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Old Posted Mar 9, 2007, 3:13 AM
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Thursday, March 8, 2007
Showcasing nature in Laguna Beach
New museum, scheduled to open March 17, will display exhibits on Laguna's environment.
The Orange County Register

LAGUNA BEACH – Nestled in a hilly stretch of Laguna Canyon sits a 2,000-square-foot exhibit hall built to teach and inspire.

Scheduled to open to the public March 17, the James and Rosemary Nix Nature Center will display science, art and history exhibits related to the surrounding coastal sage scrub habitat.

Its location in Laguna Coast Wilderness Park's Little Sycamore Canyon Staging Area links it with a network of trails leading to parks and preserves as well as access to the county's only natural lake.

"It's the perfect spot because it's at the crossroads of the regional park system," Laguna Canyon Foundation Executive Director Mary Fergaus said.

"I think it will be busy every day."

Guests enter through a "decompression chamber" where footage of local history and the environment is projected on a wall.

Four "portals" frame views of the canyon. Displays include fossil reproductions, endangered species and artifacts from the Acjachemen tribe.

Laguna Woods Village residents James and Rosemary Nix gave $500,000 to start the $3.4 million project in 1999.

The center was dedicated in November 2006.
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Old Posted Mar 9, 2007, 3:27 AM
Buckeye Native 001 Buckeye Native 001 is online now
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Originally Posted by ozone View Post
IMO Orange County doesn't deserve one dime from the state because it's a morally bankrupted count full of too many self-intitled R.W. extremists. OC residents never want to pay for anything out of their own pockets they'd rather steal from others. The rest of the state should say go to hell.
Rest easy, o militant one, because I sure as hell voted in favor of Measure M.
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Old Posted Mar 9, 2007, 6:46 AM
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Originally Posted by ozone View Post
IMO Orange County doesn't deserve one dime from the state because it's a morally bankrupted count full of too many self-intitled R.W. extremists.
Morally bankrupted. Bankrupted? Hmmm....
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Old Posted Mar 9, 2007, 7:10 AM
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I have lotsa problems with Orange County politics, but I've got to say, the Great Park is a smart investment. The land is only going to get more expensive, and you will never be able to assemble such a large park later. And don't worry about whether or not the area is heavily populated right now. Pretty soon, all of Southern Cali will be heavily populated. When we get to that point, they'll be glad they built a huge-ass park right in the middle.
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Old Posted Mar 10, 2007, 2:47 AM
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March 9, 2007
Segerstrom Concert Hall's six-month report card
Impressive acoustics, solid ticket sales are a plus, but some patrons have complaints.

By Mike Boehm, Times Staff Writer

Six months after it opened to great fanfare, operators of the Rene'e and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall are still working out some kinks that led to a mixed reception from music organizations and audiences.

Although Orange County-based performing groups report blossoming attendance in the Costa Mesa venue, the county's leading importer of classical music talent has been disappointed. Musicians are delighted with its intimacy and tailored acoustics, but concertgoers have griped that some seats have poor views of the stage.

The Pacific Symphony, the venue's main occupant, is tickled to be selling more than 92% of its seats and attracting nearly 2,000 new subscribers. But Dean Corey, executive director of the Philharmonic Society of Orange County, which presents touring orchestras and soloists, speaks of "a pall" settling on the hall because of a small but significant number of complaints that emerged early on — mainly over sight lines and comfort issues. Sales for the Philharmonic Society's presentations in the hall are 75% of what it budgeted before the inaugural season. Corey says that could reflect both a wary response by people who heard there were problems and his over-optimism about how much a ballyhooed new venue would boost attendance.

Somewhere between is the Orange County Performing Arts Center, the landlord and a frequent presenter itself. Attendance has been 84% for center-sponsored events in Segerstrom Concert Hall, officials say, and 82% for shows in the Samueli Theatre, the smaller, multipurpose stage under the same roof. Center President Terrence Dwyer says those figures, and the 66% attendance for ballet, Broadway shows and other events in the center's 3,000-seat original venue, Segerstrom Hall, mean that things "are going reasonably well for us this year, and we're projecting we'll be reasonably on-budget" while making the risky expansion leap.

Musicians are having some of the biggest thrills. The hall is a godsend, say veteran players who for years struggled to be heard clearly — and to hear themselves — in Segerstrom Hall, a multipurpose auditorium that lacks acoustics specifically geared for classical music.

"The new hall is so incredibly sensitive that you don't have to push at all, you don't have to do anything unnatural to be heard," says Cynthia Ellis, who, after more than 20 years with the Pacific Symphony, no longer has to be a blowhard on piccolo and flute. "Everybody can just relax and play the way they play."

Shortly after the new hall opened, Marc Dickey, chairman of the music department at Cal State Fullerton, attended his first Pacific Symphony concert in years; he'd stopped going out of frustration that Segerstrom Hall "wasn't working in their favor." Now the impressed professor says he'll be back. He especially wants to hear how the listening experience develops as the Pacific Symphony tinkers with the adjustable acoustics. Like all venues designed by noted acoustician Russell Johnson, the new Segerstrom can be mechanically "tuned" from concert to concert.

Chris Kollgard, double bassist for the Pacific Symphony, says it has helped. "Our first concerts were loud pieces, and they were a little too boomy. Without the fine-tuning the hall can be too reverberant, but they've got a handle on that now."

Audiences have had some gripes, according to presenters who field complaints and relay them to center management. The list of problems sounds like "Goldilocks and the Three Bears Come to Costa Mesa": orchestra level too cold, balconies too hot, seating behind the stage too hard, movable box seats too squeaky. Also: safety railings too obstructive of views, legroom too stingy and, perhaps least solvable, undulating, waveform balconies designed by architect Cesar Pelli too intrusive on sight lines from certain seats in the side boxes, some of which are among the hall's most expensive.

Even musicians have their quibbles: Kollgard says that lockers for storing instruments don't fit the bigger stringed instruments, such as his double bass, and the orchestra has been asked not to use any of them until a fix is made. "People are a little upset" that the promised end to lugging their instruments hasn't arrived. "It's something we've looked forward to."

Some problems rectified

The complaints are taken seriously and "have lessened as we've made improvements," says Dwyer, the center president. Squeaky chairs have been outfitted with quieter mechanisms, more padding is contemplated for bench-like seats behind the stage, and workers are close to getting the temperature in each section just right. The sight-line problem is the biggest issue, he says, but affects just a small number of seats. (Complaints about legroom, sight lines and vertigo arose when Walt Disney Concert Hall opened, as well as problems with amplified sound that have been corrected.)

Many of the new hall's perceived bugs may be a matter of audiences adjusting from the "old" hall, says the Philharmonic Society's Corey. Still, he says, the 60 or 70 complaints his group received were enough to generate a negative "buzz" and dim some of the public's initial good feeling.

"It's not overwhelming, but it's just enough that it kind of puts a pall on things," he said. Ticket income is about 15% less than the Philharmonic Society had budgeted for the 23 performances it booked this season.

Corey says part of the problem could be the glut of offerings during the gala opening in September and October, highlighted by a 2 1/2-week residency by the Kirov Orchestra, Ballet and Opera. "I think a lot of people got tired." Also, he says he may have overestimated the pull the hall would have. In any event, "we haven't seen a real people-coming-out-of-the-woodwork factor."

Nevertheless, the Philharmonic Society plans no retreat: Its 2007-08 season again includes 23 performances in Segerstrom Concert Hall, including Kiri Te Kanawa, Yo-Yo Ma and the State Symphony of Mexico.

Dwyer says sales for the center's presentations this season — including 24 performances in the hall, 86 in the smaller Samueli Theatre that opened in October and 174 performances in the old wing — are close to budgeted attendance projections.

Meeting revenue goals matters, because the center already is under serious financial pressure as it tries to finish fundraising for the $237.5-million expansion. The new hall was completed with borrowed money and remains about $75 million short; officials have said that failure to raise it within two years could lead to programming cuts.

A happy home

Perhaps ironically for those with long memories, the happiest campers so far seem to be the homegrown performing groups. In the center's early days, locals complained about being treated as afterthoughts, with management focused on establishing Orange County's bona fides as a "world class" destination by importing famous names. With expansion — and two decades to mature — groups such as the Pacific Symphony and Pacific Chorale are enjoying more prime weekend dates and see the new hall as a magnet.

The Pacific Symphony, which is giving 76 of the 137 concerts booked so far for the hall's inaugural season, says it's delighted that more than 92% of its seats have been filled, with 1,800 new classical subscribers among a total of about 5,000.

"We really are at capacity," says John Forsyte, the orchestra's president. "We've even talked about ending the subscription campaign early" to avoid freezing out folks who want to buy single tickets for the remaining concerts. He says the plan for the near future calls for maintaining the same number of concerts, holding on to audience gains and building an endowment that will eventually allow another spurt of growth — and pay raises for the musicians.

Leaders of the Pacific Chorale and the Mozart Classical Orchestra, smaller organizations that have booked four performances each in Segerstrom Concert Hall this season, report gains. Attendance was about 90% for the chorale's first concert, says President Kelly Ruggirello, and two Christmas concerts were sellouts. Few tickets remain for two upcoming Irish-themed shows in the Samueli. Subscriptions have grown 15%.

Opera Pacific President Robert C. Jones says he worried that two concert performances of "Porgy and Bess" in the new hall last October — sans costumes and scenery — would draw poorly because of the opening-month performance glut. The shows nearly sold out, he says, "and we all seemed to agree that the choral acoustics are as good as they are anywhere. 'Spectacular' would not be overstating it."

Ami Porat, founder-director of the Mozart Classical Orchestra, a chamber ensemble that uses only the hall's orchestra seating, says it has filled virtually all of the 1,000 or so available seats. The $36,000 earned from a January performance quadrupled the best single-show box office total in the group's previous home, the 756-seat Irvine Barclay Theatre at UC Irvine.

"A number of people in the past said if we only played in a real concert hall, they would come. And they have," says Porat, who launched the orchestra in 1985. "To me, this is a magic time."
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Old Posted Mar 12, 2007, 1:33 AM
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February 28, 2007
O.C.'s newest outdoor center

We've got Fashion Island, the Block at Orange, the Market Place and the Irvine Spectrum Center. With its scheduled grand opening in October of 2007, the Anaheim Garden Walk will be the most recent addition to Orange County's assortment of outdoor malls - a Southern California specialty.

As with any shopping center, the Garden Walk is being raised to have a personality of its own.

Manicured garden walkways will provide an ever-present "scenic route" for shoppers and diners to enjoy. Situated between Katella and Disney Way at Clementine, it is hoped the Garden Walk will provided an added tourism boost by drawing in the Disneyland Resort crowd.

The 19.3 acres of shopping, dining and hotel possibilities is smack dab between California Adventure and the front gate to the Magic Kingdom. This $130 million project promises to include all the outdoor mall staples: retail stores, restaurants, a movie theater, hotels and timeshares.

The projected plan is for the parking garage and the retailers to open to the public in October - construction began in May of 2006. Roy's Hawaiian Fusion Restaurant, Banana Republic, Johnny Rocket's, Bubba Gump Shrimp Co., Harley-Davidson, Chico's, Cheesecake Factory and P.F. Chang's are among the already confirmed tenants. That should give you a taste of the higher quality that can be found within the Garden Walk's selection of shops and restuarants.

In the summer of 2008, another phase of the plan is scheduled to follow with the opening of a hotel and 400 timeshares. The projected plan is for the Garden Walk to be finished in 2010 with two more hotels.

The Anaheim Garden Walk should boost both locals' and tourists' yen to visit Anaheim - there's definitly more to the city than Mickey Mouse ear stands and fast-food joints.

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Old Posted Mar 13, 2007, 2:43 AM
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Tuesday, March 6, 2007
Judge rules against Walgreens for Brea
Tower Records will have to find a new tenant for its Brea Downtown space.

Brea A Delaware bankruptcy court judge has denied Tower Records' request to reassign its lease to Walgreens pharmacy – leaving the record store to find a new tenant that better fits downtown criteria.

The chain music store filed for bankruptcy, closed its store on Brea Boulevard in January and proposed the pharmacy as the new tenant. Tower suggested Walgreens occupy half of the 30,000-square-foot building and sublease the other half.

But city officials opposed the lease transfer – preferring a business that fit their profile of downtown.

City Manager Tim O'Donnell says the prominent location should be occupied by a retailer that reflects the feel of the area.

U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Brendan Linehan sided with the city in a 23-page ruling, which stated the pharmacy would be in violation of the city's covenant, codes and restrictions – guidelines for the type of business appropriate for Brea Downtown.

"There are a lot of places in our city where a Walgreens would be great," O'Donnell said. "But not in an entertainment/restaurant district."
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Old Posted Mar 13, 2007, 12:50 PM
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Originally Posted by Gatorbitch View Post
Rest easy, o militant one, because I sure as hell voted in favor of Measure M.
As did I.
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Old Posted Mar 14, 2007, 2:57 AM
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I did too.
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Old Posted Mar 14, 2007, 3:04 AM
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Monday, February 19, 2007
Disneyland's Grier talks about his plans for the park
Disneyland Resort president Ed Grier talks about his new job.
The Orange County Register

Ed Grier is finally settling in at Anaheim's Disneyland Resort, where he was appointed president in July.

Grier, 51, is taking measure of the resort's challenges and opportunities, including recruiting new employees (called "cast members" by Disney) and the possibility of Disney opening a third "gate," or park, to accompany Disneyland and Disney's California Adventure.

After being named to replace Matt Ouimet, who left Disneyland to join Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide, Grier took several months to fully transition from his previous post as the top Disney official at the Tokyo Disney Resort, which is operated by a licensee. During those months, he traveled frequently between Anaheim and Tokyo. He is now living in Tustin with his wife of 26 years, Valerie, and two of their three sons (one is away at boarding school).

Grier, who joined Disney as an accountant in1 981, sat down last week for an introductory interview with the Register.

Q. You took over as president of the Disneyland Resort just as the 50th anniversary promotion was concluding. Coming from Japan, what are your perceptions of Disneyland?

A. Well you just spoke about the 50th anniversary, by all accounts a tremendous success, not just for Disneyland but for the whole community. So everyone benefited from it economically. And also it was a great experience for our guests and our cast and our leaders as well. … So from that perspective I think that's something I want to capitalize on. …

What I can tell you coming from Japan is the Disney brand is very, very strong and it's amazing that it resonates with guests all over the world.

Q. Have you had a chance to size the place (Disneyland) up and figure out what you want to do?

A. We have a great property here. I think all of our Disney parks are great and we just want to make them better, so that's what we're sizing up now, how we continue to grow from the 50th …So that's really about learning the property, learning the environment, learning the community and being a big part of that, that's my focus right now.

(The business is) locally based here as compared to Walt Disney World – that's a destination that draws upon distant travel. So that's probably the fundamental difference here.

Q. Have you identified anything that you feel needs some work?

A. No. I think overall we're doing great. Our resorts, from a hotel standpoint, are doing very, very well. Our parks are doing very, very well. So, work – there's always work. We're never satisfied. I don't think our parks are ever finished. I think that dates back even to Walt, you know, they're never complete. So we always want to make them better.

Q. The Disneyland Resort employs 20,000 people. How do you recruit new employees to keep those properties staffed as the cost of living in Orange County rises?

A. I think recruiting is a challenge for all businesses in this part of the country. I think the unemployment rate is 3.6 percent, which is very, very low. So there's a lot of choices for our cast members that we try to recruit. So that's the biggest challenge … But we have great opportunities for cast members who come here. It's a great learning experience. We have lifelong lessons they learn when they come here from a leadership standpoint, dealing with the guests. So we feel very good about our cast members that we get here.

Q. Does Disneyland need to make an initiative in terms of creating more local affordable housing opportunities for cast members?

A. Well, affordable housing is an issue for all of Anaheim and all of Orange County. So it isn't a Disney issue per se. Certainly we are supportive of the efforts that Anaheim is striking out on to improve affordable housing in the area.

Q. As you mentioned, the Disneyland Resort tends to draw much of its business from residents of Southern California, so you get a lot of repeat visitors. Can they expect to see any new attractions in the parks in the near future?

A. We're going to bring back the subs. 20,000 Leagues was the location. That closed a while ago. But we're very glad to bring back the subs, and it will be a totally different, Nemo-based theme, that will be quite exciting. Actually, I was on the site yesterday walking around and we saw some of the glimpses that the guests will see. It will still be a submarine-based ride, but totally new media, totally new sound, totally new experience with Nemo and the cast of characters (from) "Finding Nemo." So we're very fortunate that we have that relationship with Pixar. This is going to be a home run for us. It opens this summer in the Disneyland park.

Q. Anything else?

A.There's some other things that we're – no, that's probably enough for now (laughs).

Q. Disney's California Adventure – there's been some talk about possible changes there. What can you tell me?

A. Well, like I said before, we're constantly trying and we do improve our parks and the experience for our guests and we listen to our guests. California Adventure has had some significant improvements, in my mind: Tower of Terror opened; the Monsters Inc. attraction. So those are two. And if you look out there's a little bit of construction going on, there's a new attraction that will open and I can't give that one away yet, but I will tell you, it's an interactive attraction and it's going to add some totally new excitement when it opens out there. Don't want to tell you everything but if you like interactive, being part of, immersed into the attraction, you're going to love this attraction that opens in '08.

Q. Any update on a third gate?

A. Third gate? We only have two (laughs).

Q. I know there's only two now, but there's a piece of land off of Harbor (Boulevard) that Disney owns, isn't there?

A. Yes, there is.

Q. Any plans for that?

A. Land is very valuable in this part of the country as we know. So we're making plans on how we could expand our property and adding more exciting new things for our guests, but we're not at a point now where we can really talk about those.

Q. Can you give me an example of the sorts of questions you're getting from cast members?

A. I think surprisingly enough our cast members want to know about the other Disney parks. They feel so good about their product here, and they're very proud, like you know, this is THE park. I mean obviously, Walt was here and you can walk in his footsteps, that sort of thing. But they really want to know about our other parks. Do the guests act differently? Is the acceptance of the Disney brand there? That's a big question I get all the time. And they really are very interested in that.

Q. You have an open-door policy for employees. Can you tell me about a time a cast member took advantage of that?

A. Probably an easy example would be, this is not exactly the same, but just to show you how our cast members are very comfortable, I was at a cast Christmas party last night and one of the cast members was working the party and I had never met her. And she said I work in the watch shop and I said, OK, and she said your watch you're wearing now is not nearly as good as the watches we have for sale for our guests. So that's just an example. I think they're very comfortable with me and I think they know who you are and they come up to you all the time and they just want to talk.

Q. So she was trying to sell you a watch?

A. (laughs) Well, that, and I think the other thing is she just wanted to talk to me and I like to be very approachable. Our cast are very – they know that, they know it's OK to do that. Maybe not coming up literally in the door but they will also tell you we love the park here, we love what you're doing here, keep going with that. But if there's something else, they'll tell you that as well. So I like that. They're very candid.
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Old Posted Mar 15, 2007, 3:17 AM
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Sunday, February 18, 2007
Expanding the possibilities at Bowers Museum
The Bowers Museum in Santa Ana opens its new, $15 million wing with two new exhibitions.

It's not every day that an Orange county museum doubles its exhibition space.

But that's exactly what's happening today, as the Bowers Museum of Cultural Art opens its new, 30,000-square-foot Dorothy and Donald Kennedy Wing.

Two new galleries, an auditorium, a sculpture garden and expansive event space are opening to the public. There's a new entrance off Main Street, a new parking lot and a serene garden of naked coral trees out front.

In addition, two exhibitions – "Ansel Adams: Classic Images" and "Treasures from Shanghai: 5,000 Years of Chinese Art and Culture" – are having their Orange County premieres.

The debut of the latter is especially appropriate today, which is the start of Chinese New Year. It's the year of the pig, or boar, and those associated with the Bowers are eager to celebrate.

"We now have so much more to offer," said Peter Keller, president of the Bowers since 1991. "Every aspect of the new wing was designed to enhance our ability to better serve the public."

For contrast, Keller offers the example of the old, multipurpose meeting room, which used to fit about 100-150 people. That space barely scratched the surface of what the Bowers aspired to do. The room has since been torn down, and an airy hallway, the Anthony W. and Sharon D. Thompson Foyer, has taken its place, leading visitors into the $15 million new wing.

Now, the 300-seat Norma Kershaw Auditorium is ready for lectures, performances and films. It's equipped with a JBL surround-sound system, a 20-by-11-foot projection screen and a three-chip projector that can play movies from a DVD player, computer or laptop.

The 5,800-square-foot John M. Lee Court can accommodate large events and gatherings, such as dinners and speeches. An outdoor sculpture garden, the S.L. and Betty Huang Courtyard, can be used for special events. And two 5,000-square-foot galleries are designed to expand upon the Bowers' mission of spotlighting world cultural art.

"It's very exciting," said Robert Coffee, principal architect for the project. "They're finally getting the exhibitions up, and the spaces are taking on the life they're intended to take on. We're proud of it, and the museum's very proud of it."

Construction only took about a year, and the north wing – unlike other expansion projects around Orange County – has been completely paid for, through private donations, a state bond and government grants.
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Old Posted Mar 15, 2007, 8:39 AM
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Nervous neighbors eye California subprime lender

All is not well in the OC:

Nervous neighbors eye California subprime lender
By Peter Henderson
Wed Mar 14, 6:24 PM ET
IRVINE, CA (Reuters)

There was no sign of financial meltdown on Wednesday at the Southern California office park surrounding New Century Financial Corp.(NYSE:NEW), but neighbors walking by one of the starting points of the mortgage industry crisis shivered at the thought of what could be next.

"You are always at risk of losing your job. There is always someone younger, stronger, eager," said Elai Malikyar, an event planner who works mornings at nearby Calfirst Bancorp, one of many financial institutions dotting this green section of Orange County.

The prosperous county just south of Los Angeles, a backdrop for many television shows, has become a financial powerhouse. And New Century played a leading role from its headquarters nestled among fountains and palm trees.

Glass buildings with bank names surround the plaza and streets where New Century is based, and Malikyar said many of the workers in the area were gloomy and scared of losing jobs.

Other office workers lingering for a breakfast burrito were shocked to learn that Wall Street was betting their neighbor was near bankruptcy.

New Century was at the vanguard of subprime lenders, who make home loans to people with poor credit histories. The lenders have been battered by rising delinquencies and defaults, and demands from their own lenders to take back soured loans at a loss.

"I didn't know they had problems. I'm just grateful I didn't have stock," said a woman who read about New Century in the morning paper and was concerned for people inside the company as well as investors and borrowers. She said her name was Donnie Lynch.

"Lynch like hanging. Like what they might do there," she added, gesturing at New Century's low glass tower.

Trading in shares of New Century has been suspended by the New York Stock Exchange, and the company has received a grand jury subpoena in a federal criminal probe.

On Monday, the Irvine-based company said it lacked enough cash to repay its own lenders.

Some neighbors on Wednesday were quite aware of the effect New Century was having beyond Orange County.

"It's had a negative effect on my billfold -- just the sheer uncertainty it casts on the economy in general," said David Moore of Berman Investment Group, referring to pressures on the stock market.

Some with connections to the mortgage industry, which soared in recent years with the U.S. housing boom, saw job losses ahead. That was potentially good news for recruiters with the right clients, said head hunter Jimmy Donaldson, who said his firm, which he did not identify, was getting interest from mortgage professionals looking to switch industries.

"Everybody's going down, not just New Century," he opined.

New Century employees themselves kept quiet, following company policy not to speak publicly about the situation.

Source: http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20070314/...alifornia_dc_1
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Old Posted Mar 17, 2007, 7:06 PM
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Saturday, March 17, 2007
New nature center: Blazing new trails
The opening of the Nix Nature Center includes access to miles of new trails.
The Orange County Register

It's almost as if a brand-new wilderness has been plunked down in the middle of Orange County.

Today the freshly built, environmentally designed Nix Nature Center in Laguna Canyon opens to the public, offering displays on the canyon's history, American Indian influence, fossils and landscape.

But the center is also a crossroads for three new wilderness trails never before open to the public. One winds down through an underpass beneath the recently realigned Laguna Canyon Road to reach Orange County's only natural lakes; two others climb scrub-covered hills to connect to other trails in the southern part of Laguna Coast Wilderness Park.

"This is more than just the center opening," said Mary Fegraus, director of the Laguna Canyon Foundation and a prime mover behind the creation of the center. "This is really opening up the whole 6,600 acres of Laguna Coast for public use."

The southern portion of the park, separated from the north by the San Joaquin Hills (73) Toll Road, has been open since 1993. Until now, however, the northern part was mostly off-limits.

So hikers and bikers will have their chance at last to explore the scrub-brush hills between the toll road and the San Diego (I-405) freeway.

Fegraus said the place can accommodate any level of interest. Visitors can view displays inside the center, among them a mural of native landscape, a gravel tank filled with replicas of fossils for kids to find and plein-air paintings of Laguna Canyon; walk a short, level trail into the nearby brush and back; or launch into a longer trip through side canyons.

But Fegraus offered one piece of helpful advice: The center's parking lot, purposely kept small, accommodates only 45 cars. So visitors need not rush in on opening day, when the lot might become too crowded. The place will be open seven days a week.

Other parking areas also allow access to the northern part of the park, including one leading into the James Dilley portion on the east side of Laguna Canyon Road.

Barbara's Lake, a natural collection point for water from nearby canyons, is home to a variety of waterfowl and surrounded by reeds.

The trail winds partly around the lake, named after Barbara Stuart, who helped found the preservation group Laguna Greenbelt Inc. in the 1960s.

And as for the choice of date – well, it's mostly a coincidence.

"This is technically a green thing to do on St. Patrick's Day," Laguna Canyon Foundation spokeswoman Ellen Kempler said. "It could augment your green beer and bagpipes."

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Old Posted Mar 20, 2007, 3:34 AM
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Monday, March 19, 2007
Anaheim resort ballot drive
Group seeks to limit changes to tourist area without voter approval.
The Orange County Register

ANAHEIM– In an attempt to send a message to the City Council, a coalition of businesses in the Disneyland resort area have taken steps to put an initiative on the February 2008 ballot that would require voter approval for any housing plans within the resort area.

Members of the just-formed Save Our Anaheim Resort – or SOAR, a coalition of resort-area business leaders that includes the Walt Disney World Co. – announced the initiative at a news conference today at the Doubletree Hotel.

This is the second attempt by Disneyland to send a message to the council that business leaders do not want residential development inside the 2.2-square-mile resort area that includes Disneyland and the Anaheim Convention Center.

Earlier this month, Disney filed a lawsuit against the city.

SunCal, a developer interested in building affordable-housing units in the resort area, is requesting a second council hearing for a rezoning amendment.

Councilwoman Lucille Kring was asked to step aside on the issue during the first vote because of a potential conflict of interest.

Now, there is a question of whether a conflict really existed, and she might end up breaking a 2-2 vote that has stalled the residential project.

In August, four council members asked the city staff to prepare paperwork for a zoning change so SunCal could propose a 1,500-home development, including 200 affordable units.

Affordable-housing advocates praised the plan. But business leaders said the proposal went against the vision to put hotels and tourist venues there.
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Old Posted Mar 21, 2007, 3:44 AM
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Disney and allies seek to take land-use fight to ballot
Resort and tourism officials are battling a housing plan for the area.
By Dave McKibben, Times Staff Writer
March 20, 2007

Keeping up a full-court press, Disney and tourism officials announced plans Monday to seek a citywide vote to block developers from building homes in Anaheim's resort district.

The election plan is the latest in a series of aggressive steps the entertainment giant has taken to prevent a 1,500-unit condo-apartment complex, and others like it, from taking shape near Disneyland and California Adventure.

Disney, which last month sued the city to block the project, has been unbending in its position that the area be reserved for tourist-related uses such as hotels, time-share units and, ultimately, a third Disney amusement park.

At a hastily called press conference Monday, Disneyland President Ed Grier said the ballot initiative represented "a permanent solution to protect the resort." The initiative would require Anaheim voters to approve or reject any land-use changes within the 2.2-square-mile resort district.

"This ballot issue ensures the resort will remain a world-class destination, and it puts the residents in charge of the future," he said.

But Disney's announcement was immediately complicated by the state's ruling Monday that an Anaheim councilwoman — who abstained from weighing in on the housing proposal last month — can vote on the matter. The determination is critical, since the plan failed when the council split 2 to 2 on the project. Lucille Kring's would have been the deciding vote.

The ruling clears the way for Kring to vote — as soon as this evening — to bring the housing plan back for a second hearing. Two council members, Lorri Galloway and Bob Hernandez, have already indicated they would vote to rehear the project. And after getting word of the ruling, Kring indicated she would too.

It was unclear whether the referendum would trump any council decision to rehear, or even approve, the housing plan.

Kring had abstained after Disney attorneys suggested that a wine bar she planned to open nearby could affect her ability to vote objectively. But the Fair Political Practices Commission said Kring had only signed a "nonbinding letter of intent" that did not obligate her to lease space in the GardenWalk development and should be permitted to vote. If Kring signs a lease, the commission said, the issue would have to be reexamined.

"I'm very frustrated by what Disney has put me, my husband and the city through," Kring said.

As the debate over the resort district has grown, so has the divide between city leaders and Disney. Some said they were caught off guard by Disney's plan to push a ballot referendum.

"I don't feel Disney is the enemy, so when they do something this aggressive, I am surprised," Galloway said. "I am always surprised when a company decides to file a lawsuit against the city and circumvent the council's authority on land-use issues."

Anaheim Mayor Curt Pringle, who has proposed a compromise solution that would allow some housing in the resort district, said he was generally supportive of the ballot initiative.

"The community feels the protection of the resort as an economic engine to the city is vital," he said. "I know there's been a growing interest in trying to figure out how that can be done.

"I would favor some ultimate initiative that would protect the resort area," the mayor said. "We cannot create a land rush where residential developers come in and buy hotel properties and change the makeup of the resort."

For the most part, Disney and Anaheim have enjoyed a cozy relationship since Disneyland was built more than 50 years ago. But the housing proposal — which would include some low-cost units — has thrown the city's largest employer and Anaheim officials into a rare public feud. Grier acknowledged Disney's actions were out of character.

"I think this just shows how very important this issue is to us," he said. "And to our residents as well."

The group driving the ballot initiative is calling itself SOAR — Saving Our Anaheim Resort — and is a coalition of more than three dozen business and community leaders, including the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce and the Anaheim/Orange County Convention and Visitors Bureau. Several members spoke Monday, most touting the tourist district's benefit to the city's general fund. A chart showed that the resort area made up less than 5% of the city's land but generated nearly 50% of the city's general fund.

The group, which began forming a few months ago, is funded by Disney. By filing its initiative request Monday at City Hall, the coalition is hoping to get the issue on the February ballot.

The group will need to gather about 20,000 signatures of registered voters in six months to qualify for the February presidential primary. Coalition officials said the ballot initiative, if passed, would be retroactive to Monday and would affect the disputed 1,500-unit housing proposal.

City Atty. Jack L. White was skeptical, however.

"I don't know how we are supposed to make land-use decisions based upon a petition that hasn't even qualified for the ballot," he said. "And to have that apply to something we may be doing tomorrow, I think that's extremely unusual."

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Old Posted Mar 22, 2007, 4:36 AM
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Anaheim to revisit resort district housing
The City Council votes to reopen debate on the residential project, which Disney officials vehemently oppose.
By Dave McKibben, Times Staff Writer
March 21, 2007

Putting itself on a collision course with the city's largest and most famous employer, the Anaheim City Council voted 3 to 2 Tuesday night to reopen debate on whether to allow housing in the resort district — a proposal Disney has fiercely opposed.

The vote is the latest escalation in the debate between city leaders and Disney officials on what belongs in a neighborhood dominated by Disneyland and California Adventure.

The decision to reconsider the 1,500-unit residential project comes five weeks after the council deadlocked, 2 to 2, on the proposal, a split vote that resulted in the housing plan's rejection.

Councilwoman Lucille Kring had abstained from the council vote after Disney attorneys raised the possibility that she had a conflict of interest because a wine bar she planned to open nearby could affect her ability to vote objectively.

But on Monday, the Fair Political Practices Commission ruled that Kring did not have a conflict and that she could vote on the project, which for months has divided Anaheim council members, Disneyland, local residents and business leaders.

Disney attorneys cited a 2001 case in Truckee in which a council member was advised not to vote on a housing project because it was within three miles of his wine and cheese shop. It was determined that he might receive financial benefit from an influx of new customers.

But the FPPC said Kring had only signed a nonbinding letter of intent that did not obligate her to lease space in the GardenWalk development and that she should be allowed to vote.

"I want an opportunity to ask questions to both sides," she said. "I never had that opportunity, and I regret that."

Housing advocates, union and community leaders and Anaheim residents spoke in favor of the housing development.

"The city of Anaheim should never be intimidated or allow itself to be threatened by any business that feeds off the citizens," said Larry Larsen, 60, an Anaheim Hills resident. "I personally resent Disney's heavy-handed tactics to usurp the power and authority of the citizen's City Council. I may or may not agree with their decision, but they should be the ones making it, not Disneyland."

The council's decision to rehear the issue comes a day after Disney and tourism officials announced plans to seek a citywide vote to stop developers from building homes in Anaheim's resort district. Three weeks ago, Disney sued the city to block the 1,500-unit project, being developed by SunCal Cos.

After Tuesday's vote, SunCal officials were pleased. "This is a real victory for the citizens of Anaheim and for people who believe in democracy," company consultant Frank Elfend said.

Council members Bob Hernandez and Lorri Galloway joined Kring in voting to take another look at the SunCal project. The new hearing is expected to take place April 24. Hernandez and Galloway have supported the planned development throughout the process. Anaheim Mayor Curt Pringle and Councilman Harry Sidhu, who opposed the project at last month's council meeting, voted against a rehearing.

Pringle urged Disney and SunCal officials to discuss a compromise before the rehearing.
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Old Posted Mar 23, 2007, 2:25 AM
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Is Disney ready to make big thunder?
The company's recent battles with the city lead to speculation that it wants to import its Florida blueprint.
By Dave McKibben and Kimi Yoshino, Times Staff Writers
March 22, 2007

Nearly two decades ago, former Walt Disney Co. Chairman Michael Eisner ordered up a grand plan for Southern California. "Amaze me," he told his staff.

They brought him visions of a massive expansion near Disneyland that included an international theme park, three resort hotels and a 6-acre lake.

That vision never came to fruition, but Disney did open a second theme park in 2001 — part of a larger goal to build up the Disney Resort and entice tourists to stay longer, like they do in Orlando.

Now, Disney is once again mulling its third act.

Disney won't say what the latest plan is for Anaheim, but sources familiar with the planning process said Disney wants to mimic its Florida blueprint in Anaheim: add time-share units, bring its popular cruise line to the West Coast and zero in on high-end consumers with boutique hotels. New attractions for its lackluster California Adventure are in the works, and Disney is giving fresh consideration to its long-promised third theme park.

Now in complete recovery from 9/11 — and sitting on a pile of cash after posting 30% revenue increases following its successful 50th anniversary — Disney is looking ambitiously toward the future.

"It's about changing Anaheim into Orlando — making this into a national and international tourist space," said blogger Jim Hill, a Disney watchdog.

But Disney's ambitions are ruffling feathers in Anaheim, where some city leaders believe the corporate giant has tried to bully a town that has been its ally for more than 50 years.

The Walt Disney Co. sued the city last month to protect zoning in the 2.2-square-mile Resort District and block construction of a residential project that includes affordable housing. This week, it joined business leaders in seeking a ballot initiative that would lock in the resort-themed zoning it desired and require a citywide vote before changes could be made.

Corporate attorneys succeeded in forcing a councilwoman to abstain from voting on the housing proposal. And it held confidential meetings with city officials, presenting to council members a preview of some of their closely guarded plans.

Disneyland President Ed Grier declined to give specifics but noted that some plans are "around the corner."

"It is very, very important for us," Grier said. "I don't think that can be underestimated…. There's much more of an opportunity for us here."

Disneyland may be where it all started, but it was long ago outpaced by its Florida counterpart, with four theme parks, two water parks, six golf courses and 22 hotel resorts. Walt Disney World accounts for about 80% of the company's theme park operating income, said David Miller, an analyst with Sanders Morris Harris.

"Florida means so much more to the company than Southern California," Miller said.

Still, it was Disneyland's 50th anniversary that spurred people to the parks in 2005 and 2006, contributing to a 30% increase in the parks' income in 2006.

In Anaheim, there's no shortage of demand. Disney's three hotels — the original Disneyland Hotel, Paradise Pier and the Grand Californian — are operating at an extraordinary 93% occupancy. Citywide occupancy rates hover around 72%.

The company has slowly but steadily amassed 460 acres in Anaheim, including a prime chunk of strawberry fields down Harbor Boulevard from Disneyland that is the designated site of a third park.

And someone is approaching the field's neighboring landowners, trying to buy up land. Corona del Mar resident Benjamin Kraut, 81, said Disney offered to buy his 5 acres several years ago. Then, six months ago, a suitor Kraut declined to name offered him $14.5 million for the land where he co-owns a 90-unit apartment complex. He said it is not for sale.

Disney hasn't unveiled plans for the Disney Resort — those typically come amid fanfare and orchestration — but top executives have hinted at expanding existing markets and increasing its time-share offerings.

Sequestered in a Glendale office building, Disneyland executives privately told Anaheim City Council members recently about "changing the shows, and remodeling or adding rooms" to hotels, Councilman Harry Sidhu said. "They wanted to show us what they were doing to improve the operation."

Other council members expressed frustration that Disney hasn't been more forthcoming with its expansion plans. "If that's what this is all about, then why don't they let the world know about it?" Councilwoman Lucille Kring said.

Councilman Bob Hernandez said it was unreasonable for Disney to influence land-use decisions based on sketchy details of a possible third theme park.

"I don't think it's reasonable for us to ask a developer to hold off developing a property for 25 years because Disney is talking about doing something."

Among the first additions to a revamped resort is likely to be the Disney Vacation Club, which allows members to buy into time-share properties. Minimum membership is $16,400. Disney has eight locations either built or under construction, including six at Walt Disney World, and others in Vero Beach, Fla., and Hilton Head, S.C. Membership has doubled since 2000, with more than 108,000 member families.

"We feel confident that there is still room to grow," Jay Rasulo, chairman of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, said in a recent speech to investors. "The time-share industry is huge and expanding, and families will still look to Disney when they think of their vacations."

In addition to Anaheim, Hawaii, Mexico and the Caribbean have been mentioned as potential new destinations.

But the key problem in Anaheim is the same as it has been since 1989, when Eisner first asked his top creative minds to think big.

"People come out to Southern California for a week," said Miller, the analyst. "Of that seven-day vacation, Disneyland used to only capture one day. Now it captures 2.5 days. They want to capture all those days."

The answer so far has been Disney's California Adventure, a companion park that opened in 2001 to offer more thrills than the nostalgia and fantasy captured at Disneyland. Fans have never fully embraced the underperforming park, and even Disney executives concede they need to add more attractions before embarking on a third gate.

The next solution, Miller said, is to follow Orlando's model and market a combo cruise and resort vacation.

Disney Cruise Line announced last month it is building two ocean liners to add to its fleet.

In 2005, for Disneyland's 50th anniversary, Disney Magic headed to the West Coast for sailings to the Mexican Riviera. The cruises sold out in minutes, Miller said, and were so successful that the company recently announced it would return to the West Coast in 2008.

Beyond that, Rasulo's talk of "niche parks" has sparked curiosity among Disney watchers. Those parks would be higher priced and offer a more intimate experience, Rasulo said during the investors speech.

The model is Discovery Cove in Orlando, which limits admission to 1,000 people a day for a hefty price tag of $259, including a swim with dolphins. The park is a blend of a day at SeaWorld and a vacation in the Bahamas.

"It's a fascinating idea, but it's a significantly different audience and a significantly different price point," Hill said.

That admission price might not sit well with vacationing families, though miceage.com editor Al Lutz noted that a niche park and boutique hotels would be Disney's attempt to attract "the W Hotel crowd."

"They've got something in mind," Lutz said, noting that Disney's fight against the city isn't about one proposal to put affordable housing near the resort. It's about the bigger picture.

"If you're going to put in a high-end park and a high-end hotel, the housing project stands out like a sore thumb among everything else they are working on."

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Old Posted Mar 23, 2007, 2:33 AM
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Thursday, March 22, 2007
Great Park spells out business plan
Proposed business plan to be presented to the Great Park Board today estimates that $446.8 million will be spent on the project in the next five years.

IRVINE – Great Park officials estimate that $446.8 million will be spent on the project over the next five years – excluding any park features beyond an orange balloon that takes visitors aloft, a visitor center, grading and utilities.

A proposed business plan being presented today reviews the park's history, proposed master plan and projected revenues and expenditures. Once approved, the plan will be used by officials to make decisions on funding, plans and priorities.

The report estimates that $116.6 million will remain in Great Park coffers at the end of the next five years.

But changes in the market, park plan and Lennar Corp.'s development around the park will all affect the plan, said Colleen Clark, Great Park Corp. deputy chief executive officer.

"The only thing I can promise is that this plan will change," Clark said.

Here are some highlights of the plan:

Housing market

Much of the park's funding is dependent on the success of Lennar's development, the plan said. The park will benefit from the development in a number of ways, including income from about 1 percent of the property taxes. The plan estimates about $162.2 million will be generated from the expected property tax revenue.

Officials acknowledge that a softening housing market and delays in Lennar's development will change the park's potential future revenue.

Park costs

The plan includes only costs for preparing to build the park. The plan includes: grading, the orange balloon with visitor center and mini-park, installation of some utilities and costs for engineering drawings and other construction preparations. Officials will decide when to build other park components based on available funding, the report said.

Maintenance and security

Maintenance costs will start at $90,000 annually in the 2008 fiscal year and escalate to about $1 million annually in fiscal years 2011 and 2012, the report said. Funding for park security is expected to start in fiscal year 2008 and increase to $1.1 million annually by fiscal year 2012.


Officials have already expressed interest in partnering with other organizations for the sports park, botanical gardens and amphitheater. But the plan mentions two new opportunities: finding operators for parking and for the park's bathrooms in exchange for bathroom advertising rights.

RV leases

The plan estimates that RVs may be stored at the base through 2012. The Great Park Corp. makes about $1.7 million a year in profits from the RV leases.
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Old Posted Mar 23, 2007, 2:36 AM
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Thursday, March 22, 2007
Renovation with a vision at Vue Restaurant
Review: Details matter at the new restaurant at the Laguna Cliffs Marriott Resort.

We're been up this winding road before. We made our way here several years ago to visit a nautically themed restaurant at the same Laguna Cliffs Marriott Resort in Dana Point. Now there's been a renovation and with it the requisite restaurant change, so we return to check it out.

Of course this area of the county is full of fancy hotels with chic, chef-driven restaurants, so Vue, the new restaurant we're on our way to see, is in crowded company.

But the Marriott is a lower-key affair. We know this from our greeting on arrival – at those other places there's an army of casually dressed valets who seem to make a competitive sport of the quick greeting. On this visit we have to seek out someone to park our car.

This night we arrive early. The space isn't crowded, but there doesn't seem to be one table that will work. The first place is oddly located across from the hostess stand and the one we're finally shown is around the corner and under a spotlight that makes me feel as if I should have worn my shades.

But things start to look up once we're settled. Water and a basket of bread are quick to arrive, along with a miniature tower of sweet butter sprinkled with a mix of black- and rose-colored salt. The blend of chewy nut and fruit bread and mineral salt works. I can see that the chef pays attention to details.

The menu is a short one that changes with the season; a new menu will begin in April.

For starters, the Jumbo Lump Crab Lettuce Wrap ($12.95) is a clever invention. A mound of the chunky crab meat is topped with papaya, cucumber and red onion salad and it's served on a single leaf of butter lettuce. Saffron Poached Shrimp ($13.95) packs a double iodine taste blast and rests on a puddle of horseradish tomato fondue. Finally there's the Wild Fiji Tuna Tartare ($12.95). This is a terrine-molded combination of raw ahi minced with pickled eggplant and topped with fluffy avocado.

I'm also intrigued by the Grilled Organic Flatbread ($8.95). This is one of the suitable-for-sharing starters, four triangles of lavosh-like bread generously topped with briny feta cheese, caramelized cipolline onions and tart black Mediterranean olives. This hearty toast is teamed with a large mound of lettuces and tomatoes tossed with a tangy vinaigrette. I like to scoop the well-dressed greens up with the pliable flatbread to make a messy salad sandwich.

The Organic House Salad ($6.95) is a locally grown organic green amalgamation served on a long rectangular plate. The mound of greens dressed with a sweet sparkling-wine vinaigrette takes up one side of the plate, while the other is balanced with a thick slice of goat cheese and one perfect stem-on strawberry.

Lobster Bisque ($8.95) is mild and creamy with a delicate flavor and a luscious texture.

Entrees include a terrific Chicken Paillard ($25.95), a breast of chicken that is pounded thin and pan fried and served in a deep bowl with a zesty Chardonnay-based sauce, a sweet and sour combination that also includes tender pieces of artichoke and mushrooms.

The Linguine Cabrera ($23.95) will be kept on the new menu. The Hawaiian shrimp are crisp and sweet while the Roma tomatoes are fat and juicy.

Australian Rack of Lamb ($29.95) is a feast for the eyes, the slender long bones yielding to fat medallions of perfectly prepared meat. Under the rack is a generous heap of cambozola risotto and to the side is something called Tomato Jam, a sort of thick marmalade that is a just-right balance of sweet from the long cooking of the garden-ripe fruit.

Bone-in Rib-Eye $32.95) is served on one of those long skinny plates that updates this cut of meat, which never seems to go out of fashion. Here, it is sizzling when it arrives at the table, served with rather ordinary tempura-batter-coated onion rings over a bundle of deep-fried asparagus. I like the full flavor experience of the dish, but can't help but wish for one of the chef's stellar sauces to make it seem complete.

The dessert list is offered as the dinner plates are whisked away by the excellent wait staff. It's a lengthy list with a compendium of popular but improved-upon sweets. I know I have to try the Ginger Spice Cake ($7.95) that is served with a scoop of dulce de leche ice cream.

As with all of the dishes served here, this one comes to the table looking as if it's ready for its close-up. The cake, resembling a thick slice of bread, has perfectly spaced grill marks and a circle cut from the center, and in the hole there's the caramel-colored ice cream topped with the round missing piece from the cake. It's surrounded by a mixture of berries and a sweet ginger sauce.

Pineapple Three Ways ($6.95) comes looking like an old-time banana split. The perky pineapple sorbet is topped with stripes of jerky-like dried pineapple and it floats in a mixture of tiny cubed pineapples. Perhaps only true pineapple lovers should attempt this one.

Traditionalists and those who desire a chocolate end to the night will have to try the Chocolate Lava Cake ($7.95). A very good version of this modern classic, it's served with a soft, warm center and topped with dulce de leche ice cream. Even our designated diner – who initially eschewed it – couldn't keep her fork out of this one.

It seems that some renovations are worth return trips.
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Old Posted Mar 26, 2007, 12:42 AM
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Little park packs big punch in Santa Ana
Every green spot is welcome in this crowded city. The new half-acre site, developed by a nonprofit health agency, is due to open this fall
By Jennifer Delson, Times Staff Writer
March 25, 2007

It may not be considered much elsewhere, but in densely packed Santa Ana, a new half-acre park is considered a major feat. The site, on public land, will be developed by Latino Health Access, a nonprofit organization that promotes health issues in the city.

In a city with tight budgets and less park acreage per resident than New York City, it took the group seven years of lobbying to win City Council approval to build the park.

Council members were initially uncertain how effective the park would be given its location: in the middle of a redevelopment project just blocks from downtown.

Now the park is scheduled to open in the fall.

The new park "was a great idea. It will really help the children," said Jaqueline Torres, 27, who added that her 3-year-old niece will use the park. "There are so many kids in Santa Ana. Unfortunately most of our Hispanic families have parents who work a lot and the kids end up in gangs because they don't have a place to play."

Leah Fraser, policy director for Latino Health Access, said the park near East 4th and North Minter streets "is much needed in Santa Ana. We are going to create an asset for the community.

"But in terms of dealing with obesity and fitness on a wide scale, this park will not deal with it," she said. "For us to make an impact, there needs to be a shift in what is the role of a school."

She said her organization would pursue a plan to create a special assessment district to keep school grounds open in the afternoons and on weekends.

Fraser outlined the case for a park tax last week to members of the city's neighborhood associations. A similar measure that would have paid for graffiti removal and park maintenance and cost $33 annually per homeowner, failed to get two-thirds voter approval in 2003.

In Santa Ana, some city officials and residents say the solution to the park shortage is to open the school grounds in the late afternoons and on the weekends.

"The school district [fields] should not be closed," said Councilwoman Michele Martinez. "That's an injustice to the kids when we know how few parks there are here. Our kids are so enclosed in apartment complexes."

District officials have limited access to school grounds because the fields "have been run down to dirt," said James Miyashiro, chief of the Santa Ana Unified School District's police department.

A handful of organizations have been allowed to use the fields. In April, the school district is expected to approve a policy that could include fees for usage.

Miyashiro said the fields could not handle more use without more money for maintenance and repairs. Latino Health Access officials say the assessment district would provide those funds.

Both New York and Chicago have four times the amount of park acreage per resident as Santa Ana. Anaheim has nearly double the parkland, with 1.9 acres for every 1,000 residents.

Santa Ana is also coping with the highest percentage of obese children among California's largest cities, nearly 35%.

Peggy Chiu, of the national park advocacy group Trust for Public Land said special assessment districts for parks have been hard to sell to voters. Ballot measures for assessment districts to acquire or maintain parks in Claremont, Amador County and El Cerrito failed in 2006.

In the meantime, Latino Health Access is packing as much as it can into the half-acre park with a 2,000-square-foot community center for fitness and cooking classes, a basketball half-court, a "tot lot" and a walking path.

Under an agreement approved March 19 by the City Council, the city will lease the parcel for $2 a year for 20 years. The lease can be renewed twice, for a total of 20 additional years.

"In Irvine, a half-acre park wouldn't make a difference," Fraser said.

"But in a place with little, a half-acre park is huge."

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