A Look Back at 2014 in Newport Beach, Part 2

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A tribute memorial for Ben Carlson at the lifeguard headquarters. Photo Credit: Sara Hall
A tribute memorial for Ben Carlson at the lifeguard headquarters.
Photo Credit: Sara Hall

NOTE: Indy reporter Sara Hall compiled this look back at what made headlines in the NB Independent during the second half of  2014. Read part 1 here.


— Ben Carlson, 32, a 15-year veteran Newport Beach lifeguard, died while attempting to rescue a swimmer in distress.

Carlson is the first Newport Beach lifeguard to die in the line of duty.

He entered the water to rescue the swimmer in 6 to 8 foot surf near 16th street. After he successfully made contact with the man, both of them were hit by a large wave. When Carlson didn’t resurface, a massive search began.

Carlson’s body was eventually located between 27th and 28th streets.

The swimmer that Carlson rescued made it safely to shore.

Hundreds of supporters later honored Carlson with a paddle-out event. Thousands of people on the pier and on shore watched the ceremony. A memorial service was also held the same day on the beach at Orange Street in Newport Beach.


— Lonnie Ballentine of the University of Memphis was honored as Mr. Irrelevant, the last player selected in the 2014Irrelevant 1 NFL draft.

Ballentine is a 6-foot, 3-inch, 220-pound defensive back selected by the Houston Texans with the 256th and final pick of the 2014 NFL Draft.

Ballentine received the Lowsman Trophy and was toasted and roasted at an All-Star banquet attended by past Mr. Irrelevants and other sports greats.


— City Council approved a revised version of an amendment to the city’s General Plan Land Use element.

After more than an hour and a half of discussion, the item passed 4-1, with Councilwoman Nancy Gardner dissenting and council members Mike Henn and Leslie Daigle absent.

The amendment was placed on the Nov. 4 ballot.

Council members heard public comment from 19 speakers, the majority of whom opposed the changes and urged council members to vote no on the item.


— The Wells Fargo Bank at 3600 East Coast Highway was robbed by a Prada-wearing thief.

The suspect had entered the Corona del Mar bank approximately 10 minutes earlier and then left within one minute. He returned to the bank and passed a note to a teller demanding money.

Christopher Bruce Mellies, 28, of Huntington Beach was later arrested by Newport Beach Police Department officers near a relative’s home in HB on Aug. 1.


— About 3,000 Balboa Peninsula homes and businesses were without gas after a line was damaged.

Shortly before 2 p.m. a third party contractor was excavating sand from Marina Park and transporting it across Balboa Boulevard to the beach near 20th Street. Workers were using heavy equipment and a natural gas line near 1900 W. Oceanfront ruptured.

Residents were temporarily evacuated, the leak was fixed the next day and service was restored by the afternoon of the following day.


skinner 1— Jack and Nancy Skinner were named Newport Beach Citizens of the Year.

They are the first husband and wife to be honored for the award, which dates back to 1949. The Skinners, who recently celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary, have been involved with city issues such as water quality and land use for many years, and are still active as board members for SPON.


— City Council candidates had their first chance of the political season to discuss the issues alongside each other in a Chamber of Commerce sponsored forum.

The monthly Wake Up! Newport meeting was dedicated to candidates and the event sold out, filling up nearly 200 seats in the Friends Room at the Newport Beach Public Library.

All candidates in the running were present for the forum.

Each candidate gave a one minute introduction, before they moved onto the lightening round, a series of yes/noAugust1a_Sara_Hall questions (with each candidate answering simultaneously with thumbs up/thumbs down paddles). The group finished with a series of questions that each answered with a one minute or less response.


— Authorities removed thousands of marijuana plants just outside of Newport Beach city limits last week.

The plants were located south of the SR 73 toll road, east of Newport Coast Drive near East Coastal Peak Park and Ridge Park Road.

Investigators estimated there were approximately 2,500-4,000 marijuana plants in various stages of maturity. The plants had an estimated street value of about $5 million.

The department’s airship “Duke” was utilized to lift and move the plants to a nearby staging area at Coastal Peak Park where they were packaged for evidence.

The operation took several hours to complete.


— Two residents filed a lawsuit disputing the language in Measure Y, the proposed general plan land use element amendment.

Petitioners Susan Skinner and Bert Ohlig allege there is a “complete lack of impartiality” in the ballot language and is an “egregious violation” of the elections code, according to court records.

The suit named Newport Beach City Clerk Leilani Brown and OC Registrar-Recorder Neal Kelley as respondents.

Skinner and Ohlig criticize the ballot question claiming that the language is unfair and impartial.

Nothing could be farther from the truth, the city attorney argued. The ballot question was carefully considered by the City Council following an 18-month public hearing process and is an accurate summary of the impacts that will occur if the General Plan amendment is approved by the voters, he said.

An Orange County Superior Court judge later denied the petition filed by Skinner and Ohlig.


—  Longtime Balboa Island resident, business leader, and former Citizen of the Year Ralph Rodheim recently revealed that he has been diagnosed with ALS.

To help raise awareness and funds for ALS, Ralph took the “Ice Bucket Challenge.”

Dozens of people turned out in front of the Newport Beach Athletic Club to take the Ice Bucket Challenge with Rodheim.


— More than 50,000 surfers, body boarders, swimmers and onlookers crowded the peninsula when Hurricane Marie brought big waves to Newport Beach.

The swells kept the lifeguards busy with 73 rescues and about 8,000 preventative actions on the first day. Lifeguards estimated, at their peak around 11 a.m. Wednesday, the surf was at 10 feet with sets up to 20 feet.

Some waves breached the berm and caused some minor flooding in certain areas.

Only a few injuries were reported.


— The old city hall site got one step closer to being turned into an upscale boutique hotel after City Council unanimously approved several related items.

After nearly an hour and a half of discussion, council voted 6-0 in approval for the Lido House Hotel lease and several land use amendments. Councilman Mike Henn recused himself.

Later in the month, about 50 people gathered at the old city hall site to witness the official signing of the lease from the city to R. D. Olson for the property on Newport Boulevard.

Bob Olson and Mayor Rush Hill signed the papers in a small ceremony in front of the old council chambers.


— More than 100 people crowded into the community room at the civic center, and even more were out walking September1a_Sara_Hallaround the park, all as part of the grand opening of the Sculpture Exhibit at the Civic Center Park.

The 10 sculptures were chosen by a six member panel from 260 submissions.

Some of the sculptures are meant to be fun, while others are mean to be thought-provoking.


— Comedic actress Leslie Mann and actor, songwriter and lead singer for the band Sugar Ray, Mark McGrath, were named as the first ever Grand Marshals for the 106th Annual Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade.

Mann and McGrath have both called Newport Beach home since their childhood attending Corona del Mar High School.


— Orange County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to approve the John Wayne Airport settlement agreement amendment.

The agreement extended the curfew through 2035 and caps annual passengers.

The vote extends and amends the current 1985 agreement, which was amended in 2003. It would have expired in 2015.


— The Newport Beach Police Department arrested tutor Timothy Lance Lai when he arrived at Los Angeles International Airport after fleeing the country earlier in the year when police began investigating crimes related to illegally changing grades of students at Corona del Mar High School during the 2012 to 2013 school year.

He was charged with one felony count of second degree commercial burglary and four felony counts of computer access and fraud. If convicted, he faces a maximum sentence of five years and eight months in jail.

He posted $200,000 bail and was released from jail.

In November, he pleaded not guilty to felony charges of commercial burglary and fraud.


— Culminating years of work by city staff, residents and bicyclists, and following yet another cyclist death, Newport Beach City Council unanimously approved the Bicycle Master Plan 7-0.

“It is a $23 million capital plan for a 20-year horizon,” said Councilman Tony Petros.

The plan reviews existing conditions, makes recommendations, suggests an implementation plan and considers a future evaluation.


— Thousands of Newport Beach residents visited the voting booths and cast their ballots for city council members, Measure Y and more.

Self-dubbed “Team Newport,” Marshall “Duffy” Duffield, Kevin Muldoon, Scott Peotter and Diane Dixon, swept the election.

Beating out incumbent mayor Rush Hill, Tim Brown, Roy Englebrecht and Mike Toerge.

The controversial Measure Y was shot down, with 69.2 percent of Newport Beach voters checking the “no” box.


— Newport Beach Restaurant Week announced a renewed and refreshed format and expanded dates for its return in January 2015.

Instead of one week, Restaurant Week will be held over two weeks, Jan. 19 – Feb. 1.

The prix fixe menus have also expanded to four options for lunch ($10, $15, $20 and $25) and four for dinner ($20, $30, $40 and $50).


— City Council unanimously voted last week to rename the lifeguard headquarters as “Benjamin M. Carlson Lifeguard Headquarters.”

More than 100 people attended the meeting, including several Newport Beach Fire Department fire and lifeguard staff.

On July 6, Ben Carlson became the first Newport Beach Lifeguard to die in the line of duty.


— Council approved four parts of the Balboa Village Parking Management District plan, but continued the residential permit program and directed staff to return with a plan to conduct a survey on the issue. They voted 6-1, with Councilman Mike Henn dissenting.

Staff discussed the five different components of the second part of the overall plan: Residential Permit Parking Program; parking management district plan and overlay district; parking benefit district; public parking fees; and other parking programs and permits.


— In an effort to spread both holiday cheer and a meaningful message, the Newport Beach Police Department released a video showing officers singing a warning about drinking and driving set to a festive holiday tune.

The song, set to the tune “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” shows officers on the street, conducting a breathalyzer test, towing a car, taking a mug shot, and twirling some handcuffs in front of a stopped car and crying DUI “suspect” actress.

The “Holiday DUI PSA” video features motor officers Matt Keyworth and Bill Hume, officers Tony Yim and Garrett Young, and custody officer Daran Kanbara lip-synching the carol. It was sung by animal control officer Mike Teague.


— The new City Council members got down to business quickly during their first meeting, each one calling for some kind of action, just moments after they were individually sworn in.

The new council team also unanimously voted Ed Selich in as mayor and new member Diane Dixon as mayor pro tem.

The four newbies on the dais, self-dubbed “Team Newport” during the campaign, each directed staff on several different issues during council announcements to be placed on the agenda for the next meeting on Jan. 13.


— Sunset Ridge Park, located at the northwest corner of Coast Highway and Superior Avenue, held it’s grand opening.

A sizeable crowd of adults, kids and dogs showed up for the official ribbon cutting ceremony.

The official groundbreaking was nearly one year ago—Dec. 10, 2013.


— Newport Beach presented its “Christmas card to the world”: the 106th Annual Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade.

This year’s parade, themed “Deck the Hulls with Bows of Jolly,” had 90 decorated vessels cruising Newport Harbor.


— Newport Beach announced that the city will host some of the star athletes from the 2015 Special Olympics World Games, held in Los Angeles.

About three dozen people gathered in front of the main library and civic green to hear the official announcement.

Mayor Ed Selich presented a key to the city to the Special Olympics representatives, and read a proclamation declaring the city as a host town and supporting the games.

The games are being held in the U.S. for the first time since 1999.


— Two people were injured after jumping from the second story of a burning house on the Balboa Peninsula.

Newport Beach Fire Department units responded to a second alarm fire in the 300 block of 34th Street at 4:16 a. m.

By the time firefighters arrived a few minutes later, the residents, one male and one female, had evacuated the building by jumping from the second floor to the ground.

They were treated for injuries and transported to a local hospital by NBFD paramedics.

The blaze caused $1.5 to $2 million worth of damage, according to preliminary estimates.

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