Don’t be looking for the herbal remedy kratom in Newport Beach, which has banned its sale and distribution.

Don’t be looking for the herbal remedy kratom in Newport Beach, which has banned its sale and distribution.

Good morning! It’s Wednesday, March 20. I’m Carol Cormaci, bringing you this week’s TimesOC newsletter with a look at the latest local news and events.

While perusing the agenda set for last week’s meeting of the Newport Beach City Council, I noticed on the consent calendar an item, “Ordinance No. 2024-5: Adding Chapter 10.75 (Prohibition of the Sale and Distribution of Kratom) to the Newport Beach Municipal Code.”

I nudged via a Slack message my colleague Lilly Nguyen, asking her what the proposed ban was all about. I was embarrassed to admit I’d never heard of kratom. It turned out that even as savvy as Lilly is, neither had she. We both had to look it up.

We learned it’s a tropical evergreen tree, a member of the coffee family and native to Southeast Asia. For more than a century a powder ground from its leaves has been used by some societies as an herbal medicine.

Today, there are people across the U.S. who rely on it as a painkiller; it’s also used used to self-treat conditions such as coughing, diarrhea, anxiety and depression, opioid use disorder and opioid withdrawal. A national survey in 2021 by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration revealed an estimated 1.7 million Americans older than 12 used kratom.

But its use can be risky: In the U.S., federal health authorities have warned of kratom leading to injury, addiction and even death. No drug or dietary supplements containing kratom or its two main chemical components — mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine — have been approved by the FDA.

Last spring, the Los Angeles Times reported a class action lawsuit had been filed against a Santa Monica beverage company alleging the primary ingredient in its Feel Free kava drink, kratom, is an addictive opioid-like substance. The plaintiff, Romulo Torres, alleged that after purchasing the product from a 7-Eleven, another defendant in the lawsuit, he developed a strong addiction to the product, drinking 10 Feel Free beverages per day and spending thousands per month on the drink.

The use of kratom is still legal in California, except in San Diego, which banned its use in 2016. Beginning next month you won’t be able to buy it in Newport Beach, either, now that the City Council has approved the ordinance. To be clear, the new law will not prevent a resident from using the substance, but it may not be sold or distributed within city limits, according to the news story Lilly wrote for the Daily Pilot following the council’s meeting.

In February, Councilwoman Lauren Kleiman first brought the agenda item to her colleagues for consideration. Having gained their approval then, the second reading of the ordinance, a formality, was held last week.

“In the case of kratom, it’s untested and not authorized for consumption by the FDA, and yet it’s available to anyone who walks into any business that sells it, including minors,” said Kleiman. “In making the decision, we relied on a staff report provided by our police department, using currently available information regarding kratom’s safety. Should that information change in the future, we could certainly revisit the decision. In the meantime, there are plenty of other opportunities to access the product outside the city for residents that would like to purchase it.”

I’m curious to see how this all plays out statewide. We’ll be keeping our eyes on it.

MORE NEWS

Students lead parents in a march against planned teacher layoffs within the Anaheim Union High School District.

Students lead parents in a march from Brookhurst Community Center to the offices of the Anaheim Unified High School district Thursday, March 14, in protest of over 100 recently announced teacher layoffs and other potential austerity measures.

(Eric Licas)

Anaheim Unified School District will lay off 119 teachers due to declining enrollment. Parents and students marched last Thursday afternoon against steep cuts that will reduce teacher staffing by 10% across the district’s campuses. Protesters chanted “no teachers, no future,” according to this TimesOC report. Supt. Michael Matsuda addressed the layoffs in a video message released last week, likening the declining enrollment to losing a “high school and a junior high school worth of students.”

Two Orange school board conservatives have apparently been ousted by voters in a recall effort, with LGBTQ+ policies at the center. According to The Times’ report on the election outcome, the two board members — Rick Ledesma and Madison Miner — gave farewell remarks last week at what was likely their last board meeting. “We did this recall knowing everyone was watching,” said parent Darshan Smaaladen, a leader of the recall effort. “… It wasn’t about politics. It was about taking politics and personal agendas out of the school board and making students the first priority.”

An emptying Orange County office complex is being torn down to build a warehouse. In times when remote work is more commonplace, fewer office spaces are required. On Harbor Boulevard in Santa Ana, The Times reports, an office complex “is being demolished in a dramatic demonstration of how weak the office rental market has become and how deep the demand for Amazon-style distribution centers runs in Southern California.” Dan Broder, who is in charge of the redevelopment by Kearny Real Estate Co., owner of the property formerly known as Elevate @Harbor, said, “We had to make a strategic shift.” In 2018, Kearny bought the office campus for nearly $35 million.

An effort to unionize show performers and stable hands at Medieval Times’ Buena Park castle has come to an end. The Times reported late last week that the American Guild of Variety Artists, the union backing the workers who organized (not only in Buena Park but also at a Medieval Times location in New Jersey), had submitted paperwork pulling its support of their efforts. AGVA said in an emailed statement to the newspaper that while contract negotiations were underway, a large number of the Medieval Times employees who had voted to be represented by the union left the company, making it difficult for the union to continue its role.

Having shared a swimming pool with the local school district for decades, the city of Laguna Beach has decided to pursue building its own pool. Officials estimate a new 25-meter pool with the required parking, staffing and infrastructure would cost at least $13 million and come with an annual $692,000 operating cost. Laguna Beach Unified officials in December approved a $19-million, 50-meter pool at the high school campus, which they hope to complete by late 2026, and had invited the city to share in it, at a cost of $9.5 million to $13 million.

Citing a difference of opinion on Proposition 1 and another measure coming up before voters, the Newport Beach City Council decided to part ways with the League of California Cities. Mayor Will O’Neill brought the item before the panel, who voted 5-2 to leave the league because Cal Cities supported both ballot measures. Although it did not receive a majority of votes in Orange County, Proposition 1, which would authorize the issuance of $6.4 million in bonds to help fund supportive housing, treatment facilities and mental health systems during the homelessness crisis, was eking out a win statewide when last checked. The second measure, ACA 13, expected to be on the November ballot, would require future ballot measures that increase voter approval requirements to also pass by the same margin.

Owners of the Balboa Island Ferry, who thought their business might be sunk due to new state regulations, announced there has been a reprieve. The Beek family, which has operated the ferry since 1919, put out the word late last year that there was no way they could pay an estimated $13 million to convert their small fleet to electric vessels to reduce emissions by 2025, as required. On Monday, the Beeks announced they’d received an $8.3-million grant from the California Air Resources Board and have qualified for other programs that may keep them afloat.

The California Assn. of Realtors reported Orange County home prices continued to rise in February, despite mortgage interest rate increases. In its report issued Tuesday, C.A.R. noted the median home price in O.C. rose slightly from $1.32 million in January to $1.35 million last month. In February 2023 it was $1.159 million. Statewide, the median price of an existing single-family home last month was $806,490, up from $789,480 in January.

Monday afternoon was unexpectedly electrifying for O.C. residents. Hundreds of lightning bolts struck the region as storms swept through, The Times reported, especially in coastal San Diego and Orange counties. “They were more intense than your normal thunderstorms, for sure,” said Alex Tardy, a National Weather Service meteorologist. “They didn’t have a lot of rain, but they certainly had a lot of lightning and a lot of ice, or hail. … The lightning and the hail [were] the dominant feature in these storms.”

PUBLIC SAFETY

Eric Sills listens to a prosecutor during closing arguments in the murder trial of his wife.

Fertility doctor Eric Sills listens to a prosecutor during closing arguments in the murder trial of his wife. Sills, who was convicted of the crime in December, has been sentenced to 15 years to life in state prison.

(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

A San Clemente fertility doctor who was convicted of fatally strangling his wife in 2016 has been sentenced to 15 years to life in state prison. Although he tried to make her death look like an accident, a jury in December convicted Eric Scott Sills, 58, of the murder of his wife, Susann.

A Westminster resident was fatally stabbed over the weekend while trying to quell a dispute between neighbors. Alvaro Martin-Perez, 48, was trying to intervene early Saturday morning when he was allegedly stabbed by 35-year-old Isaias Saquic-Saquic. “The investigation revealed that there had been an argument between Saquic-Saquic and one of his roommates, which escalated into a physical altercation,” a police spokesperson said. The roommate also suffered multiple stab wounds in the fight and was treated at a hospital for non-life-threatening injuries.

A 57-year-old woman on foot was fatally injured Monday morning when she was struck by a car while she was tending to some ducks in the roadway. Police didn’t identify the woman beyond saying that she was a Huntington Beach resident who was on Heil Avenue in her hometown when she was hit by a Mazda at about 6:30 a.m. The driver of the Mazda stayed at the scene. Police reported that a second vehicle, an SUV, may have also been involved.

A man with multiple gunshot wounds was found near a Huntington Beach park last Wednesday night. After creating a perimeter, police found a suspect — Taylor Cosner, 27, of Huntington Beach — who was arrested and booked on suspicion of attempted murder, the Daily Pilot reported.

SPORTS

Evan Kim, 12, ran a 2:58 in the Ventura Marathon recently, the fastest girl or woman age 1 to 19.

Irvine’s Evan Kim, 12, ran a 2:58 in the Ventura Marathon recently, making her the fastest girl or woman age 1 to 19 and the second fastest overall.

(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

With her sights on the 2028 Summer Olympics in L.A., an Irvine sixth-grader is already running marathons. According to this feature story in the L.A. Times by Noah Goldberg, 12-year-old Evan Kim placed second among all girls and women at last month’s Ventura Marathon, running the 26.2-mile course in 2 hours and 58 minutes. Her goal is to run the fastest marathon for a 12-year-old of either gender, Goldberg reports, and she’s only four minutes away from that benchmark. But to qualify for the 2028 U.S. Olympic trials, Evan would have to run a 2:37 marathon. In any case, while she finds the races grueling, she admits that once they’re over it’s a “nice” feeling to have completed them. By the way, according to runninglevel.com, a good marathon time for a woman is 04:08:09.

Jenna Nighswonger has been excelling at left back for the U.S. women's national team.

Jenna Nighswonger has been excelling at left back for the U.S. women’s national team.

(Courtesy of Getty Images / U.S. Soccer)

A 23-year-old from Huntington Beach has arrived on soccer’s world stage. As a teen, Jenna Nighswonger, played for Huntington Beach High School. She went on to win a NCAA championship, was a first-team All-American at Florida State, and was called in off a Rookie-of-the-Year campaign for National Women’s Soccer League titlist NJ/NY Gotham FC. Lately she’s been playing left back for the U.S. women’s national team, which has two games in April and two more in June, and then off to Paris for the Olympics. According to this feature story by Daily Pilot contributor Scott French, Nighswonger hopes to make that trip. “That’s something I’m definitely working toward in these next couple of months,” she told French.

The L.A. Times released its high school baseball and softball rankings after the first five weeks of play, and some O.C. teams are doing very well: Orange Lutheran is at the top of the 25 baseball rankings while Garden Grove Pacific leads in the top 20 softball rankings.

LIFE & LEISURE

Mohammad Othman, 26, the co-owner of Sababa Falafel Shop holds the restaurant's famous falafel pita with vegetables.

Mohammad Othman, 26, the co-owner of Sababa Falafel Shop holds the restaurant’s famous falafel pita with vegetables at Sababa Falafel Shop in Garden Grove.

(James Carbone)

Did you know Garden Grove’s Sababa Falafel Shop serves up a free falafel to people waiting in line to place their orders? Neither did I, until I read this TimesOC feature by Gabriel San Román. According to the article, Sababa Falafel’s popularity propelled it to being named one of Yelp’s “Top 100 Places to Eat” last year, having landed in at number 10.

The Disney California Adventure Food & Wine Festival is offering up 80 new dishes this year. Daily Pilot contributing writer Jessica Peralta reported on the event, which runs through April 22 and offers not only food and beverages but live entertainment, including a new interactive children’s show in Hollywood Land, “Confection Purrfection with the SuperKitties,” inspired by Disney Junior’s animated series, “SuperKitties.”

SOY (Save Our Youth) will hold its fundraising Pickleball Mixer this Friday at the Costa Mesa Tennis Center. This event, set for 5 to 8 p.m., is for beginners to advanced players. Guests can learn to play the game or play against experts. Tacos and refreshments will be provided by Taco Mesa. Tickets are $60, with proceeds going toward SOY scholarships to college-bound seniors the center serves, which include low-income, at-risk youth from the Newport-Mesa Unified School District. To register visit save-our-youth.org/pickleball-mixer.

CALENDAR THIS

Children participate in Return of the Swallows festivities at Mission San Juan Capistrano in March 2022.

Children participate in Return of the Swallows festivities at Mission San Juan Capistrano in March 2022. This year’s parade is Saturday.

(Courtesy of Mission San Juan Capistrano)

Downtown San Juan Capistrano is the place to be this week, as the city celebrates the return of swallows from their winter in Argentina. Tonight the Fiesta Grande will take place from 6 to 9 p.m. at Swallows Inn, 31786 Camino Capistrano. Friday is Hoos’ Gow Day, when, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., anyone caught by the “sheriff” or “deputies” who is not clad in Western wear, or any man who is clean-shaven, can be “arrested,” according to the organizers’ website. Jail sentences are short for those who can make “bail” by making a donation to the Fiesta Assn. At 4 p.m. Friday, the fun moves to Los Rios Park, 31791 Los Rios St., where the annual frog-jumping contest is expected to draw a crowd. The week’s main event, the Swallows Day Parade, steps off at 11 a.m. Saturday and travels mostly along Camino Capistrano. The Mercado Street Fair will be underway before, during and after the parade.

KEEP IN TOUCH

Thank you for reading today’s newsletter. If you have a memory or story about Orange County, I would love to read and share it in this space. Please try to keep your submission to 100 words or less and include your name and current city of residence.

I appreciate your help in making this the best newsletter it can be. Please send news tips, your memory of life in O.C. (photos welcome!) or comments to [email protected].

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