1:26 p.m. near the corner of 15th Street and Michael Place, just west of Irvine Avenue.
He was riding his bicycle home from school when he was hit. A makeshift memorial was created at the site of the accident.
As a result, the city began a study of bicycle safety around schools.
— Maria Korcsmaros, 52, a professional fitness instructor and personal trainer from Corona, was bitten by a shark about 500 feet off the coast of Corona del Mar State Beach around 4:15 p.m. on May 29.
The mother of three and triathlete was on a 1.5-mile “routine swim,” as part of her training for a half Iron Man. She was swimming along the buoys that define the safety swim zone.
She had extensive, multiple lacerations – described as clearly teeth marks – extending in a half circle shape from her upper torso/right arm to her pelvis. She also sustained multiple broken ribs, lung injuries, chest wounds, and disruption of the abdominal wall.
She was taken to a trauma center in Santa Ana and treated.
— A sustainability plan for the city was approved by City Council 5-2 on June 14 with Councilman Scott Peotter and Mayor Pro Tem Kevin Muldoon dissenting.
Former mayor Nancy Gardner defended the plan, saying that it’s meant to be flexible.
It is a comprehensive document that provides goals and objectives in various categories, including: Education, building/development, waste reduction, transportation, energy, water conservation and water quality, and urban outdoors.
— Ho Sum Bistro, a popular Balboa Peninsula restaurant, was closed down after a fire around 2 a.m. on June 19.
The blaze was contained to the restaurant’s kitchen, but the remaining areas sustained heat and smoke damage.
The fire caused approximately $250,000 worth of damage to the structure and $200,000 in equipment and contents.
— The Russo and Steele automobile auction returned to Newport Dunes from June 10 to 12.
Between the weather, long history of car collecting and custom modifications in Southern California, the event drew in a big crowd of locals, officials said.
There were about 400 cars for sale.