2017: A Year in Review, Part 1

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NOTE: Indy reporter Sara Hall compiled this look back at what made headlines in the NB Independent during 2017. This week, we cover January through June.

(click the first line of text in each brief to read the full, original story)




A Huntington Beach man was charged Jan. 4 in connection to the deaths of two women found in Newport Beach.

Christopher Ken Ireland, 37, was accused of killing two women, starting a fire at Westminster home to destroy evidence, and then disposing of the bodies in Newport Beach.


Jack Wu.
— NB Indy file photo ©

Jack Wenpo Wu, 46, of Newport Beach, the former treasurer for Congressman Dana Rohrabacher’s re-election committee, was convicted this week for embezzling more than $300,000 from campaign funds and a business where he previously worked.

Wu pleaded guilty Jan. 17 to three felony counts of grand theft by embezzlement and 21 felony counts of forgery with several sentencing enhancements.

Wu was previously appointed to serve on the city’s finance committee in 2015 by then-Councilman Marshall “Duffy“ Duffield. Wu stepped down a few months later.

While working for the committee, Wu was the custodian of records and ran the committee’s bank accounts, among other responsibilities.



Sphere 112, the steel sculpture adorning the grassy hill at the corner of San Miguel Drive and Avocado Avenue, will stay at its current location in Civic Center Park.
— Photo by Sara Hall ©


The City Arts Commission voted Jan. 12 to keep Sphere 112, the steel sculpture adorning the grassy hill at the corner of San Miguel Drive and Avocado Avenue, permanently at its current location in Civic Center Park.

The commission agreed the popular sculpture should stay put not only to avoid the expense of moving it, but because it has fared well at that site.

Sphere 112 was purchased privately by the Newport Beach Arts Foundation for $15,000 and donated to the city. Maintenance on the sculpture was estimated to cost approximately $250 per year.



A screenshot from one of SPON’s video recordings of a recent Planning Commission meeting.
— Photo courtesy of SPON

City Council voted 7-0 on Jan. 24 to direct city staff to start filming Planning Commission meetings.

Staff asked the Council to reconsider their 2016 decision, when they voted 4-2 against the idea.

During their previous vote, Council members considered whether the decorum, tone, pacing, and quality of the Planning Commission meetings would change as a result of filming.

There was significant community backlash over the decision.

It prompted the community group Still Protecting Our Newport to film the meetings and then publish them online at SPON’s own expense.


Ralph Rodheim, alongside his wife Penny, accepts the Sunshine Award at the Speak Up Newport Mayor’s Dinner in February 2016.
— Photo by Sara Hall ©



Longtime resident and community leader Ralph Rodheim died Feb. 5. He was 72.

Rodheim had been battling ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease) for the past several years.

He was a founding member of the city Harbor Commission, member of the Chamber of Commerce Commodore’s Club, local businessman, and 2010 Citizen of the Year .




All vessels that operate propelled above the water’s surface (jetpacks) in Newport Harbor were banned following a 5-1 City Council vote on Feb. 14.

A jetpack user in Newport Harbor.
— NB Indy file photo ©

The move reaffirmed the recommendation by the Harbor Commission.

The main concerns were for safety, noise, and speed.

Water-propelled vessel activity in Newport Beach peaked in 2014 with multiple commercial operators in Newport Harbor.

After studying the issue, Council voted in 2015 to prohibit all private operations but allow one commercial operator with a temporary permit. The permit expired in November 2016 and the issue returned to Council for consideration.



Cats Lonny and Frazier were recently adopted from the Newport Beach Animal Shelter.
— Photo courtesy the NBAS

City Council on Feb. 14 unanimously approved to extend the city’s lease agreement with Home Free Animal Sanctuary for use of their facility on Riverside Drive for animals collected by Newport Beach Police Department’s animal control division.

The contract is for three years with two one-year options for $66,000 per year.

Newport Beach has outsourced via contract animal sheltering services since Animal Control was created in 1948.

The city has been contracting with Home Free since November 2015 for shelter services.

Before that, the city was in a five-year contract with the Orange County Humane Society in Huntington Beach since April 2011. The NBPD issued a notice of default on Sept. 30, 2015.

A group of citizens also started working on creating a supportive nonprofit called Friends of Newport Beach Animal Shelter.



An artist rendering of Museum House.
— Courtesy Related California Urban Housing LLC ©

City Council voted 5-2 on Feb. 28 to rescind its prior approval (minus the project’s EIR) of Museum House, the controversial 25-story, 100-unit condominium tower in Newport Center.

In November, a different council voted 6-1 to approve Related California’s project. It was slated to replace the single-story Orange County Museum of Art at 850 San Clemente Dr.


Line in the Sand Political Action Committee, the organization that headed up the effort to gather signatures for the referendum petition, applauded the Council’s decision in a statement and said it was a “direct result of the strength of voter feedback”


Some of the Crystal Cove cottages to be restored on North Beach.
— Photo courtesy Crystal Cove Alliance ©



California Coastal Commission unanimously approved the coastal development permit on March 8, allowing the Crystal Cove Alliance to move forward with the renovation project of the cottages.

Once restored, the 17 cottages will yield a total of 22 affordable overnight rental units. The project will create an additional 47,815 rental opportunities for families every year.

California Department of State Parks and Recreation and Crystal Cove Alliance were joint applicants on the permit.



(left to right) Deaf United Ambassador Elinor Goldberg, Deaf United CEO Lamar Stewart, Mayor Kevin Muldoon, and deaf actor Gregg Brooks at the Deaf-Friendly City commemorative event.
— Photo by Victoria Kertz ©

Newport Beach was officially recognized as the first Deaf-Friendly City in America.

The Deaf United World Alliance Foundation and sign language application provider Language People commemorated the occasion on March 10.

At five Newport Beach city buildings, new tablets running an application from Language People’s patented technology allow deaf people to access city services via videoconferencing. The technology also assists non-English speaking people.

The free tablet service is available at the Newport Coast Community Center, Oasis Senior Center, Central and Mariners branches of the Newport Beach Public Library, and the city clerk’s office and permit center at City Hall.




[left photo] Newport Beach City Councilman Scott Peotter listens as opponents raise concerns about him and serve him with a notice of recall at the council meeting . [right photo] Balboa Peninsula Lori Morris (center) explains her reasons for supporting the recall effort alongside Harbor Commissioner and Corona del Mar resident Paul Blank and Big Canyon resident Lynn Swain.
— Photos by Sara Hall ©
A group of opponents served City Councilman Scott Peotter a notice of recall during the April 11 council meeting.

Paul Blank, 30-year resident of Corona del Mar and Harbor Commissioner, led the charge during the public comment period. Blank was joined by fellow locals Lynn Swain of  Big Canyon and Lori Morris of Balboa Peninsula.

For their reasoning, the group cited Peotter’s support of the Museum House residential tower project and other development in Newport Beach, not conducting himself in a civil manner, not respecting the law, and insulting his colleagues, constituents, and other officials, among other issues.

Peotter came down from the dais to take the paperwork and shake the hands of his opponents.

Peotter said the effort to recall him is  based on his political incorrectness, not that he broke a law or committed an impeachable offense.



From the first phase of the sculpture garden exhibition, Ray Katz’s “Odyssey” looms over the Newport Beach Civic Center.
— Photo by Sara Hall ©

Bound by promises made by former councils, the current Newport Beach City Council warily agreed to fund Phase III of the rotating sculpture exhibition during their April 11 council meeting.

Their blessing came with strings attached and a message: Future arts projects will need to be funded by the community, not by the city.

The Newport Beach Arts Commission responded with plans for action.

Commissioner Michael Kerr outlined three proposals that he’d like to see incorporated into the foundation: A board of trustees for governance, a Friends group for passive members, and an Art in Action group for organizing and running events like Art in the Park.



A Newport Beach police officer shot and killed a knife-wielding domestic violence suspect during an incident on April 5.

Police received a 911 call at 9:11 p.m. from a resident reporting an in-progress domestic violence incident in the 200 block of 61st Street.

Upon arriving on the scene, the officer contacted the suspect, who was carrying a knife, outside on the sidewalk.

Although he initially complied with orders to drop the weapon, the suspect re-armed himself with the knife seconds later. The suspect then exhibited threatening actions towards the officer so the officer fired at the suspect, striking him. He died later that evening.



Family members of Newport Beach’s famous former resident, John Wayne, pose for photos with city and regional officials by the sign for the park recently named after the actor.
— Photo by Jim Collins ©

City Council voted 5-2 on April 25 to change the name of Ensign View Park, located adjacent to Newport Theater Arts Center on Cliff Drive, to John Wayne Park.

All the council members praised Wayne, but were split on whether or not to name a park after the actor or whether the Council should be the first and only board to have input.

Typically, an item concerning a city park would go through the Parks, Beaches and Recreation Commission first and they would make a recommendation to Council on the matter.

Several council members and residents argued this point as reason to table the issue.




The city recently took over management of the moorings in Newport Harbor.
— Photo by Sara Hall ©

During a May 10 Harbor Commission meeting, city staff presented their strategy to take over management of the approximate 1,220 onshore and offshore moorings in Newport Harbor from the Orange County Sheriff‘s Department Harbor Patrol.

The proposed program is meant to be more customer service oriented and more user-friendly.

Under the new program, rentals of vacant moorings would be handled by the city, permit information would be handled at an office at Marina Park, and an on-water nuisance/code enforcement plan will also be implemented.

How, when and where the harbor is patrolled, code enforcement, and the system that manages the moorings, and the use of technology – both mobile phone apps and online services- should all make a big difference, staff explained.

City staff confirmed that the OC Sheriff’s Department Harbor Patrol would still be on duty in the harbor.



The intersection at Bayside and Harbor Island drives, one of the main points of contention during a recent City Council discussion about the street layout of Bayside Drive.
— Photo by Christopher Trela ©

Abandoning the previously approved (and controversial) roundabout plan, the current City Council voted 4-3 on May 9 for the first option staff presented for alternative street layout plans for Bayside Drive.

The plan is meant to improve pedestrian and bicycle access, beautify the roadway and may provide a slight speed reduction with minimal impact to the flow of traffic.

The approved plan would maintain the four lanes, but with reduced widths and strategically placed raised medians as traffic calming measures. In this concept, the Harbor Island Drive intersection remains “uncontrolled,” city staff explained in the report.

Several members of the public on both sides of the issue agreed that safety should be the top priority, but they split on whether or not a roundabout would increase or decrease the danger and on what plan was the safest.



A construction crew destroyed part of the seawall on the Balboa Peninsula on May 24 and inadvertently let the high tide in, flooding the street and nearby garages and homes.

Workers apparently removed the cap of a section of seawall at 36th Street and Finley Avenue as part of the work they were doing on a residential lot.

The tide that night was just over six feet. Witnesses say the street was filled with about two feet of water.

City crews pumped water out and placed sandbags along the broken seawall.




Joshua Daniel Baird, 22, of Buena Park was arrested near 61st Street on June 11 on suspicion of driving under the influence after.

Baird allegedly struck a 37-year-old male Newport Beach resident jogging westbound on the north sidewalk of the highway while he was driving on Pacific Coast Highway in West Newport.

The injuries were considered “major/serious” at the time.


A total of 511 surfers hold hands and form a circle in Huntington Beach, breaking a Guinness World Record for largest surfing paddle out.
— Photo by Jim Collins ©


Numerous local surfers participated in the Huntington Beach International Surfing Museum’s “Surfing Circle of Honor” on June 20, along with several hundred others who paddled out into the water, held hands and broke a world record.

The event was in celebration of International Surfing Day.

The 511 surfers (and one dog) broke the Guinness World Records’  “largest surfing paddle out” category.



Passengers disembark from the Balboa Peninsula Trolley during the inaugural run.
— Photo by Christopher Trela ©


The Balboa Peninsula Trolley made its inaugural run on June 16, taking members of the media and local leaders to four picturesque points on the peninsula the day before the trolley service rolled out to the public.

In a ribbon cutting ceremony in front of Balboa Pavilion, council members, community leaders, city staff and residents gathered to celebrate the trolley.

The trolley transported 777 riders on the first official day of service. The initial ridership reports for the first weekend of the trolley service was encouraging, according to city staff.


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