Coyotes and development among major stories of 2015

From activists fighting high-density development to city officials protecting residents from coyotes, the past year has been a busy one for people living in Huntington Beach.

Here are the Huntington Beach Independent’s top stories of 2015 in Surf City and Fountain Valley, listed in reverse chronological order:


Coyotes capture attention


Coyotes are no strangers to Huntington Beach or other Southern California cities. However, local residents voiced their concerns to city officials after dozens lost their pets to coyotes.

As of October, there had been 478 coyote sightings this year and 78 reports of pets being injured or killed by the feral canines. In all of 2014, there were 37 reported pet injuries or deaths via coyote attack, according to the Huntington Beach Police Department.

In December, the City Council adopted its first coyote management plan, which features a three-pronged strategy that focuses primarily on educating residents on how to coexist with the wild animals.

Should attacks on pets become more frequent or if a human is attacked by a coyote, the city can opt to trap and kill the coyotes responsible.


Rodgers Seniors’ Center site debated

The long-awaited groundbreaking for Huntington Beach’s new senior center in Central Park was a milestone achievement in 2014. However, the future of the site of the current Michael E. Rodgers Seniors’ Center is still to be determined.

Earlier this year, the City Council expressed interest in selling the 2-acre site to a developer to build 22 single-family homes. In November, the city entered a negotiating agreement with developer Christopher Homes, allowing the company to plan the project.

But downtown residents said they wanted the site to remain a recreational center or be turned into a park. Many residents told officials that the property was granted to the city by Chevron Corp. decades ago on condition that it be maintained for open space or recreational use.

City Atty. Michael Gates has said the city owns the property since Chevron has not renewed its interest in the land and that the conditions with Chevron no longer apply.

In December, Christopher Homes pulled out of its agreement with the city, citing residents’ opposition to the plans.


Mariners Point fuel dock closes — temporarily

Huntington Harbour is home to 6,000 boaters, and it was a shock for them and government officials to learn during the summer that the operators of the Mariners Point fueling dock, the only boat fueling station in the area, were going to close it in October.

Huntington Beach and Orange County officials were in talks with Center City Properties and Nahas Enterprises for months but could not reach an agreement to keep the station open, and on Oct. 1, the facility was closed.

However, in December, the city bought the fueling dock for $25,000 and sold it for the same price to Maxum Petroleum, one of the largest maritime diesel fuel suppliers on the West Coast.

Representatives of Maxum said the company hopes to reopen the fueling dock by mid- to late February.


Neighbors fight proposed LED sign

Light-emitting diode (LED) billboards are becoming more frequent in Southern California. However, some residents of Fountain Valley and Costa Mesa have fought Fountain Valley officials tooth and nail over a proposed sign that Clear Channel Outdoor, a national advertising firm, wants to erect on city-owned property at 10955 Ellis Ave., next to the 405 Freeway.

Many residents have criticized the project, with some calling it a “giant TV that never goes off.”

Clear Channel has offered to pay higher rent and give the city money to buy signs to promote its recreational center, but a decision on the project has been postponed several times.


AQMD panel cracks down on Rainbow site

The Ocean View School District and residents of the Oak View neighborhood of Huntington Beach have long complained about odors and dust emanating from Rainbow Environmental Services’ waste management and recycling facility on Nichols Lane.

After receiving many complaints from residents and issuing several notices of violation, an independent hearing board for the South Coast Air Quality Management District unanimously voted in November to approve an extensive list of operational changes and conditions for the facility in an effort to reduce and prevent nuisances.

By Dec. 1, 2017, Rainbow must fully enclose the areas where the company collects and sorts solid waste, green waste, recyclables and construction and demolition debris. Rainbow officials estimate the project will cost $10 million.


First phase of Pacific City opens

After being tied up by a lengthy lawsuit and going through several developers, the long-awaited retail portion of the Pacific City development in Huntington Beach opened its doors to residents and tourists in November.

The 191,000-square-foot beachfront mall at Pacific Coast Highway and First Street will be home to about 60 restaurants and shops, including Lemonade, Simmzy’s and Top Dog Barkery.

DJM Capital Partners took over the retail portion of the project in 2013 and told Huntington Beach City Council members that it would be completed by fall 2015.

Developer R.D. Olson is building the 250-room Pasea Hotel and Spa, which is scheduled to open by the second quarter of 2016. Developer UDR is building a 516-unit apartment complex that is scheduled to be completed by 2017.


Huntington Beach residents fight high density

The Beach and Edinger Corridors Specific Plan was meant to revitalize businesses along Beach Boulevard and Edinger Avenue. However, many Huntington Beach residents thought it was an easy way for developers to build high-density apartments, which they believe would worsen traffic in the city.

In May, the City Council approved amendments to the specific plan that reduced the number of residential units allowed on the corridors and required conditional use permits for new projects.

However, the nonprofit Kennedy Commission sued the city in July, claiming the changes made the plan noncompliant with state housing law by making it impossible for the city to meet its state requirements for accommodating low-income units.

In November, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge James Chalfant ruled in favor of the Kennedy Commission and declared the city’s changes void.

City officials now are trying to identify additional areas to zone for affordable housing to comply with the law.


Wintersburg named a ‘national treasure’

For the past eight years, Huntington Beach resident Mary Urashima has worked to save the Historic Wintersburg site, and her efforts are slowly paying off.

In June 2014, the former home of the first Japanese Presbyterian church in Orange County was put on the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s list of the most endangered historic places in the United States.

In October this year, the National Trust named Wintersburg a “national treasure,” meaning the organization will try to ensure that the site is preserved.

Also that month, the National Trust and Urashima’s Historic Wintersburg Preservation Task Force released a study by the Urban Land Institute that provided preservationists with options on what can be done at the 4.4-acre site off Warner Avenue and Nichols Lane.

The Urban Land Institute recommended that portions of the site be used to preserve the remaining buildings on the property, while other portions would be used for open space and a business park.

However, representatives of the Ocean View School District have argued that the property should be used as open space.


Conviction in deadly DUI case

A self-described drug counselor from Huntington Beach was convicted in October of murder for driving while high on heroin in Newport Beach and killing a bicyclist.

Friends and relatives of the victim, 30-year-old Shaun Eagleson of Fountain Valley, attended each day of Neil Stephany’s trial. Witnesses described Stephany careening across the road near Crystal Cove and even nodding off at the wheel before he slammed into Eagleson.

Stephany, who was charged with murder because of a previous DUI conviction, is awaiting sentencing.


Video of scuffle at Huntington Beach High goes viral

Huntington Beach High School junior Cody Pines became a national sensation in September when video of him stepping into a fight between a visually impaired student and another boy was posted on social media.

The video showed the visually impaired boy being punched by another student after an argument between the two. Huntington Beach police said the two students have a history of not getting along.

Pines, who knew the visually impaired student, stepped in and knocked down the other student. He said he felt obligated to help his friend and that he did not mean to hurt the other student.

That other teen was arrested on suspicion of battery and later released to his parents.


Poseidon edges closer to second Coastal Commission hearing

For about 20 months, two panels of experts chosen by Poseidon Water and the California Coastal Commission have been studying the feasibility of subsurface intakes for the highly debated proposed desalination facility in Huntington Beach.

The study is needed for Poseidon to resubmit its application to the Coastal Commission, which in 2013 allowed the company to pull its application and perform the studies.

The studies determined that subsurface intakes were infeasible and not economically viable. Opponents say the proposed site of the project, next to the AES power plant at Pacific Coast Highway and Newland Street, is wrong for the desalination facility and that Poseidon should look elsewhere.

Poseidon has tried to build the facility in Huntington Beach for more than a decade but needs approval from the Coastal Commission to begin construction.


Shark sightings increase

Marine-safety officials were busy during the summer, not only because of the usual warm-weather increase in beachgoers but also because of a rise in the number of shark sightings.

About a dozen juvenile great white sharks and several hammerhead sharks were reported off Huntington Beach, prompting city and state marine officials to temporarily close the water to surfers and swimmers multiple times.

Researchers say the increase in shark activity along the California coast could be due to warmer water brought on by El Niño.


Naugles returns to Orange County

Lines stretched for blocks at an industrial park at 18471 Mount Langley St. in Fountain Valley when news broke that the popular Naugles restaurant had opened its first location since the brand disappeared in 1995.

The Mexican fast-food chain had a loyal following in the 1970s and ‘80s, and those who used to frequent Naugles stood in line for hours during its opening in late July to order a serving of nostalgia.

The new restaurant was so popular that owner Christian Ziebarth had to limit its operation to Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.


Huntington Beach surfs into record book

In 2005, Huntington Beach tried setting the Guinness world record for most surfers on a board when 60 surfers rode a 39-foot-long board. However, the feat was not officially recorded.

In June this year, the city attempted to break the record again, this time with 66 surfers on a 42 1/4-foot board. And this time, an official from Guinness World Records confirmed the record.

The surfboard will be mounted outside the International Surfing Museum in downtown Huntington Beach in 2016.


Plastic bag ban repealed, but city is sued

Many Huntington Beach residents were not happy when the City Council approved a ban on plastic bags in November 2013.

In January this year, Councilman Mike Posey proposed repealing the ban, claiming that the state was already in the process of putting a plastic bag referendum on the ballot in November 2016.

Huntington Beach’s repeal was finalized in May. But in June, Orange County Coastkeeper, Californians Against Waste and the Huntington Beach/Seal Beach chapter of the Surfrider Foundation filed a lawsuit against the city, alleging it had failed to prepare a proper environmental impact report analyzing the effects of lifting the ban.


H.B. native Denise Huskins kidnapped

Authorities first deemed the kidnapping of Vallejo resident Denise Huskins a hoax after hearing her boyfriend’s story of the incident in March.

Huskins, a Huntington Beach native, was found safe at her father’s home in Huntington’s downtown area two days after being reported missing. Aaron Quinn, Huskins’ boyfriend, called police in Vallejo, in Northern California, claiming that she was abducted from their home after they were drugged by an intruder.

In June, the FBI arrested Matthew Muller, a former Marine and Harvard-educated former attorney, on suspicion of kidnapping, and he was indicted by a federal grand jury in October.

If convicted, Muller could face up to life in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Staff writer Jeremiah Dobruck contributed to this report.