‘We’re not going to sit idly by,’ Spitzer says of O.C. burglaries, robberies

Orange County Dist. Atty. Todd Spitzer speaks during a press conference to address burglaries.
Orange County Dist. Atty. Todd Spitzer speaks during a press conference to address the burglaries happening across Orange County on May 17 in Santa Ana.
(Scott Smeltzer / Daily Pilot)

Good morning. It’s Wednesday, May 24. We are Carol Cormaci and Vince Nguyen, bringing you this week’s TimesOC newsletter. Together we’ve aggregated the latest local news and events.

The efforts of a task force combating home-invasion robberies and smash-and-grab burglaries in Orange County over the past year have resulted in the arrests of 141 people, according to O.C. Dist. Atty. Todd Spitzer, who called a news conference last Wednesday in Santa Ana to make the announcement.

The thefts happened throughout the county, including Fountain Valley, Newport Beach, Orange and Irvine, and many involved violence.

According to Spitzer, most of the people facing charges in connection with the crimes were not from the area, and all of the defendants are members of one of five organized crime rings investigated by Orange County’s Home Invasion Eradication Interdiction Strike Team, Spitzer said.

“These are carefully calculated and planned attacks on what should be our safe place: our homes,” Spitzer said.

Most of the people facing charges in connection with O.C. robberies and burglaries are from Los Angeles, Riverside, San Bernardino and San Diego counties, according to the Daily Pilot’s report on the news conference.

Some are residents of Chile who have been taking advantage of a loophole that allows them to flee the U.S. before facing prosecution, Spitzer said.

The robberies and burglaries they are accused of “are not crimes of opportunity,” Spitzer said.

“These crews that we are talking about today are organized criminals — organized — who are absolutely working together to exploit the vulnerability of people who have gone back to work,” Spitzer said.

Prosecutors allege seven of those accused in recent Orange County heists specifically targeted Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. Spitzer’s office is pursuing hate crime charges against those defendants.

“We’re not going to sit idly by and let this happen,” Spitzer told his audience.


A Pride flag measuring 33 feet by 24 feet is lowered from Huntington Beach pier.
About a hundred local activists and the LGBTQ+ supporters cheer as a giant rainbow Pride flag measuring 33 feet by 24 feet is unfurled from the side of Huntington Beach’s pier during a demonstration in Huntington Beach on Sunday, May 21, 2023.
(James Carbone)

— A giant, 33-by-24-foot Pride flag was unfurled by more than 100 LGBTQ+ activists at the end of the Huntington Beach Pier on Sunday. The demonstration, which included public speakers, was held largely in response to the city’s conservative leaders voting earlier this year to abandon the practice of hoisting the rainbow banner over City Hall in recognition of Pride Month. “Love wins in H.B.” was chanted by the crowd, according to this report of the colorful event by our colleague Matt Szabo.

— In other news out of Surf City, the City Council voted 4-3 to withdraw from the Orange County Power Authority during a special meeting on May 16. One of four founding cities in the Community Choice Energy Program, the city had been contemplating leaving the utility for months. The withdrawal is expected to become final in June 2024, leaving Irvine, Fullerton and Buena Park as the three remaining cities in the agency. Orange County voted to pull out last December.

— Laguna Beach addressed several community issues for its operation of South Laguna beaches, including a push for fire pits at Aliso Beach, concern over the location of a Pride lifeguard tower and continued advocacy for enforcement against the breaching of the Aliso Beach berm. The city is heading into its first summer overseeing the additional territory, having assumed control of the associated beaches from Orange County on March 1.

— Costa Mesa city officials are drafting an affordable housing law for new projects in an effort to encourage developers to build in the city. This follows a state order to plan and zone for 11,760 new housing units by 2029, writes Daily Pilot reporter Sara Cardine. The City Council and Planning Commission held a joint study session on May 16 to consider comments and questions as they work on an inclusionary housing ordinance to be brought to city officials and planners in the future.

— Until this year, the invocation given before Huntington Beach City Council meetings had traditionally been handled by the Greater Huntington Beach Interfaith Council. At a recent City Council meeting, Mayor Tony Strickland introduced a motion that would let the mayor choose who gives the invocation, and it passed 4-2-1.

— Construction issues are delaying the opening of the Newport Beach junior lifeguards headquarters, and the project is now expected to be completed in 2024. City project managers found issues in the concrete walls of the nearly 5,145-square-foot building, on which construction began September 2022. The program will continue to operate out of the trailer it has used since 1984, according to our colleague, reporter Lilly Nguyen.

— Twelve-year-old Clovis Hung has graduated from Fullerton College with the distinction of being the youngest person in the college’s 108-year history to receive a degree. Five degrees, to be precise. Hung, who enrolled in the college when he was 9, will graduate with associate of arts degrees in history, social sciences, social behavior and self-development, arts and human expression, and science and mathematics. He plans to stay at Fullerton for one more year to get an AA in autonomous systems development and hopes to attend Stanford or the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for a bachelor’s degree.

— Orange County Transportation Authority’s drivers for disabled commuters agreed on a new contract after picketing started in early May that stalled services across the county. OC Access provides about 3,500 trips daily and resumed full service on Monday.

— A recently awarded $1.4-million federal grant will allow Orange County households with children potentially exposed to lead paint to have the toxic substance removed from their homes for free. As our colleague Eric Licas reports, those who qualify must meet low-income status, have a child under 6 or a pregnant person staying with them and live in homes built before 1978.


A man crashed his car to a side of a Lake Forest home before grabbing a pickax and chasing people, including a roommate.
A man crashed his car to a side of a Lake Forest home Monday before grabbing a pickax and chasing people, including a roommate, authorities say.
(OnScene TV)

— A man was arrested Monday afternoon after he allegedly crashed his car into a Lake Forest home on the 22000 block of Robin Street, then threatened his roommate and chased neighbors with a pickax, according to Orange County sheriff’s deputies.

Two men died following reports of a fight early Sunday morning near an outdoor Anaheim shopping center, according to authorities. Officers with the Anaheim Police Department received reports of a fight and shooting in a parking structure for the Anaheim GardenWalk in the 300 block of West Katella Avenue just after 2 a.m. One victim died of a gunshot wound; the other was transported to a hospital with blunt force injuries and died there. Anyone with information about the incident can contact Anaheim Police homicide investigators at (714) 321-3669 or through the Orange County Crime Stoppers at (855) TIP-OCCS.

— Police have observed more and more accidents happening on the Huntington Beach Bike Trail. With a pair of radar-activated traffic signs installed along the path, authorities and city officials have focused their efforts on educating and encouraging people to cycle more safely, rather than punishing them.

— One person was shot and injured near the Newport Beach Pier late Friday, according to a Daily Pilot report. Newport Beach police responded to the incident at 1 Newport Pier at around 10:30 p.m. Friday where they found the victim. The suspect was later identified as Austin Knott, 30, of Costa Mesa, and arrested. The unidentified victim was treated at a hospital and has since been released.


Wanderlust Creamery, now open in Irvine, is known for making globally inspired flavors.
(Courtesy of Wanderlust Creamery)

— Wanderlust Creamery, the popular Los Angeles ice cream shop known for flavors inspired by travel, is expanding with its first Orange County location in Irvine. The shop held a grand-opening event on May 19, and offers flavors from around the world like its Japanese Neapolitan, a mix of matcha, hojicha and black sesame, and its Pandan Tres Leches, a Southeast Asian-inspired take on tres leches cake.

— Disneyland officials predict renovation plans could rake in $253 million annually to Anaheim’s economy, according to this Los Angeles Times report citing new data released by Walt Disney Co. In addition to the quarter-billion-dollar boost, the company says for every $1 billion it invests to redevelop and update Disneyland Resort, the project will generate $15 million in tax revenue and create 2,292 jobs. Disney is in the middle of pitching its 30-year theme park extension plan to Anaheim, but to proceed with its plan to redevelop areas of the existing resort, the company must receive approval for mixed-use land development from the city.


Observers examine Hollywood Juniper trees at Fairhaven Memorial Park.
Observers examine a collection of Hollywood juniper trees at Fairhaven Memorial Park. The species of tree is popular for cemeteries.
(Sarah Mosqueda / Daily Pilot)

— On the second Saturday of every month, Fairhaven Memorial Park in Santa Ana plays host to nature walks that showcase the 70 different species of trees along with hundreds of species of birds that call the cemetery home. The two-hour expedition is led by naturalist Joel Robinson of Naturalist-for-You and park employee Emily Alvarez. Those interested can join in on the fun by emailing emily.alvarez@sci-us.com.

— Corona del Mar senior Sophia Rabin is constantly working on music, with thousands of voice notes and written memos filled in her phone. The musician has recently been named a U.S. Presidential Scholar of the Arts for 2023, making her one of 20 students to be honored this year. Rabin, who is bound for USC, plans to pursue her craft professionally and will double-major in popular music performance and business. She will also be singing at Corona del Mar’s graduation ceremony in June.

— BMOXI, a free app launched this month by Laguna Beach resident Shawn Haydel and daughter Sienna Mason, has plenty of features designed to improve teen mental health. The “super app” was designed through consultation with experts including school counselors and adolescent psychologists, as well as extensive teen input. The ultimate goal is to help prevent mental health disorders, Haydel said.


Members of the Newport Harbor and Corona del Mar boys’ water polo teams battle in the bay on Thursday.
Members of the Newport Harbor and Corona del Mar boys’ water polo teams battle in the bay in front of the crowd in the Marina Park Community Center dock bowl on Thursday afternoon.
(Don Leach / Daily Pilot)

— Newport Beach Water Polo hosted the first “Battle in the Bay” showcase, pitting teams against each other in the cold water at the Marina Park Community Center dock bowl on Thursday. A popular event in Eastern Europe, the idea picked up steam prior to the coronavirus pandemic and was brought up again by Laird Hayes. More than 100 spectators turned out for the competition.

— Fountain Valley police made a pit stop at a local Arco gas station Thursday as part of a monthlong “Fuel the Flame” rally benefiting the Special Olympics of Southern California. The campaign aims to raise funds for and awareness of the nonprofit organization, which provides year-round sports training and athletic competition for children and adults with intellectual disabilities and the upcoming games. Those interested can make donations at some 750 Arco stations throughout the month of May and fill out special torch icons for display.

— Costa Mesa native Sara Hughes and partner Kelly Cheng, from Placentia, sealed their second consecutive AVP Huntington Beach Open victory on Sunday. The top-seeded duo defeated No. 4-seeded Betsi Flint and Julia Scoles, 21-18, 21-18, in the championship match. “It’s absolutely incredible, and I’m so happy Kelly and I won it together,” said Hughes, 28, a former star at Mater Dei High and USC. No. 5-seeded Andy Benesh and Miles Partain upset top-seeded Tri Bourne and Chaim Schalk, 20-22, 21-11, 15-12 in the men’s title match.


Bike riders pedal between rows of American flags posted for the 14th annual Field of Honor at Castaways Park.
Bike riders pedal between rows of American flags posted on the pathways during the 14th annual Field of Honor at Castaways Park in Newport Beach. The event honors and supports our armed forces, and first responders, and will be posted at the park through Memorial Day on Monday.
(Don Leach / Daily Pilot)

— The 14th annual Field of Honor, hosted by the Exchange Club of Newport Harbor, displays 1,776 flags to reflect the year that the U.S. was founded. This year’s display in Castaways Park celebrates both Armed Forces Day, celebrated every third Saturday of May, and Memorial Day, which this year falls on May 29. Admission is free, but donations are appreciated. Castaways Park is located at 700 Dover Drive, Newport Beach.

— A sampling of other Memorial Day events on tap in our region: The Freedom Committee of Orange County will be hosting its 69th annual Memorial Day celebration starting at 11 a.m. Monday at the Harbor Lawn-Mt. Olive Memorial Park, 1625 Gisler Ave. The city of Fountain Valley and the West Orange County Veterans of Foreign Affairs Post and Auxiliary 9557 will be hosting a flag-raising ceremony on Monday, beginning at 10 a.m. in Veterans Park, located behind City Hall at 17635 Los Alamos St. The city of Huntington Beach and American Legion Post 133 plan a tribute to be held at 11 a.m. Monday at Pier Plaza and Laguna Beach Jazz and Community bands will join forces to honor troops on Memorial Day with a free concert at Main Beach, beginning at 11 a.m.

The Garden Grove Strawberry Festival returns Memorial Day weekend. The free event, held May 26 to May 29, will feature carnival rides, games and food vendors as well as live music and competitions. The festival benefits local organizations, and over the last 65 years, the Strawberry Festival Assn. estimates over $7 million has been raised for local charities. A full schedule of events can be found at strawberryfestival.org.

— Kontrapunktus’ fifth performance of “The Begotten Son: Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach,” featuring violin soloist Aubree Oliverson, comes to Our Lady Queen of Angels in Newport Beach on May 27. The concert begins at 7:30 p.m., and tickets are on sale for $25 at bit.ly/42QWVqd.


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We appreciate your help in making this the best newsletter it can be. Please send news tips, your memory of life in O.C. (photos welcome!) or comments to carol.cormaci@latimes.com or vincent.nguyen@latimes.com.