Fun Zone preservation groups appear on Facebook

A Balboa Fun Zone preservationist has started a Facebook campaign to halt plans for ExplorOcean, the ocean-themed educational center that would essentially replace the 1930s-era amusement park.

James Pobog, 60, joins a small and growing group of old-timers who stand in protest of the plans by the Newport Harbor Nautical Museum, which owns much of the Fun Zone's waterfront land.

Some have bemoaned the loss of the carnival-like atmosphere, even before the museum ended the historic carousel's lease in September.

But ExplorOcean officials insist their plans will modernize the Fun Zone and make the area more relevant for future generations. They unveiled their designs publicly last week.

But after Pobog saw a promotional video for ExplorOcean and sprung into action.

"Seeing this slick-produced video set off alarm bells," he said. "They're not doing this out of altruism. Someone's going to make a boatload of money."

The nonprofit museum plans to rent the space out and generate revenue from a number of sources.

Pobog, who used to work for a circuit board manufacturer, spends a lot of time on Facebook. His posts have garnered more than 100 comments, although some are his.

He writes slogans below scenic landscape paintings of the Fun Zone, with catchy phrases like "Save the Fun Zone, Stop the Museum Monstrosity."

Pobog posts the images in two online groups — I grew up in Newport Beach BEFORE it was the OC and Balboa Village FUN Zone.

Others have pledged their support under his posts. Offline, some longtime Newport residents have said that the museum's plans are out of step with their sense of the community.

The nautical museum has proposed a roughly $40-million center with a "4D" (the fourth dimension being piped-in scents) sensory theater, submarine simulators and other family-oriented attractions.

ExplorOcean President Rita Stenlund said some people were unaware of the plans and hesitant, but after visiting the preview center they have become more receptive.

"We're seeing how people are truly understanding what they're doing and they're excited about it," she said.

Pobog's main complaints are that ExplorOcean would change the character of the areaand generate too much traffic.

"It just fundamentally changes the Fun Zone," he said. "It becomes something else."

While he has participated in one protest before — against Scientology — Pobog said he is not necessarily interested in leading the charge.

"It's a bunch of people talking about it on Facebook, and me beating on a drum," he said.

Pobog graduated from Newport Harbor High School and used to hang out on the peninsula in the late 1960s and 1970s. His family lived here for 20 years, but he has since moved to Santa Ana.

Next, he plans to contact business owners and residents near the Fun Zone.

Twitter: @mreicher

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