Hilary largely spares O.C. the pain felt elsewhere in the state

A family from Lake Arrowhead looks over the rail at Heisler Park.
The Reyes family from Lake Arrowhead looks over the rail at Heisler Park in Laguna Beach Sunday afternoon as Tropical Storm Hilary was headed north from Baja.
(Don Leach / Daily Pilot)

Good morning. It’s Wednesday, Aug. 23. I’m Carol Cormaci, bringing you this week’s TimesOC newsletter with a look at the latest local news and events.

There’s not much left to say today about Tropical Storm Hilary, which arrived with much fanfare and a whole lot of rain Sunday before dissipating to a mere memory by Monday afternoon, but I think you’d agree it was the biggest event to hit our region since we last met in this corner.

In Orange County, countless sandbags were dispensed and put in place over the weekend to counter flooding. Emergency responders were on high alert. Outdoor events were canceled so people could hunker down safely rather than hydroplaning in traffic and, in one well-publicized case, 1,000 animals under the care of the Wetlands & Wildlife Care Center were either released back into the great beyond or evacuated to safety in case the facility took too great a hit from Hilary as she made her way north from Baja.

Two Daily Pilot reporters, Andrew Turner and Lilly Nguyen, agreed to venture out into the early stages of the storm Sunday as it neared our coastal cities to see how people were coping for a report we could get online before nightfall. Even as pouring rain pounded the streets, they didn’t encounter many people who were truly worried the end was nigh. Most were out and about themselves that afternoon to soak in the atmosphere and check out the waves.

Turner, stationing himself in Laguna Beach, interviewed Dan Barabas, a New Jersey native who was visiting the area with family. Barabas said the trip had been planned for a few months, and they were dismayed to see some businesses buttoned up for the storm’s duration. “We’re not going to let this little drizzle ruin our day,” he said. “We’ve been kind of horrified by how closed everything is because this isn’t much of a storm so far.”


Not everyone the reporters was as dismissive of Hilary’s potential for havoc. Others they spoke to were more respectful of a tropical storm’s power. Jason Crout, who had biked from his home on Balboa Island to survey the waves and the pier, told reporter Nguyen he was interested in the way that water looked in urban spaces that weren’t designed to handle a lot of saturation.

The Balboa Island Ferry operations manager Nate Capra noted business was down from a typical Sunday afternoon in August but that the ferry was still serving customers.

“Right now, our focus is the ferry’s ability to get in and out of the slip safely,” Capra said. “In my communication with my assistant manager, it seems like a normal stormy day right now. The wind is very manageable. It’s very wet, but we have a great team. ... We’re expecting the worst to come this evening, but we’re going to continue monitoring and communicating with everybody.”

As Monday dawned and we took a look around, it became apparent O.C. had been spared from much of the fury the capricious Hilary spewed elsewhere in our state.

The inch counts of rainfall experienced in O.C. varied from one community to the next. Check out this map by the National Weather Service for the details. If you don’t keep a rain gauge you can enter your city in the search field to find out the rainfall measurements experienced during the storm.

If you’re wondering what to do with the sandbags you so carefully filled and placed to protect your property, the following tips are among the suggestions offered by Huntington Beach officials: hang on to them for the next storm event; mix the sand into your soil to improve landscape drainage; dispose of sand over time in the appropriate trash receptacle (in H.B. that means the brown trash cart) or provide to family, friends or neighbors who can use them.

Orange County Fire Authority Chief Brian Fennessy speaks at a 2022 news conference.
Orange County Fire Authority Chief Brian Fennessy discusses the important role of hand crews in battling wildfires and thanks state lawmakers for allocating $16.95 million to build a new facility to house them near Trabuco Canyon during a news conference Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2022. Fennessy, a San Clemente resident, was named the 2023 Fire Chief of the Year last week by the International Assn. of Fire Chiefs.
(Courtesy of the Orange County Fire Authority)

Orange County Fire Authority Chief Brian Fennesy last week was named by the International Assn. of Fire Chiefs as 2023 Fire Chief of the Year in a special ceremony celebrating the organization’s 150th anniversary. Fennessy, a 64-year-old resident of San Clemente who oversees 78 stations serving nearly 2 million residents in 23 municipalities and unincorporated areas, has been noted for several accomplishments since his arrival to the agency in 2018, according to this report on his latest accolades by my colleague Sara Cardine. “Nobody does it by themselves,” Fennessy told the reporter. “I’ve got a really good team of firefighters and others who go out and do this stuff — it’s been a really good team effort.”

County officials convened in Huntington Beach a few days prior to the arrival of our tropical storm to celebrate the revitalization of a 1-mile segment of a flood control channel, the first step in a $250-million collaboration with federal partners to reduce Orange County’s flood risk. During a news conference near a portion of the East Garden Grove-Wintersburg channel north of Warner Avenue, Orange County Board of Supervisors Vice Chair Andrew Do explained the significance of the project. “We are standing in Orange County’s largest floodplain. [It] covers a very large portion of Orange County west of the Santa Ana River,” said Do, whose district encompasses cities within the 74-square-mile Westminster Watershed. “What you have is a lot of sediment, a lot of dirt and a lot of sand with no real natural topography to channel water out to the ocean.” Full coverage of the news conference can be found here.


People walk toward an entrance at South Coast Plaza.
South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa, shown above in this file photo, is the latest target of a string of “flash mob” thefts, after a group of suspects entered a Gucci store Aug. 16, grabbed $100,000 in high-end handbags and fled to vehicles waiting outside.
(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

Five to 10 thieves wearing hooded sweatshirts and face masks were involved in a smash-and-grab robbery of the Gucci store in South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa last Wednesday. Thieves left with a number of handbags totaling a loss of more than $100,000 in the caper, which unfolded at around 7 p.m. “They just went in, grabbed what they could and ran out,” Costa Mesa Police Department spokesman Sgt. Jose Morales told the Daily Pilot. “There were no weapons and no injuries. Nothing was broken.”

A 70-year-old Laguna Hills physician was sentenced Friday to five years in jail for orchestrating a scheme to defraud Medi-Cal out of $20 million. Mohamed Waddah El-Nachef pleaded guilty last Sept. 28 to several felony counts related to the scheme, according to a City News Service report. He was also ordered to pay $2.3 million in restitution and surrender his medical license.

Sheriff’s deputies on Sunday shot and wounded a man in his 20s suspected of stabbing two people at a Lake Forest apartment complex, including one victim who died, CNS reported. The deputies were dispatched at 12:18 p.m. to an apartment complex in the 21000 block of Osterman Road to investigate a female suffering from stab wounds outside her apartment.

The trial before the California Bar Court, which began in June for former Chapman University Law School dean John Eastman, is scheduled to resume tomorrow after a two-month hiatus. You may recall from last week’s newsletter that Eastman is also one of those listed in a grand jury indictment handed down in Fulton County, Ga., in an alleged scheme to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election. On Tuesday, Eastman surrendered to authorities in Georgia, then was booked and released on $100,000 bond. With the possibility that his words may be used against him criminally in the Georgia case, Eastman will likely invoke his 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination in the bar trial,” reports the L.A. Times.

A former executive at an Orange County commercial real estate agency pleaded guilty Monday to embezzling more than $2.7 million from his employer by submitting bogus invoices for companies controlled by his family and friends, whose services were never performed. Varun Aggarwal, 41, of Irvine, pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.


Volunteer Raimund Sevilla from Johnson & Johnson MedTech, organizes food items at the South County Outreach Food Pantry.
Volunteer Raimund Sevilla from Johnson & Johnson MedTech, organizes food items during the Johnson & Johnson Week of Caring event, at the South County Outreach Food Pantry in Irvine.
(Don Leach / Daily Pilot)

Each year, Johnson & Johnson MedTech, based in Irvine, encourages employees to participate in a Week of Caring. On Aug. 8 some of them could be found helping stock the shelves at South County Outreach’s Food Pantry. “Volunteerism at our J&J MedTech Irvine campus has always been part of our culture, but officially we started our Week of Caring in 2021,” Kimberly Sanders, manager of global employee engagement, told my colleague Sarah Mosqueda. In addition to helping out at South County Outreach, employees volunteered with Second Harvest Food Bank, Girls Inc. of O.C., American Red Cross, Thomas House, Beyond Blindness, Dreams for Schools and at a beach cleanup in Laguna Beach.

Irvine-based ConsumerInfo.com Inc., which does business as Experian Consumer Services, will pay a $650,000 civil penalty as part of a settlement resolving alleged violations of federal law involving consumer rights, officials announced Tuesday. The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Santa Ana, concerns emails Experian sent to consumers who had created free Experian accounts to control third-party access to their credit reports, according to CNS.

The July unemployment rate in Orange County was 3.6%, down slightly from 3.7% the previous month, according to figures released Friday by the state Employment Development Department.


Pepper, a Boston terrier, was reunited with her Newport Beach family.
Pepper, a Boston terrier, was reunited with her family after Los Angeles Animal Control discovered she was microchipped and returned her after a seven-year absence.
(Don Leach / Daily Pilot)

A family dog believed to have been stolen in a home burglary seven years ago was recently reunited with her Newport Beach family. Los Angeles County Animal Control identified Pepper, a Boston terrier, by her registered microchip and called the Smith family with the happy news. “We got her back. She was roaming the streets in Los Angeles and they went and got her, contacted us, and now we have her back,” Theresa Smith said. “She’s almost 15 years old now and she spent almost half of her life with a complete stranger. It’s crazy. She’s blind, deaf and has bone cancer, but we got her back. We feel God got her back to us so that she could live the last part of her life with us.”

A wide shot of the 2342 Mesa Drive property that was listed earlier this month. The home was built in 1966.
(Joel Danto)

Philanthropist Diane Rinker has decided to downsize and has placed her Newport Beach home on the market for $32 million. She and her late husband, developer Harry Rinker, moved into the property after it was first built in 1966. The couple donated $15 million to Chapman University to name its Harry and Diane Rinker Health Science Campus that’s located in Irvine. Listing agent John Stanaland of Douglas Elliman Real Estate notes the 2.7-acre property boasts a man-made lake and has ample room for horses.


Fei Fabiola "Fifi" Garcia, an 11-year-old Huntington Beach resident.
Fei Fabiola “Fifi” Garcia, an 11-year-old Huntington Beach resident, recently won the 11U Futsal National Championship in Kansas, the Vegas Nationals in Futsal and a gold medal in the 400 meters at the West Coast Nationals.
(Don Leach / Daily Pilot)

Fei Fabiola “Fifi” Garcia, an 11-year-old Huntington Beach athlete, recently won the 11U Futsal National Championship in Kansas, the Vegas Nationals in Futsal and a gold medal in the 400 meters at the West Coast Nationals. As if that’s not enough accomplishments to impress you, earlier this summer Fifi also won a 400-meters championship in track at the AAU West Coast Nationals in Reno, with her time of 1 minute, 5.30 seconds besting the other 11-year-old girls in the field. And on the softball field, as a second baseman and center fielder, she helped her Corona Angels team make the semifinals of the Alliance Fastpitch National Championships, eventually placing third. Read all about this ball of fire in this Daily Pilot feature by my colleague Matt Szabo.

The Angels’ series opener against the Cincinnati Reds on Monday was postponed due to a soggy field at Angel Stadium and will be made up in a split doubleheader today, the team announced. The first game will start at 1:07 p.m. and the makeup game is scheduled to begin at 6:38 p.m. It was the second time in three days that the Angels needed to reschedule a home game because of the weather, something the team has not needed to do since 1983, when three games in April of that season were rained out, according to the L.A. Times story on the postponement. Fans who held a ticket to Monday’s game can use it to get into tonight’s match-up. If you have the stomach to read about the Halos’ worst loss of the season, you can find the story here.

• The Vic, an annual skimboarding competition, will be contested for the 46th time when the competitors wade out into the water at Aliso Beach in Laguna Beach this Saturday and Sunday. The men’s professional division competition will count as the fifth event of the season on the United Skim Tour, which will also stop in Newport Beach for the Exile Oktoberfest from Sept. 16 and 17, according to this Daily Pilot story.


"Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory" starred, from left, Jack Albertson, Peter Ostrum and Gene Wilder.
“Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory” (1971) starred, from left, Jack Albertson, Peter Ostrum and Gene Wilder.
(Felicity Dahl)

OC Parks Sunset Cinema Series brings 1971’s “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory” to Laguna Niguel Regional Park Friday night. No need for a golden ticket! Admission is free to see this musical fantasy directed by Mel Stuart. The movie will be screened at sunset. Pack a chair, blankets and a picnic. The park is located at 28241 La Paz Road.

Yorba Linda’s Chalk Art Festival takes place Saturday, from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. at Yorba Linda Public Library and Cultural Arts Center. This family-friendly event will feature live music, food trucks, professional chalk art displays. Admission is free. The library is located at 4852 Lakeview Ave.

The Festival Runway Show at Festival of the Arts in Laguna Beach will be held from noon to 3 p.m. this Sunday (rescheduled due to Tropical Storm Hilary). Festival exhibitors step out of their artistic medium and into the world of fashion in over-the-top creative couture with the twist of all being made out of recycled, reused and reclaimed materials. To reserve a seat or to learn more about this special show, sponsored by Fashion Island, go to this site.


Thank you for reading today’s newsletter. If you have a memory or story about Orange County, I would love to read and share it in this space. Please try to keep your submission to 100 words or less and include your name and current city of residence.

I 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.