The #MeToo push could lead to limits on binding arbitration in California

Buoyed by the #MeToo movement, California lawmakers are mounting a new push to prevent businesses from forcing workers into closed-door arbitration over sexual harassment, wage theft, discrimination and other complaints.

A bill authored by Assembly member Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher (D-San Diego), AB 3080, would affect 67 percent of private California employers–those who require their nonunion workers to sign agreements waiving their rights to file a lawsuit or to complain to state or federal agencies in the event of a dispute.

“In forced arbitration, settlements often require the victim to refrain from discussing the case publicly,” Gonzalez Fletcher said.

“In a workplace with a culture of sexual harassment, these arbitration agreements are particularly toxic, enabling the abusive behavior to continue unchecked,” she added.

The bill would prohibit employers from making new hires sign the waivers as a condition of getting the job, continuing in the job, or receiving an employment-related benefit, such as a bonus. Employers also would be barred from retaliating against any employee who declines to sign such an agreement.

The debate over mandatory arbitration, and the non-disclosure agreements they often include, has exploded nationally in recent months. Victims of sexual harassment and discrimination from Hollywood to Silicon Valley to Wall Street complain they are being silenced by paperwork they were made to sign as a condition of employment.

Under arbitration clauses, workers are referred to the employer’s dispute resolution company, which offers a list of arbitrators from which to choose. The arbitrators, often attorneys or retired judges, make legally binding decisions in private, away from any media scrutiny.

In 2015, Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed a similar anti-arbitration bill after intense lobbying by the California Chamber of Commerce and some 40 trade groups representing homebuilders, restaurants, hotels, retailers and other industries.

Brown acknowledged at the time “there is significant debate about whether arbitration is less fair to employees.”  However, he wrote that courts have protected workers by requiring arbitrators to be neutral in workforce disputes.

He also cited court mandates for “adequate [legal] discovery, no limitation on damages or remedies, a written decision that permits some judicial review, and limitations on the costs of arbitration.”

At an Assembly Labor and Employment Committee hearing last week, the Chamber’s Jennifer Barrera said arbitration proceedings are “a more open forum” than courts because information on the cases are posted on arbitration company websites.

Bipartisan legislation pending in Congress to address arbitration in sexual harassment cases is “where the discussion is,” she added. “It is a federal issue.”

Binding arbitration is used not just in employment, but also in a broad range of transactions by businesses such as credit card companies and even by doctors’ offices. The practice accelerated after 2011 when the U.S. Supreme Court decided that AT&T customers had given up their right to sue in the fine print of their service contract.

Barrera said the Gonzalez Fletcher legislation would “probably be preempted” by federal arbitration law.

However, Steve Smith, a spokesman for the California Labor Federation, a chief sponsor of AB 3080, said, “We’re confident these provisions are well within the state’s purview without running afoul of federal law.

“The problem is growing exponentially. We need to put a lid on it or all the work California has done to protect workers is at risk.”

The bill passed the labor committee last week on a 5-2 party line vote: Democrats voted in favor and Republicans opposed it.

It is scheduled to be heard in the Judiciary Committee Tuesday and could reach the Assembly floor by the end of the month.

Gonzalez Fletcher has asked Speaker Anthony Rendon (D-Lakewood) to issue a subpoena to allow Tara Zoumer, who gained notoriety in 2016 for suing WeWork for overtime pay, to testify without legal consequences, despite having signed a non-disclosure agreement in an arbitration proceeding. The San Diego Democrat also has enlisted Susan Fowler, a former Uber engineer whose blog post about sexual harassment at the ride-sharing company became a cause célèbre, contributing to the downfall of chief executive Travis Kalanick.

Fowler was unable to sue Uber because she had signed the company’s arbitration agreement.

“On my first day, I was sexually harassed and retaliated against for reporting it,” Fowler said at a press conference last week. “As a condition of employment, Uber made us sign away our constitutional rights.

“Ending forced arbitration is the single most important thing the legislature can do to prevent harassment and discrimination in the workplace.”

At the committee hearing, Roberto Ramirez, who worked 18 years as a cook and cashier for a Los Angeles Carl’s Jr. outlet, wept as he described what he called “the humiliation” of a manager stealing a week’s wages from him and regularly denying him rest breaks and sick leave.

“My manager told me there was nothing I could do because of company policies,” he said. “I was told I had no rights.”

A spokeswoman for CKE Restaurants, Carl’s Jr.’s corporate parent, said the company “does its best to be a fair place to work” and does not require arbitration contracts. However it does not restrict the right of its franchises to do so, she added.

A recent study by the Economic Policy Institute, a Washington, D.C. think tank, found that mandatory arbitration is most common in low-wage workplaces and in industries with a high number of women workers.

EPI found that last year 56 percent of private-sector nonunion workers in the U.S. — about 60 million people — were subject to mandatory arbitration in employment contracts. The agreements bar access to the courts for all types of legal claims, including those based on Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Family and Medical Leave Act, and the Fair Labor Standards Act.

“The practice is especially widespread in California,” said EPI attorney Marni von Wilpert. “This means that, when a worker is paid less than she is owed, is fired for being pregnant, or is underpaid because of her race, she cannot have her claim heard in a court of law. Instead, she is locked into a private arbitration process that favors the employer.”

Gonzalez Fletcher’s bill, unlike the 2015 version, does not invalidate current arbitration agreements that workers were obliged to sign.

“Arbitration is a highly effective dispute resolution method when both parties chose it freely,” she said. “It is far less successful when the more powerful party forces the other to accept the terms.”

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Working but still poor? Earned Income Tax Credit eases, but doesn’t solve, that problem

Patricia Lara, 39, makes $35,000 a year as an administrative assistant for an Orange property manager. With four teenagers to support, she says, “my income can’t keep us afloat.”

But at a recent free tax preparation fair at the Brookhurst Community Center, Lara got some good news. Not only doesn’t she owe any income tax, but the Internal Revenue Service will send her $2,783 in the form of what’s known as an “Earned Income Tax Credit.”

The money is welcome but no windfall. “My grocery bill is about $2,000 a month,” Lara said, adding that she pays $500 in monthly rent, plus utilities, to share a home with her parents and a brother. 

Lara is among some 27 million U.S. wage earners who last year benefit from the Earned Income Tax Credit. The 43-year-old federal program, which paid out $65 billion in cash subsidies in 2017, is the one anti-poverty policy that sparks little controversy.

At an Anaheim free tax preparation fair, Patricia Lara and her son, Joseph Ducret, get help with their returns from IRS-trained volunteer Stan Manley (Photo by David Kawashima/ Orange County United Way)
At an Anaheim free tax preparation fair, Patricia Lara and her son, Joseph Ducret, get help with their returns from IRS-trained volunteer Stan Manley (Photo by David Kawashima/ Orange County United Way)

“Inequality is worse as the wages of the low-skilled have fallen way behind the wages of the higher-skilled,” said UC Irvine economist David Neumark who has authored more than a half-dozen studies on the tax credit.

“Democrats like the EITC because it redistributes wealth. Republicans like it because instead of giving you money like welfare, it only applies to those who work.”

Three years ago, confronting the fact that one in four residents live below or close to the federal poverty line, California became the 26th state to offer its own supplemental tax credit for workers. Last year, eligibility for the state program was extended to the self-employed.

But there’s one big problem: some low-income workers earn too little to be required to file taxes, even though they could qualify for the extra money if they did.

Unclaimed billions

In California, where 2.9 million beneficiaries collected $6.8 billion in federal EITC payments last year, one of four eligible workers fails to claim the credit.

That leaves some $2 billion a year on the table, according to a recent study  That’s money not only for workers to pay rent and feed their children, it is also unspent revenue for local businesses.

“A lot of people don’t know about the credit,” said Joseph Sanberg, a Los Angeles entrepreneur who founded CalEITC4Me, a non-profit advocacy group. “California’s poverty is not about a lack of jobs. It’s about jobs not paying enough. People work two and three jobs and still can’t afford basic needs.”

At an Anaheim tax preparation fair, table signs encouraged workers to claim up to $6000 in earned income tax credits. EITCs offer cash-back refunds to low and moderate income workers. (Photo by Margot Roosevelt/SCNG Orange County Register)
At an Anaheim tax preparation fair, table signs encouraged workers to claim up to $6,000 in earned income tax credits. EITCs offer cash-back refunds to low and moderate income workers. (Photo by Margot Roosevelt/SCNG Orange County Register)

Last year, CalEITC4me texted 70,000 low-income Californians prompting them to call legislators, urging an expansion of the state program. The resulting law more than doubled the number of eligible families to 1.5 million this year.

The group runs a digital platform with information in English, Spanish, Mandarin and Vietnamese. It also offers free tax preparation in the Inland Empire and partners elsewhere with groups such as Orange County United Way.

At the Brookhurst Community Center event, the United Way served a free taco and quesadilla lunch as IRS-trained volunteers helped Lara and other workers file returns. Signs reading “What Would you do with an extra $6000?” adorned tables and brochures urged, “It’s your money: Get it!”

In Orange County alone, United Way recruits 500 volunteers to help low-income filers in 24 locations including colleges, churches and government agencies. “I just like to crunch numbers,” said Stan Manley, a 75-year-old retired sales manager who helped Lara with her return.

Cash-back amounts vary according to some 20 different criteria including levels of income and number of children.

Federal EITC credits can range from $510 to $6,318. Even individuals with incomes well above the poverty line, up to $53,900, are eligible for modest amounts, depending on their family size.

Last year, California’s program paid out $205 million to 386,000 recipients.  This year, workers with children earning up to $22,300 can get a CalEITC credit, with amounts ranging from $223 to $2,775.

At an Anaheim tax preparation fair, table signs encourage workers to claim earned income tax credits. EITCs offer cash back to minimum wage workers even when they earn too little to pay income tax. (Photo by David Kawashima/Orange County United Way)
At an Anaheim tax preparation fair, table signs encourage workers to claim earned income tax credits. EITCs offer cash back to minimum wage workers even when they earn too little to pay income tax. (Photo by David Kawashima/Orange County United Way)

Economists see earned income credits as an incentive to work because, unlike some social programs, the more one works the more money one gets—up to various thresholds.

“This is a generous program that may affect how intensely you look for work,” Neumark said. “If a job pays $12 an hour, and you have to pay child care, maybe (the job) is not worth it. But the EITC means your effective wage might be a lot more than your employer pays.”

Earned income credits are successful in lifting single mothers out of poverty, studies show, and 60 percent of poor children live in female-headed households. According to a Neumark paper, the effect is long term, and recipients of earned income credits often build skills that lead to higher future earnings.

A report by the California Budget & Policy Priorities, a Sacramento think tank, notes the federal EITC compensates for the fact that low and moderate income families pay higher state and local taxes as a share of their income than do wealthy households. According to the organization’s analysis, the lowest earning non-elderly households pay 10.8 percent of their income in total state and local taxes, while the top one percent pays just 5.4 percent.

Do earned income tax credits relieve pressure on employers to pay workers a living wage? It is a question viewed through different prisms by conservatives and progressives.

Neumark, director of UCI’s Economic Self Sufficiency Policy Research Institute, funded by conservative financiers, says, “The firm pays you, and the government kicks in a lot more. Some may call it corporate welfare, but you end up with more people employed.

“I don’t know any law that says a company is responsible for paying a living wage.”

Sanberg, a liberal Democrat, sees EITCs as just one tool to alleviate poverty.

“If the minimum wage had grown with productivity since 1960, it would now be about $22.50 an hour,” he said. “A disproportionate amount of income growth has gone to CEOs.  For workers to prosper, we need a higher EITC, single-payer health care and a higher minimum wage.”

Paying for a funeral

At the Brookhurst fair, Eduardo Farfan, a 27-year-old Saddleback College student, was helping Yolanda Gentile with her return.

At an Anaheim free tax preparation fair, Eduardo Farfan, an IRS-trained volunteer, helps Yolanda Gentile, a customer service representative, with her return in January 2018. (Photo by David Kawashima/Orange County United Way)
At an Anaheim free tax preparation fair, Eduardo Farfan, an IRS-trained volunteer, helps Yolanda Gentile, a customer service representative, with her return in January 2018. (Photo by<br />David Kawashima/Orange County United Way)

Gentile, 51, is blind in one eye and half-blind in the other from a domestic violence incident. She works 20 hours a week as a customer service representative for Stater Bros.

“I still have hands,” she said. “I still have arms. I can still work.”

On her 2017 income of $5,100, Farfan told her, she would be paid $392 under the federal credit program and $118 by CalEITC—modest amounts since she has no dependent children.

“I’ll use it on my $5,000 credit card bill,” she said. “My daughter died last year, and I’m trying to catch up after paying her funeral.”

As for Lara, the Orange administrative assistant, her EITC credits have dropped since her oldest child, 18, no longer qualifies as a dependent. Next year, another son will turn 18 “and I’ll have only two dependents on my taxes, even though they live with me.”

Lara’s last raise was 15 years ago, she said, and, with or without the extra EITC, her financial life will remain a struggle. “Everything is going up,” she said. “We are treading water.”


How many got credits?

Low and moderate income Southern Californians are claiming record numbers of federal and state earned income tax credits (EITCs), a program only available to those who work.

Federal EITC credits worth $6.8 billion were awarded to 2.9 million Californians in 2015, with an average payout of $2,379.

County Number of claims Total Amount
Los Angeles 992,250 $2.3 billion
San Bernardino 229,850 $608 million
Riverside 221,500 $571 million
Orange 220,530 $480 million

State EITC credits worth $205 million were awarded to 385,910 Californians in 2016, with an average payout of $531.

County Number of claims Total Amount
Los Angeles 103,260 $47 million
San Bernardino 26,876 $16 million
Riverside 23,855 $14 million
Orange 23,472 $10 million

Sources: Internal Revenue Service, California Franchise Tax Board

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Southern California job growth will slow next year, especially in Orange County

Southern California job growth will slow dramatically over the next three years, according to a forecast by Cal State Fullerton economists.

Payrolls in the region spanning Orange and Los Angeles counties and the Inland Empire will grow at a pace of 1.6 percent this year, 1.7 percent next year, and 1.9 percent in 2019, the university’s annual forecast, released Wednesday, Oct. 25, predicts.

That compares with an expansion of 2.6 percent in payroll jobs in 2016.

“While the national employment has been robust,” the report notes, “job growth in Orange County and California appears to have slowed down over the last several months. Southern California and Orange County, in particular, are in a local downturn as employment growth has stagnated.”

Economists Anil Puri and Mira Farka, authors of the report, write that “there does not seem to be an obvious trigger for the current drop in employment. The unemployment rate is still low by historical standards, and the economy appears to be near full employment.

“The growth rate of employment under such circumstances can be expected to slow down, but, short of an error in data reporting, a full rationale for such a slowdown is not apparent at this time. “

On the upside, they add that despite the lethargic job creation, “local business leaders continue to be enthusiastic about local economic conditions and housing prices are still rising.”

Across the region, the Inland Empire will continue to show the most vigorous payroll expansion, albeit slower than last year, the economists predict.

In 2016, jobs grew in the combined counties of Riverside and San Bernardino at a 3.5 percent rate. That will slow this year to 3.1 percent, next year to 2.9 percent and rise slightly to 3 percent in 2019.

In Los Angeles County, job growth was 2.5 percent last year and will drop to 1.3 percent this year,  rising slightly to 1.6 percent next year and 1.9 percent in 2019.

Although unemployment in Orange County, 3.6 percent in September, is the lowest in the region, the county lags its neighbors in job creation.

The forecast predicts a precipitous drop in payroll expansion to 0.8 percent this year from 2.3 percent last year. Job growth will then slowly accelerate to one percent annual growth next year and in 2019.

OCR-L-FORECAST-CSUF-1025

Some of the contrast between the counties has to do with home building, which has been opposed by anti-growth activists in cities such as Huntington Beach. “Construction activity has slowed in Orange County, but is continuing at a healthier pace in other parts of Southern California,” the report notes.

In Southern California, construction permits will grow by 15 percent in 2017, then stabilize at that level for the next two years, the economists calculate.  Most of the growth is expected to occur in the Inland Empire and Los Angeles counties.

Construction permits for Orange County, which topped 12,000 last year, are expected to drop to just over 9,100 this year. In the following two years, they should grow at about 8,000 annually, the historical average.

But the report notes, “While the reduction of permits in Orange County may seem quite dramatic, things are not as dire especially when bearing in mind that permit growth had risen by a staggering 34.4 percent between 2014 and 2016,” as Orange County building recovered from the recession slump.

As customary with Cal State Fullerton forecasts, the report delves into greater detail on Orange County than on Southern California generally.

Beyond construction, Orange County has also seen declines in manufacturing, retail, professional and technical services, healthcare and social assistance and local government.

“The declines in healthcare, professional services and retail are more noticeable because they have been some of the main drivers of employment growth in Orange County over the last several years,”  the economists note.

Other worrisome signs for Orange County: The formation of new small businesses has ebbed and the county’s average employment by industry has been shrinking.

“Firms in most industry sectors are reducing their employee rolls,” the economists write. “While this trend began before the Great Recession and accelerated during the crisis, it appears to still be ongoing.”

The average number of workers in Orange County businesses fell from 17 workers in 2003 to 15.6 workers in 2015. Similar trends, however, are also occurring at the national level, the report adds.

Only three industries, which are also the main growth industries in Orange County, are bucking the trend. From 2003 to 2015, employment rose in the arts and entertainment, health care and social assistance, along with hotels and restaurants — all of which grew their share of overall employment.

Orange County accounts for 8.3 percent of California’s employment, but it has accounted for 12.5 percent of reported mass layoffs this year — those which must by law be reported to state officials, the forecast notes.

The 6,000 laid off workers included 905 at Live Nation in Irvine,  332 at American Apparel in Garden Grove, 280 at Kellogg in La Palma, 213 at Nature’s Bounty in Garden Grove, 195 at Nordstrom in Santa Ana, 175 at Royalty Carpet Mills in Irvine, 148 at Wet Seal in Irvine and 147 at Ricoh Electronics in Tustin.

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San Onofre swimmer explains how it feels to have a shark’s teeth on her leg

Leeanne Ericson felt a calm come over her, a strange sense of peace as everything went dark, her body pulled deeper into the cool ocean.

Moments earlier she’d felt sharp teeth clamp down on her right leg and, instantly, she understood her situation.

“My first thought (was), ‘It finally happened’.”

Her second thought went to her kids, an 11-year-old daughter and 4-year-old twins, a boy and a girl. Then she thought of her boyfriend, Dusty Phillips, who at that moment on that late April day was frantically searching for Ericson, screaming her name even as he couldn’t see her.

“You can’t hear underwater, it’s so calm. There’s no noise,” she said. “There’s nothing underwater.”

Yes there is.

  • Shark attack victim Leeanne Ericson, with her boyfriend Dusty Phillips, keeps an upbeat attitude after being bitten by a shark on her right thigh and backside on April 29th. She faces a long road of recovery. She is pictured in Capistrano Beach on Wednesday, August 30, 2017. Ericson says she is still not ready to visit San Onofre State Beach where the attack occurred. (Photo by Mindy Schauer, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    Shark attack victim Leeanne Ericson, with her boyfriend Dusty Phillips, keeps an upbeat attitude after being bitten by a shark on her right thigh and backside on April 29th. She faces a long road of recovery. She is pictured in Capistrano Beach on Wednesday, August 30, 2017. Ericson says she is still not ready to visit San Onofre State Beach where the attack occurred. (Photo by Mindy Schauer, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Leeanne Ericsons shows where her wetsuit was bitten off by a shark in a near-fatal attack on April 29th at San Onofre State Beach. (Photo by Mindy Schauer, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    Leeanne Ericsons shows where her wetsuit was bitten off by a shark in a near-fatal attack on April 29th at San Onofre State Beach. (Photo by Mindy Schauer, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Passerby Jesse Gerondale, right, becomes part of a photo shoot after passing shark attack victim Leeanne Ericson and her boyfriend Dusty Phillips, left, at Capistrano Beach on Wednesday, August 30, 2017. Gerondale, wearing a shirt which reads , “Keep Calm and Surf Fast,” reacts to seeing Ericsons shark-shredded wetsuit.(Photo by Mindy Schauer, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    Passerby Jesse Gerondale, right, becomes part of a photo shoot after passing shark attack victim Leeanne Ericson and her boyfriend Dusty Phillips, left, at Capistrano Beach on Wednesday, August 30, 2017. Gerondale, wearing a shirt which reads , “Keep Calm and Surf Fast,” reacts to seeing Ericsons shark-shredded wetsuit.(Photo by Mindy Schauer, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Shark attack victim Leeanne Ericson’s injuries are not for the faint of heart. She is missing part of her right leg and has a long road of healing ahead. She wants people to know that even though she may look okay, her injuries are extensive. (Photo by Mindy Schauer, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    Shark attack victim Leeanne Ericson’s injuries are not for the faint of heart. She is missing part of her right leg and has a long road of healing ahead. She wants people to know that even though she may look okay, her injuries are extensive. (Photo by Mindy Schauer, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Shark attack victim Leeanne Ericson gets help walking on the sand with her boyfriend Dusty Phillips. She will probably always need a brace after losing part of her right leg to a shark attack on April 29th.(Photo by Mindy Schauer, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    Shark attack victim Leeanne Ericson gets help walking on the sand with her boyfriend Dusty Phillips. She will probably always need a brace after losing part of her right leg to a shark attack on April 29th.(Photo by Mindy Schauer, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Shark attack victim Leeanne Ericson, with her boyfriend Dusty Phillips, maintain their sense of humor after Ericson’s near-fatal shark attack on April 29th. Sunsets Bar and Grill in Capistrano Beach created the “Shark Bite” rum drink to raise money for her recovery. It features a plastic shark and is topped off with a drop of grenadine to simulate blood.(Photo by Mindy Schauer, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    Shark attack victim Leeanne Ericson, with her boyfriend Dusty Phillips, maintain their sense of humor after Ericson’s near-fatal shark attack on April 29th. Sunsets Bar and Grill in Capistrano Beach created the “Shark Bite” rum drink to raise money for her recovery. It features a plastic shark and is topped off with a drop of grenadine to simulate blood.(Photo by Mindy Schauer, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Shark attack victim Leeanne Ericson, with her boyfriend Dusty Phillips, keeps an upbeat attitude after being bitten by a shark on her right thigh and backside on April 29th. She faces a long road of recovery. She is pictured in Capistrano Beach on Wednesday, August 30, 2017. Ericson says she is still not ready to visit San Onofre State Beach where the attack occurred. (Photo by Mindy Schauer, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    Shark attack victim Leeanne Ericson, with her boyfriend Dusty Phillips, keeps an upbeat attitude after being bitten by a shark on her right thigh and backside on April 29th. She faces a long road of recovery. She is pictured in Capistrano Beach on Wednesday, August 30, 2017. Ericson says she is still not ready to visit San Onofre State Beach where the attack occurred. (Photo by Mindy Schauer, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Shark attack victim Leeanne Ericson, with her boyfriend Dusty Phillips, looks through her wetsuit that was shredded by a shark on April 29th. She keeps an upbeat attitude as she faces a long road of recovery. She is pictured in Capistrano Beach on Wednesday, August 30, 2017. Ericson says she is still not ready to visit San Onofre State Beach where the attack occurred. (Photo by Mindy Schauer, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    Shark attack victim Leeanne Ericson, with her boyfriend Dusty Phillips, looks through her wetsuit that was shredded by a shark on April 29th. She keeps an upbeat attitude as she faces a long road of recovery. She is pictured in Capistrano Beach on Wednesday, August 30, 2017. Ericson says she is still not ready to visit San Onofre State Beach where the attack occurred. (Photo by Mindy Schauer, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Sunsets Bar and Grill general manager Ashley Garcia, second from left, and owner Damien Collins react as Dusty Phillips shows his girlfriend Leeanne Ericson’s, at right, wetsuit that was torn apart in a shark attack. The restaurant created the “Shark Bite” rum drink to raise money for her Ericson’s recovery. Photo by Mindy Schauer, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    Sunsets Bar and Grill general manager Ashley Garcia, second from left, and owner Damien Collins react as Dusty Phillips shows his girlfriend Leeanne Ericson’s, at right, wetsuit that was torn apart in a shark attack. The restaurant created the “Shark Bite” rum drink to raise money for her Ericson’s recovery. Photo by Mindy Schauer, Orange County Register/SCNG)

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A shark, later estimated as between 9 and 12 feet long, was pulling her deeper. She reached down and felt its hard, rough skin. Then she felt something soft, like a cup of Jello-O, what she thinks was its eye.

“I stick my whole hand in the damn thing, as far as I could get it,” she said. “My brain didn’t go ‘let me dig into this to get away.’ I just did it.”

Shark Bite 

Four months later, Ashley Garcia, general manager at Sunsets Bar & Grill in Capistrano Beach, set down a turquoise blue rum-based drink in front of Ericson and Phillips. A plastic shark peeked out from the top of the glass, its jaws clenching a bright red cherry.

Ericson’s eyes widen. The drink — “Shark Bite” — is named in her honor.

“There’s the blood,” Garcia said, drawing a laugh from Ericson and Phillips as she poured a drizzle of red liquid into their drinks.

Ericson was in the bar this week as part of her effort to make the rounds and say ‘thank you’ to the many south Orange County establishments, like Sunsets, that held fundraisers after hearing about the April 29 attack at Church beach in San Onofre State Park. It was the second shark versus human incident in local waters in less than a year, and it came as shark sightings in the region have become an almost daily phenomenon.

The Orange County Register interview, her first sit down with a newspaper, originally was to take place at Church, a cobblestone beach just south of San Clemente. But the spot was changed the night before; Ericson isn’t quite ready to see the beach where the attack accord, where her life was changed.

But sipping on her cocktail overlooking Capo Beach – now dubbed “Shark Alley” by locals – she looks out at the glistening water and seems at ease.

“A beach I don’t know is better than that beach. I still don’t like – love – the beach like I used to. It’s kind of like a love-hate relationship now,” she said.  “I loved the beach, I ached to be in the water all the time.

“Now, I look at it like something that hurt me.”

Not a ripple

The pair scored a campsite right on the sand. They were there to celebrate a cousin’s 14th birthday.

Ericson had spent Saturday afternoon working her shift as a teller at Pacific Marine Credit Union, but got to the sand with enough day light left to put on her wetsuit and fins so she could mess around in the water while Phillips rode waves on his yellow shortboard.

The wind had just kicked up. The water was murky.

They had been out about 15 minutes when they saw a sea lion breach about 10 feet from them.

“He looked a little panicked and a little confused,” Phillips recalled.

“You know what that means,” they joked with each other, about the possibility of a nearby shark.

She came and sat on Phillips’ board and felt something bump against her fin. She didn’t think there was anything under her, and she asked Phillips: “Did you kick my fin?”

Just then, a wave came rolling toward them. Phillips pulled the board forward so he could ride the wave and she splashed nearby.

As he paddled into the wave, he heard a piercing scream. But when he turned back, he saw nothing — Ericson was gone.

“It was glassy,” he said. “There wasn’t even a ripple in the water.”

No one can hear

Phillips wondered if she was joking. But when she didn’t pop up, he knew something was wrong.

“I dove off my board and went as deep as I could,” he said.

He saw nothing.

When he popped up after a second attempt to find her, he saw it — a shark, its tail thrashing on the surface, “like it was feeding on her.”

“That’s when I knew what happened.”

He had two options: swim away to save himself, or search.

“I’m not leaving the water without her.”

Under the water, after Ericson grabbed what she thinks was the shark’s eye, it let go. She remembers the water changing from dark to light as she reached the surface, about 20 feet north of Phillips.

“Once I got direct eye contact with her, I didn’t care about the shark behind me anymore, I just swam right to Leeanne,” he said.

He put her up on his board, his arm wrapped around her near the hip, trying to hold tight on the wound to stop the bleeding, where he could see open flesh and bone from the bottom of her buttocks and down her hamstring to the back of her knee.

“The water was rinsing off all the blood, you could see her bone and everything,” he said. “I was scared, I know people die from stuff like that.”

At one point, she turned to look for the shark and saw her leg — but her mind played tricks on her, turning it into what she describes as a cartoon-like image. Still to this day, that’s what she remembers seeing.

“I don’t want to lose my leg,” she recalled saying to him.

“You won’t babe,” he told her.

She put her head down, exhausted, trying to focus on breathing. He called for help, but the strong wind muffled his plea.

No one on the beach reacted. Kids kept playing in the tidepools, surfers rode waves.

“I remember thinking in my head, no one can even hear us.”

‘I killed her’

A nearby surfer, later identified as Huntington Beach local Jen Adeva, heard his muffled cries and came over to try and help. He lifted the nose of his board out of the water to help them keep moving toward the shore as he struggled to keep Ericson from sinking under. Soon, another surfer, Erik Einertson, rushed over to help.

Friends surfing nearby realized what was happening and ran to the beach, yelling “SHARK!!!” They told people to call 911 and clamored their way back over the slippery and sharp rocks lining the beach to help the couple get to shore.

A group of guys on the beach, including EMT-in-training Thomas Williams, helped put pressure on the wound. Einertson held her hand and prayed.

Phillips collapsed next to her, exhausted.

“I killed her,” he thought to himself. “I pulled her off the board and into the mouth of the shark.”

She was airlifted to Scripps Memorial Hospital in La Jolla. She laid in a coma for about a week while doctors operated to save her leg. The shark had taken out about a foot-long chunk, flaying the flesh down to the bone.

The first day she woke up she started pulling out her tubes, a heavily medicated attempt to leave the hospital. A day later, after she calmed, Phillips returned in the early morning.

He asked if Ericson was angry

“He thought I’d blame him for what happened,” she said. “That whole week I was in a coma, he was worried I’d wake up be mad at him,” she said.

“It wasn’t his fault. It wasn’t anyone’s fault.”

She spent her 4-year-old twins’ birthday having her sciatic nerve operated on.

For a week after she woke up, Phillips didn’t let her turn on the TV or use her phone. He didn’t want her to see the media frenzy about the woman who was attacked by a shark.

No pity party

Ericson rests her leg, the backside cradled by an opaque plastic brace, on Phillips lap.

As he rubs her shin, gently, she jokes: “Don’t hit my dead foot.”

They use humor to get through the tough times. She’s sometimes lifts her “dead” foot, the one that still has no feeling or movement, toward his face.

Doctors have talked about amputating her leg, worrying it might not function at all or that it could leave Ericson permanently in pain.

Phillips shows a picture of the injury a week after the attack, her hamstring gone, replaced by mangled, bright red meat.

Ericson turns away. She’s not ready to see that.

Recovery remains distant. She can’t sit on the wound without a brace, because there’s nothing but skin – taken from her other thigh – covering the bone and tendon. This week marked the first time she could stand while taking a shower.

And she doesn’t know if her foot will recover, though she notes that the lack of feeling might have a side benefit. She might get hibiscus flower tattoo she’s always wanted but always dodged because of the pain.

“I don’t want the pity party, but… I want people to know the extent of my injuries. People think I’m up walking around, but that’s not the reality.”

Ericson pulls off her brace and removes a piece of cloth protecting the wound.

The area where the shark tore a chunk from her leg and the bottom of her buttocks is apparent, the meat still missing, a purple-hue of skin from her other leg sown on to cover bone and tendons.

She points to notches at the top of the wound – teeth marks, she and experts believe, from where the shark had her pinned in its jaw. She picks at a stitch trying to emerge through the thin skin.

“People are like ‘Oh she can walk,’ she said. “But I can’t pick my leg up. There’s no muscle to pull it up.”

‘In the way’

Phillips tries to not blame himself for the incident, but notes that she wouldn’t have been there if he hadn’t been surfing. She dismisses that, saying she made the choice to enjoy the ocean.

She also jokes if the tables were turned, he’d be gone.

“I would have been on the board, dragging him by the leash behind me,” she said jokingly. “There’s no way I would have brought him in.”

She’s not yet ready to get back in the water, the closest she’s come was putting her feet in hot tub. Returning to the site of the attack will take more time.

“Maybe in a year I can go back,’ she said.

Phillips said a number of factors came into play that day. The water was murky. The shark was in hunting mode. When he pushed her off the board, it caused a commotion.

“I fully believe a shark’s vision is just fine in the water and on clear days like this, it’s fine,” said Phillips, who still surfs several times a week and was back in the water shortly after the incident.

“You will not get attacked. The shark that attacked Leeanne was after the sea lion and was taking it down. That’s why she got drug under.”

Ericson said people should use caution.

“He used to go surfing by himself all the time, now he won’t,” she said.  “There should be awareness to what is happening in the water.”

But she doesn’t hold any ill will toward the shark.

“I can’t be mad at that shark, he was just doing what sharks do – trying to eat,” she said.

“I got in the way.”

How much can one bite cost?

When Sunsets owner Damien Collins heard about the attack, he started thinking of ways to help. He asked Garcia to come up with a drink, and she created the “Capistrano Shark Attack,” and proceeds from the drink went to help with Ericson’s mounting bills.

Locals and others raised about $1,000, and will continue to sell the drinks (and drop cash into a donation bucket) to raise more. Another San Clemente restaurant, Cassano’s, also hosted a fundraiser, and surfbrand Roxy donated $10,000 from a swimsuit sale.

“Every cent of it helps,” said Phillips.

A GoFund me account has raised about $128,000, but Ericson is still worried about what insurance won’t cover, what bills from the helicopter or ambulance might come out to, let alone the weeks spent in intensive care or the eight surgeries that were done. Antibiotics alone were $36,000.

“I don’t know,” she said of the eventual cost, a worried look coming over her face.

Ericson said she was shocked, and so thankful, to all the people who made donation.

“I’m so surprised. I didn’t think anyone would care. Who cares about me?” she said. “But apparently, people do.”

She held up the tattered black wetsuit to show where the shark tore into it, dried blood still on the neoprene. She’s in contact with shark experts Ralph Collier and Chris Lowe to piece together what happened, her wound and the ripped suit helping them determine the size and type of the shark.

She’s been featured in medical journals, and requests for interviews are still flooding in. She’s constantly searching the web to learn more about sharks, a newfound obsession.

She’s just stopped taking PTSD medication the doctors prescribed her. She strives to identify negative thoughts as they emerge to stave off depression.

She jokes that she’s been an anomaly before. She was born with an extra toe, taken off as a baby, on the foot she can no longer feel.

Collins suggested to Ericson that surviving a shark attack means she has bigger things to do in this life. Ericson didn’t disagree.

“I’m still trying to figure out what that is.”

Read more about San Onofre swimmer explains how it feels to have a shark’s teeth on her leg This post was shared via Orange County Register’s RSS Feed

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Children learn about hajj, the Islamic holy pilgrimage to Mecca

Pretend City Children’s Museum in Irvine hosted a “Learn about Hajj” event for children, on Thursday, Aug. 31, highlighting the importance of the Islamic holy pilgrimage to Mecca.

Children and families who attended the first-time event heard the story of hajj from a Muslim author and learned more through educational games, arts and crafts.

  • Yasmin Osman, 11, center, and Elyas Osman, 8, right, purchase pretend groceries from brother Jannah Osman, 5, left, during a Hajj program at Pretend City in Irvine on Thursday, August 31, 2017. Kids learned the significance of Hajj through story-telling, crafts, food, and games. Hajj is one of the Five Pillars of Islam and is a holy pilgrimage to Mecca that every Muslim must perform at least once in his or her lifetime. (Photo by Ana Venegas, Orange County Register/SCNG)s

    Yasmin Osman, 11, center, and Elyas Osman, 8, right, purchase pretend groceries from brother Jannah Osman, 5, left, during a Hajj program at Pretend City in Irvine on Thursday, August 31, 2017. Kids learned the significance of Hajj through story-telling, crafts, food, and games. Hajj is one of the Five Pillars of Islam and is a holy pilgrimage to Mecca that every Muslim must perform at least once in his or her lifetime. (Photo by Ana Venegas, Orange County Register/SCNG)s

  • Camille Williams, 4, of San Diego, right, gets a henna drawing on her hand from Nurah Hamdi, left, of the Islamic Center of Irvine. Children learned about Hajj at Pretend City in Irvine on Thursday August 31, 2017, through story-telling, crafts, food, and games. Children learned the significance of Hajj which is one of the Five Pillars of Islam and is a holy pilgrimage to Mecca that every Muslim must perform at least once in his or her lifetime. (Photo by Ana Venegas, Orange County Register/SCNG)s

    Camille Williams, 4, of San Diego, right, gets a henna drawing on her hand from Nurah Hamdi, left, of the Islamic Center of Irvine. Children learned about Hajj at Pretend City in Irvine on Thursday August 31, 2017, through story-telling, crafts, food, and games. Children learned the significance of Hajj which is one of the Five Pillars of Islam and is a holy pilgrimage to Mecca that every Muslim must perform at least once in his or her lifetime. (Photo by Ana Venegas, Orange County Register/SCNG)s

  • August Jensen, 5, of Costa Mesa, savors hummus provided at the Hajj celebration at Pretend City in Irvine on Thursday, August 31, 2017. Children learned the significance of Hajj through story-telling, crafts, food, and games. Hajj is one of the Five Pillars of Islam and is a holy pilgrimage to Mecca that every Muslim must perform at least once in his or her lifetime. (Photo by Ana Venegas, Orange County Register/SCNG)s

    August Jensen, 5, of Costa Mesa, savors hummus provided at the Hajj celebration at Pretend City in Irvine on Thursday, August 31, 2017. Children learned the significance of Hajj through story-telling, crafts, food, and games. Hajj is one of the Five Pillars of Islam and is a holy pilgrimage to Mecca that every Muslim must perform at least once in his or her lifetime. (Photo by Ana Venegas, Orange County Register/SCNG)s

  • Yousef Latif, 3, left, and Amir Latif, 5, right, of Irvine listen to Osman Umarji, a UCI doctoral student, from Irvine, reads “If You Take A Mouse To Makka,” a children’s book he wrote during a Hajj celebration at Pretend City in Irvine on Thursday, August 31, 2017. (Photo by Ana Venegas, Orange County Register/SCNG)s

    Yousef Latif, 3, left, and Amir Latif, 5, right, of Irvine listen to Osman Umarji, a UCI doctoral student, from Irvine, reads “If You Take A Mouse To Makka,” a children’s book he wrote during a Hajj celebration at Pretend City in Irvine on Thursday, August 31, 2017. (Photo by Ana Venegas, Orange County Register/SCNG)s

  • Mariam Majdy, 3, shows off a henna drawing at the Hajj celebration at Pretend City in Irvine on Thursday, August 31, 2017. (Photo by Ana Venegas, Orange County Register/SCNG)s

    Mariam Majdy, 3, shows off a henna drawing at the Hajj celebration at Pretend City in Irvine on Thursday, August 31, 2017. (Photo by Ana Venegas, Orange County Register/SCNG)s

  • Jannah Osman, 5, left, Yasmin Osman, 11, center, and Elyas Osman, 8, right, listen to Osman Umarji, a UCI doctoral student, from Irvine, reads “If You Take A Mouse To Makka,” a children’s book he wrote during a Hajj celebration at Pretend City in Irvine on Thursday, August 31, 2017. (Photo by Ana Venegas, Orange County Register/SCNG)s

    Jannah Osman, 5, left, Yasmin Osman, 11, center, and Elyas Osman, 8, right, listen to Osman Umarji, a UCI doctoral student, from Irvine, reads “If You Take A Mouse To Makka,” a children’s book he wrote during a Hajj celebration at Pretend City in Irvine on Thursday, August 31, 2017. (Photo by Ana Venegas, Orange County Register/SCNG)s

  • Osman Umarji, a UCI doctoral student, from Irvine, reads “If You Take A Mouse To Makka,” a children’s book he wrote during programing for Hajj at Pretend City in Irvine on Thursday, August 31, 2017. Kids learned about Hajj through story-telling, crafts, food, and games. (Photo by Ana Venegas, Orange County Register/SCNG)s

    Osman Umarji, a UCI doctoral student, from Irvine, reads “If You Take A Mouse To Makka,” a children’s book he wrote during programing for Hajj at Pretend City in Irvine on Thursday, August 31, 2017. Kids learned about Hajj through story-telling, crafts, food, and games. (Photo by Ana Venegas, Orange County Register/SCNG)s

  • Dawud Mujahid, 5, center, and Majdy Muhyieddeen,5, right, became fast friends after meeting at Pretend City in Irvine on Thursday, August 31, 2017, during a program for Hajj. (Photo by Ana Venegas, Orange County Register/SCNG)s

    Dawud Mujahid, 5, center, and Majdy Muhyieddeen,5, right, became fast friends after meeting at Pretend City in Irvine on Thursday, August 31, 2017, during a program for Hajj. (Photo by Ana Venegas, Orange County Register/SCNG)s

  • A pretend home at Pretend City in Irvine is set up to show a Muslim family living in it. Children learned about Hajj at Pretend City in Irvine on Thursday, August 31, 2017, through story-telling, crafts, food, and games. (Photo by Ana Venegas, Orange County Register/SCNG)s

    A pretend home at Pretend City in Irvine is set up to show a Muslim family living in it. Children learned about Hajj at Pretend City in Irvine on Thursday, August 31, 2017, through story-telling, crafts, food, and games. (Photo by Ana Venegas, Orange County Register/SCNG)s

  • Fatah Muhammad, runs a craft table at the Hajj celebration at Pretend City in Irvine on Thursday, August 31, 2017. Hajj is one of the Five Pillars of Islam and is a holy pilgrimage to Mecca that every Muslim must perform at least once in his or her lifetime. (Photo by Ana Venegas, Orange County Register/SCNG)s

    Fatah Muhammad, runs a craft table at the Hajj celebration at Pretend City in Irvine on Thursday, August 31, 2017. Hajj is one of the Five Pillars of Islam and is a holy pilgrimage to Mecca that every Muslim must perform at least once in his or her lifetime. (Photo by Ana Venegas, Orange County Register/SCNG)s

  • Mariam Majdy, 3, gets some henna on her hand at the Hajj celebration at Pretend City in Irvine on Thursday, August 31, 2017. (Photo by Ana Venegas, Orange County Register/SCNG)s

    Mariam Majdy, 3, gets some henna on her hand at the Hajj celebration at Pretend City in Irvine on Thursday, August 31, 2017. (Photo by Ana Venegas, Orange County Register/SCNG)s

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“We’ve worked hard to ensure the authenticity and integrity of the programming and made sure Muslim community members and influencers are involved in the event,” said Tayyaba Hassaan, development specialist at the museum.

The event, she said, will hopefully send an uplifting message of unity and inclusiveness in Orange County, she said.

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Union officials urge OCFA board not to accept Chief Bowman’s resignation, but he’s still out

IRVINE — Union officials representing Orange County Fire Authority’s rank-and-file personnel urged the authority’s board of directors Thursday night not to accept the resignation of Fire Chief Jeff Bowman.

“Prior to Chief Bowman’s appointment in 2013, morale was low and there was no direction,” said Baryic Hunter, president of Orange County Professional Firefighters Association. “With Chief Bowman’s appointment, goals were established and morale improved.”

Those sentiments were echoed by Tim Steging, association vice president.

“Under Chief Bowman, the department has had direction and support for the men and women in the field,” he said. “We urge you to do everything you can to keep Chief Bowman as the leader of the Orange County Fire Authority.”

However, not everyone was in favor of Bowman staying on the job.

Lake Forest City Councilman Dwight Robinson said the board should heed the request of the Chief Officers Association, which asked Bowman to step down. The association represents OCFA  battalion and division chiefs.

“To not accept the resignation would create a chaotic situation,” Robinson said.

  • OCFA board members listen to public comments on the resignation of Chief Jeff Bowman during a special meeting at OCFA Headquarters in Irvine on Thursday, August 24, 2017.(Photo by Kyusung Gong, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    OCFA board members listen to public comments on the resignation of Chief Jeff Bowman during a special meeting at OCFA Headquarters in Irvine on Thursday, August 24, 2017.(Photo by Kyusung Gong, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Firefighters listen to public comments on resignation of OCFA Chief Jeff Bowman during a special meeting at OCFA Headquarters in Irvine on Thursday, August 24, 2017.(Photo by Kyusung Gong, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    Firefighters listen to public comments on resignation of OCFA Chief Jeff Bowman during a special meeting at OCFA Headquarters in Irvine on Thursday, August 24, 2017.(Photo by Kyusung Gong, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Jeff Bowman, the chief for the Orange County Fire Authority, stands in front of the firefighters memorial and its eternal flame at the Orange County Fire Authority headquarters in Irvine after joining the department. (Orange County Register file photo)

    Jeff Bowman, the chief for the Orange County Fire Authority, stands in front of the firefighters memorial and its eternal flame at the Orange County Fire Authority headquarters in Irvine after joining the department. (Orange County Register file photo)

  • OCFA board members, Firefighters and the public listen to public comments on resignation of OCFA Chief Jeff Bowman during a special meeting at OCFA Headquarters in Irvine on Thursday, August 24, 2017.(Photo by Kyusung Gong, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    OCFA board members, Firefighters and the public listen to public comments on resignation of OCFA Chief Jeff Bowman during a special meeting at OCFA Headquarters in Irvine on Thursday, August 24, 2017.(Photo by Kyusung Gong, Orange County Register/SCNG)

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Thursday night, OCFA’s board, which is made up of officials representing its 25 partner cities and jursidictions, spent more than four hours in closed session. When the panel reconvened, it had taken no action on Bowman’s resignation, meaning he is still off the job.

“The acting chief remains (in charge),” said David Kendig, OCFA’s attorney. Assistant Chief Dave Anderson was named acting chief until an interim leader and, eventually, a permanent one can be appointed by the board.

Bowman, 65, stunned rank-and-file firefighters on Aug. 17, when he unexpectedly announced his immediate resignation.

“I have enjoyed my tenure here, and would like to believe I have made a positive difference to the OCFA,” Bowman, who has been chief for three years, said in a statement.

Bowman did not give a reason for his resignation and wasn’t present at Thursday night’s meeting. He did not return phone calls seeking comment.

Officials with the Chief Officers Association sent a letter to the OCFA board about “current tensions” created in the department by Bowman, saying they met with him a day before he resigned and recommended he step down “to save the organization further embarrassment.”

“The membership felt strongly that it is our duty to report to the governing body our serious concerns regarding the fire chief’s conduct,” the letter said referring to a Tuesday, Aug. 15, meeting when the association voted 39-0 to report its issues to the board of directors.

The letter did not detail specifically the association’s grievances against Bowman.

During Thursday’s public comment, board member Todd Spitzer, who is an Orange County supervisor, questioned why no representatives from the Chief Officers Association came to speak.

“We are only hearing positive things (about Bowman) and you want us to go into closed session?” Spitzer asked.

Board Chairwoman Elizabeth Swift, who is mayor of Buena Park, rebuked Spitzer, describing his comments as “out of line.” She added that representatives of the Chief Officers Association were free to decide whether or not to speak.

The OCFA serves 23 cities and the unincorporated areas of Orange County – covering 1.6 million residents – and Bowman had overseen it for three years.

Read more about Union officials urge OCFA board not to accept Chief Bowman’s resignation, but he’s still out This post was shared via Orange County Register’s RSS Feed

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The man who shot Osama bin Laden tells his story to a packed house at Nixon Library

YORBA LINDA — A thousand people at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum thundered with applause when Robert O’Neill, the retired Navy SEAL who shot Osama bin Laden, took the stage to share his story Wednesday, July 26.

O’Neill’s talk, woven through with a sense of humor that surprised and delighted the audience, focused less on his encounter with bin Laden on May 2, 2011, in Abbottabad, Pakistan, and more on life lessons from his journey. One of the mentions he made of the incident was simple: “Bin Laden got what he deserved.”

The audience was packed into the library’s East Room, spilling over into the Fred Malek Theater, where a simulcast from the other room was shown.

Seventeen years before his shots pierced bin Laden’s skull, O’Neill was home in Butte, Montana, facing a different struggle: heartbreak. He’d just been dumped by a girl, and he wanted to get out of town. Inspired by his friends in the Marine Corps, he stopped by a recruitment office. As luck would have it, he said, the Marine recruiter wasn’t in the office – but the Navy’s was.

  • Robert O’Neill, the former member of the U.S. Navy’s Team 6 who is credited with shooting Osama bin Laden to death, laughs as he tells the audience he didn’t know how to swim at the time he signed up for the Navy at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in Yorba Linda on Wednesday, July 26, 2017. (Photo by Matt Masin, Orange County Register, SCNG)

    Robert O’Neill, the former member of the U.S. Navy’s Team 6 who is credited with shooting Osama bin Laden to death, laughs as he tells the audience he didn’t know how to swim at the time he signed up for the Navy at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in Yorba Linda on Wednesday, July 26, 2017. (Photo by Matt Masin, Orange County Register, SCNG)

  • Robert O’Neill, the former member of the U.S. Navy’s SEAL Team 6 who is credited with shooting Osama bin Laden to death, speaks at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in Yorba Linda on Wednesday, July 26, 2017. (Photo by Matt Masin, Orange County Register, SCNG)

    Robert O’Neill, the former member of the U.S. Navy’s SEAL Team 6 who is credited with shooting Osama bin Laden to death, speaks at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in Yorba Linda on Wednesday, July 26, 2017. (Photo by Matt Masin, Orange County Register, SCNG)

  • Robert O’Neill, the former member of the U.S. Navy’s SEAL Team 6 who is credited with shooting Osama bin Laden to death, tells stories of capturing enemies at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in Yorba Linda on Wednesday, July 26, 2017. (Photo by Matt Masin, Orange County Register, SCNG)

    Robert O’Neill, the former member of the U.S. Navy’s SEAL Team 6 who is credited with shooting Osama bin Laden to death, tells stories of capturing enemies at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in Yorba Linda on Wednesday, July 26, 2017. (Photo by Matt Masin, Orange County Register, SCNG)

  • People gather to photograph Robert O’Neill’s uniform at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in Yorba Linda on Wednesday, July 26, 2017. (Photo by Matt Masin, Orange County Register, SCNG)

    People gather to photograph Robert O’Neill’s uniform at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in Yorba Linda on Wednesday, July 26, 2017. (Photo by Matt Masin, Orange County Register, SCNG)

  • A crowd listens as Robert O’Neill, the former member of the U.S. Navy’s SEAL Team 6 who is credited with shooting Osama bin Laden to death, speaks at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in Yorba Linda on Wednesday, July 26, 2017. (Photo by Matt Masin, Orange County Register, SCNG)

    A crowd listens as Robert O’Neill, the former member of the U.S. Navy’s SEAL Team 6 who is credited with shooting Osama bin Laden to death, speaks at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in Yorba Linda on Wednesday, July 26, 2017. (Photo by Matt Masin, Orange County Register, SCNG)

  • Robert O’Neill, the former member of the U.S. Navy’s SEAL Team 6 who is credited with shooting Osama bin Laden to death, recounts his early days in the Navy at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in Yorba Linda on Wednesday, July 26, 2017. (Photo by Matt Masin, Orange County Register, SCNG)

    Robert O’Neill, the former member of the U.S. Navy’s SEAL Team 6 who is credited with shooting Osama bin Laden to death, recounts his early days in the Navy at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in Yorba Linda on Wednesday, July 26, 2017. (Photo by Matt Masin, Orange County Register, SCNG)

  • Robert O’Neill’s uniform on display at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in Yorba Linda on Wednesday, July 26, 2017. (Photo by Matt Masin, Orange County Register, SCNG)

    Robert O’Neill’s uniform on display at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in Yorba Linda on Wednesday, July 26, 2017. (Photo by Matt Masin, Orange County Register, SCNG)

  • Robert O’Neill’s uniform on display at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in Yorba Linda on Wednesday, July 26, 2017. (Photo by Matt Masin, Orange County Register, SCNG)

    Robert O’Neill’s uniform on display at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in Yorba Linda on Wednesday, July 26, 2017. (Photo by Matt Masin, Orange County Register, SCNG)

  • Orange County Supervisor Todd Spitzer asks a question to Robert O’Neill, the former member of the U.S. Navy’s SEAL Team 6, who is credited with shooting Osama bin Laden to death, speaks at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in Yorba Linda on Wednesday, July 26, 2017. (Photo by Matt Masin, Orange County Register, SCNG)

    Orange County Supervisor Todd Spitzer asks a question to Robert O’Neill, the former member of the U.S. Navy’s SEAL Team 6, who is credited with shooting Osama bin Laden to death, speaks at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in Yorba Linda on Wednesday, July 26, 2017. (Photo by Matt Masin, Orange County Register, SCNG)

  • Robert O’Neill, the former member of the U.S. Navy SEAL Team 6 who is credited with shooting Osama bin Laden to death, tells a story about his early days in the Navy at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in Yorba Linda on Wednesday, July 26, 2017. (Photo by Matt Masin, Orange County Register, SCNG)

    Robert O’Neill, the former member of the U.S. Navy SEAL Team 6 who is credited with shooting Osama bin Laden to death, tells a story about his early days in the Navy at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in Yorba Linda on Wednesday, July 26, 2017. (Photo by Matt Masin, Orange County Register, SCNG)

  • Robert O’Neill, the former member of the U.S. Navy’s SEAL Team 6 who is credited with shooting Osama bin Laden to death, is introduced at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in Yorba Linda on Wednesday, July 26, 2017. (Photo by Matt Masin, Orange County Register, SCNG)

    Robert O’Neill, the former member of the U.S. Navy’s SEAL Team 6 who is credited with shooting Osama bin Laden to death, is introduced at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in Yorba Linda on Wednesday, July 26, 2017. (Photo by Matt Masin, Orange County Register, SCNG)

  • People listen as Robert O’Neill, the former member of Navy SEAL Team 6 who is credited with shooting Osama bin Laden to death, speaks at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in Yorba Linda on Wednesday, July 26, 2017. (Photo by Matt Masin, Orange County Register, SCNG)

    People listen as Robert O’Neill, the former member of Navy SEAL Team 6 who is credited with shooting Osama bin Laden to death, speaks at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in Yorba Linda on Wednesday, July 26, 2017. (Photo by Matt Masin, Orange County Register, SCNG)

  • Robert O’Neill, the former member of the Navy SEAL Team 6 who is credited with shooting Osama bin Laden to death, speaks at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in Yorba Linda on Wednesday, July 26, 2017. (Photo by Matt Masin, Orange County Register, SCNG)

    Robert O’Neill, the former member of the Navy SEAL Team 6 who is credited with shooting Osama bin Laden to death, speaks at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in Yorba Linda on Wednesday, July 26, 2017. (Photo by Matt Masin, Orange County Register, SCNG)

  • Robert O’Neill, the former member of the U.S. Navy SEAL Team 6 who is credited with shooting Osama bin Laden to death, tells the audience about SEAL training at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in Yorba Linda on Wednesday, July 26, 2017. (Photo by Matt Masin, Orange County Register, SCNG)

    Robert O’Neill, the former member of the U.S. Navy SEAL Team 6 who is credited with shooting Osama bin Laden to death, tells the audience about SEAL training at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in Yorba Linda on Wednesday, July 26, 2017. (Photo by Matt Masin, Orange County Register, SCNG)

  • Robert O’Neill, the former member of the U.S. Navy SEAL Team 6 who is credited with shooting Osama bin Laden to death, talks about joining the service for a girl at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in Yorba Linda on Wednesday, July 26, 2017. (Photo by Matt Masin, Orange County Register, SCNG)

    Robert O’Neill, the former member of the U.S. Navy SEAL Team 6 who is credited with shooting Osama bin Laden to death, talks about joining the service for a girl at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in Yorba Linda on Wednesday, July 26, 2017. (Photo by Matt Masin, Orange County Register, SCNG)

  • Robert O’Neill, the former member of the U.S. Navy SEAL Team 6 who is credited with shooting Osama bin Laden to death, recounts a mission capturing an enemy at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in Yorba Linda on Wednesday, July 26, 2017. (Photo by Matt Masin, Orange County Register, SCNG)

    Robert O’Neill, the former member of the U.S. Navy SEAL Team 6 who is credited with shooting Osama bin Laden to death, recounts a mission capturing an enemy at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in Yorba Linda on Wednesday, July 26, 2017. (Photo by Matt Masin, Orange County Register, SCNG)

  • Robert O’Neill, the former member of Navy SEAL Team 6 who is credited with shooting Osama bin Laden to death, speaks at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in Yorba Linda on Wednesday, July 26, 2017. (Photo by Matt Masin, Orange County Register, SCNG)

    Robert O’Neill, the former member of Navy SEAL Team 6 who is credited with shooting Osama bin Laden to death, speaks at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in Yorba Linda on Wednesday, July 26, 2017. (Photo by Matt Masin, Orange County Register, SCNG)

  • Navy SEAL Robert J. O’Neill will speak at the Nixon Presidential Library & Museum where his uniform is on display. (Courtesy of the Nixon Library)

    Navy SEAL Robert J. O’Neill will speak at the Nixon Presidential Library & Museum where his uniform is on display. (Courtesy of the Nixon Library)

  • Navy SEAL Robert J. O’Neill’s combat equipment is on public display for the first time at the Nixon Library in Yorba Linda on Monday, July 3, 2017. O’Neill was the Navy Special Warfare Operator who took down terrorist Osama bin Laden during a daring raid in 2011.(Photo by Mindy Schauer, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    Navy SEAL Robert J. O’Neill’s combat equipment is on public display for the first time at the Nixon Library in Yorba Linda on Monday, July 3, 2017. O’Neill was the Navy Special Warfare Operator who took down terrorist Osama bin Laden during a daring raid in 2011.(Photo by Mindy Schauer, Orange County Register/SCNG)

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Facing hellish training that he called “a beat-down for eight months,” O’Neill, 41, said he quickly learned to have a sense of humor in the face of hardship with SEAL Team 6.

“Don’t be afraid to enjoy yourself. Every single day, smile,” O’Neill said. “Think about this: none of us are getting out of this alive. I don’t believe in statistics, but I happen to be sure 10 out of 10 people die.”

After becoming a Navy SEAL, O’Neill rose to senior chief petty officer and was deployed on more than 400 missions, including two that were made into movies: the 2009 rescue of Capt. Richard Phillips (2013’s “Captain Phillips”) and the 2005 mission to save Marcus Luttrell, a fellow SEAL (“Lone Survivor”).

When his team was given the bin Laden mission, O’Neill said he was sure he wouldn’t be coming back. Before leaving, he left behind a tear-stained letter for his seven-year-old daughter – addressed to her 20 years later, apologizing for missing her wedding.

But O’Neill made it back. Since then, he’s been giving hundreds of speeches around the country and abroad, more recently promoting his newly released memoir “The Operator.” Like his talks, the book goes through O’Neill’s life and shows how his experiences can reveal lessons for others.

The gear O’Neill wore the night he hunted down bin Laden – boots, helmet, bullet-proof vest, all in desert-camouflage – is on public display at the library until the end of July.

Ron Clark, 65 of Diamond Bar, said he was drawn to the talk by two things: memories of 9/11 and the excitement of the day bin Laden was brought to justice.

“It was very inspiring,” Clark said. “I feel a lot of pride to know we have people like that, trained so expertly to do things most of us would never know how to do.”

Read more about The man who shot Osama bin Laden tells his story to a packed house at Nixon Library This post was shared via Orange County Register’s RSS Feed. Santa Ana Shredding Service

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Who are the homeless living in the shadow of the Big A? Here are 11 stories

A luxury car drives past Angel Mayfield’s tent in the Santa Ana River homeless encampment. The driver shouts out his window: “Get a (expletive) (expletive) job you (expletive) pig!”

Mayfield has a job. In fact, she has two.

The residents in the camp next to Angel Stadium call their neighborhood “River View Village.”

We spent a week talking to people who live along the Santa Ana River trail. Like any neighborhood, the people are diverse but most share a common goal: they’d rather be paying rent than living in a tent.

Here’s a profile of 11 people who, for now, call it home.

Angel Mayfield is a homeless advocate who lives in the River View Village encampment. "There are so many many homeless people who want to change their lives around but they are defined by their past, not by whom they are now," she said.Mayfield is one of the people who live in the homeless encampment along the Santa Ana River in Anaheim, CA on Friday, July 14, 2017. (Photo by Bill Alkofer, Orange County Register/SCNG)
Angel Mayfield (Photo by Bill Alkofer, Orange County Register/SCNG)

Angel Mayfield works a minimum of 31 hours a week between her two jobs in retail. She’s a homeless advocate and works as a liaison between her neighbors and Orange County homeless assistance agencies. Most of the residents in the encampment know they can call on her when they need help.

“A lot of homeless people don’t do drugs,  they don’t drink, they don’t have a criminal record or mental illness,”  Mayfield said. “They just can’t find a job that pays enough to afford a $1,400 studio apartment and still have enough to buy food.

“Many homeless people want to change their lives around but they are defined by their past and now who they are now.”

Angela Piefer (Photo by Bill Alkofer,Orange County Register/SCNG)
Angela Piefer (Photo by Bill Alkofer, Orange County Register/SCNG)

Angela Piefer, 32, lives just north of Orangewood Avenue. Piefer has two jobs. She’s a caregiver and passes out food samples at grocery stores.

Piefer was an alcoholic for eight years. She drank every day. When it got to the point that the whites of her eyes were yellow, her fiance insisted that she go to the hospital to detox. Her liver was almost completely shut down. Six months ago, her liver was almost back to 100 percent healed.

“I’ve been clean and sober for a year and nine months. If I can get more hours I can make enough to leave here,” she said, “And I’m never coming back.”

 

David Doan (Photo by Bill Alkofer, Orange County Register/SCNG)
David Doan (Photo by Bill Alkofer, Orange County Register/SCNG)

David Doan, 48, is a mechanical wizard. He built a shower for the residents by tapping into a back flow water supply for a drinking fountain. He’s set up a couple of solar panels to power two 12-volt batteries. Residents can use the contraption to charge up their cell phones.

Doan was vice president of an Anaheim company that remanufactured toner cartridges until 2001. He got into a tussle with his father (the company president) and was let go. Soon after, he went through a divorce and was living out of his car. He got a job with U-Haul but suffered a heart attack in 2009.

“I’ve applied for social security benefits but have been denied three times,” Doan said.  “Now have high blood pressure and have been diagnosed with cataracts. With my pre-existing medical problems, it’s been tough to get a job.”

 

Bruce Bishop (Photo by Bill Alkofer, Orange County Register/SCNG)
Bruce Bishop (Photo by Bill Alkofer, Orange County Register/SCNG)

Bruce Bishop, 57, became a union ironworker in 1981. He was making $67.50 an hour when he got a DUI and lost his driver’s license. He got tangled in DMV red tape and ended up spending more than $6,000 trying unsuccessfully to get his license reinstated, register his car and pay for insurance. Eventually, he lost his union card when he wasn’t able to pay his dues.

He’s working day labor jobs now and some day hopes to get his license and union card back. When waits to get picked up for a job on Orangethorpe Avenue he can look toward State College and see a 14-story building he helped build 30 years ago.

Markus O'Neill (Photo by Bill Alkofer, Orange County Register/SCNG)
Markus O’Neill (Photo by Bill Alkofer, Orange County Register/SCNG)

Markus O’Neill, 37, worked at Outback Steakhouse for 13 years. He advanced from dishwasher to head cook at the restaurant in Garden Grove. He got a better job offer to work in the HVAC business and made enough money to rent a three-bedroom home in the Moreno Valley. He filed a complaint about a foreman and got fired. “I guess I complained about the wrong guy,” he said. Soon after, he got into a car accident and broke four ribs.

“I’ve tried to get back into bartending. But to be honest, it’s tough to get a bartending job these days if you’re not a beautiful woman,” O’Neill said. “I’m a fairly handsome, well-spoken guy but I’m not very voluptuous.”

He said that even if was able to get a job bartending it still wouldn’t be enough to rent an apartment.

“My situation is not permanent,” he said. “Yes, I’m homeless but I’m not helpless or hopeless.”

Michael Sage (Photo by Bill Alkofer, Orange County Register/SCNG)
Michael Sage (Photo by Bill Alkofer, Orange County Register/SCNG)

Michael Sage, 49, spends some of his time delivering donated five-gallon water jugs to other residents in Riverview Village. Sage worked in maintenance at Saddleback Hospital for 15 years.

“Then I got an offer in 2001 to go up to Northern California to become a project manager for a company that produced fire-proofing material.  When the company moved to Orange County it failed. After less than a year, it went bankrupt,” Sage said.

He started doing handyman work until he got a staph infection from a piece of asbestos that got lodged in his leg.  He doesn’t have any medical insurance so he’s been struggling with medical bills.

“This isn’t a permanent situation,” Sage said. “I’ll get back on my feet again.”

Kyle Bartholomew (Photo by Bill Alkofer, Orange County Register/SCNG)
Kyle Bartholomew (Photo by Bill Alkofer, Orange County Register/SCNG)

Kyle Bartholomew, 30, was doing handyman work in the Humboldt County area. He got a job offer to come to Orange County so he could work with his dad. He got laid off and turned to drugs.

He said he’s clean and sober now. He’s been living in the encampment for three years. Bartholomew spends his days making custom bicycles.

“I’m homeless now but this is just temporary — just temporary.”

Kimberlee McKee (Photo by Bill Alkofer ,Orange County Register/SCNG)
Kimberlee McKee (Photo by Bill Alkofer, Orange County Register/SCNG)

Kimberlee McKee, 30, is almost always lively and jovial despite a hard-knock life. McKee worked as a cashier at Disneyland for five years until she got fired for petty theft. Another petty theft conviction landed her in prison for a year. She was staying in a sober living facility in 2010 until she got kicked out for having a squabble with a roommate.

She lived in a homeless encampment in Fullerton before moving to Riverview Village. She’s since been diagnosed with epilepsy, diabetes and has a bipolar disorder. She’s been working with the City Net homeless collaborative to find more permanent housing.

Thomas Estrada (Photo by Bill Alkofer, Orange County Register/SCNG)
Thomas Estrada (Photo by Bill Alkofer, Orange County Register/SCNG)

Thomas Estrada has been at River View for only a month. He works construction, primarily as a framer. He had a full-time construction job but when business slowed he got laid off. He was living with his fiancee and her daughter. That relationship fell apart and she left him.  His landlord said she was uncomfortable renting to a single man so he got evicted from his apartment.

He’s confident that business will pick up again and he’ll be able to leave the encampment and move back into an apartment.

Sher Stuckman (Photo by Bill Alkofer, Orange County Register/SCNG)
Sher Stuckman (Photo by Bill Alkofer, Orange County Register/SCNG)

Sher Stuckman, 59, has worked in a precious metals refinery and a diesel engine factory.

“I’m handy with anything mechanical,” she said.  After being laid off, she was hit with a host of medical problems.  She had a stroke followed by seizures and then developed a blood clot in her leg. Stuckman is a breast cancer survivor.

“Every time I apply for a job I get severe anxiety. I get stressed out and I always blow it,” Stuckman said.

Two weeks ago she moved to the encampment to get away from it all for a while. “I’m going to try to relax for a bit and spend some time writing my novel.”

Stuckman said that finds that golf is very calming. Most days she takes a club down to the riverbed and works on her sand game.

Roman Neely (Photo by Bill Alkofer, Orange County Register/SCNG)
Roman Neely (Photo by Bill Alkofer, Orange County Register/SCNG)

Roman Neely, 23, has been at River View Village for a little over a month.

“I was living in a homeless encampment on private property with my girlfriend in Corona,” Neeley said. “It was called Devils Den. Supposedly it was haunted,” he said. “We got kicked out. My mom and stepdad bought us a tent and we moved here.” He left the girlfriend.

“I got hooked up a crazy, evil woman. But I still love her,” he said.

Neely said that he’s sworn off women for a least and year and he wants to find a job working construction.

“I’ve got a relative with a car so maybe I can get some manual labor jobs and hopefully some day get an apartment. I know one thing for sure. I’m never going to resort to panhandling.”

Some residents in the Santa Ana River homeless encampment call the area River View Village.The homeless encampment is along the Santa Ana River in Anaheim, CA on Wednesday, July 19, 2017. (Photo by Bill Alkofer,Orange County Register/SCNG)
Some residents living along the Santa Ana River bed’s homeless encampment have named the area “River View Village.” (Photo by Bill Alkofer, Orange County Register/SCNG)

Read more about Who are the homeless living in the shadow of the Big A? Here are 11 stories This post was shared via Orange County Register’s RSS Feed

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Two taken to hospital after motorcycle crashes with car on PCH in Newport Beach

NEWPORT BEACH — A man and woman were taken to a hospital Sunday, July 23, after their motorcycle collided with a car on West Coast Highway, according to police.

The incident, which is still under investigation, happened around 10 p.m. near Highland Street. A man riding a motorcycle with a woman in the back hit a car, Lt. Keith Krallman said.

The man sustained minor injuries, while the woman suffered a compound fracture to her leg, Krallman said. They were taken to Orange County Global Medical Center in Santa Ana by ambulance.

The driver of the car had no injuries, Krallman said.

Eastbound lanes of West Coast Highway were briefly shut down.

Read more about Two taken to hospital after motorcycle crashes with car on PCH in Newport Beach This post was shared via Orange County Register’s RSS Feed

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After a year away, Disneyland debuts updated ‘Fantasmic!’ river show

  • Flames fill the Rivers of America after a dragon spit fire during Fantasmic! at Disneyland in Anaheim, on Monday, July 17, 2017. Fantasmic! is Disney’s longest-running nighttime show. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    Flames fill the Rivers of America after a dragon spit fire during Fantasmic! at Disneyland in Anaheim, on Monday, July 17, 2017. Fantasmic! is Disney’s longest-running nighttime show. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Visitors to Disneyland react to the return of Fantasmic! in Anaheim, on Monday, July 17, 2017. Fantasmic! is DisneyÕs longest-running nighttime show. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    Visitors to Disneyland react to the return of Fantasmic! in Anaheim, on Monday, July 17, 2017. Fantasmic! is DisneyÕs longest-running nighttime show. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • A silhouette of Mickey Mouse is projected on water at the theme from The Lion King plays during Fantasmic! at Disneyland in Anaheim, on Monday, July 17, 2017. Fantasmic! is Disney’s longest-running nighttime show. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    A silhouette of Mickey Mouse is projected on water at the theme from The Lion King plays during Fantasmic! at Disneyland in Anaheim, on Monday, July 17, 2017. Fantasmic! is Disney’s longest-running nighttime show. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Mickey Mouse welcomes visitors to Fantasmic! at Disneyland in Anaheim, on Monday, July 17, 2017. Fantasmic! is DisneyÕs longest-running nighttime show. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    Mickey Mouse welcomes visitors to Fantasmic! at Disneyland in Anaheim, on Monday, July 17, 2017. Fantasmic! is DisneyÕs longest-running nighttime show. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • The Black Pearl makes its way around the Rivers of America during Fantasmic! at Disneyland in Anaheim, on Monday, July 17, 2017. Fantasmic! is DisneyÕs longest-running nighttime show. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    The Black Pearl makes its way around the Rivers of America during Fantasmic! at Disneyland in Anaheim, on Monday, July 17, 2017. Fantasmic! is DisneyÕs longest-running nighttime show. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • The Black Pearl makes its way around the Rivers of America during Fantasmic! at Disneyland in Anaheim, on Monday, July 17, 2017. Fantasmic! is DisneyÕs longest-running nighttime show. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    The Black Pearl makes its way around the Rivers of America during Fantasmic! at Disneyland in Anaheim, on Monday, July 17, 2017. Fantasmic! is DisneyÕs longest-running nighttime show. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Aladdin and Jasmin float on a magic carpet during Fantasmic! at Disneyland in Anaheim, on Monday, July 17, 2017. Fantasmic! is DisneyÕs longest-running nighttime show. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    Aladdin and Jasmin float on a magic carpet during Fantasmic! at Disneyland in Anaheim, on Monday, July 17, 2017. Fantasmic! is DisneyÕs longest-running nighttime show. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • A giant snake makes its way down Tom Sawyer Island during Fantasmic! at Disneyland in Anaheim, on Monday, July 17, 2017. Fantasmic! is DisneyÕs longest-running nighttime show. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    A giant snake makes its way down Tom Sawyer Island during Fantasmic! at Disneyland in Anaheim, on Monday, July 17, 2017. Fantasmic! is DisneyÕs longest-running nighttime show. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Characters float past Tom Sawyer Island during Fantasmic! at Disneyland in Anaheim, on Monday, July 17, 2017. Fantasmic! is DisneyÕs longest-running nighttime show. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    Characters float past Tom Sawyer Island during Fantasmic! at Disneyland in Anaheim, on Monday, July 17, 2017. Fantasmic! is DisneyÕs longest-running nighttime show. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Captain Jack Sparrow appears to battle a dead man as The Black Pearl makes its way around the Rivers of America during Fantasmic! at Disneyland in Anaheim, on Monday, July 17, 2017. Fantasmic! is DisneyÕs longest-running nighttime show. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    Captain Jack Sparrow appears to battle a dead man as The Black Pearl makes its way around the Rivers of America during Fantasmic! at Disneyland in Anaheim, on Monday, July 17, 2017. Fantasmic! is DisneyÕs longest-running nighttime show. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Captain Jack Sparrow aboard The Black Pearl as it makes its way around the Rivers of America during Fantasmic! at Disneyland in Anaheim, on Monday, July 17, 2017. Fantasmic! is DisneyÕs longest-running nighttime show. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    Captain Jack Sparrow aboard The Black Pearl as it makes its way around the Rivers of America during Fantasmic! at Disneyland in Anaheim, on Monday, July 17, 2017. Fantasmic! is DisneyÕs longest-running nighttime show. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Beauty and The Beast dance on a boat as it floats on the Rivers of America during Fantasmic! at Disneyland in Anaheim, on Monday, July 17, 2017. Fantasmic! is DisneyÕs longest-running nighttime show. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    Beauty and The Beast dance on a boat as it floats on the Rivers of America during Fantasmic! at Disneyland in Anaheim, on Monday, July 17, 2017. Fantasmic! is DisneyÕs longest-running nighttime show. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Tom Sawyer Island is lit up during Fantasmic! at Disneyland in Anaheim, on Monday, July 17, 2017. Fantasmic! is DisneyÕs longest-running nighttime show. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    Tom Sawyer Island is lit up during Fantasmic! at Disneyland in Anaheim, on Monday, July 17, 2017. Fantasmic! is DisneyÕs longest-running nighttime show. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Mickey Mouse is surrounded by lights and fireworks as he says farewell during Fantasmic! at Disneyland in Anaheim, on Monday, July 17, 2017. Fantasmic! is Disney’s longest-running nighttime show. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    Mickey Mouse is surrounded by lights and fireworks as he says farewell during Fantasmic! at Disneyland in Anaheim, on Monday, July 17, 2017. Fantasmic! is Disney’s longest-running nighttime show. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • A fire-breathing dragon greets Mickey Mouse during Fantasmic! at Disneyland in Anaheim, on Monday, July 17, 2017. Fantasmic! is DisneyÕs longest-running nighttime show. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    A fire-breathing dragon greets Mickey Mouse during Fantasmic! at Disneyland in Anaheim, on Monday, July 17, 2017. Fantasmic! is DisneyÕs longest-running nighttime show. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • A black-and-white Mickey Mouse pilots the Mark Twain Riverboat down The Rivers of America during Fantasmic! at Disneyland in Anaheim, on Monday, July 17, 2017. Fantasmic! is DisneyÕs longest-running nighttime show. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    A black-and-white Mickey Mouse pilots the Mark Twain Riverboat down The Rivers of America during Fantasmic! at Disneyland in Anaheim, on Monday, July 17, 2017. Fantasmic! is DisneyÕs longest-running nighttime show. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • A fire-breathing dragon greets Mickey Mouse during Fantasmic! at Disneyland in Anaheim, on Monday, July 17, 2017. Fantasmic! is Disney’s longest-running nighttime show. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    A fire-breathing dragon greets Mickey Mouse during Fantasmic! at Disneyland in Anaheim, on Monday, July 17, 2017. Fantasmic! is Disney’s longest-running nighttime show. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Ursula, from The Little Mermaid, is projected on water during Fantasmic! at Disneyland in Anaheim, on Monday, July 17, 2017. Fantasmic! is DisneyÕs longest-running nighttime show. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    Ursula, from The Little Mermaid, is projected on water during Fantasmic! at Disneyland in Anaheim, on Monday, July 17, 2017. Fantasmic! is DisneyÕs longest-running nighttime show. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • A fire-breathing dragon greets Mickey Mouse during Fantasmic! at Disneyland in Anaheim, on Monday, July 17, 2017. Fantasmic! is Disney’s longest-running nighttime show. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    A fire-breathing dragon greets Mickey Mouse during Fantasmic! at Disneyland in Anaheim, on Monday, July 17, 2017. Fantasmic! is Disney’s longest-running nighttime show. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Rapunzel and Flynn Rider dance on a boat as it floats on the Rivers of America during Fantasmic! at Disneyland in Anaheim, on Monday, July 17, 2017. Fantasmic! is Disney’s longest-running nighttime show. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    Rapunzel and Flynn Rider dance on a boat as it floats on the Rivers of America during Fantasmic! at Disneyland in Anaheim, on Monday, July 17, 2017. Fantasmic! is Disney’s longest-running nighttime show. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Rapunzel and Flynn Rider dance on a boat as it floats on the Rivers of America during Fantasmic! at Disneyland in Anaheim, on Monday, July 17, 2017. Fantasmic! is DisneyÕs longest-running nighttime show. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    Rapunzel and Flynn Rider dance on a boat as it floats on the Rivers of America during Fantasmic! at Disneyland in Anaheim, on Monday, July 17, 2017. Fantasmic! is DisneyÕs longest-running nighttime show. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Mickey Mouse welcomes visitors to Fantasmic! at Disneyland in Anaheim, on Monday, July 17, 2017. Fantasmic! is DisneyÕs longest-running nighttime show. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    Mickey Mouse welcomes visitors to Fantasmic! at Disneyland in Anaheim, on Monday, July 17, 2017. Fantasmic! is DisneyÕs longest-running nighttime show. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • The Mark Twain Riverboat carries Disney characters down The Rivers of America during Fantasmic! at Disneyland in Anaheim, on Monday, July 17, 2017. Fantasmic! is DisneyÕs longest-running nighttime show. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    The Mark Twain Riverboat carries Disney characters down The Rivers of America during Fantasmic! at Disneyland in Anaheim, on Monday, July 17, 2017. Fantasmic! is DisneyÕs longest-running nighttime show. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • The Mark Twain Riverboat carries Disney characters down The Rivers of America during Fantasmic! at Disneyland in Anaheim, on Monday, July 17, 2017. Fantasmic! is Disney’s longest-running nighttime show. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    The Mark Twain Riverboat carries Disney characters down The Rivers of America during Fantasmic! at Disneyland in Anaheim, on Monday, July 17, 2017. Fantasmic! is Disney’s longest-running nighttime show. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Mickey Mouse is surrounded by lights and fireworks as he says farewell during Fantasmic! at Disneyland in Anaheim, on Monday, July 17, 2017. Fantasmic! is DisneyÕs longest-running nighttime show. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    Mickey Mouse is surrounded by lights and fireworks as he says farewell during Fantasmic! at Disneyland in Anaheim, on Monday, July 17, 2017. Fantasmic! is DisneyÕs longest-running nighttime show. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • The end of Tom Sawyer Island is lit up as Mickey Mouse welcomes visitors to Fantasmic! at Disneyland in Anaheim, on Monday, July 17, 2017. Fantasmic! is DisneyÕs longest-running nighttime show. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    The end of Tom Sawyer Island is lit up as Mickey Mouse welcomes visitors to Fantasmic! at Disneyland in Anaheim, on Monday, July 17, 2017. Fantasmic! is DisneyÕs longest-running nighttime show. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • A fire-breathing dragon greets Mickey Mouse during Fantasmic! at Disneyland in Anaheim, on Monday, July 17, 2017. Fantasmic! is DisneyÕs longest-running nighttime show. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    A fire-breathing dragon greets Mickey Mouse during Fantasmic! at Disneyland in Anaheim, on Monday, July 17, 2017. Fantasmic! is DisneyÕs longest-running nighttime show. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Mickey Mouse is surrounded by lights and fireworks as he says farewell during Fantasmic! at Disneyland in Anaheim, on Monday, July 17, 2017. Fantasmic! is DisneyÕs longest-running nighttime show. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    Mickey Mouse is surrounded by lights and fireworks as he says farewell during Fantasmic! at Disneyland in Anaheim, on Monday, July 17, 2017. Fantasmic! is DisneyÕs longest-running nighttime show. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)

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Mickey Mouse made a triumphant return to the Rivers of America as “Fantasmic!” came back to Disneyland after a more than a one-year absence.

The show, which originally debuted in 1992, went dark in early 2016 as the waterway it is staged on was closed to boat traffic for construction of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. The new 14-acre land, which will open in 2019, gobbled up a chunk of Frontierland, including part of the Rivers of America.

During that time, Disney Imagineers created two new scenes for the show: One with the characters of Aladdin and Jasmine floating on a “magic carpet,” and another with a new, ghostly Sailing Ship Columbia featuring Captain Jack Sparrow from Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean movies.

“We had this opportunity to look at ‘Fantasmic!’ with some new eyes,” said David Duffy, the director of live entertainment for Disney Parks.

Duffy added that they wanted some new characters, but “we wanted to make sure that we stayed true to that journey into Mickey’s imagination.”

During the show, Mickey Mouse takes an audience of nearly 7,000 spectators along on his journey into dreams of beauty, adventure, romance and danger.

Disneyland also took the long down time to replace the projectors used in the show with new digital projectors, including some that are projection mapped to the stage sets and provide images for each sequence. In addition, the mist screens were enhanced, and all the lighting and fountains have been upgraded too.

“What that really allows us to do is to take that original story of Fantasmic! and make it even more immersive and even more magical than it was at opening. The island becomes transformed, the stories become immersive and that technology is what allows us to do that,” Duffy said.

Returning fan favorites include the moment when the wicked Maleficent from “Sleeping Beauty” rises 45 feet into the air and is transformed into a 45-foot tall dragon that breathes fire onto the Rivers of America. There is also a more than 100-foot-long snake, Kaa, from the movie “The Jungle Book” slithering across the stage.

Other characters have been added to the show. Rapunzel and Flynn Rider from “Tangled” are part of the romance sequence and characters from “The Lion King” join the adventure sequence.

With the return of “Fantasmic!” the park is nearing completion of the reopening of the Rivers of America. The Mark Twain Riverboat, along with the Sailing Ship Columbia and the Davy Crockett Explorer Canoes are slated to open to the public on July 29. The Disneyland Railroad will also return to daily service on the tracks the same day – with a revised route around the Rivers of America.

Earlier this year, the Big Thunder Trail reopened, providing an alternate pedestrian route between Frontierland and Fantasyland.

The writer worked at Walt Disney Imagineering from 1982 to 1993, and contributed to the initial development efforts for Fantasmic!

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