Corona del Mar Today: A view from above the Civic Center site

Walking along the perimeter of the Civic Center Construction project, Matt and Yoland McNutt have a view of every detail of the work going on behind the fence — with the help of an 18-foot blimp rigged with a remote-controlled camera.

"Let's go a little lower," Yolanda says as Matt pulls the tether.

Then she angles the camera and zooms in on the workers, the crane and the pieces of steel being placed at the project site off MacArthur Boulevard.

Every month, the McNutts bring their blimp to the site to get detailed photos, which the contractors use to provide city officials with updates.

Before construction began, the photos were used to assess views from nearby homes and businesses, said William Hahn, a program manager with C.W. Driver, the company building the Civic Center.

"It was used as a guide," he said. "It was the best way to see, 'What do people see from these homes, from those, from those over there,'" he said. "Now we use the photos for progress reports. This really gives us perspective."

Construction for the project began in May 2010, and the center should be complete by the end of 2012. According to the latest city newsletter updating the project, the large crane on site is hoisting and setting steel pieces.

The crane's highest point reaches 160 feet from the ground but will be lowered each day to minimize its impact, the newsletter said, and likely will be used until January 2012.

The McNutts' business is Low Altitude Blimp Photography and is based in Moorpark. They started the company in 1994 after a friend of a relative told them about low-altitude blimps.

Currently, they offer aerial photography services for construction firms as well as well as other groups, and they have a pilot they use when they need to shoot from helicopters or planes.

The blimp, they said, is 18 feet long and about 7 feet wide. It's filled with helium and can hold equipment of up to 11 pounds. It cost about $1,200.

As they raised it to the air on Monday morning to a height of about 150 feet, several passersby stopped to ask them what they were doing.

"Very cool," one man shouted.

"I've seen you here before," a woman asked. "What are you doing?"

Yolanda McNutt handles the photography, as well as guiding Matthew, who is legally blind. Watching out for overhead lines and streetlights is key, and she will tell him to lower the blimp to avoid causing damage to it.

They typically will submit about 60 photographs a month, at a cost of a few hundred dollars a set.

The blimp will return to the Civic Center site in October.

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El Ranchito opens takeout area

El Ranchito in Corona del Mar officially opened its new takeout area this week.

"We recently received the OK from the city to open, and we are officially open in the new take-out area," said Bianca Avila. "All to-go orders will be taken to the left. We still offer curbside service."

The restaurant received Planning Commission approval in October to expand to the space next to its location at 2315 E. Coast Highway. The expanded space included larger restrooms and the takeout counter, where customers can purchase to-go items.

The Planning Commission waived parking requirements for the restaurant and allowed it to open earlier at 10 a.m. The commissioners also imposed restrictions, including changing the existing permit that allows the restaurant to operate until 2 a.m., and requiring the owners to provide municipal parking permits for all employees.

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CdM Albertsons may offer wine tastings

Albertsons in Corona del Mar has applied for an "instructional tasting license" with the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control.

Store employees said that if the permit is granted, the shop would conduct tastings of wines, beers and spirits in an area of the store sectioned off from where children could be shopping.

The application was submitted earlier this month and is pending. A sign was posted on Sept. 9 by the grocery's front door, and notices were mailed to nearby residents.

Albertsons is located at 3049 E. Coast Hwy. and currently has a license to sell alcohol. The pending license would be a "change in license privileges," according to the posted sign.

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City Officials provide Port Theater update

The Port Theater has been under construction with active building permits for three years, but a completion date remains unknown, a city official told members of the Corona del Mar Residents Assn. this week at the group's monthly board meeting.

Construction fences remain in place because "there is still construction going on internally," said Kimberly Brandt, Newport Beach community development director.

"It is moving along," she said.

The owner has not applied for any permit to serve alcohol, Brandt said.

Mayor Pro Tem Nancy Gardner said the theater had a kitchen and likely would provide food.

"They can have more than popcorn," she said.

The theater, which opened in the 1950s, was slated for demolition a decade ago. The theater used to seat more 900 people, but its new occupancy will be 500, Brandt said.

Bernie Svalstad, of the Corona del Mar Business Improvement District board, said he thought the theater would have about 250 seats and a flexible plan to arrange the seats depending on the event.

The theater has been designated a historical building, which means it must operate as a theater or else lose that status and be required to provide additional parking.

Gardner said the theater was scheduled to open by the end of the year, but Brandt said no official completion date was known.

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