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Chargers' arrival and mayoral shakeup are among Costa Mesa's top stories of 2017

Chargers' arrival and mayoral shakeup are among Costa Mesa's top stories of 2017
The arrival of the Los Angeles Chargers in Costa Mesa was among the biggest local stories of 2017. The team developed its new headquarters and practice facility in the city and hosted its first summer training camp in Costa Mesa at the Jack R. Hammett Sports Complex. (File Photo)

In 2017, Costa Mesa saw an NFL team touch down, work commence on a park’s long-planned next chapter, a suspect named in a notorious cold-case homicide and an abrupt change in leadership on the City Council.

Here are some of the year’s biggest stories in the city, as selected by the Daily Pilot and listed with the most recent developments first:

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Proposed medical marijuana businesses advance

Two medical marijuana businesses took substantial steps toward setting up shop in northwest Costa Mesa.

After hearings in late November and mid-December, the Planning Commission awarded conditional use permits to Shepard Investments Inc. for a medical marijuana extraction facility at 3590 Cadillac Ave. and to CMX Distribution for a distribution facility for medical cannabis products at 3505 Cadillac Ave.

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Certain types of medical marijuana businesses are permitted in a designated corner of the city after Costa Mesa voters approved Measure X last year.

After almost a year of talking about procuring additional restrooms to give local homeless people a hygienic place to relieve themselves, Costa Mesa Sanitary District board members decided in November to approve $21,500 to cover half the estimated cost of a six-month mobile restroom pilot program. The hope is the city will agree to chip in the remainder.

The program would put portable stalls on a trailer that could be stationed wherever needed. A paid attendant would ensure the restrooms are kept clean and used for their intended purpose.

Sanitary district officials have said the goal is to improve sanitation by reducing public urination and defecation.

Katrina Foley ousted as mayor

Costa Mesa City Council member Katrina Foley was ousted from her role as mayor in favor of Sandy Genis during a heated council meeting in November.
Costa Mesa City Council member Katrina Foley was ousted from her role as mayor in favor of Sandy Genis during a heated council meeting in November. (File Photo)

In a move that sent political shock waves through the community, City Council members Sandy Genis, Allan Mansoor and Jim Righeimer joined together in November to remove Councilwoman Katrina Foley from her position as mayor.

The trio elevated Genis to mayor and tapped Mansoor to replace her as mayor pro tem. Foley and Councilman John Stephens opposed the shakeup.

Genis — who has allied politically with Foley in the past — said her decision was motivated by what she perceived as Foley sometimes disregarding the council’s consensus on how to conduct certain business.

Foley has disputed that assertion and alleged the vote was politically motivated.

Ground broken on new library

Officials broke ground in July on a $36.5-million project to redevelop Lions Park in the city’s Westside.

The centerpiece of the long-discussed effort will be a new two-story, 22,860-square-foot library. To make room, crews demolished the Neighborhood Community Center, which also was in the park.

The park’s existing Donald Dungan Library branch will be converted to a community center.

The goal is to wrap up work in 2020.

One PI in local spying case sentenced, the other dies

Private investigator Christopher Lanzillo was sentenced in March to 364 days in Orange County Jail and three years’ formal probation after pleading guilty last year to felony counts of conspiracy and false imprisonment stemming from his activities during the city’s heated 2012 council election.

Lanzillo was accused of illegally tracking then-Councilman Steve Mensinger with a GPS device and submitting a false drunk-driving report against Councilman Jim Righeimer.

Authorities said Lanzillo and another private investigator — Scott Alan Impola — were working for the now-defunct law firm Lackie, Dammeier, McGill & Ethir, which at the time represented the Costa Mesa Police Assn.

Prosecutors alleged Lanzillo and Impola were trying to dig up dirt on Mensinger, Righeimer and then-Councilman Gary Monahan, who were feuding with the police union in the months before the election. The association has said it had no prior knowledge of any wrongdoing.

Impola died July 10 of natural causes, according to his lawyer.

As part of their move from San Diego this year, the Los Angeles Chargers chose to locate their headquarters and practice facility at 3333 Susan St. in Costa Mesa. The team moved into its new digs — dubbed the Hoag Performance Center — over the summer.

In March, the City Council approved a lease agreement for the NFL team to hold its annual summer training camp at the Jack R. Hammett Sports Complex. Camp opened in Costa Mesa for the first time in July and drew multitudes of fans.

New rules adopted for sober-living homes

With the stated goal of increasing transparency and keeping people from ending up homeless on Costa Mesa’s streets, the City Council in May adopted new regulations for operators of group and sober-living homes — the latter of which generally house recovering drug addicts and alcoholics who are considered disabled under state and federal law.

Under the additional rules, operators must notify a resident’s contact of record before he or she is evicted, communicate with the city and county to see what services might be available for that resident and make transportation available so residents who are involuntarily removed can return home or relocate to another facility.

Operators also will be subject to additional disclosure requirements.

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Whittier Law School announces closure plan

A decision to close Whittier Law School in Costa Mesa sparked a student protest.
A decision to close Whittier Law School in Costa Mesa sparked a student protest. (File Photo)

In April, officials announced plans to stop accepting new students at Costa Mesa-based Whittier Law School and eventually close the campus, sparking outcries and protests from some students, faculty and alumni.

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Members of the board of trustees at Whittier College, of which the law school is part, said the decision was fueled by concern over low student achievement at the school, though opponents of the move disputed that.

The law school’s 14-acre campus on Harbor Boulevard was sold for $35 million to an undisclosed buyer before the announcement. A Whittier College official said the sale was not related to the decision to close the school, which currently is open.

Legal battles over local motels come to a head

A controversial proposal to redevelop the former Costa Mesa Motor Inn as a high-end apartment complex ran into a legal roadblock in May when a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge reversed the city’s approval of the project, ruling that it didn’t comply with state law regarding development of affordable housing.

The decision stemmed from a lawsuit alleging the city had approved the project without providing relocation plans or appropriate assistance for the low-income residents who would be displaced from the Harbor Boulevard motel. The motel is now closed and the long-term fate of the property is unclear.

In July, the city agreed to settle its legal battle with the owners of the New Harbor Inn, also on Harbor Boulevard.

The agreement outlines security, record-keeping, code enforcement and other procedures that have to be followed at the motel and stipulates the city will have the opportunity to buy the property should the owners decide to sell.

Suspect identified in 1997 cold-case killing of Costa Mesa woman

Scott Sudweeks embraces his father, Alan, as his mother, Sandy, speaks during a news conference in February to announce a suspect in the 1997 rape and strangulation killing of Adrienne "Sunny" Sudweeks of Costa Mesa.
Scott Sudweeks embraces his father, Alan, as his mother, Sandy, speaks during a news conference in February to announce a suspect in the 1997 rape and strangulation killing of Adrienne "Sunny" Sudweeks of Costa Mesa. (File Photo)

Costa Mesa police in February identified a suspect in the 1997 killing of Adrienne “Sunny” Sudweeks. The 26-year-old Orange Coast College student and photographer was found raped and strangled in her Costa Mesa apartment.

The suspect, Felipe Vianney Hernandez Tellez, 44, is believed to be living in Oaxaca, Mexico, possibly near the resort town of Puerto Escondido with his wife and children.

The Orange County district attorney’s office is seeking Tellez’s extradition to the United States.

Staff writer Hannah Fry contributed to this report.

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