*NOTE: Indy Editor Sara Hall compiled this look back at what made headlines in the Newport Beach Independent during 2019. This week, January through June. Next week will cover the top news stories of the second half of the year (click here to read).
Click on the text of each item to read the original story*
• The central library kicked off its 25-year anniversary celebration with special events and activities (that ran through July). A balloon tower with a giant “25” greeted guests entering the library and visitors signed a giant anniversary card.
• City Council voted 5-0 on Jan. 22 to revise and update a number of harbor fees and rents, as recommended following a fee study and review from the Harbor Commission. The fees are based off of fair-market value, comparing to a number of similar harbors, and includes the time and effort from staff. The approved fee schedule would add approximately $458,354 in revenue for the city.
• Council unanimously approved setting the fee for the new sidewalk vending permit program at $155 during a Jan. 22 meeting. The program allows the movable merchants to sell food and other items from non-motorized carts in Newport Beach, but with heavy restrictions on where and how they conduct business. Previously, the municipal code banned using public property for commercial purposes, but in an effort to comply with Senate Bill 946, which went into effect on Jan. 1.
• Renovation of a small, local park in West Newport was tabled so the city could conduct more research and community outreach, primarily centered around health concerns about whether to use sand or a rubber mat in the play area. The Parks, Beaches & Recreation Commission, after hearing some concerns from neighborhood residents, voted unanimously on Feb. 5 to continue the rehabilitation of Newport Island Park until a future meeting.
• Nearly half a century after a local girl was abducted and killed, authorities arrested a suspect in connection to a cold case that shocked the community at the time. The combination of DNA technology, an online genealogy database, and traditional police work led Newport Beach Police Department investigators to take James Alan Neal, 72, into custody on Feb. 19 for the 1973 kidnapping and murder of 11-year-old Linda Ann O’Keefe. NBPD and the Orange County District Attorney’s Office announced the arrest and filing of charges against Neal at a joint press conference on Feb. 20.
• Newly elected Congressman Harley Rouda (D-Laguna Beach) answered a variety questions during his first local town hall on Feb. 19, including several on national issues that hit home in Newport Beach: Negative impacts from an airport, homelessness and healing the division among political leaders.
• About 50 people attended the first General Plan Update Steering Committee meeting on Feb. 13, although it was only a staff-led introductory overview. Staff, Council members, and residents all emphasized transparency, inclusiveness, and public engagement as an important part of the process.
On Feb. 20, the first time the steering committee officially met and managed the discussion, they discussed the draft request for proposals for the consultant and considered splitting up the consultant work.
• Photos of a March 2 Newport Harbor High School party showing a group of teenagers giving the Nazi “Sieg Heil” salute while gathering around a swastika formed with red plastic cups quickly went viral on social media and picked up national attention.
Photos from the off-campus party showed Nazi symbolism during a drinking game, an action some online commenters, including a few who claimed to be NHHS students, defended on various social media sites, arguing that it was just a game or only a joke. Others wrote that they are simply teenagers who had been drinking and made a poor decision. Newport Beach Mayor Diane Dixon and Mayor Pro Tem Will O’Neill released a joint statement on March 4 about the incident, saying they are “appalled and saddened” by the “deeply disturbing” photos.
• Authorities revealed a wide-reaching college admissions cheating scheme that included millions paid in bribes, as well as falsified exam scores, achievements, and athletic accomplishments, and a Newport Beach college prep business is at the center of it all. Authorities charged 50 people on March 12 in connection with the largest college admissions scandal in Justice Department history. At the top of the list was William “Rick” Singer, who founded Edge College & Career, LLC, based in Newport Beach.
• Hundreds of local Newport Beach and wider Orange County residents attended a joint town hall on April 6 about John Wayne Airport. People packed into the community room at the NB civic center and overflowed onto the patio for the meeting, hosted by OC Supervisor Michelle Steel (whose district covers the city) and Newport Beach Mayor Diane Dixon. The meeting got heated over the course of two hours, as some people directly questioned the officials speaking, yelled out a few times during the presentation, and waved signs.
• A lot of opinions, ideas, and concerns were shared by boaters, marine-related business owners, and mooring permitees during the first public forum for the Newport Beach Title 17 Harbor Code review. As part of their ongoing effort to update the city’s Harbor Code, Harbor Commissioners and city staff hosted the community meeting on April 8 to gather input from the community.
• The Newport Beach Film Festival commemorated its 20th anniversary as nearly 50,000 film fans and cinema devotees descended on the coastal city between April 26 and May 2. During the week-long event, nearly 350 films were screened, representing some four dozen countries. The popular annual event featured nightly special events, red carpet galas, seminars with filmmakers and other industry professionals.
• Vesper, representing the Newport Harbor Yacht Club, earned a handful of trophies for the 72nd annual Newport to Ensenada International Yacht Race, which was held April 26–28.
Sailing a Transpac 52 in the ULDB-MAXI class, Vesper earned the Tommy Bahama Trophy for the Best Overall Corrected Time, the President of USA Trophy for Best Corrected – All PHRF, the President of Mexico Trophy for Best Corrected – Maxi Class, and the Jack Bailee Trophy for Best Corrected Newport Beach Club.
• The Newport Beach Police Department’s dispatch center received information at 3:08 p.m. on May 1 that a pursuit of a silver Mercedes, which started in Laguna Beach, was proceeding through Orange County. The suspect was identified as Richard Scott Bloustine, who was wanted for a felony no bail warrant for fraud and reported to be armed with a gun. He drove erratically along the 73 toll road, along Jamboree Drive, and roads surrounding John Wayne Airport and in the Newport Center area, before stopping in a parking lot at 1441 Avocado Dr. Police reported that he stayed in his car for about 45 minutes before surrendering.
• Grace Elisabeth Ziesmer, 22, of Fullerton was charged May 13 for posting Nazi propaganda posters at Newport Harbor High School and Fullerton College, the Orange County District Attorney announced. She allegedly posted Nazi propaganda posters on NHHS campus in March.
• City Council unanimously approved the conceptual design for a renovation project of the popular Grant Howald Park in Corona del Mar during their May 14 meeting. The multi-use park, located on 3.1 acres on 5th Avenue between Marguerite and Goldenrod avenues, has served the recreational needs of the community since 1954 and is in need of some rehabilitation work. Staff recommended upgrading three major components of the park: Playground layout and equipment plan, sports field design, and Fifth Avenue streetscape.
• Orange County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a revised option for the John Wayne Airport General Aviation Improvement Program during a June 25 meeting. The alternative plan includes many elements of the project alternative supported by the city of Newport Beach. City officials called it a compromise and a “win” for the city.
• The grand opening celebration for phase IV of the Sculpture Exhibition in the Civic Center Park was held June 22. Visitors heard speeches from officials, talked to artists, and viewed nine new sculptures (one piece was not yet installed) in the “museum without walls.”