By Jim Tortolano/Garden Grove Journal
Tragedy mixed with triumph in Garden Grove in 2009. Hopes for a brighter future rubbed elbows with financial problems and economic woes. A planned water park-hotel was an ironic counterpoint to a water conservation program adopted for the Big Strawberry.
Early in the year, violent crime was reported down 8.3 percent, but one of Garden Grove’s alleged criminals – Adam Gadahn – was still at large, a $1 million bounty on his head for his work with Al Qaeda terrorists.
The annual Tet Festival celebrated the Year of the Ox (or Buffalo, if you prefer) in Garden Grove Park before big crowds and under sunny skies. Less sunny was the city’s financial situation, as Mayor Bill Dalton warned of belt-tightening to come at the annual State of the City speech.
A family feud broke out at the Crystal Cathedral, as Rev. Robert Schuller ousted his son and hand-picked successor, Rev. Robert K. Schuller, from the top post. He would eventually be replaced by his sister, Sheila Schuller Coleman.
On a happier note, Garden Grove’s first dog park opened at a location in the Garden Grove Park across from Bolsa Grande High School, thanks to money directed to the city from Orange County Supervisor Janet Nguyen, a former city councilwoman.
Former Garden Grove police chief and mayor Frank Kessler was back in the news. He pleaded guilty to an embezzlement charge and was sentenced to 60 days house arrest. Kessler, 76, was a member of the Canyon Lake City Council and he used city credit cards for personal expenses. His wife is facing more serious penalties.
Garden Grove continued its efforts to develop Harbor Boulevard into “International West,” a thoroughfare of hotels, restaurants and other attractions. 2008’s big step was to approve a deal with a developer to build a water park-hotel on Harbor just north of Garden Grove Boulevard.
Although violent crime overall is down in Garden Grove, police were involved in two fatal shootings; one of a 46-year-old man in March and another of a 35-man in May. In both instances, police say the men were threatening officers with weapons.
Three grand marshals were named for the 2009 Strawberry Festival parade. The celebrity grand marshal was Oscar-winner Cloris Leachman, while brothers Dr. Sheldon Singer and Dr. Melvin Singer were chosen as theme (“Healthcare Heroes”) marshals.
Sheldon Singer, 85, died shortly after the festival.
In one of the more bizarre stories of the year, a Garden Grove man, along with another, was arrested in May for allegedly trying to smuggle songbirds from Vietnam into America concealed in his clothing.
Over the objections of many Main Street property and business owners, the City Council voted to dissolve the downtown Vehicle Parking District No. 2.
In June, in the midst of yet another California drought, the City Council enacted stricter water use policies, including curbs on watering lawns at night, and washing your car by hand in the driveway. Later, an increase in water fees averaging $2.85 a month was approved for local property owners.
In August a study by Allstate Insurance showed that Garden Grove drivers rank 175th out of 193 cities across the nation for traffic safety. Locals were more than 40 percent likely to get into a car crash than the national average.
September brought an uproar over the smell of compost from the Joint Forces Training Base in Los Alamitos. Residents of West Garden Grove (as well as other communities) complained and the decaying vegetation was removed.
A plan for the Brookhurst Triangle was approved by the Garden Grove Planning Commission, but the City Council scaled it down when it took the matter up. The original proposal called for a 23-story tower; the new height limit will be 10 stories.