OC Weekly's Year In Review 2013

In this year when listicles have all but supplanted thoughtful reporting as America's primary news source, we present the Weekly news team's reflections on 2013, as reported on our blogs and beyond. Dotted throughout the blurbs are web editor Taylor Hamby's favorite photos of the year from our roster of Riises. And don't forget: In addition to putting out a dead-tree version, which you should pick up weekly, we're updating Navel Gazing, Heard Mentality and Stick a Fork In It all the time over at ocweekly.com. Enjoy, and may your 2014 be filled with churros and MILFS!

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1. Costa Mesa Politics. Between Mayor Jim Righeimer suing his own city's police department for allegedly spying on him and Riggy continuing to try to destroy public-employee unions, as well as the ongoing battle over the Orange County Fairgrounds, Costa Mesa is a Pulitzer waiting to happen. So why didn't we cover the town that Weekly World Headquarters calls home? Two words: Santa Ana and Anaheim. (Okay, so that's actually three words.) May 2014 be the year we finally point our howitzers homeward. . . .

2. The Great Park. Time was when we covered the Great Park obsessively. Then came other scandals. But this open wound of a project is only going to get oozier now that a private developer has effectively hijacked Larry Agran's dream (which isn't necessarily a bad thing). Time to send Charles Lam off to earn his cub-reporter chops. . . .

3. Action Sports. Our county just happens to be the action-sports capital of the world, between the magazines and the clothing labels, the stars and their hot groupies. Yet year after year, we neglect to offer comprehensive coverage. We improved last year, with two surfing-themed covers and a profile on Colin Oyama, former trainer to Quinton “Rampage” Jackson and Tito Ortiz. May next year bring FOUR covers, haha!

4. Anything South of Irvine. Yes, South County: We ignore you if you're not a restaurant, bar or MILF. We know there are dirty politicos down there. May 2014 be the year we turn our gaze toward ustedes—and may it be the year we finally figure out where Wagon Wheel is.

5. Curt Pringle. The Dark Lord of OC—enough said.

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1. Bill to Label E-Cigs a Tobacco Product Postponed. The man hasn't quite figured out what to do with e-cigarettes. The technology is so new it's difficult for consumers to keep up with it—so you can imagine what the fuddy-duddies up in Sacramento think. In February, California state Senate Majority Leader Ellen Corbett (D-East Bay) drafted Senate Bill 648, which would label e-cigs as a “tobacco product.” Even though vape store owners and e-liquid makers agree some level of regulation is necessary, labeling vape pens a tobacco product would negate the whole point. Vape pens use no tobacco and create no secondhand “smoke”; for a smoker who wants to quit, this cessation method is without peer. Luckily, Corbett and her peers see a lack of evidence for tightening their grip on e-cigs and, for now, put SB 648 on hold.

2. The “Make It Mexican” Series With Roland Rubalcava. Chefs have a reputation that precedes them. We don't know what it is about working in a kitchen that makes some people think they're gods, but Roland Rubalcava, former chef/owner of the beloved Rubalcava's in Placentia, is instead the coolest, most down-to-earth dude. Which is why we chose him for the “Make It Mexican” series on our Stick a Fork In It blog—not simply because we're in the business of promoting Mexican food and culture, but also because the expert on it just happens to be Rubalcava. Once a month, he taught us how to make Mexican dishes the way his mami and abuelita taught him. From tamales to pozole to real horchata, after making these delights at home, we promise you'll never want to eat shitty Mexican food again. And the pretty pictures help, too. Catch him now at the awesome Taco Maria in Costa Mesa, por favor!

3. Wendy Leece's Horror Over the Word Motherfucker Appearing On Our Cover. It shouldn't surprise you at all to know we seriously piss off some readers. Yet it's not often a City Hall calls in with a complaint. In April, Costa Mesa councilwoman Wendy Leece contacted us about a concern that mothers in her city were having. Turned out some poor, unsuspecting teenager picked up a January issue that contained Joel Beers' review of the South Coast Repertory production of The Motherfucker With the Hat. Great play, but Leece and her constituents were angry that Beers used the word motherfucker 17 times. We met with them, and although Leece appeared to have the most balanced view of the group, the consensus was that the Weekly should be responsible for what kids could possibly read in our paper—never mind the schoolyard or, you know, the Internet. Our meeting went well, sans a few heated moments from one stay-at-home mom, but we had hoped someone from South Coast Rep would be there to comment on why the “crude” play was allowed to run in the first place. Turns out no one returned Leece's call.


4. Saddle Crest Development In Trabuco Canyon Overturned. In Orange County, we're in the business of McMansions and making everything look the same. But wouldn't you know it, some folks still value natural wilderness areas? The canyon lands east of Orange and north of Irvine feature miles of unadulterated open space and are among the few areas where people can hike, bike and camp. Yet it's been the mission of Rutter Development to build a new tract-home community along the canyon's two-lane highway since the early 2000s. Saddle Crest would have cut down more than 100 historic oaks and graded the pristine hillside, possibly starting a domino effect of development in the area. This kind of work was prohibited in the canyon because of environmental plans, but the Orange County Supervisors, who all received campaign funds from Rutter Santiago LP, ignored them. Thankfully, Orange County Superior Court Judge Steven L. Perk ruled against Saddle Crest in July and kept the fight going for the little squirrel.

5. Remembering George and Jack Culolias, Father and Son Who Tragically Passed Within Months of Each Other. News of a Brea Olinda High School student who went missing during his first year of college at Arizona State University made national headlines. Jack Culolias had been at a bar in Tempe, celebrating with his new fraternity brothers, when he was kicked out for underage drinking; he then vanished into the desert night. Three days later, while his brothers and mother, Grace, searched around the bar, a single red shoe was spotted near a water basin. Jack was found floating among the reeds. The story went quiet after that, but we caught up with the family. The boys' father, George, had passed only months before from cancer, and the eldest brother, Nick, said Jack was just trying to escape the pain. The boys' stepmother, Renae, now lives in a new house in Yorba Linda that she had hoped to share with the whole family. Instead, she points to the baby magnolia tree planted out front on the day of Jack's memorial and thinks of her two remaining sons. “This is just life, as sucky as it is,” she says. “But there are good people in the world, and if anything, this tragedy will make them better men.”

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1. Predicting the Huntington Beach Riots? After the riots sparked by the U.S. Open of Surfing in July, there were interviews and press conferences and special Huntington Beach City Council meetings at which police, merchants, Surf City leaders and surf-contest reps at once demonized the vandals and vowed to work together to protect citizens and property next summer. But my quick check of social media—the same tool credited with helping to arrest rioters—revealed that several locals warned the city before the U.S. Open of looming mayhem. I even started to put together a collection of these, but, alas, I never completed the project.

2. The Sea Lion Pup Genocide That Wasn't. In April, it was reported that nearly 1,100 sea lions had been found ill and stranded on Southern California beaches for the year to date, rehabilitation facilities were full, and newly sick marine mammals had to be treated on the sand because of the overflow. The “stranding epidemic” began in January and showed no sign of ceasing, according to federal scientists who initially hypothesized the cause was “environmental factors that would limit prey availability for the pups.” But Orange County saltwater fishermen countered it was just a natural cycle that, if left alone, would take care of itself. The worst strategy, according to the pole holders, was having humans unnaturally nurse pups back to health. I never got around to hunting down an egghead to tell me which side was correct.

3. The Girly Man-Fishes of Little Dana. Speaking of the deep-blue sea, scientists in February reported that the discovery in 2005 of feminized fish off our coast was erroneously based on samples accidentally contaminated by researchers. The initial research had received worldwide attention, and there was a suspected connection to the sewage outfalls off Orange and Los Angeles counties. But when the Southern California Coastal Water Research Project returned to the same locations to test several hundred more fish, it didn't find any egg-growing dudes. That took researchers back to the previous samples and pathology reports that indicated there were “stray eggs” from females that fell onto male fish tissues.


4. The Good Side of Bell. Corrupt former Bell City Manager Robert Rizzo pleaded no contest in October to 69 charges brought against him for masterminding the corruption scheme that paid exorbitant salaries to city officials. That set the former Huntington Beach resident up for 12 years in prison, something I did report. (Ironically, as I type this, Rizzo's ex-assistant, Angela Spaccia, is being found guilty of multiple felonies by a jury.) My coverage brought a personal email from Doug Willmore, the current Bell city manager, who wanted to make me—and by extension, you, dear readers—aware of the many positive changes the city has made. Too much negative Orange County news prevented me from reporting positive Bell news.

5. Fake Boner Pills From China. After a Yorba Linda resident got busted for selling fake boner pills through Craigslist, an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) rep rang me up in March about doing an investigative story on this . . . um . . . growing phenomenon. She said counterfeit Viagra, Cialis and other member enhancers were being made in China, filled with lead and other toxins, and sold online. Before I took a larger look at the issue, she just needed to run it up the flag pole . . . which is where I assume it died because her bosses informed her we aren't the Register. Drats, I was really looking forward to reporting there could be lead in the medicine you bought online because there's no lead in your pencil.

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1. Obama's War On Weed. The biggest story I covered in 2013 was the Obama administration's war on weed, which began in earnest in November 2011, but really picked up steam during the past 12 months. I wrote numerous articles about the feds threatening landlords and dispensary owners and of cities such as Anaheim, Santa Ana and Garden Grove cooperating to shut down every pot club. Internal emails from federal prosecutors I managed to obtain gave lie to repeated statements by top Obama administration officials that they were only targeting criminal enterprises and not dispensaries that were following state law. It seemed obvious to me these prosecutors were in fact operating beyond the bounds of official policy. And indeed, the second half of this year proved that thesis correct. Having been repeatedly shamed by my reporting, the feds backed off their high-profile harassment of landlords in Orange County. As if to place an exclamation point on that retreat, the feds also released a new statement promising not to interfere in states that have legalized marijuana for recreational or medical purposes.

2. SoCal's Pops of Pot. Another big story I followed, which never made it into print, was the sentencing of the biggest kingpin in the history of Southern California's medical-marijuana industry: John Melvin Walker. At his late-July sentencing hearing, I sat in a courtroom packed with crying friends and family members while the judge gave Walker—a bespectacled, white-haired man nicknamed “Pops”—22 years in federal prison. In the glory days of the med-pot craze, Walker secretly controlled nine insanely lucrative dispensaries in Los Angeles and Orange counties, but he made the major mistake of not paying his taxes. Stashing huge piles of cash alongside AK-47s didn't help, either.

3. Tacos and Terrorists. Hardly a week goes by that I don't stop by Taco Asylum, a so-called “nontraditional” taco joint at the Camp in Costa Mesa. It serves up the best ghost chile carnitas you've ever chased with a premium IPA. One day in early August, I saw some plainclothes detectives interviewing the staff. Further investigation on my part revealed the cops were following up on a July 28 vandalism incident staged by the Animal Liberation Front (ALF), which had taken issue with the restaurant's locally sourced rabbit tacos. Compared to other ALF stunts, this one—involving only some red spray paint and a hackneyed attempt to glue a lock—was as tame as they get.

4. Dick-Chopping In the Desert. Someday, the full story will be revealed, but even the sketchy outlines of what happened are enough to turn your stomach. Although the crime allegedly occurred in October 2012, it wasn't until last month that prosecutors charged three men with abducting, torturing and sexually mutilating the owner of an unnamed Orange County marijuana dispensary in an unsuccessful effort to get him to turn over a large amount of money they believed he'd buried in the desert. Thanks to this misunderstanding, the victim, who understandably hasn't been identified, was severely beaten and burned all over his body with a blowtorch before having his penis severed and his body doused with bleach. More gruesome details are likely to emerge next year when the three sadists finally get their day in court.


5. Cocaine Airways Redux. I first interviewed Tosh Plumlee, a former CIA contract pilot who ran guns to Castro in the 1950s and anti-communist Nicaraguan contras three decades later, about 17 years ago. Back then, he refused to answer my questions about his top-secret testimony to the U.S. Congress about drugs being smuggled into American military bases including El Toro Marine Corps Air Station on return flights. I finally got the bulk of that story in 2005, when I published a profile on him titled “Cocaine Airways.” Now, Plumlee's making the rounds again, telling the likes of FOX News about how the agency helped Mexican drug kingpin Rafael Caro Quintero, wanted for the murder of DEA agent Enrique Camarena, escape to Costa Rica before being returned to Mexico to face prison time. (This is news again because Quintero was recently released early from prison and has disappeared again.) The biggest bombshell: It was Plumlee himself who flew the plane.

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1. Obama's War on Immigrants. As “comprehensive immigration reform” was debated all year, record deportations raged. Local OC activists formed the Keep Our Families Together campaign to challenge them, case by case. One of its most publicized actions involved not a Latino, but rather a persecuted Sikh immigrant from India, Gurmukh Singh. The Garden Grove resident had attempted to normalize his status through a denied asylum request. He tried once more in April through a spousal petition only to be detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) far from his home, wife and children. Singh stayed in detention for months until October, when petitions, calls and other efforts finally secured his release. Singh still faces deportation, but his attorneys are working with ICE on a resolution to keep him home.

2. Fullerton's Continued War Against Kelly Thomas. More than two years after Fullerton police bludgeoned Kelly Thomas to death, the City Council finally considered the issue of police oversight. One option before them was a two-year, $120,000 contract with Michael Gennaco's Office of Independent Review (OIR). The other was to continue exploring other models, including a civilian review board. Police Chief Dan Hughes made a strong pitch for OIR while dismissing a review board late into a marathon council meeting. Activists who formed the Police Oversight Proposal Committee (POPC) had precious little time to make their case and defend the model they spent months crafting during meetings at Fullerton Public Library. Mayor Bruce Whitaker was the sole dissenting vote against the contract with Gennaco's firm, dealing a critical blow to citizen engagement in police-oversight matters. Coupled with the council vote against a year-round homeless shelter in the city, Fullerton's local government has learned nothing from Thomas' death.

3. Anaheim's War On the Homeless. With a lingering recession, tents began popping up in Anaheim's public parks, where homeless persons stayed before clearing out at night. An anti-camping ordinance was born in September, aimed at criminalizing homelessness and confiscating their “abandoned” possessions. After a contentious council meeting, the action was postponed until Anaheim and Fullerton decided to jointly contribute $40,000 each to open the Fullerton Armory Winter Shelter weeks ahead of schedule. The City Council also decided to grant a 30-day grace period, beginning Dec. 15. The ACLU of Southern California has been watching for any infringements upon civil and human rights.

4. Anaheim City School District's War On Latino Parents. Latino parents from Benito Juarez Elementary were on the march in May, but no liberal groups rallied to their cause. Their demand: Retain Principal Roberto Baeza, who had been slated to be transferred at the end of the school year. The parents pleaded their case at school board meetings and school-site sessions and even started a petition, all to no avail. Anaheim City School Board District member Jose F. Moreno was accused of being behind the move in a shadow feud with Baeza, but neither he nor his colleagues cared about parent concerns, defending the rotation as a matter of routine policy. The school year after the shuffle scuffle? The policy was changed to strengthen the superintendent's hand and further weaken the voice of parents.

5. OC Hip-Hop's War for Attention.With multiple city scenes, the local underground movement possesses a rich depth and diversity. This year saw the release of many albums and mixtapes that the Weekly spotlighted through the Spare Notes feature on our Heard Mentality music blog. Whether it was Kevin Parx of SanTana's Freethrows, Locally Grown Collective's DaveAllen representing Orange on Young American or Emcee Classiq pondering Cupid's Vices from Anaheim, there was no shortage of beats and rhymes for the times. Other rappers such as Sage One, Hands, and Innate N EP gave county hip-hop-heads something to bump from San Clemente to Costa Mesa and beyond. The ladies are taking to the mic, too—watch for Miss Char, Vally Vicious, Wicked Babydoll and Noel to make moves in the New Year. For hip-hop in OC, the rhymes of KRS-One ring true: We only get better, and only better we have gotten!


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1. Steve Smith Pays Back the Punk Rock Community $50 At a Time. One of our most frustrating and funny sagas this year came thanks to a guy named Steve Smith, who promoted the ill-fated (or perhaps never-fated?) Punk Rock Picnic that he abruptly halted in April. Our cover story on the topic led to interesting discoveries—namely how Smith was able to take over the identity of the original festival from its founders, promote his own, and then cancel it after he'd accepted money from scores of ticket holders and dozens of local vendors. Months later, in an attempt to symbolically clear his name, he called us to say he'd taken a part-time, $9-per-hour side job to pay back all the money he owed. Naturally, another blog post followed in which we wished OC's punk community good luck with the slowest, most inefficient refund attempt in festival history.

2. 50 Best/Worst Things About OC's Music Scene. Normally, you gentle readers rely on us to get a clear take of the good, the bad and the utterly ridiculous in OC music. But when we decided to give musicians the chance to plop down on the therapist couch and say their piece about the OC scene, their joys and frustrations about their stomping grounds made for funny reading. Never failing to keep it real, the artists who participated in this special two-part list chose to rant about everything from OC's bro-iest downtowns to the false sense of accomplishment that comes with winning an OC Music Award. At the same time, they were thankful for their favorite post-gig food joints (Molcasalasa!) and the opportunity to run into crusty old-school punk legends such as Rikk Agnew at the supermarket. Guess you gotta take the good with the bad.

3. Trent Reznor's Stunning Tribute to Our Andrew Youssef. Last month, we thought we'd seen just about everything Nine Inch Nails could do to show their support for beloved Weekly photographer Andrew Youssef. Though he passed away just after Thanksgiving, Youssef is definitely going down in history for having one of the most legendary NIN fan experiences ever thanks to the time spent with Trent Reznor and company before their fall arena tour. But when the Weekling unexpectedly answered a FaceTime chat with Reznor on Nov. 16, after seeing the band perform at the Staples Center on Nov. 8, it turned out he got an even better seat to their show at the Hard Rock Hotel N Casino. Just before launching into the song “In This Twilight” (a song Youssef also used as the title to one of his bravest blog posts), Reznor gave Youssef a special dedication as both he and his fans chanted the photographer's name. The video of the whole thing, which we wrote about on the blog, is unforgettable—the gesture instantly shined a national spotlight on Youssef and his story, his harrowing Last Shot column, and the cover story we did about his life.

4. Coachella Marines. In full grip of the dry desert heat, the fine art of day drinking at Coachella becomes a game of survival of the fittest. Sweltering temperatures in the high 90s aren't necessarily ideal conditions to bombard your liver with alcohol. And unless you've been trekking through sand in the Middle East in full combat gear, it's very possible you're not ready to do the amount of guzzling you think you are. Fortunately for Jimmy English and Tidas Friday (two Marines who thought it best to keep their real names a secret), they're already used to such conditions. We met up with the two and followed them around for a day of drinking as much as humanly possible, including a selection of homemade cocktails back at their tent that ranged from disgusting (Coke, vodka and Listerine) to even worse (a Jameson, Jägermeister and Monster Energy Drink mix called Swamp Thing). Our liver still hates us for that story.

5. Top 10 Douchiest Guitarists of All Time. We can all appreciate a quality guitar god; it's the textbook, sexy, rock N roll factor that has sold concert tickets, signature guitars and posters for decades. But when you're a world-class guitar player and you know it, there's a fine line between sexy and, well, douchey. We released the list in February, grilling everyone from John Mayer to C.C. DeVille. It immediately struck a chord with people—many of whom got their leather pants in a bunch about it (including some of the guys on the list!). Never let it be said OC Weekly doesn't know how to call out a D-bag when we see one.

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