The Year in Bits: January- June

APRIL

BAD DEEDS GO UNPUNISHED A county report issued April 6 shows that one-third of the county's 27,000 acres of parkland lack any legal protections against development and that fully half of the entire park system—more than 13,000 acres—is collateral for the county's bankruptcy recovery bonds. Despite the revelation, Parks Commission staff refused to recommend that commissioners move quickly to restrict all deeds to all the county's parks. Their report explained that such a course of action "would tend to diminish both value and flexibility." In addition, "by voluntarily establishing deed restrictions, they may hinder the ability to accommodate future legitimate park-related or non-park-related needs," such as roads, bridges or "telecommunication facilities." Because the last place you'd want to be without your cell phone is an away-from-it-all wilderness park.

THE NEW HUGH Facing a $5 million shortfall in next year's budget, the Irvine Unified School District wanted Irvine voters to pass a 16-year, $95 annual tax on each piece of property in the city on April 11. But voters awoke the next morning to news that the proposed tax had lost by a mere 800 votes. Yet, nothing was more remarkable than the identity of tax's most ardent proponent:Hugh Hewitt. A radio and TV talking head, a developer's attorney, and a Chapman University law professor, the conservative, family-values Republican is a vocal opponent of taxation. But in word and deed, the new Hewitt proved to be a bleeding-heart liberal—if only in his own back yard. Consider what the old Hewitt argued in the Timesin November 1992: "Most parents are dismayed by a school system that cannot seem to improve matter how much it is studied or how much money is thrown at it." That is, most parents and most school systems except Hugh Hewitt and the public schools that teach his kids.

IT'S BETTER TO GIVE The Irvine Co., the Donald Bren Foundation and the Irvine Public Schools Foundation on April 13 announced a "surprise" decision to rescue Irvine's public schools. No word of a possible bailout had been uttered before voters went to the polls days earlier for Measure A, a defeated proposal to boost taxes $95-per-year for 16 years. But less than 48 hours after the second Irvine parcel-tax proposal in five months failed to win the necessary two-thirds approval of the voters, Donald Bren and Irvine Co. executive Gary Hunt stepped in just in the nick of time to prevent the executioner's ax from falling on at least 120 Irvine teachers scheduled for dismissal. Suddenly, the "huge," "insurmountable" budgetary shortfall of some $5 million—the shortfall that moved hundreds of people to spend countless hours campaigning for Measure A, which led thousands of citizens to vote for Measure A and which we were told could not be remedied by any means but a tax hike—was filled with the mere promise of $3.9 million. The gift proved that opponents of Measure A were right: the private sector—with its strong financial interest in attracting new businesses to the Irvine Spectrum and maintaining the value (that is, price) of new homes in Irvine—came to the rescue in the short term.

CAMP DICK If you register your kid by April 19, you get a $10 early sign-up discount for the Richard Nixon Library and Birthplace's summer day camp. However, we must take the library to task for its incomplete camp announcement. For instance, it says children ages 8 to 12 get to take part in a scavenger hunt inside the library, but it fails to mention they'll be searching for the 18 minutes of missing Watergate tape. Ben Franklin, Betsy Ross and Abraham Lincoln are noted as sharing historic tales with the kids, but there's not one word about Bebe Rebozo the Clown. And though you learn that campers get to create a time capsule, nothing is said about filling it with John Dean and a roll of Nixon's presidential bathroom toilet tissue—made out of the actual U.S. Constitution. By the time the little bastards leave, they'll think Uncle Dick was the swellest! Call now—operators are standing by!

THE GREAT AMERICAN SMOKEOUT We picked up an important parenting tip we'd like to pass along. If a teenager in your household took a black marker and scrawled "420" on his forehead on April 20, he was not necessarily marking Adolf Hitler's 111th birthday or the one-year anniversary of the deadly 1999 attack by teenage gunmen on students and teachers at Columbine High School in Colorado. Since the late '80s, pot smokers around the country have used "420" to celebrate cannabis. In fact, if Junior was missing around 4:20 p.m. that day —before coming home and polishing off the SnackWells —he probably wasn't hanging out with the skinheads on Huntington Beach's Main Street or plotting with the chess club to mow down homeroom. He was likely just holed up with friends burning a fatty. Whew, what a relief!

A SECOND CHANCE On April 21, Marvin Chavez—the founder of the Orange County Patient-Doctor-Nurse Support Group and OC Weekly's 1998 Man of the Year—walked out the doors of Vacaville State Prison in northern California more than four years ahead of schedule. A week earlier, Orange County Superior Court Judge Thomas J. Borris, the man who in January 1999 sentenced Chavez to prison for selling marijuana, ordered Chavez released on bail pending his upcoming appeal. His release after 15 months behind bars arrived almost six months after the California Court of Appeals overturned the May 1998 conviction of fellow cannabis co-op founder David Lee Herrick. Herrick's conviction came at the hands of now-retired DA prosecutor Carl Armbrust, who spent his last day as a lawman seeing Chavez sentenced. In the Herrick case, the appeals court found that Armbrust willfully misled the jury about Herrick's ability to introduce evidence at trial. Borris' decision to release Chavez pending the outcome of his appeal revolves around the same allegations of misconduct by Armbrust. This may signal the end of Orange County's no-holds-barred war on medical-marijuana activists.

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