The Year In Letting Go, Go, Angels!

Los Angeles Ashes

Courtesy Anaheim AngelsBy now, any true Angel fan realizes that owner Arte Moreno must be allowed to rename his team the Los Angeles Angels. (The Angels Angels . . . cute.) This must happen and it must happen now because the team has been handed a unique opportunity by the very entity that has denied them full success for decades. We're talking a New Coke, Pepsi situation here, people.

For some of you, this may be a lot to take, Los Angeles being where Gwen Stefani lives and The O.C.is filmed. And there's the fact that you're coming off what was a very trying year for an Angels fan. After an injury-plagued and disappointing 2003, expectations were high with the signing of Vladimir Guerrero, the game's best young player. But then the team stumbled, injuries cropped up once again, Troy Glaus got hurt, and the team didn't seem to play with the fire that defined them for the past few seasons. And then they did, and they began to win and move up in the standings, and all seemed well again. Then word came that Moreno wanted to rename the team the Los Angeles Angels, and everybody just kinda gulped. But that was soon forgotten as Guerrero carried the team for the last month, leading them through a torrid stretch that resulted in a division title. Then they fell flat in the playoffs and were swept by the Boston Red Sox. Then Guerrero won the MVP, and that made things a little better. Then Moreno said he'd compromise on the name thing, call his team the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, and the city threatened to sue him. Then the Dodgers lost their minds.

That would be the Los Angeles Dodgers. Though they would loathe to admit it, every Angels fan knows that Los Angeles has always been the measure of their success. The team, after all, started as the Los Angeles Angels, and even after moving to Anaheim, the team and its fans have always judged themselves by the Dodgers yardstick, a considerable one in terms of success and baseball culture (Jackie Robinson, first West Coast team).

Frankly, the Angels never quite measured up. They had great, marquee players (Nolan Ryan, Reggie Jackson, Vlad) and great teams, even a great announcer (Dick Enberg), yet it was never enough. The Dodgers were a Southern California birthright, the team that made the West Coast major league; even if you hated them, you knew they were the team. So even after the Angels won the 2002 World Series, the Angels were still No. 2. Even after last year's thrilling stretch run, it was the Dodgers' unlikely run to the playoffs—led by the likes of Jose Lima, Steve Finley and especially Adrian Beltre—that earned the biggest headlines.

But then, over the past month, the Dodgers, in short order, allowed Lima to walk, allowed Beltre to sign with Seattle and Finley to sign with, hellooo, the Angels. Then news broke that they were going to trade another fan favorite, Shawn Green, to Arizona, along with Brad Penny who had been acquired when another fan favorite, Paul LoDuca, was traded to Florida. (He promptly hit a home run in his first at-bat.) Now, suddenly, the bad taste of letting another fan favorite, Dave Roberts, go resurfaced as another fan favorite, Alex Cora, was shown the door. Any goodwill that had been built up over the season by new owners Frank and Jamie McCourt—who were regarded with much suspicion—was lost. It wasn't that the Dodgers were making bad deals—that had also been a birthright; a list of former Dodgers frittered away include Roberto Clemente and Pedro Martinez. No, it seemed the McCourts had no respect or even idea what the Dodgers meant to Southern California. That the Dodgers meant. They seem to be running one of sport's storied franchises as if it's just another team—a cheap one at that, less Dodgers than Devil Rays, and the only way things could get any worse is if the McCourts knock down Dodger Stadium or parade Vin Scully before their chariot in chains.

How all of this Dodgers dreck affected the Angels came to me when a friend who lives in LA told me that the day the proposed Green deal broke, just about the time Finley was signed, his son announced matter-of-factly, "That's it. I'm an Angels fan."

There is opportunity here, but Moreno must be allowed to take full advantage, and there is no way he can do that as the owner of the Anaheim Angels.

He's already proven himself a committed and aggressive owner; but even committed and aggressive owners need generous resources; George Steinbrenner can only be George Steinbrenner because he owns the New York Yankees. Wonder what a committed and aggressive owner could do in LA? Why not ask Jerry Buss sometime when he isn't polishing his eight championship trophies. Better yet, ask yourself what the Dodgers would be like if Arte Moreno had waited a year and bought them. Adrian Beltre would still be with the team, hitting behind Vlad Guerrero, getting ready to host a Welcome Wagon party for Randy Johnson.

Taking advantage of the LA market doesn't just mean attracting more people to the park—the Angels drew more than 3 million last year, anyway—it means more Angels jerseys and caps sold around the country, it means a higher profile, it means more corporate sponsorship, it means the ultimate exposure that only two cities can provide—New York and LA. But you knew that. It's not just about kids in Westwood wearing Angels caps, but kids in Bakersfield and Utah and Tennessee. It means better local TV and radio deals—as of today, the Dodgers have much better deals. It means more money. And Moreno has made it clear he would plow that money back into the team.

As it stands, Moreno seems interested in any big-name free agent who becomes available; when this year's jewel, Carlos Beltran, went on the market, the Angels were one of the first teams mentioned. But Beltran will likely sign with the Yankees because they can pay him more. If Moreno had more cash to spend, I have no doubt he would spend it. Instead of one big free agent each year, think in terms of two and three. Add to that the fact that being a Latino owner, with some of the game's highest-profile Latino players on the roster, the Angels could become a destination for the game's other great Latino players as well as anybody simply interested in winning.

Any true Angels fan recognizes this. You are, after all, an Angels fan, not an Anaheim fan. You root for the Angels, not Harbor Boulevard. For any true Angels fans interested in seeing their team take the next, ultimate step, giving up "Anaheim" for "Los Angeles" is a simple thing, as easy as it was giving up California for Anaheim.

It's not about the name, people. It's not even about winning. It's about winning big.

Think big.

Yankees suck.

 

Don't Let This Happen to You

The Year in Suburban Decline

by nick schou

This was a good and bad year for Huntington Beach. Good in that the cops didn't round up hundreds of city residents on July 4 and force them to spend the night in a urinal-free holding cell. That hasn't happened for, oh, eight years. But it was bad for cops refusing to arrest corrupt politicians long after they've been exposed for, oh, shall we say, the federal crime known as bank fraud. It was good in that the city was smart enough to trademark the name Surf City. Bad in that surfers kept getting sick when they were actually in the surf. It was good in that the city didn't have a federal jury telling them to pay the family of some unarmed kid such as Antonio Saldivar millions of dollars for having shot him dead. Bad in that a federal grand jury indicted the mayor. Again.

Surf City, here we go.

This year, Huntington Beach approved something called Pacific City, a project that will bring brand-new luxury condominiums to the city's downtown area. While that seems innocuous, Pacific City happens to be located in a former oilfield. Nearby residents protested the plan because it will involve unearthing countless tons of potentially contaminated soil. Their concern was likely augmented by a Weekly story from March that reported how in 1991, a year before the city passed an ordinance making it easier for oil companies to develop their properties, it passed another ordinance relaxing the city's soil contamination standards—by a factor of 10.

That story, "Bitter Harvest" (March 26), was about how several children in a tiny area of southeast Huntington Beach have died from a rare form of brain-stem cancer. The one thing they had in common other than living in a neighborhood dotted with abandoned oil fields was playing at a park across the street from a hazardous-waste dump. Although officials insist there aren't enough dead kids to warrant further study—apparently that magic number lies somewhere beyond four—on March 18, an inactive oil well at the dumpsite burst hundreds of gallons of crude into the air, inundating the surrounding homes with toxic goo.

Of course, when you're talking slime, you have to head down to City Hall. Last October, the Weekly reported that former mayor Pam Julien Houchen had illegally converted apartments into condominiums—elevating a municipal crisis involving dozens of unsuspecting city residents victimized by unscrupulous local realtors into a political-corruption scandal reminiscent of that which recently ousted Mayor Dave Garofalo. Garofalo pled guilty two years ago to political corruption charges stemming from his habit of voting to provide lucrative city contracts to advertisers in his throwaway newspaper.

By the end of the year, Houchen's planning commissioner Jan Shomaker had resigned her city job and federal prosecutors had indicted Houchen on 18 counts of bank fraud.

The city did manage to avoid a few other major disasters this past year. On March 2, city voters overwhelming defeated Measure E, a city initiative backed by Republican lobbyist Scott Baugh and his former client AES, which operates an aging, inefficient, polluting eyesore of a power plant along Pacific Coast Highway. If passed, Measure E would have shrunk the City Council by one-third and made it that much easier for powerful special interests—i.e., AES—to buy off politicians.

And the City Council smartly rejected a plan by Poseidon Resources to attach a seawater-desalination facility to the AES plant. The facility would have created 50 million gallons of supposedly drinkable water per day, but would also churn 50 million gallons of brine per day into the Pacific Ocean. It would also have likely raised bacteria levels along a stretch of beach that has already been repeatedly closed because of high levels of poop.

Of course, the beaches were still closed down a bunch of times for high levels of poop. . . .

Happy New Year!

THE YEAR IN KEEPING THE FAITH

By Gustavo Arellano

I don't know if you've noticed, but I've written a few stories about the Diocese of Orange sex-abuse scandal this year—31, actually. Most of them were well-researched, hard-hitting exposés critical of a church leadership that for decades refused to acknowledge the priestly pedophilia problem in Catholic Orange County. Some stories drew national attention, such as my piece about Orange Bishop Tod D. Brown's purchase of a $1.1 million manse for himself near South Coast Plaza. Others ran under the headlines "All Aboard the Pedo-Train!" and "Hide the Buggering Priests!" or examined a mural at St. Joseph's in Santa Ana I lovingly refer to as "Boner Jesus."

It's a living.

Anyways, it's been tough covering an imploding Church, and not just because of the barrage of angry Catholic e-mails and phone messages. Shortly after I began the series, my parents took me aside. They're barely English-literate, but someone had apparently translated my "King of County Pedophiles" story for them, the article in which I excerpted a police report detailing how Father Eleuterio Ramos allowed three strangers in a San Diego motel room to blindfold a 14-year-old boy, then watched as they savagely gang-raped the teenager.

My parents have never been the most devout of Catholics—papi rarely attends Mass, and I can't remember the last time mami took the Eucharist. Nevertheless, they ordered me to sit one night and yelled at me for a good hour. Orthodox or not, they're Mexican Catholics, and insulting the Church in our culture is as serious a sin as saluting the American flag. Why write badly about the Church? they demanded. Why bash God?

At least my parents didn't shun me. Around summer, I started courting a woman whom I'd known for years. I was still raw from yet another heartbreak and figured the bona fide Sunday-school teacher would treat me with Christian love. Everything went dandy—chaste, unfortunately, but dandy—until I excitedly called her one night. I had just received accolades from friends for my "Lifestyles of the Rich and Pious" cover story. That would've been the article in which I described the Orange diocese's 10 most-expensive homes in luxuriant, numbers-crunching detail.

She hadn't read the story; she didn't need to.

"How could you invade the privacy of priests?" she asked gently, but in an offended tone that told me this was it. "Why do you always write so badly about the Church? Can't you write anything positive?"

I saw her the other day at a baptism. She handed me a basket of chips.

The most vicious scold, however, came courtesy of Father Timothy Freyer of St. Boniface Church in Anaheim. In late September, he set aside a full page of the parish bulletin in English and Spanish to trash my "Lifestyles of the Rich and Pious" piece. I didn't even mention St. Boniface in the story, but the pastor still felt moved enough to question my credibility. Incredibly, he also defended Brown's philosophy of moving priests out of spacious rectories and into private mini-estates far from the maddening faithful.

This from the man who presided over my sister's quinceañera.

Freyer's pseudo-bull was the closest I came this year to abandoning Catholicism—wait, you thought I was atheist? Or a Jew? Oh, ye of little faith: welcome to my cross.

When I mention I'm Catholic, people smile. When people see the rosary hanging from my car's rear-view mirror and the St. Jude Thaddeus prayer card taped to my garage opener, they figure I'm into kitsch. When I mention I'm a practicingCatholic, their faces twist in disbelief. I know what they're thinking: How could I remain faithful to the Church when I spend much of my work day—an entire year!—eviscerating the Church with stories such as "Boy-Buggering Bingo!"?

The answer is simple: 11 a.m. Sunday Mass at St. Boniface.

This is my home parish. This is where I learned about social justice, where I plan to marry—ladies, my e-mail is below—and where I hope to have my funeral, though not as soon as some would hope. It's also the parish that hosted one of the county's most notorious pederast priests, Father John Lenihan, the man who gave me my First Communion.

The Orange diocese wouldn't defrock Lenihan for his crimes until 2001, and that was only after he admitted to having sexual relationships with adultwomen. But even during the late 1980s, when I was a kid there, it was common knowledge among St. Boniface parishioners that Lenihan raped girls while a priest at St. Norbert's in Orange during the 1970s. That didn't seem to bother anyone. Father John was a welcome presence in every facet of St. Boniface's energetic social and liturgical calendar: catechism classes, weddings, First Communions, pro-amnesty drives, everywhere. When he left St. Boniface for St. Edward in Dana Point in 1995, many of the faithful tearfully begged then-Orange Bishop Norman McFarland to keep Father John with us.

At the time of my First Communion in 1988, I was too young to know what rape was, except that it had something to do with men being mean to women and, like watching an R-rated movie, it guaranteed Hell. As I prepared for that day, I remember asking my parents, catechism teachers, even other priests, why Father John was allowed to officiate over something so important if he had done something so bad. I heard the same half-explanation from everyone: "Father John has a problem."

I didn't think much of it until late last year. That's when my editor asked if I could investigate the sex-abuse scandal plaguing the Catholic Diocese of Orange. I was noncommittal until a sex-abuse survivor visited the Weekly's offices carrying a stack of damning documents. Thanks to those, I discovered that 30 other priests shared Lenihan's "problem." That "problem" destroyed the lives of children into their adult years and, thanks to a December agreement between the church and victims, will now cost the faithful $100 million. It's the largest sex-abuse settlement in the history of the Catholic Church.

"Father John has a problem."

When I attend Mass and see the Vietnamese youth group selling car-wash tickets as a fund-raiser for their Christmas pageant because there's not enough money, I think about "Father John has a problem" and realize what a lie it was. Father John didn't have a problem; we did.

Around Thanksgiving, my parents had that look again. Another article of mine translated by someone. That would've been the one called "More Bang, Please," which disclosed how Brown spent $350,000 on a PR firm to spin his pedo-lies.

I wasn't seeking another confrontation. Earlier in the day, a sex-abuse victim who pleaded anonymity thanked me endlessly over the phone for my work. The person was one of about 20 different victims of priests who called to thank me over the past year. While I'm always grateful, the calls drain me—as much as I've grown accustomed to it, it's hard hearing a molestation survivor describe their preteen violation in devastating detail.

By then, I was already refusing the Body of Christ from priests, preferring to receive the host from a lay Eucharistic minister. And still, when the collection basket passes my pew, I stare ahead.

But my parents didn't want to hear about my theological problems this most recent evening. All they wanted to know was whether the $350,000 figure in my story was correct. , , I tiredly assured them.

They remained silent. "What you're doing is good, Gustavo," my mom finally said. She resumed watching some weepy telenovela. Our Virgin of Guadalupe statue above the television never looked so radiant.

GARELLANO@OCWEEKLY.COM

 

 

The Year in 'Oh,

Dear God!'

By Cornel Bonca

"I was extremely depressed and discouraged and not sure there was anything I could do." This from Dr. Sheryl Fontaine, a professor of English at Cal State Fullerton, when the returns from Ohio made it clear in the early morning of Nov. 3 that the United States of America not only had stomached, excused and tolerated George W. Bush's disastrous war, know-nothing arrogance and stupefying inequitable economic polities, but also wanted four more years of it.

As she learned that Bush's victory was due largely to the evangelical Christian Right's embrace of "moral values"—which, from all indications, means killing Iraqis, an intolerance of gay love and a searing disgust of women who choose not to take their pregnancies to term, even if they've been raped or if pregnancy puts their lives in danger—Fontaine, a member of Claremont's United Church of Christ Congregational, felt alienated and betrayed.

Though her moral values are recognizably New Testament—compassion, tolerance, inclusive-ness in personal relationships, social and economic justice in the public realm—with a smidge of Zen Buddhism thrown in, "there's a sense," she says, "that names that I have given myself—I'm a Christian—have been usurped, taken away from me, co-opted, and I don't know how to get it back."

I asked her if there were any way for progressive or even mainstream Christians to engage in some kind of dialogue with the Christian Right. "At this point, I feel a little too injured to know what the conversation would be. I want to believe there's a way to be part of the conversation, I want to believe that I am a part of this country again, but I don't necessarily feel that right now."

Why is finding common ground with people who identify themselves with the same religious figure so damnably difficult?

"The most charitable way I can understand it is that the [Christian Right] are stuck in stage two of [psychologist] Lawrence Kohlberg's scale of intellectual and moral development," she says. "Things are either black or white, right or wrong, good or bad, and there are no gray areas. And that's what Bush presents—the Axis of Evil vs. Us."

She can see the attraction of such thinking, however.

"There are moments when I say life would be a lot simpler if I believed in this way, and in this time when things are so complicated and frightening, when that fear level has increased, it's interesting that so has the number of evangelical Christians."

Though Fontaine is too hardscrabble a fighter to give up on her country or those who've hijacked the name of her faith—"we just have to work harder, to make our voices louder"—in the election's aftermath, she's none too sanguine.

"Personally, I'm dreading the next four years. All the things that the Bush administration stands for are in direct opposition to who I am. To that extent, I find myself taking a deep breath and saying I have to go forward and to find a way to get through this and not lose myself and what I believe in. It's an interesting moment because I don't want [progressives] moving more to the center so they can grab more from the right, but I don't want people moving farther to the left, either, because there's a way in which the extremes have a similarity—they can both get totalitarian. We have to step carefully at this point. I'm really pleased, though, there's been a lot in the papers asking what's the next step for liberals, and for mainstream Christians, that there's been a lot of thought about it all. Bush may call it waffling, but I call it thinking."

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