2009 Year in Review

Editor’s note: Welcome to the Sun Newspapers’ review of the top stories of 2009. This week we take a peek back at the issues and people who were in the local news during the past year. Many of these stories are ongoing and point toward another important year in 2010. As always, your comments are welcome on all these stories in letters to the editor. Send by e-mail to dennis@sunnews.org.

Year in Review Compiled by Charles M. Kelly

State budget crisis impacts Seal Beach
California’s financial troubles touched the city of Seal Beach early in the year, putting major renovation projects on hold. One of the projects was the upgrade of the Seal Beach Pier.
On Dec. 17, 2008, the California Pooled Money Investment Board froze all disbursements from the state Pooled Money Investment Account, according to an e-mail by Seal Beach City Manager David Carmany.
Carmany said the loan freeze put several Seal Beach renovation projects on hold, including: the Pier, the bathrooms under the Pier and the planned renovation of the River’s End Café.
According to Carmany, the loan money would have gone to the Pier project ($200,000), to the bathrooms ($60,000) and to the River’s End project ($2 million).

Residents criticize Leisure World investments
A few residents of Seal Beach’s Leisure World accused their governing board of violating a state law by making what they call “high risk investments” with senior citizens’ money and “under-funding” reserve accounts.
However, officials from Leisure World’s main governing entity, the Golden Rain Foundation, said the claims are merely misinterpretations of financial records.

Los Alamitos Unified on the ‘Budget Watch’
The Los Alamitos Unified School District began distributing a brochure titled “Budget Watch,” to inform the community of upcoming events regarding the state’s financial crises and how it will affect the school district’s budget. As the state of California anticipated a near record financial crisis, Los Alamitos Unified Superintendent Greg Franklin said the governor’s proposal would mean about $3 million in mid-year cuts for the school district during the current budget year.

Attorneys win $400,000 in legal fees from LW
An Orange County Superior Court judge ruled Jan. 5 that two attorneys representing Leisure World residents who won a near four-year legal battle against the Seal Beach retirement community’s governing board, should be awarded more than $400,000 for legal services, according to court documents. Judge Ronald Bauer ruled that $377,500 should go to attorney Steven Rice, of the Irvine-based law firm Crowell & Morning, and more than $105,000 be awarded to Wayne Hunkins, of the Santa Monica-based law firm Matison & Margolese LLP.

Police officer Castagna retires
The city of Seal Beach announced Charles Castagna’s retirement. It also announced that Castagna would receive a settlement of $790,000 in a civil suit against the city.
“The city’s attorney lost the case and it has been settled and amicably resolved,” City Manager Dave Carmany said.
According to Carmany, the settlement was for back wages and reinstatement after Castagna was placed on paid administrative leave.

Marina Park may be site of new pool
Like the Queen Mary in Long Beach, the McGaugh pool’s days seem numbered. There has been talk lately by the people in power within the city of creating a new pool at Marina Park.
To that end, the Seal Beach City Council has directed city staff to begin negotiating with Exxon Mobile Corporation to use Marina Park as the site of a new Seal Beach swimming pool.
The decision was made at the end of a joint study session of the council and the Parks and Recreation Commission at the Monday, Jan. 26 council meeting.

‘Pastor Don’ celebrates 25th anniversary
At a time when 40 percent of church pastors leave the ministry after five years, Donald Shoemaker is an exception as members of Grace Community Church, Seal Beach celebrated his 25th anniversary as their pastor.
Located just off Main Street in the heart of Old Town Seal Beach, the church has set aside Sunday, Feb. 22, as a “day of celebration” hosted by the men, women and children who make up Grace Community Church to honor their pastor during worship services

School District faces cuts
Los Alamitos Unified School District officials looked at cutting at least $6 million from the budget during a workshop on Feb. 10. Board members and LAUSD staff looked at a list of cuts brought by the Operations Steering Committee back in January. The list was very fluid, according to Superintendent Greg Franklin, with input from teachers, further scrutiny and the community at large.

Nine residents displaced by $1.3 million LW blaze
A three-alarm fire in Leisure World on Sunday, Feb. 15. caused an estimated $1.3 million in damages.
The first firefighters on the scene arrived at about 11:13 p.m. and discovered a 12-unit building with heavy fire and smoke pouring out of the four units. They immediately asked for help. In all, about 60 firefighters from various agencies battled the blaze for more than 2 hours before bringing it under control. The Leisure World administration, helped the evacuation of nine residents to temporary living quarters.

Plunge helps Special Olympics
The fourth annual Seal Beach Polar Plunge got off with much enthusiasm on Saturday, Feb. 28.
More than 200 plungers and observers attended the event on the north side of the Seal Beach pier.
With the sun at its fullest, the air temperature in the low 70s and water temperature at about 57 degrees, the Polar Plungers edged to the beach, watching the Coast Guard Helicopter rescue squad perform before the start.

Seal Beach City Council votes to display “In God We Trust”
The Seal Beach City Council voted unanimously to display the motto “In God We Trust” at the Monday, Feb.23, meeting. During the public comments segment of the council meeting, four people asked the council to vote against the proposal. One of those opposed to the motto was Mike Buhbe, a property rights activist, who said his wife was attending a church event that evening. The only person who spoke in favor of the motto was Eldon Alexander, another local property rights activist.

Los Al Mayor Dean Grose steps down and quits
It’s a story that shook the west Orange County community. It’s been on daily news pages and on the TV news broadcasts for the last few days.
The Sun Region community first got wind of it when the controversy broke about then mayor Dean Grose’s having sent an off-color e-mail with racial overtones to people in the community.
After a tumultuous week and because of the e-mail he sent, Grose, who had already stepped down as Los Alamitos’ mayor,  did what he vowed not to do and resigned his city council seat before the council met on Monday night, March 1.

Seal Beach Lion wins the Americana Award
Seal Beach resident Scott Newton, who has made “Mayberry by the Sea” his home for the past 25 years, was honored with the Americana Award.
More than 500 people attended the 34th annual Cypress College Americana Awards at the Disneyland Hotel.
Newton was the Seal Beach recipient of this year’s award.

Rossmoor burglary thwarted
Three police agencies, two K-9 units and a helicopter chased a would-be burglar in the Rossmoor area Wednesday, March 4. Ultimately, however, it was the Orange County Sheriff’s deputy who started the foot pursuit who caught the suspect, a Seal Beach resident, as he tried to flee the neighborhood on a bicycle, according to Lt. Tom Gallivan of the Sheriff’s Department.

School district cuts $4 million
Los Alamitos Unified School District Board of Education officials cut $4,032,411 from its budget at its March 10 meeting.
According to the school board’s report, 93 certificated employees were given pink slips last Friday, otherwise known as “Pink Friday.”
More than half were classroom teachers in grades K-8. Many of those will come from the kindergarten program, which will see its day cut in half next year along with class size increases.
Nearly all grades will see increases in class size as a result of the cuts, saving more than $2.2 million.

SB sales tax revenues decline
The city of Seal Beach started to feel the pinch of the recession. Following a long period of higher than expected sales tax revenues, the HdL Companies reported that Seal Beach sales tax revenues in the third quarter of 2008 were lower than the same time last year.
“Actual sales were down 4.4 percent when reporting aberrations were factored out,” said the HdL report “Seal Beach Sales Tax Revenue Update.”
“A business relocation that reduced receipts from the fuel and service stations sector was primarily responsible for the current decrease,” the HdL report said.

Seal Beach’s finances projected to drop $1.8 million
The mid-year Seal Beach budget review was a mix of good and bad news.
The review was a consent calendar item at the Monday, March 23 City Council meeting. The council unanimously approved the entire consent calendar without discussion.
The bad news: the General Fund balance for the fiscal year is expected to decrease by $1,851,000, according to the mid-year budget review by Robbeyn Bird, director of Administrative Services. Most of that money will come from city reserves. The remaining $806,000 will come from current revenues.
The good news: “General Fund revenues currently exceed expenditures by approximately $4,000,000,” Bird wrote.

SB council considers emergency reconstruction policy
On Monday, March 23 the Seal Beach City Council directed staff to devise a citywide policy to help victims of disasters rebuild homes or businesses as quickly as possible. Staff will bring a formal policy back to the council at a future meeting. District 5 Councilman Michael Levitt first suggested the idea at the March 9 council meeting. At that time, he commented that city staff had made a priority of helping the people displaced by the recent Leisure World Mutual 8. Levitt suggested making that priority a citywide policy.

Planners reject new sushi restaurant
Yong and Jane Park of Coto de Caza, Calif., wanted to convert the Sweet Berry Bliss yogurt shop on Seal Beach Main Street into a sushi restaurant. The Parks also wanted a permit to sell wine and beer at their new business. On Wednesday, April 8, the Planning Commission rejected both the restaurant and the alcohol permit.  Commission Chair Ellery Deaton, who represents District 1, said many people had called her to express concern with the number of restaurants on Main Street rather than with the number of restaurants with licenses to serve alcohol.

Council approves new disaster policy
Seal Beach officially adopted a new disaster policy Monday, April 27 when the City Council voted unanimously in favor of a proposal to “provide timely services to property owners who are involved in a construction project” because of a disaster.
The policy statement was originally proposed by District 5 Councilman Michael Levitt after city staff made a point of working with Leisure World residents who were displaced by a fire earlier this year.
According to the staff report by Director of Development Services Lee Whittenberg, the new policy will have “minimal” impact on city finances.

College Park East residents oppose compost project
A composting project originating at the Joint Forces Training Base has College Park East residents who live near Lampson Avenue concerned about traffic safety, environmental issues and what they called a lack of public disclosure. The residents came out in force to question and criticize the project at the Monday, May 11 Seal Beach City Council meeting.
Some residents and one council member accused the City Manager David Carmany of not being concerned with the interests of College Park East residents.

Seal Beach holds firm on height limit
The Old Town 25-foot height limit came back before the Seal Beach Planning Commission Wednesday, May 20.
The planners voted 4-0 on four separate requests from the same applicant to build new residential houses with exterior elevator shafts that would have gone 5 feet 6 inches above the Old Town residential height limit.
The Seal Beach Municipal Code allows the Planning Commission to grant a variation up to 7 feet above the height limit for certain architectural features that are non-habitable. However, several members of the public objected to the requests because they wanted the 25-foot height limit enforced.

Crowds storm compost meeting

On Tuesday, May 26, More than 100 Sun Region residents attended a three-hour long informational meeting about the green waste recycling pilot program that is currently underway at the Joint Forces Training Base in Los Alamitos.

The project has been criticized by residents of the College Park East area of Seal Beach, who are concerned about both the environmental impact of the project and the increase of truck activity on Lampson Avenue in Seal Beach.


Seal Beach bans 3-ton trucks on Lampson

Lampson Avenue dominated the Seal Beach City Council meeting Monday night, June 8 as the the council approved a resolution that prohibits three-ton trucks from Lampson Avenue.

The action was apparently in response to the shipping of green waste for the Los Alamitos Joint Forces Training Base composting project along Lampson Avenue.

City Attorney Quinn Barrow said the city passed an ordinance designating just four streets for commercial traffic many years ago. Barrow said: “Those trucks have never been allowed on Lampson.”

Former Seal Beach Police Department chief dies at 65

A memorial service for retired Chief Bill Stearns was scheduled for 10 a.m., Wednesday, June 17, at the Calvary Chapel in Santa Maria. Stearns, who was chief of the Seal Beach Police Department for a decade, died Sunday, June 7 as a result of cancer.

He was 65 years old.

Seal Beach Police Chaplain Don Shoemaker conducted a memorial service for Stearns in Seal Beach.

Rabbits and guns trigger Leisure World controversy

The president of a Leisure World club resigned in response to negative reactions to his proposal that wild rabbits in Leisure World be shot on site with pellet guns.

Kurt Bourhenne, the then head of an advocacy group for Leisure World residents, asked the Seal Beach City Council on Monday, June 8 to consider allowing a pest control firm to shoot rabbits with pellet guns.  In response to his plan, other Leisure World residents brought to the council a petition with 123 signatures opposing the plan.  Capt. Tim Olson, second in command of the Seal Beach Police Department, said only Chief Jeff Kirkpatrick would not issue a permit to allow the discharge of an airgun or pellet gun anywhere in Seal Beach.

Waki Sushi wins appeal

The proposed Waki Sushi restaurant will be allowed to open. The Seal Beach City Council voted 3-2 on Monday, June 8 in favor of granting the business owners the conditional use permit that the Planning Commission had denied them in April.

District 2 Councilman David Sloan cast the deciding vote.

Schools head into the red

Massive state of California budget cuts will force the Los Alamitos Unified School District into deficit spending this year.

According to district officials, it will go into the red by nearly $3.9 million.

The silver lining to the financial dark clouds is that Los Alamitos Unified has $9.5 million in reserve, which is far more than mandated by law.


Sunset Beach sees county take steps for its annexation

The feisty, independent beachfront enclave of Sunset Beach seems to be on the ropes.

For the past few years, Sunset and other unincorporated areas such as Rossmoor, have been in the crosshairs of Orange County officials determined to divest the county of the financial and administrative burdens of dealing with them. The county has been encouraging these communities to join with neighboring municipalities and free the county to focus on other goals of governance.

The county’s Local Agency Formation Commission voted to place Sunset Beach under what is called “the sphere of influence” of the city of Huntington Beach.

Rossmoor 2009-10 budget in black

It appears the unincorporated community of Rossmoor may be better off financially than some incorporated cities. According to the budget, Rossmoor may take in $94,640 more than it spends in 2009-10.

Sunset Beach hires law firm to battle annexation

Sunset Beach has vowed to fight for its independence.

Greg Griffin, president of the Sunset Beach Community Association announced that  the organization voted to hire the law firm of Sheppard Mullin in Irvine to assist in its struggle against possible annexation by Huntington Beach.

“We would definitely rather join with Seal Beach,” Griffin said.


State may borrow up to $800K from city

The state budget crisis could cost cities the size of Seal Beach $800,000.

Resident pens ‘Stingray Shuffle’ song

Gary Snow was inspired to write the “Stingray Shuffle” song following a comment by a City Council member that someone needed to write a song to remind people to drag their feet along the bottom of the water to avoid being stung by stingrays.

Seal Beach development director retires

In August, Seal Beach Director of Development Services Lee Whittenberg announced he was retiring. After nearly 20 years with Seal Beach and 38 years in municipal planning, Whittenberg said it was time to do something else. So he decided to retire.

Seal Beach City Council votes ‘No’ to Sunset annexation

The Seal Beach City Council voted 5-0 on Monday not to annex Sunset Beach.

Seal Beach City Council members said they had concerns about the costs of merging with Sunset Beach and providing necessary services for the beach community of about 1,200 residents.

However, Sunset Beach residents such as Tom Burk said that Seal Beach would also acquire a string of hotels and motels that could significantly boosts its hotel bed tax, known as the Transience Occupancy Tax.

Seal Beach Chamber hires a new full-time paid director

Seal Beach Chamber of Commerce this week announced it has hired Ruth Harrell as its director of operations. According to Chamber President Jim Klisanin, Harrell, a Costa Mesa resident, was chosen from more than 200 applicants for the job that will pay approximately $30,000 a year.

Island Village seeks to be annexed by Seal Beach

About 50 Island Village residents gathered in the gated community in Long Beach on Friday, Aug. 21, to discuss joining the city of Seal Beach.

Memorial for Seal Beach’s Santa, Bob Eagle

For more than 25 years, Bob Eagle was Seal Beach’s Santa Claus. He died in August 2009.

A large and affable man, he fit the part like a hand in the white gloves he wore during appearances in the Seal Beach Christmas and Holiday Parade, Breakfast with Santa and many other public appearances.

He played the role for nearly three decades.

School district test scores rise

There is some good news from the Los Alamitos Unified School District: Test scores continue to improve district wide.

During the school board’s Aug. 25 meeting, Director of Assessment Mark Johnson, who will also serve as Laurel High Principal, gave board members the Spring 2009 STAR assessment results.

For the most part, the percentage of students scoring proficient or advanced went up on a total grade basis.


DUI murder trial begins

The DUI murder trial in the 2008 death of a College Park East resident began at 9 a.m., today, Thursday, Sept. 10. Alex David Trujillo, 44, has been charged with murder while driving a vehicle under the influence of alcohol when his truck struck Cathy Busse, 46, and her autistic son Sam Busse, then 14 on Lampson Avenue.

Sam Busse survived with only minor physical injuries. Cathy Busse was survived by both her son and her husband.

According to the Web site southern-california-dui-defense.com, a conviction for DUI murder carries a maximum sentence of 15 years to life.

Council launches eminent domain action

The city of Seal Beach will go to court to acquire by eminent domain, two parcels of what is known as “the DWP property” on First Street.  The City Council voted unanimously that it was necessary to take the step at the Monday, Sept. 14 council meeting.

Eminent domain is a controversial legal process in which a government agency goes to court to force the owner to sell the real estate to the agency in question. In this case, the agency is the city of Seal Beach.

The council made the decision without any discussion after a lawyer representing the property owner offered to give the land to the city free following a proposed development project that is still working its way through the Planning Department.

One of the owners, Brian Kyle, owner of O’Malley’s on Main and one of the Bay City Partners, told the Sun he will defend himself through legal action.

Residents now own trailer park

The Seal Beach Redevelopment Agency on Monday, Sept. 14, authorized the transfer of the Seal Beach Trailer Park to a residents’ organization called Seal Beach Shores, Inc.

In other words, the Seal Beach trailer park now belongs to the people who live in the park.

Ownership of the property will officially transfer to park residents next month, according to Cynthia Metzger, a trailer park resident and broker with Sequest Ventures Realty.

Seal Beach open to talks to annex Island Village

The city of Seal Beach is open to discussing the annexation of Island Village, subject to financial analysis, in the event the Los Angeles/Orange County border is redrawn.

The city sent a letter dated Wednesday, Sept. 30 to the Island Village Annexation Committee that said, “We look forward to working with you as we study this exciting possibility.”

Council members wanted language in the letter that would not commit Seal Beach in the event unexpected costs came up.


JFTB compost project temporarily halted

The commander of the Los Alamitos Joint Forces Training Base has ordered a temporary halt to the base’s composting project, according to a joint press release issued Friday, Oct. 8, by the cities of Seal Beach, Los Alamitos, Cypress and Garden Grove.

The decision was apparently in response to increasing complaints about the stench coming off the base from surrounding civilian communities.

When the project first became known to the public, protests surrounding the composting project focused on lack of prior public notice and traffic safety issues.

Maj. Gen. John Harrel apparently made the information about the project stoppage known to participants in a Wednesday, Oct. 7 meeting of the general, and civilian officials representing the county and neighboring communities.


Planners approve biotech factory permit

The Seal Beach Planning Commission On Wednesday, Nov. 18, unanimously approved a conditional use permit for a 24-hour biotech factory that will produce a treatment for men with advanced prostate cancer called Provenge.

The factory will be located in the Pacific Gateway Business Center at 1700 Saturn Way.

Because Dendreon, the manufacturer, must wait for FDA approval of Provenge, planners gave Dendreon one year from occupancy to begin constructing the factory.

Army secretary asked to cancel composting project

On Thursday, Nov. 18, officials representing five local communities asked the Secretary of the Army to cancel the composting contract for the Joint Forces Training Base in Los Alamitos.

The Nov. 18 letter was addressed directly to Secretary of the Army John McHugh. Signed by the president of the Rossmoor Community Services District Board of Directors and the mayors of Seal Beach, Los Alamitos, Cypress and Garden Grove, the letter said all five of their communities were suffering negative impacts from the composting project.


Island Villagers prefer Seal Beach

A majority of voting residents of Island Village recently cast their ballots and their lot with the city of Seal Beach. During a 10-day voting period that ended on Tuesday, Dec. 1, roughly 80 percent of Island Villagers indicated they would like their gated community to become part of the city of Seal Beach.

Sunset seeks cityhood

Sunset Beach has taken the next step toward becoming the newest Orange County city.

With the county officials breathing down their neck, residents of the tiny beach community are trying a last ditch effort to avoid being forced to join the mega city of Huntington Beach to the south.

A survey of Sunset residents showed most residents in the neighborhood would rather join Seal Beach to the north. Current Seal Beach City Council members nixed the idea.

Former Casa Youth Shelter employee convicted

Lydia Kathleen Fitzgerald, 48, pled guilty to multiple charges related to embezzling funds from Los Alamitos Casa Youth Shelter Friday morning, Dec. 18.

She is scheduled to be sentenced on Jan. 22, 2010. She could be sentenced to as much as four years in state prison.

Bridgeport residents angry with ARCO

At a recent meeting, residents of the Bridgeport neighborhood in Seal Beach expressed doubts about whether ARCO will be able to clean up the contamination caused by a 2003 gas vapor leak from a neighborhood gas station.

On Wednesday evening, Dec. 17, residents raised concerns about the water table, the possibility of a methane gas build up and whether it is possible for Atlantic Richfield Company to clean up the contamination caused by leaks from the ARCO gas station at 490 Pacific Coast Highway. More than 100 people attended the second Atlantic Richfield/Bridgeport meeting in the Seal Beach Senior Center to discuss the latest developments in the ARCO station clean up.

Families face displacement from ARCO contamination

Perhaps as many as four families near the PCH ARCO station have been relocated because of decontamination.

At least two and perhaps as many as four Bridgeport neighborhood families have been relocated from their homes.