It's true: Orange County is in the midst of a seismic shift that's fundamentally changing who we are. It's not John Wayne's OC anymore; it ain't even that of Gwen Stefani or even Thrice. A decade recovering from the Great Recession—during which technology upturned economies, more gabachos moved away than migrated here, beloved restaurants closed shop, cities started building up, and the Crystal Cathedral and TBN empires crumbled (even if their godawful buildings remain standing)—has left a landscape that even long-timers don't recognize anymore. Irvine Meadows is gone, Pierce Street Annex is getting revamped, and downtown SanTana has no more Mexican beer bars—UGH. . . .
The march of time, I guess. But one of the wonderful things about all this Sturm und Drang is that things that used to plague Orange County are also becoming extinct—hooray! The following are people, businesses, stereotypes and ideas that held us down for too long, influenced us negatively and are now going the way of Sears, letting Orange County become a better place.
THE OC GOP
Republicans will always rule Orange County on the local level—eternally centrist leadership for the Democratic Party of Orange County guarantees that. But the days when the nation's Republicans looked to OC for guidance were already on the wane before nearly every local party leader, major activist or elected official refused to publicly support President-elect Donald Trump. Now, old-school OC conservatism is déclassé nationally, Hillary Clinton became the first Democrat to win a presidential election in Orange County since FDR, and California Democrats have a super-majority in Sacramento gracias to North County wins by Josh Newman (state Senate) and Sharon Quirk-Silva (state Assembly). Telling of this weakened GOP was election night: Local Republicans had four parties, the better for opposing sides to not speak with one another. Party while you can, Trumpbros, because somewhere, Tom Fuentes is rolling in his closeted grave.
ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER
We're talking about the old, nasty fishwrap, the one that once employed Dana Rohrabacher as an editorial writer and thought having Frank Mickadeit write a daily column was media innovation. OC's paper of record is healthier than it has been for years now that its owner is the Digital First Media (DFM) chain. DFM has mostly righted the Register's finances, gotten rid of its kookier editorial stances, launched a redesign, and hired as editor a decent guy in longtime writer Todd Harmonson. But it's those very moves that are alienating the paper's longtime troglodytic readers, who are dying off by the thousands yearly and aren't getting replaced. Instead of launching an internal youth movement, the Register's young reporters have jumped ship to Buzzfeed, PR, or even its sister paper, the Riverside Press-Enterprise, seeing no hope in a Register career. The paper's upcoming move to Anaheim after 110-plus years in Santa Ana is the last nail in the proverbial coffin to a former media empire that for far too long pushed its version of Orange County—dull, wingnut and safe—to the world. Here's to hoping the Reg leaves its past in its Grand Avenue offices and spits on R.C. Hoiles' grave for good measure.
AN AUTOMATIC LOVE FOR LAW ENFORCEMENT
Sorry to say this, progressives, but it took the Right to show Orange County once and for all how rotten our justice system is. Libertarians in Fullerton made the 2011 beating death of Kelly Thomas go viral; über-conservative Bill Hunt's failed campaign against former Sheriff Mike Carona was the last rattle needed to get the feds on Carona's corrupt ass. Supervisor Todd Spitzer's relentless attacks against longtime District Attorney Tony Rackauckas and his No. 2, Susan Kang Schroeder, let other conservatives know it was okay to go after OC's top lawman. And Orange County Superior Court Judge Thomas M. Goethals, a lay eucharist minister at St. John Vianney Chapel on Balboa Island, helped to put both Rackauckas and Orange County Sheriff Sandra Hutchens under federal, state and OC grand jury investigation for their jailhouse-snitch scandal. Thanks to these crucial moments, OC is increasingly believing what we at the Weekly have said for decades: Police and prosecutors aren't always on the public's side—and don't deserve unquestioned blowjobs.
Hate is in our DNA, which is what happens when the county's founder was a member of the original Ku Klux Klan (Henry W. Head), the first person convicted of a felony was an innocent Mexican (Modesta Avila), and the county's fathers joined together to lynch a Mexican (Francisco Torres) who was never convicted of anything. But for an area that exported hate for decades thanks to tightly organized groups peddling their bigotry of choice (Holocaust denial, Young Americans for Freedom, white-power music, the John Birch Society, the caustic homophobia of Calvary Chapel and Lou Sheldon), the professional hater scene is deader than Loretta Sanchez's political future. Its funeral was last year at Pearson Park in Anaheim. More than 90 years ago, 30,000 Klansmen held the largest KKK rally ever west of the Mississippi; in 2016, a couple of middle-aged men got their asses kicked by way more anarchists. The poster boy for modern-day hate in OC is Billy Quigg, the Grand Dragon of the Loyal White Knights of the KKK—and he got saved from any further beatdowns by a Jew.
Cabals have always run Orange County: first, the Associated Farmers (consortium of agriculture people who did everything possible to keep Mexicans as perpetual peons), then developers, with religious groups getting their bite in here and there. They hoisted upon OC generation upon generation of political puppets, from the Board of Supervisors to the halls of Congress, school boards, water districts and beyond. That, in turn, created political machines with a line of succession that produced pendejo after pendejo—think Van Tran in Little Saigon, Miguel Pulido in SanTana, Larry Agran in Irvine, Curt Pringle in Anaheim and more. But voter distrust of dynasties are capping those powerbrokers: Agran and Pringle are out of politics, Pulido is about to get termed out, and Tran is just a memory (his former protégé and now enemy, state Senator Janet Nguyen, has the pesky habit of alienating former supporters, thereby destroying the Little Saigon machine before it really started). Getting true democracy to Orange County will take a while, and special interests will do their damnedest to keep the status quo around—but there's a light at the end of the tunnel, and it ain't that stupid ARTIC station near Angels Stadium.
TELEVISION SHOWS ABOUT ORANGE COUNTY
The sun is slowly setting on The Real Housewives of Orange County, as the nation tires of Vicki Gunvalson's boss-bitch antics and whoever the hell everyone else is. And it's about time: Hollywood's decade-long obsession with us, from The O.C. to Laguna Beach: The Real Orange County to even FOX's live-action cartoon Son of Zorn has blocked America from knowing the real us, instead making everyone think all of Orange County is Coto de Caza and everyone eats at the Javier's in Crystal Cove. If it brought any tourism, it's the usual goobers who used to only descend on Disneyland and now are increasingly infesting the coast and our neighborhoods thanks to AirBnB. Thank God studio execs are now obsessing over Montauk. . . .
SANTA ANA'S STATUS AS THE COUNTY'S PUNCHING BAG
"Santa Ana" still serves as code for "Mexican" (and hence, "evil" and "dirty" and "illegal-alien savages") for big chunks of Orange County. But those people are now irrelevant or have moved to Scottsdale and are now saying the same about the Yaqui town of Guadalupe over there. If people know SanTana at all nationally, it's for the Observatory and its various music festivals, or for the Noche de Altares (one of the biggest Día de los Muertos festivals in the United States), or for the slew of streetwear whiz kids popping up. Locally, artists, chefs, brewers and other creative types continue to buy houses, open stores, or set up studios anywhere and everywhere, making the city a hub of creatives the way Costa Mesa was in the 1990s. And all along, SanTana remains the most Mexican big city in America. See, Stanton and Aliso Viejo? There's hope.
THE IDEA OF IRVINE AS DULL
Yes, living in the city remains akin to Club Fed thanks to draconian HOAs who'll tell Irvine police you parked a 1974 Cadillac Eldorado convertible for 72 hours, even though you only stayed overnight at your girlfriend's pad (happened to me!). And thought pieces continue to point out how it's a miracle the city produced Zack de la Rocha and Will Ferrell despite being, you know, Irvine. But to call it a Stepford community is to not pay attention. The city is now among the most diverse in the country, with vibrant Persian, Korean, Chinese, Indian, Muslim, Jewish and even gabacho communities. Diamond Jamboree is our mini-version of the San Gabriel Valley, and Wholesome Choice is the best supermarket in Orange County. A friend who has been away from OC for about 15 years put it best when he recently returned to UC Irvine: "What the hell happened to Irvine? THANK GOD."
THE IDEA THAT ORANGE COUNTY IS BORING
We who live here know we were always down, even in the heyday of suburbia. But the rest of the country never knew the extent of how un-boring we've become until this past decade. Sure, our tastemakers in music, fashion and action sports have long sparked trends and even led USA Today to memorably, lamely call us "America's Capital of Cool" in 2003—but people noted the dissonance of how such buzz originated from a place where most restaurants close at 10 p.m. But now when people worldwide talk about OC, boring ain't part of the equation, period. The Observatory is a nightly mini-Coachella, drawing festivals and performers and selling out in seconds. Our craft-beer and cocktail scene is blowing up, and Taco Maria's Carlos Salgado brought love to our food scene with his James Beard nomination last year. Plus, a slew of academics and writers are working on all sorts of books examining us through the lens of religion, fairy tale, Latino, immigration and real estate. Taking our place in the boring sweepstakes? Corona.
OUR SENSE OF SUPERIORITY
But despite all that's wonderful and amazing about Orange County, the real world has finally, truly, irrevocably entered our sun-splashed paradise for good. The opioid epidemic that ravaged much of rural America the past decade now has its fangs on upper- and middle-class OC (the problem is so bad in Surf City that paramedics in the city now bitterly refer to it as "Heroin Beach"). Homeless encampments greet anyone who has business in the Civic Center, cyclists who take the Santa Ana River trails and anyone crossing the Orange Crush. Lack of affordable housing continues to drive young adults out to the Inland Empire and beyond. Gone are the days we could scoff at Los Angeles or any other urban area in the U.S.—and that's for the better.
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. . . AND FIVE THINGS THAT SHOULD BECOME EXTINCT BUT NEVER, EVER WILL, DAMN IT
Traffic On the 55 North: In the mid-1990s, when I attended Orange Coast College, traffic on the northbound 55 freeway started around 4 p.m. When the original Weekly World Headquarters was off Kalmus and Red Hill, the backup started at 3; when we moved to dingier offices in the next office park over in the beginning of this decade, we knew to leave at 2 if we didn't want to get caught in bumper-to-bumper hell. Now? You're better off buying a bunch of drones to fly yourself over the mess, Up-like. The southbound 55, mysteriously enough, has never been naturally slow in its recorded history.
The Power of Disney: Last year, Disneyland tried to influence an election by pumping hundreds of thousands of dollars into Anaheim's City Council races. It got a hell of a sweetheart deal when its Pinocchios in City Hall voted to essentially exempt it from any gate tax for the next 50 years. Disney's power is such that it enticed a standing police chief, Fullerton's Dan Hughes, to leave his position and become its head of security. And yet 2017 promises to be the best year yet for the resort, with a D23 Expo at D-Land, at which you can expect updates on the upcoming Star Wars land and a Guardians of the Galaxy-themed ride at California Adventure. Mickey Mouse could poison California's water supply with uranium and anthrax, and everyone would still renew their season passes.
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The Irvine Co.: Don Bren is not immortal, no matter how many baths he takes in the blood of virgins. And him not buying the Great Park remains one of the great mysteries in 21st-century Orange County history; instead, it's FivePoint Communities head Emile Haddad who is influencing modern-day Irvine . . . by essentially copying the Irvine Co.'s playbook for the past 50 years. But even after Bren croaks, and even if the Irvine Co. gets carved up afterward, King Lear-like, the company's legacy will continue for decades. And people will still buy up the Irvine Co.'s vision of ever-rising property values and lawns that never go brown, drought be damned.
Anaheim Angels Signing Over-the-Hill Players: Von Hayes, Hubie Brooks, Dave Parker, Bo Jackson, Rickey Henderson, Fernando Valenzuela, Tim Lincecum, Eddie Murray, Josh Hamilton, Albert Pujols—NEWS FLASH: Angels are about to re-sign Jack McDowell. . . .
The Drought: DIG UP YOUR LAWNS, PEOPLE!