The Year in Bits: January- June

PET HELL TO PAY Bob Emmers' Weekly exposť on the county's fucked-up animal control shelter ("Pet Hell," May 14, 1999) was arguably the most responded-to article in our nearly five-year history. But you may recall in a subsequent story ("Changing the Cat Box," June 4, 1999) that Emmers' coverage "disappointed" animal control board member Judy Matsen. At a board meeting two weeks after "Pet Hell" was published, Matsen said she wasn't familiar with the Weekly until researching it on the Internet and discovering to her horror that we "were talking about commies and fags." "Pet Hell" went on to win the investigative-journalism award from the Orange County Press Club earlier this year. Greater validation came on June 5, when the county grand jury issued a report that essentially said animal control in Orange County is a mess. The staff lacks leadership, is overworked and has a poor attitude. Customer service sucks. The veterinary and kennel staffs hate each other. The vet staff repeatedly neglects policies on the timely treatment of ill or injured animals and the premature euthanization of potentially adoptable pets. And the list goes on. The grand jury indicated stories like the Weekly's prompted the investigation. Instead of obsessing over commies and fags, Matsen should have done some more browsing to discover the horrors going on under her nose.

'WE'RE BEING STONEWALLED' According to a June 14 report by the Orange County grand jury, political inertia—what the jury calls a "who-cares" attitude among Huntington Beach officials—makes an immediate solution to the Ascon-Nesi hazardous-waste dump unlikely. More than a decade after it ceased operations, Ascon-Nesi is still highly toxic and, in the words of the grand jury, "so easily breachable that there are trails emanating from the holes in the fences." The damning six-page report claimed that during the jury's months of investigation into the dumpsite, both city and county officials essentially refused to take any action to protect the public from Ascon-Nesi. According to the report, "meetings with city officials in Huntington Beach have left the grand jury with feelings of frustration summed up by the reaction: 'We're being stonewalled.' The city of Huntington Beach does not assume the degree of responsibility for monitoring the Nesi/Ascon [sic] site that seems prudent to the grand jury. The community and county should mount a more rigorous push to resolve and eliminate the dirty, dangerous dump. . . . One would think that local pride and community service would have provided better results. But instead, the prevailing reaction received by the grand jury has been the old 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it.'"

COUGH-KA-ESQUE The California Public Interest Research Group (CALPIRG) issued a report on June 21 that says the air has been so dirty here the past three years that OC is considered a "Smog Spot"—one of 13 metropolitan areas in California that do not meet the federal standard for healthy air. "For children, the elderly and the more than 96,000 people in Orange County with asthma, this is a severe health threat," reports CALPIRG's Amber Proaps. There's just one problem: it's bullshit. We actually went past the press summary and opened up "Smog Watch 2000." We discovered that Orange County was lumped in with Los Angeles and Riverside counties to create one of those 13 Smog Spots. If you look solely at OC data, not only have there been few days exceeding federal standards during the past three years, but the air has also actually gotten cleaner here each year compared with the previous one. But latching us onto our much smoggier neighbors certainly did get our attention.

HERE COME DA JUDGES The state Commission on Judicial Performance admonished Orange County Superior Court Judges Susanne Shaw and Gary P. Ryan on June 26 and 27, respectively. Shaw was dinged for singing in her courtroom, discussing punishment with prosecutors without defense attorneys present, letting a defendant know what they do to "skinny white boys" in jail, and other inappropriate behavior. Ryan was arrested by Newport Beach police after an accident in September 1999 in which his blood-alcohol level was more than twice the legal limit. Neither will be removed or even suspended from their $100K-plus jobs on the bench; an admonishment is the lowest grade of public discipline meted out by the panel. This is most troubling when it comes to Ryan, who paid no fines or court costs and spent not one day in jail after spending five hours drinking beer, wine and vodka at Yankee Tavern in Newport Beach before getting behind the wheel of his Jeep Cherokee and plowing into the back of a Ford Expedition. The same judicial panel had received complaints of Ryan snoozing on the bench in '97 and '99. Something stinks in OC, and it ain't La Palma.

SURF AND TURD Is it just us, or did it seem weird that an advertisement for the release of Jawsand Jaws II on DVD was plastered all over trash cans along the strand in Huntington Beach? The movie was all about city officials trying to silence warnings about a killer shark so as not to spook tourists. So wouldn't the image of a marauding great white on receptacles along the shoreline reinforce fears of going in the water? Speaking of reinforcing fears of going in the water, two teens died of unknown causes on June 27 a few miles apart near the surf in Newport and Huntington beaches. "This is a little too Jawsesque for me," someone named Callopy wrote the Weekly's Commie Girl. Callopy wondered whether the culprit might be "some ghastly turd floating around and targeting our county's youth?" No. Though they smell the same, that would be the state Commission on Judicial Performance.

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