What’s required to turn around kids at O.C. Juvenile Hall? Incentives, officials say, as new center unveiled

German Zarate, a deputy juvenile correctional officer, in new auto shop at the Orange County Juvenile Hall.
German Zarate, a deputy juvenile correctional officer, shows off the new auto shop at the new Multipurpose Rehabilitation Center at Orange County Juvenile Hall.
(Scott Smeltzer / Daily Pilot)

Good morning! It’s Wednesday, Dec. 7. I’m Carol Cormaci, freshly back from an all-too-brief getaway to Sedona, Ariz., bringing you today’s TimesOC newsletter with the latest roundup of local news and events. Many thanks to my colleague Gabriel San Román, who filled in for me last week.

In hopes of improving outcomes for the children and young adults incarcerated at Orange County Juvenile Hall, the new multimillion-dollar Multipurpose Rehabilitation Center was constructed to better accommodate visiting family members, including younger siblings. It also features meeting rooms and a garage equipped with a vehicle lift that will allow staff to teach entry-level auto shop.

My colleague Eric Licas reported on the recent opening of the facility in a story that includes a description of what parents used to face when visiting their offspring at the facility.

“They would line up by a nondescript door in the corner of an open-air plaza just south of UCI Medical Center in Orange and check in at three different desks in order to see their children,” he writes.

“The last of those desks was inside the correction facility’s visiting center, a bungalow with a faded beige exterior that had been in service for over 30 years, despite being intended for temporary use,” Licas continues. “Scuffs and scrapes dot its inner walls, which have been repeatedly resurfaced and repainted, often by the teens living in Juvenile Hall.”

The new facility features a larger visiting area that shares a large glass wall with a playroom filled with toys and video games for siblings of the incarcerated so that moms and dads can keep an eye on them while visiting their troubled teens.

The auto shop incorporated in the center creates an opportunity for the teens to learn a trade while housed at Juvenile Hall.

“Deputy Correctional Officer German Zarate teaches the newly formed automotive program at the facility,” Licas writes. “He learned how to work on cars from his father and grew up in his auto repair business, sparking a passion that stayed with him into adulthood.”

Zarate told the reporter he finds it “amazing that I get to share those skills that were handed down to me with these kids now. Because at the end of the day, we want to see them get hired once they get out of here.”

According to Orange County Probation Division Director Stanford Rose, the construction of the new multipurpose center exemplifies a broader shift in the way the Orange County Probation Department and other agencies approach the supervision of minors convicted of crimes.

“Over the years, they have moved away from what had by and large been a punitive model, focusing instead on creating incentives to encourage growth and rehabilitation,” Licas explains.

In addition to being given instruction that might assist them in future careers, the teens can make use of the new center’s full-sized gym.

“It is attached to a weight room, equipped with a variety of sporting equipment and is large enough to host indoor soccer games,” Licas writes. “Teens also plan to use it to hold a talent show and other events organized by the Juvenile Hall’s Youth Council, a group of members from each of the correctional facility’s units and elected to communicate the wants and needs of their peers with staff.”

Supervising correctional officer Erick Bieger told Licas the new center is well-received by Juvenile Hall’s residents.

“When my kids walked in here for the first time, it was like being in a candy store: just, like, looking around, completely in awe,” Bieger said.

“And they couldn’t quite understand that this was for them,” he continued. “They see the auto shop and they’re like ‘Wait, what’s happening here?’ Because they’re used to, y'know, jail.”


Newland Elementary School principal and professional cellist Chris Christensen poses for a photo at a gig.
Newland Elementary School principal and professional cellist Chris Christensen, pictured at a gig, was identified as the man who leaped to his death from a parking structure at Disneyland on Saturday.
(Courtesy of Dianna Gray)

— Tragedy struck Saturday, when the principal at Newland Elementary School in Huntington Beach reportedly jumped to his death from a parking garage at Disneyland, according to authorities. The educator, Christopher Christensen, 51, of Westminster, was facing misdemeanor charges of child endangerment and battery at the time of his death, Orange County Superior Court records show. This week friends and colleagues who knew Christensen, who was also a professional cellist, remembered him as a positive influence.

— As of yesterday morning police were still searching for a suspect involved in an 8 p.m. Monday shooting on the 5200 block of Tasman Drive in Huntington Beach that resulted in a death. Responding officers found a wounded man, later identified by the Orange County Coroner’s office Jimmy Sengpaseuth, who died at the scene. Sengpaseuth was a 31-year-old Los Angeles resident.

— A grand-opening ceremony was held Thursday for the Mendez Tribute Monument Park in Westminster. An effort that got underway in 2017, the park commemorates the landmark 1947 Orange County case, “Mendez, et al vs. Westminster School District of Orange County, et al,” which laid the groundwork for school desegregation throughout California and the nation. The suit, which saw five Mexican American families challenge school segregation, will no longer be a footnote in the history books, City Manager Christine Cordon said. Activist Sylvia Mendez, 86, was on hand for the celebration and called it “a big honor” to see the project completed.

— Michael Avenatti, the celebrity Newport Beach lawyer who was undone by his proclivity for embezzlement and fraud, was sentenced Monday to 14 years in prison for dodging taxes and stealing millions of dollars from clients. His sentencing by U.S. District Judge James V. Selna in Santa Ana concludes the last of three federal prosecutions of the former attorney.

— Costa Mesa’s first legal pot dispensary opened its doors on Harbor Boulevard in a Black Friday soft opening was attended by members of the City Council. The business, 420 Central Newport Mesa, operates out of a 2,446-square-foot storefront at 1990 Harbor Blvd. The store carries repackaged cannabis and cannabis products, from edible goods and tinctures to transdermal patches and concentrates.

— After five years of fundraising, the Newport Beach Animal Shelter is nearing completion and is now expected to open early next year. The Friends of the Newport Beach Animal Shelter and the city of Newport Beach approved a gift agreement last week that essentially hands over the shelter currently being constructed at 20282 Riverside Drive. The organization raised $2.9 million to acquire the property and finance the construction of the shelter.

— Orange Coast magazine, along with sister publications Los Angeles and Pasadena magazines, has been purchased by celebrity attorney Mark Geragos and Ben Meiselas, a partner at Geragos & Geragos, it was announced Monday. All three publications sold for an as-of-yet undisclosed price and will be based in downtown Los Angeles under the auspices of a new company called Engine Vision Media. The three magazines’ prior owner was Michigan-based Hour Media Group.

— A state watchdog agency for judges Tuesday cleared Orange County Superior Court Judge Michael Murray of any official misconduct as a prosecutor in his handling of a case involving the death of a Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy in a crash, City News Service reported. The state Commission on Judicial Performance recommended no discipline over Murray’s handling of the prosecution of Cole Wilkins in the July 7, 2006, crash that killed off-duty L.A. County Sheriff’s Deputy David Piquette.


A candy sleigh at B. Candy during the annual Corona del Mar Christmas Walk.
Guests have their picture taken as they sit in a big candy sleigh at B. Candy during the annual Corona del Mar Christmas Walk in the Corona del Mar Village along Pacific Coast Highway on Sunday. The celebration included live entertainment, visits from Santa, beer and wine, vendor gifts and children activities.
(James Carbone)

— Carolers and stiltwalkers provided just some of the color when the 43rd annual Corona del Mar Christmas Walk took place in the Newport Beach community. The event, presented by the Corona del Mar Chamber of Commerce, benefits Toys for Tots. Also on Sunday, the Huntington Beach Pier was illuminated with giant snowflakes for the annual Light a Light of Love ceremony to raise funds for the Waymakers Huntington Beach Youth Shelter.

— Over the past weekend 850 locals employed by investment management firm PIMCO gathered at the Orange County fairgrounds in Costa Mesa to pack 15,000 boxes of food and nonperishable items for area families in need. It was the 15th anniversary of the Newport Beach-based corporation’s “Share the Harvest” event. The goods will be distributed throughout the holiday season by Community Action Partnership of Orange County’s Food Bank.

— Huntington Beach officials celebrated with a dedication ceremony Saturday the city’s new 17th Street Park and Memorial Hall, the latter of which will serve as the new home of American Legion Post 133. Both the hall and the 2.01-acre park sit on the land formerly occupied by the Michael E. Rodgers’ Senior Center.

Robert Ross has taken over as the president of the board of directors for Art-A-Fair in Laguna Beach, an art festival he vows to make more prominent in the community. In addition to a public outreach campaign, Art-A-Fair plans to offer free admission to Laguna Beach residents to get more people in the door.

— On Saturday, the Vietnamese American Arts and Letters Assn. opened “Yellow Submarine Rising: Currents Within Asian American Art” at the Orange County Center for Contemporary Art in conjunction with the Downtown Santa Ana Art Walk. The multidisciplinary art exhibition was inspired by the #StopAsianHate movement and the resiliency of Asian and Pacific Islander Americans.


A scrambling Jackson Kollock (12), finds a receiver for a touchdown Saturday.
A scrambling Jackson Kollock (12), finds a receiver for a Laguna Beach touchdown during CIF State Southern California Region Division 4-A final against Granada Hills on Saturday.
(Don Leach / Daily Pilot)

— After the Laguna Beach High football team delivered the program’s first CIF Southern Section title in 76 years, the community turned out in force Saturday for what would be the final home game in the Breakers’ historic season, reports my colleague Andrew Turner. Alas, Laguna Beach came up on the short end against Granada Hills Charter, 56-55, in a dramatic CIF State Southern California Regional Division 4-A bowl game at Guyer Field. It was an action-packed game, with the teams racking up a combined 58 points in the first 15 minutes.

— On the same day as Laguna Beach fell to Granada Hills by that single point, Troy Leigber led Laguna Hills to 3-A regional bowl victory over Birmingham. Leighber ran for three touchdowns and scored another on a kickoff return to send the Hawks (14-1) to a 35-28 victory. He finished with 121 yards rushing in 28 carries. “He’s the engine that makes this machine work,” coach John Lester told L.A. Times prep sports columnist Eric Sondheimer. “He’s special.” Laguna Hills will advance to play San Jose Bellarmine in the 3-A final in Northern California on Saturday.

— Newport Beach resident Peyton “Dez” Tuma, a competitive gamer, won his first Madden Championship Series title in a Thanksgiving tournament this year. At 17 years, 3 months and 11 days old, he became the youngest Madden Series winner in history. His Cowboys beat Dwayne “CleffTheGod” Wood’s Buccaneers by a final score of 41-28 in the title game, with a late interception by a virtual Troy Polamalu sealing the deal with less than a minute remaining. He collected not only the championship belt, but also the $75,000 first prize.

— Reilyn Turner, Laguna Beach High alumna now playing soccer for UCLA, leaped for a header at the back post off a corner kick and put it in, tying the NCAA College Cup championship match at 2-2 in the 90th minute. The goal with 16 seconds left forced overtime, and the Bruins got the go-ahead rebound goal from graduate midfielder Maricarmen Reyes in double overtime in a 3-2 victory in Cary, N.C.

— MLB commissioner Rob Manfred says he’d like to have the sale of the Angels completed by Opening Day as the winter meetings in San Diego continue.

— An Anaheim man pleaded guilty last week to stealing an Olympic gold medal from the garage of volleyball player Jordyn Poulter in May. Jordan Fernandez pleaded guilty to felony counts of first- and second-degree burglary, unauthorized use of personal identification and bringing a controlled substance to jail, as well as a misdemeanor charge of possession of controlled substance paraphernalia, according to court records.


Greg Killingsworth's yacht Paradise Found is known as the "Snoopy" boat.
Greg Killingsworth shows off his yacht Paradise Found in preparation for the 2019 Newport Beach Boat Parade. He’s participating again in this year’s event, set for Dec. 14 through 18.
(Scott Smeltzer / Daily Pilot )

— Owners of vessels that call Newport Harbor their home are gearing up for the 114th annual Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade, this year set for Wednesday, Dec. 14 through Sunday, Dec. 18. So far, about 55 boats are registered to participate in the parade and more are expected to sign up soon, according to Newport Beach Chamber of Commerce Chief Executive Officer Steven Rosansky. Last year, 100 decorated boats charmed the crowds. The parade begins at Lido Isle.


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I appreciate your help in making this the best newsletter it can be. Please send news tips, your memory of life in O.C. or comments to carol.cormaci@latimes.com.