Local city council meeting goes wrong when trolls disrupt it with hate speech

Laguna Beach City Hall.
Last week’s meeting of the Laguna Beach City Council was disrupted by people watching on Zoom who uttered antisemitic, homophobic, transphobic and racist tirades. As a result, the city will no longer allow audible comments from those watching the meetings virtually.
(Don Leach / Daily Pilot)

Good morning! It’s Wednesday, Feb. 21, and I’m Carol Cormaci, bringing you this week’s TimesOC newsletter with a look at the latest local news and events.

As anyone who has regularly attended meetings of a city council, planning commission, school board or other such entity has learned, at least one gadfly will be in the audience ready to take the microphone to hurl criticisms. To be fair, many times the words they utter could be truly helpful to a community, assuming the panel they’re addressing is willing to listen. Other times they’re just a nuisance, wasting everyone’s time. But it’s rare for any such speaker to veer into antisemitic, homophobic, transphobic and racist tirades as happened one night last week in Laguna Beach.

And it wasn’t just one person interrupting the Laguna Beach City Council meeting last Tuesday night, it was “a handful of speakers,” according to our Los Angeles Times colleague Hannah Fry, who reported the incident the following day. These trolls were not in council chambers that night; they were attending the meeting virtually, through Zoom, which provided them with a cover.


“The incident appears to be an example of ‘Zoombombing,’ an unfortunate trend that began when the pandemic forced public meetings to move online, allowing speakers to make comments from remote sites,” Fry explained.

Two of the remote attendees used antisemitic language, then another started to talk about the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. After hearing those remarks, City Atty. Megan Garibaldi intervened for a moment, pausing the public comments “to explain that this attempt at Zoombombing was a way to ‘try to test the city government’ to see if they’ll shut down speech in violation of the 1st Amendment,” Fry reported.

“To the extent that these comments start to get to the point of disrupting our meeting ... we can suspend comment. Otherwise, unfortunately, we have to proceed with comment until they’re over,” Garibaldi told those assembled.

As public comments resumed, the Zoombombing speakers continued assaulting everyone’s ears with profanity and conspiracy-laden comments. They railed about Latinos, members of the LGBTQ+ community and Black and Jewish people.

“At one point, after a man used anti-gay and anti-Jewish slurs, city officials paused the meeting to give members of the audience a chance to step outside until the comments were over,” Fry reported. “Officials attempted to continue the meeting, but the hate speech continued.”

Two hours into the meeting and after hearing from about a dozen speakers, and after it was clear that no business could be accomplished in that atmosphere, Mayor Sue Kempf gaveled the meeting closed.

My Daily Pilot colleague Andrew Turner, who covers Laguna Beach for the paper, also reported on the incident for this story published Thursday.

“When I got home [Tuesday] night and I was reflecting on it, I have to tell you it kind of broke my heart,” Mayor Sue Kempf told Turner. “It did, because we’re just not like that. I was sitting in that room, and I was looking at those people … I was more concerned for them and trying to calm them down, making them understand what this actually was, that it happens elsewhere.

“Those kinds of things just don’t happen here, and it was very, very difficult to watch. … This is just a stark reminder how important civility is to a functioning city government, and we don’t tolerate hate in this town.”

A resident who asked not to be identified by name in the story out of fear of retaliation told Turner that attendees in council chambers were yelling to “cut off the Zoom” as the obscene language came in.

“It was pretty alarming to sit there and listen to it all,” the resident said. “It’s disgusting. You’re listening to this, and you almost can’t believe that there are people who would say things like this in public, let alone think them, but it’s just an unfortunate situation, an unfortunate world that we’re in right now.”

By Thursday, the city announced in a newsletter to its residents that audible online public comment will no longer be offered to people watching the meetings remotely. People who want to address the council can do so in person at council chambers, or they can submit comments in writing that will be posted as part of the public record.

Interim City Manager Sean Joyce told the Daily Pilot last week’s incident “ hurt the ears, and it hurt the heart. There’s no way any of us could stand or bear to hear a second more of that.”


 Ken Williams Jr., left, listens during a meeting of the Orange County Board of Education.
Dr. Ken Williams Jr., left, an Orange County Board of Education trustee, has been accused of choking and stepping on a 20-year-old man in a road rage incident last year, according to a lawsuit.
(Don Leach / Daily Pilot)

A lawsuit alleging he choked a neighbor has been filed against Dr. Ken Williams Jr., an Orange County Board of Education trustee. The L.A. Times reports Williams, who is seeking reelection on the March 5 ballot, is accused of choking and stepping on a 20-year-old man in the middle of the street during a road rage incident last year. Williams “is accused of kicking the man’s car, throwing him on the ground and climbing on top of him before putting his hands around his neck,” on March 11, 2023, according to The Times’ report. It further alleges Williams, 65, left the other driver, Caden O’Malley, “unable to walk” after the incident, which took place on El Toro Road in Mission Viejo. O’Malley called 911 at 1:32 p.m. for assistance. Kimberly Edds, a spokesperson for the Orange County district attorney’s office, said both Williams and O’Malley were cited for assault and battery after they were interviewed by county sheriff’s deputies.

A Raising Cane drive-through restaurant will soon be built where Old Newport Boulevard meets East 16th Street. The Costa Mesa Planning Commission, on a 4-2 vote, approved plans last week for the chicken chain’s second site within the city. Plans call for a 2,913-square-foot restaurant, large covered outdoor patio and a parking lot that can accommodate 34 vehicles and a split-lane drive-through configuration.

As Huntington Beach decides whether to require voter IDs, state lawmakers are mounting an offensive. Measure A on the March 5 ballot would require Huntington Beach voters to provide photo identification at polling places. If implemented, it could take effect in 2026. According to this Daily Pilot report, Sen. Dave Min (D-Irvine) on Wednesday introduced Senate Bill 1174, that would prohibit cities in California from requiring voter ID. If Min’s bill passes, it would be applied beginning Jan. 1, 2025, putting the kibosh on Measure A.


Two Anaheim teens were hospitalized last week after a speeding car hit them on the sidewalk. At about 2:30 p.m. on Feb. 13, Anaheim Police Department officers responded to a traffic collision involving pedestrians on State College Boulevard at Wagner Avenue. They discovered the driver of a BMW traveling west on Wagner had lost control after making a turn south on State College and struck pedestrians and a utility pole, the L.A. Times reported.

A round-up of a couple of court cases reported by City News Service:

— A driver who drove his pickup truck in to crowd in downtown Fullerton at 1:50 a.m. Feb. 10, 2019, was convicted of hit-and-run on Thursday. Jurors deadlocked, though, on a felony charge that Christopher Jose Solis, now 27, had been driving under the influence of a drug. Solis is expected to be sentenced on the hit-and-run conviction on May 3.

— Michael Angel Andrew Vera pleaded guilty Friday to stabbing a man during a robbery spree last June 28 in Anaheim. The 42-year-old was sentenced to eight years in prison.


Maddie Musselman takes a shot during a match.
Corona del Mar High alumna Maddie Musselman scored a goal in the title match as Team USA earned gold at the 2024 World Aquatics World Championships in Qatar with an 8-7 win over Hungary.
(Daily Pilot File Photo)

Corona del Mar High graduate Maddie Musselman helped Team USA win gold at the 2024 World Aquatics World Championships in Qatar Friday. Musselman helped scored a goal in the title match, which ended with an 8-7 win over Hungary. According to this Daily Pilot story by Matt Szabo, Los Alamitos native Rachel Fattal scored three goals in the final, while Maggie Steffens added two. Newport Harbor alumna Kaleigh Gilchrist also contributed for Team USA.

In other CdM water polo news, the girls’ team has won its second Division 1 title in three years. The Sea Kings held on Saturday for a 12-11 victory over No. 3-seeded JSerra at Mt. San Antonio College. It was the program’s eighth CIF championship overall.

Patrick Cantlay chipping into the second green at the Riviera Country Club.
Patrick Cantlay chipping into the second green at the Riviera Country Club during the day two of the Genessis Invitational on Friday. Cantlay is a graduate of Servite High School in Anaheim.
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

Servite High alumnus Patrick Cantlay was leading at the Genesis Invitational Tournament Friday but his fortunes turned Sunday. Reportedly arriving at the course with a 100-degree fever, Cantlay shot a 72 to drop from leader to fourth place in the tournament, which was won by Hideki Matsuyama. Tiger Woods had to drop out of the same tourney Friday, due to the flu.

For those following high school soccer Southern Section Championship action: The games will be played this Friday and Saturday. The L.A. Times posted the full schedule here.


Andrew Pennington holds his son, Evan, as Danielle Judd and a volunteer show him a chicken.
Andrew Pennington holds his son, Evan, as Danielle Judd and a volunteer show him a chicken at FarmHouse Rescue in Trabuco Canyon on Guest of the Farm day last month.
(Courtesy of FarmHouse Rescue)

• A mom facing health-related challenges found hope and a renewed sense of purpose by rescuing farm animals. In 2018 Danielle Judd established FarmHouse Rescue and in 2020 relocated her home and to acreage in Trabuco Canyon, according to this feature story by contributing writer Jessica Peralta. Today, Judd’s nonprofit cares for 68 animals of all description. Along the way, she started a skill-building program that offers adults with physical and cognitive disabilities a chance to learn how to work on a farm, as well as a program that delivers up to 50 “Smile Boxes” a month filled with assorted treasures to children going through cancer treatment in hospitals.


Singers with the Pacific Chorale perform.
Singers with the Pacific Chorale perform. Morten Lauridsen’s “Les Chansons des Roses” will be performed alongside pop hits at a Pacific Chorale concert Feb. 24 in Fullerton.
(Drew Kelley)

Pacific Chorale is gearing up for its “Language of Love” concert. The 90-minute performance is set for 7:30 p.m. this Saturday at Cal State Fullerton’s Meng Concert Hall. It will feature a mix of modern love songs, from artists including Adele and Ben Folds to Dolly Parton and Elton John. Tickets range from $25 to $80.

The 52nd annual Dana Point Festival of Whales celebrates the return of the California gray whale. Once-endangered, the gray whale has made a comeback. This year’s festival, set for March 1 through 3, will pay homage to the mammal. The event includes a kick-off parade, sand sculpting, musical entertainment, a “Whale of a Block Party,” art shows, a pancake breakfast, barbecues, crafts for kids, classic cars exhibits and more. All the details can be found at the festival’s website.

The Pacific Coast Sportsfishing Tackle, Boat & Travel Show is set for March 7 through 10 at the OC Fair & Event Center . Hours on Thursday and Friday, March 7 and 8, are noon to 7 p.m. On Saturday, March 9, hours are 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., and on Sunday, March 10, the show will open at 10 a.m. and close at 5 p.m. General admission is $20, children 12 and younger are free. Free admission for active duty military with ID. Parking $12. Lists of the show’s vendors, exhibitors and seminar speakers can be found here.

Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and San Francisco Symphony will perform in Orange County next month. Both concerts will be held at Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall and presented by the Philharmonic Society of Orange County. On March 7, ASO, directed by Nathalie Stutzmann, will perform its Orange County debut with Dvořák’s “New World” Symphony and pianist Haochen Zhang will join the orchestra to perform Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 5. On March 20, Esa-Pekka Salonen will lead SFS through an all-Sibelius program. Violinist Lisa Batiashvili, will join SFS to perform Sibelius’ Violin Concerto. Ticket prices for each concert start at $38 and are available at the Philharmonic Society box office at (949) 553-2422 or online.


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.