Best Of :: People & Places
In a year that has seen the city's civic fabric nearly torn apart because of the Kelly Thomas scandal, there is only one common ground: the Fullerton Public Library. Under the leadership of Maureen Gebelein, the library has boldly forged ahead into the 21st century, keeping active Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest accounts; opening up its History Room to everyone, not just old fogies; and debuting a new conference room in the main branch that has full technological capabilities (its other branch, the Hunt Library, is an architectural gem designed by UC Irvine father William Pereira). More crucially, Gebelein understands that a library is not just a repository for books and microfilm, but also a public space that demands a roster of great speakers. With next to no budget, she has brought in such heavy hitters as Sandra Tsing Loh, Susan Street and Luis J. Rodriguez—and is even crazy enough to allow Weekly Mexican In Chief Gustavo Arellano to present a monthly array of Chicano scholars and other assorted intellectual weirdness titled "Gustavo's Awesome Lecture Series!"
The term "gadfly" carries negative connotations. And we won't deny that those connotations apply to Fullerton blogger Tony Bushala. If, for instance, you're Boss Hog doppelganger and former mayor Dick Jones, you're apt to view Bushala as an annoying insect whose provocative criticisms irritate your normally thickened hide (and head). In recent years, Bushala and his merry band of bloggers on the Friends for Fullerton's Future website have demonstrated that the biggest animals in the political stable can't escape the focused spotlights shining from their digital eyes. Friends for Fullerton's Future re-defined expectations of what can be accomplished via the hyper-local blogosphere when it exposed the indifference of public officials following the infamous Kelly Thomas beating and led the charge to remove three of five council members last June. Former state senator Dick Ackerman—a Republican douchebag who never saw a boondoggle he didn't like—doesn't like Bushala. And that's why we do.
Growing up in the 1960s in the San Fernando Valley, LGBT advocate Laura Kanter's handful of black friends was often denied entry to the homes of her white friends. The discrimination she witnessed as a child has twisted and morphed into present-day homophobia. Fortunately, we have Kanter, who is now director of youth services for the Center OC in Santa Ana, on hand to help deal with this plague of idiocy. At the Center, she hosts CO2, a free, late-afternoon drop-in for teens at which they have access to computers and counseling; her Rainbow Youth Group on Wednesday has become so popular it's been expanded to Friday nights at Shanti Orange County and Saturday mornings at the Center. As if that weren't enough, she's also mentoring YETA (Youth Empowered to ACT), which was sparked by this year's silencing of Fullerton Union High School student Kearian Giertz when he spoke out in support of gay marriage. YETA's smart young activists took to task the school official who did the initial silencing and are now working to make sure recent California anti-bullying laws (Assembly Bills 9 and 1156) are fully implemented via an impressive Safe Schools Campaign, including letters to principals, anti-bullying pledges and surveys that will aggressively detail the progress (or lack of such) in local schools. Aided by a recent six-figure grant from Liberty Hills Foundation, Kanter will be able to afford to provide space, structure and encouragement to the youth-led program. "Once they get the spark, they're the best organizers," she says. "The future is queer."
In a down economy, it's normal to see shuttered storefronts in strip malls; they're like missing teeth in a hockey player's smile. Irvine's Diamond Jamboree Plaza bucks that trend with an always-busy parking lot thanks to a collection of well-known Asian restaurants and shops catering to the tastes of residents who hail from all over the Pacific Rim. The Taiwanese 85°C Bakery Café was the first overseas empire to pin its U.S. operation at Diamond Jamboree. Years after the grand opening, there's still a line out the door for fresh-out-of-the-oven pastries, breads and specialties, plus iced sea salt lattés. From Japan, the spice-heavy Curry House CoCo Ichinbanya serves a version unlike that other Japanese curry restaurant's. Tokyo Table anchors one corner with teppan-yaki and sushi. In another corner, Chef Hung Noodles prepares its spicy braised beef noodle soup called niu rou mien. Korean supermarket H Mart guards the main entrance with the freshest selection of seafood, low-priced produce and USDA Prime-grade beef in town. BCD Tofu House serves Korean hot tofu stew 24 hours every day. Kura Sushi's affordably priced sushi arrives via a conveyor belt. And amid all the food businesses are the best booth-style karaoke bar in the county and the quirkiest Asian shops this side of Irvine's Daiso store.
Even all these years later after 9/11—after being accused by lunatics of wanting to impose an Islamic theocracy on America, after being accused of being a terrorist himself, after having to deal with the uncomfortable fact that his mosque spawned the American-born Taliban communications chief Adam Gadahn—even after all this, Muzammil Siddiqi (nicknamed Dr. Sid by his younger, hipper followers) remains the face of American Islam. And what a face: a kind, gray, bearded Indian immigrant who has headed Orange County's oldest mosque for more than 30 years and still delivers sermons nearly every Friday afternoon, who was a pioneer in interfaith dialogue, and who has helped the Islamic community of Orange County grow exponentially while appearing almost weekly on some news outlet to reassure Americans that Muslims are not going to behead them. Even after all this, the Imam at the Islamic Society of Orange County has the patience and virtue of . . . well, if not Jesus and not Muhammad (peace be unto him), then of some really patient, virtuous mensch.
Since 1958, this branch of the Unitarian Universalist movement has helped every progressive cause that has faced an uphill battle in Orange County, from the Red-baiting days of the early 1960s to the riots its host city faced this summer. Although its veteran members would love to see all the people who use its building join their ranks, they've never proselytized, discriminated nor charged the multitudes who go through. And the actual services? Beautiful: simple ceremonies imbued with the Lord, informal, and with guest lectures every weekend that range from police brutality to love to Orange County's racist, hidden past.
Few public-affairs programs on the dial rival the insightfulness of KPFK's Sojourner Truth Radio hosted by Margaret Prescod. The activist/host born in Barbados takes on the news of the day with critical perspectives offered by guests otherwise ignored by an increasingly consolidated media and, sadly, ever-lackluster public outlets. Following the show's opening snippet of Bob Marley's "One Love," Prescod begins to call out all that is bloody outrageous from around the block and across all borders. Her Friday roundtables offer end-of-the-week wrap-ups with such regularly featured luminaries as Dr. Gerald Horne, Tom Hayden and Jackie Goldberg. When her program enters fund-drive mode, Prescod takes on a measured introductory tone that builds up as the hour nears its end. In the mid-'80s, she began organizing in South Los Angeles against a serial killer of black women known as the Grim Sleeper, who was nabbed two summers ago after leaving an unfinished slice of pizza at Buena Park's John's Incredible Pizza Co., leading to DNA samples. When the subject matter weighs less on the soul, she's a rarity in that she's a public-radio host unafraid to actually let a sense of humor and some personality shine through the airwaves!
For decades, Jim Righeimer has made no secret of his desire to strip public-employee unions of their political power, reduce pay and benefits for government employees, and privatize certain public services. The Costa Mesa city councilman's goals make him Public Enemy No. 1 for union bosses, who've made considerable efforts to slam him and his allies as callous buffoons. The war got really despicable in August when a private investigator tied to a law firm that has worked for the Costa Mesa police officers' union tailed the Republican councilman from a bar, called 911 to report a drunk driver and got cops to haul Righeimer from his home for a breathalyzer test. He passed. He had ordered two Diet Cokes at the bar and had the receipt to prove it.
In describing sexual-harassment charges against Santa Ana City Councilman Carlos Bustamante, District Attorney Tony Rackauckas said, "He hugged them, kissed their mouths and necks, rubbed his face against theirs, grabbed their breasts, touched their bare thighs and moved his hand toward their [genitals], grabbed their buttocks, exposed himself, and sometimes even masturbated in front of the victims."
This June 20 Orange County Register story was about Councilwoman Deborah Gavello, who didn't show up for six regular or special council meetings in six months.
Political candidates are notorious for saying whatever they need to say to win, but once they get into power, they miraculously begin suffering from amnesia. But Fullerton City Council recall winner Travis Kiger took office; declared, "Yes, I have an agenda"; and then boldly published a detailed list of his goals for everyone to see. The list contains four sections: "urgent," "important," "irritating" and "things to look at." It's refreshing to see at least one public servant willing to hold himself accountable from the outset of his term.
When the widow and young son of Garden Grove's Andy Tran needed legal representation to go up against the entrenched, mendacious forces at the local police department who'd killed an unarmed, cooperative Tran with a lethal Taser blast in his own front yard, they turned to Sean Hennessey. Police agencies never admit they've done anything wrong and retain lawyers skilled in delay tactics and obfuscation. But thankfully, the victims in this excessive-force case found Hennessey, a former senior Orange County public defender with a well-deserved reputation as a tireless fighter in major felony trials. He's now in private practice in Little Saigon and remains feisty and resourceful. While the police department tried its best to cover up the ridiculously unnecessary killing, Hennessey methodically pieced together the facts. When he finished, city officials reluctantly decided to settle the federal lawsuit rather than let a jury hear the case and risk an astronomical settlement to pay for callous, sloppy police work that stole a young life.