City, public interests collide over air show, suit alleges

The U.S. Navy Blue Angels fly over Huntington Beach on the first day of the 2021 Pacific Airshow.
The U.S. Navy Blue Angels fly over Huntington Beach on the first day of the 2021 Pacific Airshow. The next day the show was canceled due to an oil spill off the coast, later prompting the show’s operator to sue the city of Huntington Beach. The complete settlement of that suit has not been made public.
(Daily Pilot File Photo)
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Good morning. It’s Wednesday, May 15. I’m Carol Cormaci bringing you this week’s TimesOC newsletter with a look at some of the latest local news and events.

Should a city be forced to release in its entirety a settlement agreement that pays a business entity about $5 million, or is it reasonable to keep some details hidden from the scrutiny of taxpayers?

That is, in a nutshell, what is being mulled in legal proceedings, according to my colleague Matt Szabo, who on Monday sat in on a hearing before Orange County Superior Court Judge Jonathan Fish.

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Longtime followers of this newsletter may remember that around this time last year Huntington Beach city officials, including City Atty. Michael Gates, held a press conference at Pier Plaza announcing with some pride they had stopped the Pacific Airshow from taking its extravaganza elsewhere.

There had been some concern the city would lose the popular airshow and the tourism dollars it brought to city coffers. Why? Pacific Airshow operator Code Four, whose chief executive is Kevin Elliott, had sued Huntington Beach because the planned three-day October 2021 show was canceled on its second day after a massive oil spill occurred off the coast.

A refresher for those who may have forgotten: The city settled that suit by agreeing to pay the Pacific Airshow a total of $4,999,000 over the ensuing six years. The agreement additionally called for the city to dismiss nearly $200,000 the Pacific Airshow owed related to the 2021 show and refund $149,200 in fees paid by the airshow toward the 2022 Specific Events Invoice in the form of a credit.

Huntington Beach also agreed to waive parking space fees for the show and pay the Pacific Airshow up to $2 million, after attorney fees and costs, of Huntington Beach’s recovery in its own oil spill lawsuit (which has yet to be filed, Szabo notes).

“Ladies and gentlemen, we saved the Airshow,” Tony Strickland, then Huntington Beach’s mayor, exclaimed dramatically after stepping up to the microphone on May 9, 2023.

While the public was offered an “executive summary” of the settlement by Gates, he refused to hand over the complete document detailing all of its terms. It’s Gates’ view that to do so would compromise the city’s success in litigation against the oil spill polluters.

News of the generous settlement with Code Four over an environmental disaster the city had no control over raised some eyebrows.

“Critics have argued that the lack of full transparency raises concerns about the relationship between Gates and the conservative City Council majority with Code Four chief executive Kevin Elliott,” Szabo writes.

Indeed, Gina Clayton-Tarvin, a member of the Ocean View School District Board of Trustees, sued last June after Gates refused to release the full settlement. “What I’m concerned with as a resident and a taxpayer is this: It’s not the money that they just paid, it’s the money that they will encumber into the future,” Clayton-Tarvin told Szabo following Monday’s hearing. “My tax dollars could go into infinity and beyond into this private corporation.”

Her attorney, Gregory Pleasants, said at the hearing “the settlement agreement’s release serves the public interest,” Szabo reports. “He pointed to a California Coastal Commission letter sent to city officials in February that alleges the air show privatized public land and waters in Huntington Beach without a needed coastal development permit. In the letter, Coastal Commission staff also ask for the public release of the full settlement with Code Four.”

More to this story emerged yesterday afternoon when we learned state Auditor Grant Parks will review the public funds that were used for the settlement following a vote Tuesday by California’s Joint Legislative Audit Committee.

Just how Judge Fish will decide Clayton-Tarvin’s suit against the city remains up in the air. He’s expected to issue his ruling in coming days or weeks, according to the reporting.

MORE NEWS

Two volunteers speak with homeless men during the 2022 Orange County Point in Time count.
Volunteers speak with homeless men in the 1800 block of Placentia Avenue in Costa Mesa during the 2022 Orange County Point in Time count.
(Daily Pilot File Photo)

Homelessness is up 28% over two years ago in Orange County, according to the Point in Time report released last week, with most of the 7,322 unsheltered people found in the north and central cities of the county. In Santa Ana alone, 871 homeless people were found living on the streets. “We must re-double our efforts to build permanent supportive and affordable housing, especially for seniors, with renewed urgency,” Orange County Supervisor Katrina Foley said in a statement issued the same day as the report.

• Officials with the Anaheim Union High School District, which serves 27,000 students in Anaheim, Buena Park, Cypress, La Palma and Stanton, have backed away from plans for a mass layoff of educators intended to shave the district’s costs by $18.4 million, according to this story by my colleague Gabriel San Román. Since the board’s vote approving the layoffs, teachers, parents and students have rallied against them at school sites. The outcry worked, and the layoffs were rescinded. Instead, the district will look elsewhere to save money, including cutting a $16.3-million arts and music block grant.

• Irvine-based EV truck maker Rivian Automotive, Inc. last month advised the California Employment Development Department that it plans to permanently lay off more than 120 employees, including 89 in Irvine and 28 in Palo Alto. The company’s stock has dropped from an initial $88 billion in 2021 to $11 billion this week.

• Children’s Hospital of Orange County (CHOC) announced Monday it has received a $6 million donation from the Tsao Family Foundation that will help develop a pediatric urgent care center expected to open next year. Janie Tsao, who helped found the foundation with husband Victor, stated they are “honored to support CHOC in its efforts to serve the children and families of Orange County.’’ She went on to say her extended family “share the vision that all families should have convenient access to expert, compassionate medical care for their children, even when the pediatrician’s office is closed.”

PUBLIC SAFETY & COURTS

A horizontal frame of a corner of an empty room with glass on one side and white wall on other at the Planned Parenthood.
In the early morning of March 13, 2022, Costa Mesa police officers and firefighters responded to a fire at a Planned Parenthood located at 1520 Nutmeg Place in Costa Mesa. Apparent burn marks were found on the door and adjacent wall, as well as unknown liquid and broken glass, all consistent with the use of a Molotov cocktail.
(U.S. Department of Justice)

• Another man has been sentenced for his role in the 2022 Molotov cocktail attack on the Planned Parenthood building in Costa Mesa. Xavier Batten, 21, of Brooksville, Fla., pleaded guilty on Jan. 19 to one felony count of possessing an unregistered destructive device and one misdemeanor count of intentionally damaging a reproductive health services facility. Prosecutors said Batten told Orange County residents Chance Brannon and Tibet Ergul how to assemble the Molotov cocktail used in the attack. He was sentenced last week to 3½ years.

• A Huntington Beach part-time actor was convicted Friday of 11 federal wire fraud charges for convincing victims to invest in companies that marketed what turned out to be bogus cures and treatments for COVID-19 during the early days of the pandemic. Keith Lawrence Middlebrook, 56, faces up to 20 years in federal prison on each count when he is sentenced Sept. 9. He remains free on $150,000 bond.

• A rollover crash in Irvine last Thursday afternoon led to the death of a 67-year-old Irvine resident, Allen Yangkou Lee, according to City News Service. Police are seeking a driver believed to have caused the fatal crash. Lee had been traveling north on Culver Drive when he appeared to swerve and lose control after the driver of a silver or beige 2008-2011 Honda Civic with distinctive “racing-style decals on the lower doors” turned right on a red light from Trabuco Road onto Culver. The Honda’s driver did not stop but continued north on Culver. Anyone with relevant information was asked to call Det. Christopher Ostrowski at (949) 724-7047.

• A 40-year-old woman, Janet Carrillo, died early Sunday after a 2019 Toyota Camry driven by Jadier E. Salazarmontano of Riverside crashed into a residence on Magnolia Street in Garden Grove. Salazarmontano, arrested following the fatal crash, was charged Tuesday with gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, driving under the influence with a blood-alcohol content above the legal limit of 0.08% or more causing injury, and driving under the influence of alcohol causing injury, all felonies, CNS reported.

• Eric Walter Gray, 53, was charged Friday with a takeover-style bank robbery in Anaheim, according to CNS. He faces three counts of kidnapping to commit robbery, two counts of robbery, one count of attempted robbery, three counts of resisting arrest and a count of escape by someone in custody with a use of force, all felonies. Gray was accused of taking a few employees hostage in the stickup of the BMO bank branch at 4501 E. La Palma Ave. then barricading himself in a room with one of the bank workers. After an hourlong standoff with police, Gray was arrested.

• In another arrest involving a bank robbery, Mark Meng, 57, stands accused of not only holding up a U.S. Bank branch in Irvine on the afternoon of April 2 but of stealing vintage violins, CNS reported. Meng is accused of a scheme “to steal high-end violins and resell them for his personal gain” from August 2020 through April of last year, according to an FBI affidavit. In the bank heist, Meng handed over a note asking for $18,000 but was given $446, according to the FBI.

• Dr. John Carl Hoefs faces charges of groping two women patients, Orange County prosecutors said Thursday. He is charged with seven felony counts of sexual battery and is scheduled to be arraigned June 13, according to the CNS report. The 79-year-old doctor was arrested but was released after posting a $500,000 bond. Hoefs had privileges with a Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian medical center, which were suspended immediately when officials learned of his arrest. Anyone with information that may be relevant to investigators was asked to call Irvine police Det. Rebecca Steen at (949) 724-7170.

SPORTS

Angels center fielder Mike Trout speaks with teammates in the dugout.
Angels center fielder Mike Trout speaks with teammates in the dugout before a baseball game against the Philadelphia Phillies on April 30 in Anaheim.
(Ryan Sun / Associated Press)

• The Angels’ Mike Trout decided having surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee this spring was a better idea than putting off the surgery and being a designated hitter the rest of the season, the Associated Press reported Thursday.

Sage Hill High School boys' volleyball team celebrate Saturday after winning their first CIF Championship.
Sage Hill High School boys’ volleyball team celebrate after winning the 2024 CIF Southern Section Division 5 Boys volleyball final against San Marino High School at Cerritos College in Norwalk on Saturday.
(James Carbone )

• Sage Hill High School’s boys’ volleyball team captured its first CIF championship Saturday at Cerritos College with a 19-25, 25-22, 22-25, 25-18, 15-13 triumph over San Marino in the CIF Southern Section Division 5 title game.

LIFE & LEISURE

Sam Burst gets a straight-razor shave Thursday from Edward Mugica at American Barbershop in Orange.
Sam Burst gets a straight-razor shave Thursday from Edward Mugica at American Barbershop in Orange, in preparation for the mustache “growing season” that this year will raise funds for Beyond Blindness.
(Eric Licas)

• Men around the area are growing mustaches for a good cause right now, specifically for the programs offered through Beyond Blindness, which this year has been designated the beneficiary of the Orange County chapter of Moustaches for Kids fundraiser. This year’s monthlong “growing season” began Thursday night and culminates June 8 during the annual “Stache Bash” wrap-up party at the MET in Costa Mesa.

The bee mural, "The Good of the Hive," by artist Matt Tilley.
“The Good of the Hive,” by artist Matt Tilley, in front of the Laguna Beach County Water District in downtown Laguna Beach. Tilley’s goal is to paint 50,000 bees or the number of bees needed to maintain a hive.
(Don Leach / Daily Pilot)

• Laguna Beach denizens have good reason to be abuzz over a new mural that has transformed a blank white wall into a pollinator’s paradise in front of the Laguna Beach County Water District. Artist Matt Willey was tapped to create the mural, “The Good of the Hive,” which features bees — a whole lot of them. Willey has so far painted a total of 11,000 bees in various pieces of artwork and hopes to reach the 50,000 mark, according to this Daily Pilot feature.

Travelers make their way through John Wayne Airport.
Travelers who make their way through John Wayne Airport will find new concessionaires there beginning in 2025, following approvals last week by the Orange County Board of Supervisors.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

• Beginning in 2025, Wahoo’s Fish Taco, Chaupain Bakery, Earl of Sandwich, Bonchon Korean Fried Chicken, Five Vines Wine Bar and Left Coast Brewing are just some of the new concessions travelers will find when they’re between flights at John Wayne Airport, following approvals last week by the Orange County Board of Supervisors.

CALENDAR THIS

Hundreds of people turned out for the 2022 Balboa Island Artwalk.
Hundreds of people turned out for the 2022 Balboa Island Artwalk. This year’s event takes place Sunday.
(Susan Hoffman)

• The 29th annual Balboa Island Artwalk returns Sunday, May 19, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., along the South Bayfront Promenade. Admission is free. The fine art show, presented by Mary Hardesty Realty, features 85 artists exhibiting paintings, fine jewelry, blown glass, sculpture and photography. Live music will be performed throughout the day on four stages along the mile-long artwalk.

• The Tustin Lobsterfest takes place Saturday, May 18 at Peppertree Park, 230 W. First St., Tustin. Enjoy unlimited whole lobster while listening to tunes from the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s. People who prefer turf to surf can instead indulge in tri-tip roast. If you buy tickets online ahead of time they are $125 for guests age 8 and up. At the door on Saturday, the cost is $150. The net proceeds will be earmarked for projects of the Tustin-Santa Ana Rotary Club Foundation.

• Pearson Park in Anaheim will be the venue Saturday, May 18, when the Anaheim Children’s Festival takes place between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. The free festival, presented by the Muzeo Museum and Cultural Center and the city, will feature booths, offer art projects, and include musical and performing groups suitable for all ages. The park is located at 400 N. Harbor Blvd.

KEEP IN TOUCH

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.