Year In Review

The year “normal” evaded us

CORONAVIRUS and the vaccines designed to fit it dominated much of the new in 2021 (Shutterstock).

The year 2021 was supposed to be known as a return to “normal,” however it was anything but. The coronavirus, which appeared to be getting under control, showed new vigor with the emergence of new variants.

Over 200 million Americans are vaccinated, but millions remain resistant or hesitant to getting their “jabs,” despite reports by public health officials that the unvaccinated are at the greatest risk.

The foundations of democracy shook somewhat on Jan. 6 when right-wing extremists stormed the U.S. Capitol trying to stop the certification of the election of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris to the offices of president and vice president.

Weird and extreme weather continued across the landscape, with drought, tornados, floods and hurricanes doing billions of dollars in damage from coast to coast.

All that was on the national and international scene, but there was a lot going on in West Orange County as well in 2021, much of it was – if not exactly abnormal – not what would likely be considered “good news.”

Here’s our look back, city by city.

Garden Grove: No strawberries again

For the second consecutive year, the Strawberry Festival – one of the largest community events in the western United States – was cancelled, dealing a blow not only to a tradition dating back to the Eisenhower administration, but also to the many non-profit organizations that raise money during the Memorial Day weekend celebration.

A wide variety of development, already on the drawing board, was delayed by the pandemic and its ripple effects throughout the economy.

But not all progress was stopped. The huge Garden Brook senior housing project on Garden Grove Boulevard – long derided as the “rusty skeleton” – neared completion and the opening of the Sprouts Farmers’ Market in the new Pavilion Plaza West center demonstrated new vitality in the city’s main commercial district at Brookhurst and Chapman Avenue.

Huntington Beach: Oil spills and Tito Ortiz

Surf City was in the headlines in 2021 for the short-but-controversial service on the city council of celebrity fighter Tito Ortiz as well as an oil spill that closed nearly all Orange County beaches.

Ortiz became the mayor pro tem after his victory in the 2020 municipal election, but roiled some members of the community for his comment and actions, including suggesting that the coronavirus emergency was a “plandemic” and refusing to wear a face covering at council meetings and other settings. After six months, the controversies drove Ortiz to resign his council seat and he was replaced by Rhonda Bolton, the city’s first African American councilmember.

The oil spill that hit Huntington Beach and other OC coastal cities not only closed the sand and surf to locals and visitors, but also affected the downtown businesses that depend on tourism. The closures prompted the cancellation of the Pacific Air Show as well.

It also raised questions about the balance between environmental danger and tax revenue to a city that grew up as a center of oil drilling.

On the flip side, the city draw plaudits for its Navigation Center for the homeless and the local government was considered so well-run that City Manager Oliver Chi was hired away to take the same job in Irvine.

Stanton: The boom along Beach Boulevard

Anyone who hasn’t driving along Beach Boulevard in Stanton in the last few years gets a big surprise if they do it now. A gleaming new center –– 22 At Beach – has taken the place of a long-vacant shopping center, and many lots formerly occupied with declining motels, empty auto sales lots and other low-rent uses are being replaced with stylish mid- and high-rise residential projects.

Formerly blighted areas are being recycled into modern uses and there’s even the prospect of a municipal financial windfall through the tax revenue expected from luring cannabis processing and sales centers to the town.

Westminster: Divided they fall

Bitter political and cultural divisions, played out against a backdrop of potential financial catastrophe, dominated the news in this All-American City in 2021. The council majority of Kimberly Ho, Tai Do and Carlos Manzo are battling the minority of Mayor Tri Ta and Councilmember Chi Charlie Nguyen on a score of issues, insulting and criticizing each other at each council meeting.

City Hall leadership has been hollowed out by financial pressure and an exodus of management unwilling to stay during this “uncivil” civil war. The city has been without a permanent city manager virtually all year, excepting the brief unhappy tenure of Marwan Youssef, forced out after six months.

Looming ahead for 2022 is the expiration of a one-cent sales tax, the end of which could – according to financial experts – plunge the city into bankruptcy if not extended.

Next week: A look ahead to what 2022 might hold.

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