An Orange County man was arrested last month after admitting to FBI agents that he went into the U.S. Capitol during the Jan. 6 riot,and brought home a “Do Not Enter” sign that he later discarded when he got scared and realized he shouldn’t have taken it as a “souvenir”, according to details in court records.
Philip Edward Kramer, identified in federal court filings as a Yorba Linda resident and an employee at a Paramount business, is among several individuals with Southern California ties who in recent weeks have been either arrested or charged in connection with the siege.
Kramer faces several charges, including knowingly entering or remaining in a restricted building, violent entry and disorderly conduct on Capitol grounds and theft of government property, according to a criminal complaint filed in federal court.
According to court records, Kramer was arrested April 14, and the criminal complaint against him was unsealed the same day. Federal prosecutors did not request he be held in lockup prior to trial and he was released on his own recognizance.
In a phone conversation Tuesday, Kramer denied breaking the law and said it is a “really hard time for me right now.” He declined to comment further on the allegations raised by federal prosecutors.
“I just know I did nothing wrong,” Kramer said. “I was there for the right reasons, not the wrong reasons.”
An FBI agent, in a sworn statement filed with the complaint, wrote that the FBI received an anonymous tip alleging that Kramer took part in the Capitol riot – reportedly telling coworkers that he bought a “2X4” to break into the Capitol building – and upon returning to California acted “agitated” and “claimed there was going to be war” on the date of President Joe Biden’s inauguration.
The agent wrote that, in a phone call, Kramer admitted to being present at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, and agreed to meet in person at a Starbucks.
During the in-person meeting at the coffee shop, the agent wrote, Kramer said he traveled to Washington D.C. in order to watch then-President Donald Trump’s speech, then walked to the Capitol Building, where a crowd was “interacting” with police. Kramer said he was “pushed” into the building by a crowd as he recorded the scene with his cell phone and was exposed to either pepper spray or tear gas, the agent wrote.
He also acknowledged having a snowboard helmet in his backpack and a walking cane “which he intended to use if he was involved in an altercation,” the agent wrote.
A day after meeting with the agent, Kramer called him back and added that he had taken a “Do Not Enter” sign from the Capitol and brought it back to California, but threw it away after realizing he “should not have taken the sign as a souvenir” and being “scared after he heard things got ‘crazy,’” the agent wrote.
Kramer also reportedly told the agent that he had brought a climbing rope with a lock on it “in case someone was coming at my throat or something.”
In a follow-up text the following day, which was submitted to the court, Kramer asked to meet with the FBI again to “explain as an average hard-working middle-class American that loves his country” the events that led up to him going to Washington D.C. on Jan 6. He cited unspecified threats against his family, drive-bys “in the middle of the night” by his house and the alleged theft of an American flag at his residence, according to court filings.
During a second in-person meeting with FBI agents, this time at The Hangar in Long Beach, Kramer reportedly drew his route into the Capitol Building on a map to him by law enforcement, according to court filings.
Investigators later looked over surveillance video that showed Kramer – wearing a red “USA” hat and red jacket and carrying a walking stick with flag attached – walking “toward the front of the crowd” inside the Capitol, the agent wrote.
Kramer is among several people with Orange County ties who have been arrested or charged in connection with the Jan. 6 siege.
After claiming their territory on Retro Row as the go-to old school pizza shop, the duo behind Little Coyote will bite into a new Long Beach neighborhood with a bigger spot set to open this summer at, wait for it, Los Coyotes Diagonal in East Long Beach.
“We realized there’s a demand for more pizza in Long Beach, but instead of expanding to another city we wanted to keep things here at home,” said Jack Leahy, opened the original Little Coyote pizza shop at 2118 E. Fourth St. last June with business partner Jonathan Strader
Strader, who previously opened the respected Hatchet Hall in Venice in 2015, and Leahy, who was the executive chef at L&E Oyster Bar in Silver Lake, run the classic pizza joint serving hand-stretched, thin crust, foldable pies sold whole or by the slice inspired by New York pizzerias as well as subs plus beer and wine.
When it opens in July, the new location, at 3500 N. Los Coyotes Diagonal, will serve the same menu, but there are plans to expand the options to include more Italian staples such as pastas, chicken Parmesan and steaks.
“It’s a little bit more of a restaurant,” Leahy said. “We’re going to slow roll into it and let the neighborhood know we’re there,” he said.
It’s also a much bigger location with about 80 seats on the patio and about 20 inside.
Gavin Newsom loves superlatives, even when they are unwarranted, and a strong surge in state revenues gave him the opportunity last week to indulge his peculiarity.
Repeatedly, the governor boasted about a $75 billion budget surplus that in combination with wad of federal pandemic aid would finance a “$100 billion California Comeback Plan” of new and expanded services, including cash payments to millions of families as part of a $267 billion budget.
“This is a generational budget,” Newsom said. “This is an historic, transformational budget. This is not a budget that plays small ball. We’re not playing in the margins. We are not trying to fail more efficiently.”
However, the Legislature’s budget analyst, Gabe Petek, has a sharply different take. He says the true surplus that can be spent or saved over two years is more like $38 billion — still a very substantial sum but lacking the political punch of the numbers Newsom threw out.
Why the difference? It’s one of semantics. To arrive at his big number, Newsom counted money that is already committed by law to be spent or saved, such as constitutionally required aid to schools.
“The governor’s estimate includes constitutionally required spending on schools and community colleges, reserves, and debt payments,” Petek told legislators. “We do not consider these spending amounts part of the surplus because they must be allocated to specified purposes.”
Petek also does not agree with Newsom’s plans for lavish new spending, saying it might cripple the state’s ability to balance the budget once the revenue bubble bursts and federal aid dries up.
“Despite a historic surge in revenues, the governor continues to rely on budget tools from last year,” Petek said. “Specifically, he uses $12 billion in reserve withdrawals and borrowing to increase spending. The state will need these tools to respond to future challenges, when federal assistance might not be as significant. We urge the Legislature not to take a step back from its track record of prudent budget management.”
Petek’s cautionary analysis obviously will not sit well with Newsom, whose expansive budget is aimed, in part, at countering a campaign to recall him by applying grease to some of the state’s squeakiest political wheels. But it also may not please his bosses in the Legislature, who not only support Newsom’s spending plans but want to go further.
The situation is more than slightly reminiscent of what happened 18 years ago when one of Newsom’s predecessors, Gray Davis, also faced a recall.
Davis barely won re-election in 2002, and immediately afterwards told Californians that the state budget faced horrendous deficits that would require steep spending cuts and new taxes. He evidently believed that maximizing the fiscal crisis would make Californians more willing to accept the taxes, but it backfired badly.
Davis was accused of hiding the massive deficit as he sought re-election and Elizabeth Hill, the Legislature’s budget analyst at the time — much as Petek is doing now — revealed that Davis’ deficit number was much overstated.
Davis, as with Newsom’s surplus figure today, arbitrarily included extraneous figures that didn’t rightfully belong. His clumsy effort to manipulate public opinion jump-started the recall campaign, which resulted in his ouster a year later.
Both situations illustrate the invaluable role that Petek’s office plays in calling out governors when they engage in creative bookkeeping to advance their political goals. It has a well-earned and jealously guarded reputation for playing it straight and while its advice is not always followed, it gives the media and the larger public a consistent guide to what’s really happening in the state’s increasingly convoluted finances.
CalMatters is a public interest journalism venture committed to explaining how California’s state Capitol works and why it matters. For more stories by Dan Walters, go to calmatters.org/commentary
Ever wonder why certain things are the way they are in radio? Ever want to use little-known radio trivia in casual conversation to impress your friends or at parties to meet the person of your dreams? You’ve come to the right place.
I got the idea for this subject matter by talking with friends and realizing … a lot of what people think they know about radio isn’t necessarily right.
Here’s one example:
• You may have heard — I’ve even written it here — that the iconic jingles used in the Boss Radio era were sans music because of the musicians’ strike of 1965. This is even mentioned in Boss programmer Ron Jacob’s book, “Inside Boss Radio,” in which he quotes Johnny Mann — whose famous singers voiced the jingles.
“The musicians union is on strike,” he remembers telling Don Otis, who Jacobs replaced at the launch of the format. After a short discussion, Mann asked Otis, “Why don’t you do ‘em a cappella?” The rest, as they say, is history.
But that doesn’t seem to be the case. Oh, sure, the musicians may have been on strike, but it doesn’t appear to have been a major factor. “KHJ consultant Bill Drake used a cappella jingles at a few of his stations prior to his arrival at KHJ,” Ken Levine (aka Beaver Cleaver on KTNQ and himself as a movie, television and playwright) told me. And he’s right: Even KGB in San Diego used a cappella jingles, and they were on the air a year before KHJ’s switch.
Want proof? Head to rockradioscrapbook.ca/ckc-dec6.html; there you’ll hear KGB from December, 1964 and only the long-form jingles include music; KHJ had no long-form jingles. And there is a produced jingle from KHJ’s early Boss days that did have music (and only music). So the musician’s strike theory appears to be debunked.
But there are a lot of other tidbits floating around that can make for an interesting conversation about radio.
• There’s much talk of what would have happened had KHJ’s top-40 format been on FM. Well, it was … the only problem being that few had FM radios at the time. For most of KHJ-FM’s life until 1967 when the FCC said they couldn’t do it any more, the FM simulcast the dominant AM signal’s programming. “You’re listening to the much more music station, AM and FM” says Bill Drake before the jingle “KHJ, Los Angeles.” That was heard through 1967. No one cared about FM back then. No one.
• The forces that made top 40 a dominant format for so long are what led to the rise of some of the FM formats, once they adopted the same principles. Explains former Sound (now KKLQ, 100.3 FM) programmer Dave Beasing, “If you’re playing a song that isn’t familiar, the chances are strong that people will hit the button for another station,” he told me recently. So even if people say they want new music and variety, a station that sways too far from the familiar will have generally lower ratings than the station that plays more mainstream. And this affects all formats from top-40 to rock to country — even classical.
And it’s why stations that may start out playing something different generally evolve into a more mainstream format.
• You may think that KFI stood for “Farm Information,” that KHJ was for “Kindness, Happiness and Joy” — or not — but almost all three-letter call-letter combinations were mere coincidence. They were randomly assigned from the precursor to the FCC. It wasn’t until the four-letter calls were launched that stations could easily request a certain combination.
• KROQ (106.7 FM) is a legendary alternative-rock station. But it actually got its start on AM. Ever listen to San Diego’s KGB-FM (101.5)? It also started as an AM, originally playing progressive rock on 1360 when they dropped top-40 in 1972. KIIS-FM? It was KIIS (AM) long before but was “married” to the FM, forming KIIS AM/FM in late 1975. KIIS-FM’s prior calls? KKDJ, programmed at one time by the same guy who truly put KROQ on the map, Rick Carroll.
• KIIS wasn’t “kiss” originally. It was “k-double i-s,” with the letters chosen because the IIS most closely resembled the numbers 115, the AM station’s frequency (1150 AM). And that great KIIS-FM jingle that the station doesn’t play enough? It’s actually the jingle from Chicago’s WLS of the 1960s and ‘70s.
• It may stand for Kindness, Joy, Love, and Happiness now, but KJLH (102.3 FM) was actually named for its one-time owner John Lamar Hill. Hill bought the station in 1965 and sold it to Stevie Wonder in 1979.
• There is no direct connection to the original, but KDAY (93.5 FM) was once an AM station that — like a handful of stations across the country — had to sign off at sunset to protect the signals of stations elsewhere. From sign-on in 1949 using the ironic calls KOWL, the station could only broadcast during the day, so in 1956 it picked up the K-DAY call letters … get it? It finally got permission to operate at night — with a very narrow coverage pattern — in 1968, though it kept the KDAY calls until 1991.
• Orange County once had the great top-40 station KEZY (now KGBN, 1190 AM) to call its own. The station was synonymous with top-40 programming throughout the 1970s, and on former sister station KEZY-FM (now KFSH, 95.9) during the 1980s and ‘90s. But the call letters actually were chosen to represent the original easy-listening format it had at launch in 1959 as K-Easy. The cool thing about KEZY aside from its great sound when it was top-40? The station address was the same as its frequency … 1190 East Ball Road.
Have some trivia of your own or want me to expand on these or related stories? Drop me a line – I would love to talk radio with you.
Richard Wagoner is a San Pedro freelance columnist. Email firstname.lastname@example.org
Food can be as big a draw for theme parks as their rides. Just ask anyone who has craved Disneyland’s Monte Cristo sandwiches, Knott’s Berry Farm’s fried chicken or Universal Studios’ Butterbeer. Every park wants to find the next big food and beverage hit.
Theme park fans routinely say that they want new and unique food options, too. I recently posted a poll on ThemeParkInsider.com asking readers where they would be most willing to spend more money inside the parks. The runaway winner — with 42% of the vote — was new food and drinks.
But what we say we want isn’t always what we buy. Time after time, fans see parks introduce unique menus only to find them replaced them with more traditional fare within a season or two. It’s become a running joke among fans, whenever any creative new menu debuts, to guess when it will be replaced by burgers and chicken strips. I expect to hear the same when Pym Test Kitchen opens.
That’s because what I think is unique and fun and worth buying might not be what you think is unique and fun and worth buying. If not enough of us buy whatever new stuff the parks’ culinary wizards concoct, the old stand-by burgers always are waiting to take their place. If the burger is a better choice, that’s fair. But it’s a bit disappointing to me when many fans can’t be bothered to try something new.
With Pym Test Kitchen, Disneyland is getting creative more with presentation than ingredients. Ultimately, the menu features things such as a fried chicken sandwich, a Caesar salad and a pasta dish — though the pasta features a plant-based meatball, reflecting Disney’s sponsorship deal with Impossible Foods. That’s hardly revolutionary. But the unusual sizes and shapes of the items are designed to stand out … and earn a space on guests’ Instagram feeds.
The safer bet for success might be the Shawarma Palace food cart that Disney has parked next door to Pym Test Kitchen. Not only are chicken shawarma wraps a proven favorite that you can’t find anywhere else at Disneyland, but there is also a direct reference to them in the end credits scene of the first Avengers movie. Fans have been asking Disney for an Avengers shawarma place for years, so if the wraps are even halfway decent, I am sure that they will be a hit.
As a fan, I am always happy to see parks take a chance on new menus. But I am even happier when fans give those new menus a chance, too.
Pechanga Resort Casino near Temecula has swapped out its Lobby Bar & Grill for a new full-service Mexican restaurant that offers traditional dishes from different regions including Oaxaca, Baja California and Estado de Mexico as well as tequilas and mezcals.
The new 1882 Cantina, named after the year Chester A. Arthur established the Pechanga Indian Reservation, opened May 5 in the atrium near the hotel lobby. The restaurant’s menu, designed by Food and Beverage Chef Andre Alto and Executive Sous Chef Andre Pinto, has a list of food items that include birria, enchiladas, tacos and elote as well as 10 mezcals, 30 tequilas and 10 margaritas.
Annalisa Berrios, left, and Christina Kenefick, both of Temecula, make a toast with their cocktails as they dine at the new 1882 Cantina Mexican restaurant at Pechanga Resort Casino in Temecula on Thursday, May 13, 2021. (Photo by Watchara Phomicinda, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)
Enchiladas Tradicionales are corn tortillas filled with jack and Oaxacan cheese, shredded tinga chicken, topped with lime cream and Cotija cheese, served with beans and Spanish rice at the new 1882 Cantina Mexican restaurant at Pechanga Resort Casino in Temecula on Thursday, May 13, 2021. (Photo by Watchara Phomicinda, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)
Mangonada is a handmade specialty served at the 1882 Cantina Mexican restaurant and tequila bar at Pechanga Resort Casino in Temecula on Thursday, May 13, 2021. The cocktail has layers of casamigos resposado, Kern’s mango nectar, mango puree, fresh mango, chamoy, tajin and lime. It is served with a tamarind straw stick. (Photo by Watchara Phomicinda, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)
Mexican Elote is a yellow corn on the cob topped with chili salt, lime, cream, Cotija cheese and cilantro served at the new 1882 Cantina Mexican restaurant at Pechanga Resort Casino in Temecula on Thursday, May 13, 2021. (Photo by Watchara Phomicinda, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)
Chef Andre Alto presents a Mexican elote appetizer, left, and an enchiladas tradicionales entree at the new 1882 Cantina Mexican restaurant at Pechanga Resort Casino in Temecula on Thursday, May 13, 2021. (Photo by Watchara Phomicinda, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)
An interior view of the 1882 Cantina restaurant at Pechanga Resort Casino in Temecula on Thursday, May 13, 2021. (Photo by Watchara Phomicinda, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)
A view of the tequila bar at 1882 Cantina restaurant at Pechanga Resort Casino in Temecula on Thursday, May 13, 2021. (Photo by Watchara Phomicinda, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)
Patrons dine at the 1882 Cantina restaurant at Pechanga Resort Casino in Temecula on Thursday, May 13, 2021. (Photo by Watchara Phomicinda, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)
Bartender David Stegall prepares a michelada drink, which contains beer, lime, salt and spices, at 1882 Cantina Mexican restaurant and bar at Pechanga Resort Casino in Temecula on Thursday, May 13, 2021. (Photo by Watchara Phomicinda, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)
Chef Andre Alto cooks corn tortillas as he prepares chicken enchiladas entree at the new 1882 Cantina Mexican restaurant at Pechanga Resort Casino in Temecula on Thursday, May 13, 2021. (Photo by Watchara Phomicinda, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)
Patrons check-in with a receptionist at 1882 Cantina Mexican restaurant at Pechanga Resort Casino in Temecula on Thursday, May 13, 2021. (Photo by Watchara Phomicinda, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)
Alto joined Pechanga in late 2019 after working in a wide variety of restaurants. He grew up and worked in kitchens where his dad was a chef in the Escondido area, including an Italian restaurant, a steakhouse and a Mexican restaurant, before going on to work at kitchens in the Fairmont Grand Del Mar and Del Frisco’s in San Diego.
“A lot of the food that I eat is what my grandma used to make me,” he said, adding that Mexican food brings back memories of flavors and smells from that time, and a sense of comfort.
When Pechanga approached Alto about opening a Mexican restaurant, it’s something he was excited to do. He even devised some menus prior to the pandemic.
“Finally, when we came back from COVID, that was the plan — the only way we were going to open that thing was as a Mexican restaurant,” he said.
The former Lobby Bar space has been updated to have a more cantina-like feel, Alto said, with succulents on the tables, margarita glasses hanging over the bar and other new décor.
Some of the most popular items so far include 1882 Cantina’s seafood and chicken enchiladas as well as its rice and beans, Alto said.
Pechanga joins a growing list of the region’s casinos that have either opened or updated full-service Mexican restaurants in the last year.
At 1882 Cantina, Alto has already received positive feedback about the menu and the food’s presentation. That’s something Alto says he’s been working hard at, dressing dishes up with purple pickled onion, cilantro and lime to make them pop on the plate.
“You eat with your eyes first,” he said.
He’s also heard from a lot of people who say they’re getting flavors they’ve tasted before, and that’s something Alto can relate to.
“They mention to me that, ‘This tastes like my grandma’s mole’ or ‘This tastes like my grandma’s rice,’” he said.
Address: 45000 Pechanga Parkway, Temecula
Hours: 9 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday, Monday and Thursday; 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday; closed Tuesday and Wednesday.
Dr. Alissa Deming looked at ultra-sound images of two sea lions on her office computer screen in the red barn the Pacific Marine Mammal Center calls home.
Pointing out a mass of tumors in the animals’ reproductive tracks, she then traced their other organs with her finger, the liver, spleen and kidneys, all covered with cancerous tumors.
“There was cancer throughout their bodies,” Deming said, recalling the sad discovery just two weeks after she became the center’s veterinarian early last year. “They were swimming in tumors. It speaks to how tough these wild animals are.”
The two adult sea lions were found struggling on the sand in Huntington Beach. Named Mandy and Charlotte by the rescue center’s staff, they were given the usual battery of tests, including X-rays, blood work and ultrasounds – Deming’s diagnosis: urogenital carcinoma.
Deming has been seeing it in sea lions coming into the Laguna Beach rescue center and at others marine mammal programs she worked at before, and with Dr. Frances Gulland, a marine mammal veterinarian at U.C. Davis, whom she calls her mentor, has been studying why and how the female sea lions are developing cancer – they recently published a research paper.
This year, the Pacific Marine Mammal Center celebrates its 50th anniversary. And, from Deming’s perspective, what she and the center’s staff are doing now studying the effects of contaminants on marine mammals would not be possible without the program’s foundation built by decades of rescuing and rehabilitating pinnipeds, dolphins and sea turtles. With that knowledge, she said, the nonprofit PMMC is now becoming a hub for marine mammal health and research in Southern California.
Since opening in 1971, the Laguna Beach center has rescued more than 10,000 animals – that’s eight to 10 generations of sea lions, seals, elephant seals, sea turtles and more recently dolphins and a Guadelupe fur seal returned to the ocean. And, with only a handful of paid staffers and some 200 volunteers.
Most animals come in after being found stranded on beaches and outcroppings and in harbors along Orange County’s coast, often starving and dehydrated. But there have also been times animals have been found shot, entangled in fishing lines or struck by boats. In 2013, hundreds of sea lions began washing up on California beaches because of toxic blooms and warming waters.
PMMC staff and volunteers also do their best to educate the community and welcome more than 50,000 visitors each year to see the patients in their pools. Tens of thousands of children have gone through its school programs and summer camps, and this summer PMMC is opening up internships to veterinarians.
“None of this work could have been done without the foundation that was laid and was developed 50 years ago,” Deming said. “It’s been the constant support of the community in Laguna Beach and Orange County that is the stepping stone to future research.”
Curious sea lions watch other sea lions from their side of the fence at the Pacific Marine Mammal Center in Laguna Beach on Friday morning, May 7, 2021. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)
As sea lions are rounded up, malnourished elephant seals lay in an enclosure at the Pacific Marine Mammal Center in Laguna Beach on Friday morning, May 7, 2021. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)
Actor Lorene Greene, center, and John Cunningham, right, one of co-founders at the Pacific Marine Mammal Center in Laguna Beach, at a sea lion release. (Photo Courtesy Pacific Marine Mammal Center)
John Cunningham, one of co-founders at the Pacific Marine Mammal Center in Laguna Beach, feeds sea lions at the center in the 1970’s. (Photo Courtesy Pacific Marine Mammal Center)
Dr. Alissa Deming places a tag for identification purposes on the flipper of a sea lion at the Pacific Marine Mammal Center in Laguna Beach on Friday, May 7, 2021. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)
Dr. Alissa Deming, left, cleans the flipper before tagging a sea lion as volunteer Dee Scrimes , center, assists, and Dr. David Krucik write vitals down on a chart, at the The Pacific Marine Mammal Center in Laguna Beach on Friday, May 7, 2021. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)
Harbor seals lay on blankets spread on the floor at the Pacific Marine Mammal Center in Laguna Beach on Friday morning, May 7, 2021. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)
Curious sea lions watch other sea lions from their side of the fence at the Pacific Marine Mammal Center in Laguna Beach on Friday morning, May 7, 2021. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)
A white board with the names of animals and their issues on a wall at the The Pacific Marine Mammal Center in Laguna Beach on Friday, May 7, 2021. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)
Young malnourished elephant seals lay in an enclosure at the Pacific Marine Mammal Center in Laguna Beach on Friday morning, May 7, 2021. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)
Michele Hunter, Director of Animal Care at the Pacific Marine Mammal Center in Laguna Beach, feeds a malnourished elephant seal at the center on Tuesday, May 10, 2021. Hunter joined the organization in 1989. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)
A sea lion swims in one of the pools at the Pacific Marine Mammal Center in Laguna Beach on Friday morning, May 7, 2021. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)
Michele Hunter, the Director of Animal Care at the Pacific Marine Mammal Center in Laguna Beach, on Tuesday, May 10, 2021. Hunter joined the organization in 1989. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)
Sea lions in one of the pools at the Pacific Marine Mammal Center in Laguna Beach on Friday morning, May 7, 2021. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)
Young malnourished elephant seals lay in an enclosure at the Pacific Marine Mammal Center in Laguna Beach on Friday morning, May 7, 2021. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)
With a major scar around its neck, Loki, a sea lion, sits in an enclosure at the Pacific Marine Mammal Center in Laguna Beach on Friday morning, May 7, 2021. Loki was rescued from Dana Point Harbor severely entangled in fishing gear and has gone through surgeries to repair the damage. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)
A sea lion enjoys the fresh water filling one of the pools at the Pacific Marine Mammal Center in Laguna Beach on Friday morning, May 7, 2021. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)
One of four rehabilitated sea lions from the Pacific Marine Mammal Center are carried to the water’s edge at Aliso Beach in Laguna Beach to be released on Friday morning, May 7, 2021. From left they are: Bill Lackey, animal care volunteer; Wendy Leeds, animal care coordinator; Krysta Higuchi, public relations manager and Mia Giunta, animal care volunteer. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)
Wendy Leeds, left, animal care coordinator, at the Pacific Marine Mammal Center in Laguna Beach and Mia Giunta, right, an animal care volunteer, watch as four rehabilitated sea lions swim into the ocean after being released at Aliso Beach in Laguna Beach on Friday morning, May 7, 2021. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)
Krysta Higuchi, public relations manager at the Pacific Marine Mammal Center in Laguna Beach, takes photos of the four sea lions to be released at Aliso Beach in Laguna Beach on Friday morning, May 7, 2021. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)
One of the four sea lions from the Pacific Marine Mammal Center in Laguna Beach makes its way into the ocean after being released at Aliso Beach in Laguna Beach on Friday morning, May 7, 2021. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)
Mia Giunta, left, and Bill Lackey, right, both animal care volunteers at the Pacific Marine Mammal Center, along with Wendy Leeds, animal care coordinator, center, release one of four rehabilitated sea lions at the water’s edge at Aliso Beach in Laguna Beach on Friday morning, May 7, 2021. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)
Mia Giunta, left, and Bill Lackey, right, both animal care volunteers at the Pacific Marine Mammal Center wait for Wendy Leeds, animal care coordinator, to bring down one of four rehabilitated sea lions to be released at Aliso Beach in Laguna Beach on Friday morning, May 7, 2021. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)
The doors of the carriers are opened by staff and volunteers from the Pacific Marine Mammal Center in Laguna Beach as four sea lions are released at Aliso Beach in Laguna Beach on Friday morning, May 7, 2021. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)
Two of the four sea lions from the Pacific Marine Mammal Center in Laguna Beach make their way toward the ocean as they are released at Aliso Beach in Laguna Beach on Friday morning, May 7, 2021. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)
As sea lions are rounded up, malnourished elephant seals, center, lay in an enclosure at the Pacific Marine Mammal Center in Laguna Beach on Friday morning, May 7, 2021. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)
Volunteer Dee Scrimes , left, assists while Andrea Macias-Chartier, a vet tech, second from left, works with Dr. Alissa Deming, back right, during a wellness checkup and tagging of a sea lion at the The Pacific Marine Mammal Center in Laguna Beach on Friday, May 7, 2021. Dr. David Krucik, right, assists with anesthesia and recording vitals. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)
With chalk on its head for identification purposes, a malnourished elephant seal peers over a barricade from its enclosure at the Pacific Marine Mammal Center in Laguna Beach on Friday morning, May 7, 2021. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)
Mia Giunta, left, and Bill Lackey, center, both animal care volunteers at the Pacific Marine Mammal Center, along with Wendy Leeds, animal care coordinator, right, carry one of four rehabilitated sea lions down to the water’s edge to be released at Aliso Beach in Laguna Beach on Friday morning, May 7, 2021. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)
With chalk on their heads for identification purposes, malnourished elephant seals lay in their enclosure at the Pacific Marine Mammal Center in Laguna Beach on Friday morning, May 7, 2021. (Photo by Mark Rightmire, Orange County Register/SCNG)
In 1971, Jim Stauffer, a Newport Beach lifeguard, John Cunningham, a Laguna Beach lifeguard and high school teacher, and Rose Eckberg, a local veterinarian, teamed up to help sick pinnipeds washing up on Orange County beaches.
The first animal was rescued 50 years ago this month, said Stauffer.
It all started with a simple question: A girl approached him while on duty asking: “You save lives, don’t you?” She told him where to find a harbor seal that seemed in trouble. “There’s a life, save it,” she said.
He scooped up the lethargic animal, putting it into his Jeep, but it jumped out. Later, after his shift ended, he checked for the animal one more time.
“I went back and there it was,” he said. “I put it in my car and wedged the surfboard next to it so it couldn’t get out. Then I drove to my apartment in Costa Mesa.”
Stouffer used a mattress, box springs and two pillows to create a little pen. He added about six inches of water and put in the seal.
Eckberg gave him antibiotics for the animal. Each day, he scooped fish from the end of the Newport Beach pier “to feed the little guy.” Three weeks later, Stauffer released the plump and healthy seal in Laguna Beach.
Soon, Stauffer earned the reputation as the “sea lion guy” with more rescues and was hired in Laguna Beach, where he began working with Cunningham.
“People were coming up to us and wondering what to do,” said Stephanie Cunningham, Cunningham’s wife and among the first volunteers. “Between Sea World and Marine Land in Rancho Palos Verdes, there wasn’t a place to treat sick and injured animals.”
The group called themselves Friends of the Sea Lion and enlisted dozens of volunteers from the community who helped care for the rescued animals.
In 1976, Cunningham and Stauffer relocated the animal operation to its final home, an abandoned red barn along Laguna Canyon Road.
Stauffer later moved to Northern California and it fell to Cunningham to run the group. He became its director in 1976.
To take care of the animals, Cunningham started a marine sciences class at the high school in 1973. As a requirement, students had to put in 30 hours at the center learning hands-on. That meant feeding, medicating, doing diagnostics. They were also responsible for captures and releases. And, they were the ones who built the original pens for the animals on the barn’s ground floor.
“John wanted them to see how important it was to be involved with the holistic treatment of the animals,” Stephanie Cunningham said. “He didn’t want to just teach a subject; he wanted them to see the total picture.”
Marine Mammal Mama
Michele Hunter, with a background working in neo-natal care at Children’s Hospital Orange County, started volunteering with PMMC in 1989 on the Sunday afternoon shift, which meant she cleaned pens, did afternoon feedings and made sure all the patients were where they should be when she closed down at night.
“It was so much different then,” she said. “There were only three pools and we used some kiddie pools. We didn’t have heated floors like now, we had wooden pallets and that’s how we kept the animals up off the ground.”
She started volunteering more days and learning more about animal care on the job.
“I just enjoyed helping; it seemed even back then like a family,” said Hunter, who has been with PMMC for 32 years. “It’s like a living, breathing barn. It feels like home and it’s where I’m supposed to be.”
She was named animal care supervisor in 2000, quitting her corporate job with Taco Bell. She is credited with developing feeding and care routines that have been very successful in rehabilitating the rescues.
“Each animal has its own needs,” said Hunter, now nicknamed Marine Mammal Mama. “I kind of intrinsically know what they need. I always say, ‘You’ve got to go with your gut.’”
Each animal typically stays at PMMC for three months. When they first come in, they are given a blended solution of fish bits, Pedialyte and Nutri-Cal. As they improve, they are taught to hunt and compete for whole fish so they’ll be ready when released – because that is always the goal.
Amid the thousands of rescues, there are some Hunter said she can’t forget. One is Liberty, a yearling that weighed only 19 pounds (typically what a sea lion would weigh at birth) when he was rescued.
“We didn’t have heaters, so we took him upstairs and put him into a pack-and-play and bassinet,” she said. “I still remember the little guy, so frail and weak lying there like a skeleton. The first time he stood up, we were just crying. We made such efforts to make him well and then we released him.”
There were also Pearl and Xander, the first two pups she hand-raised in 2003. Both are now sea lion ambassadors in an Oklahoma City Zoo. Hunter became a “grandmother” when the two had pups. When she went to visit them years later, they still remembered her.
“I was in tears,” she said. “They remembered my voice and smell. It was quite an honor.”
In 2015, the center, which by then had changed its name to Pacific Marine Mammal Center, had a record-high number of rescues – and that was after two previous years of increasing sickness among animals. Domoic acid, a toxic algae bloom, was the culprit.
Animals were everywhere.
“The blenders were going non-stop,” Hunter said. “It was mind-boggling. I can’t believe we did it. Volunteers were just standing there crying with tubes in their hands as the animals were seizing.”
Growth from experience
While PMMC has already made a name for itself rescuing and rehabilitating thousands of marine mammals, it’s now time to move forward, its leaders say.
The center works with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to share data and responses to challenging ocean conditions and has become a go-to for the federal agency in helping with whale entanglements.
Justin Greenman, NOAA’s assistant stranding coordinator in California, said he has watched PMMC not only expand its footprint in size and the number of animals its cares for, but also in the quality of the work the center provides.
“Our leadership challenged the (stranding) network from not just saving every animal, but also building up the science and continuing to improve the standards of care and research” he said. “They are rising to the challenge.”
In December, the center got a grant to study why southern killer whales are declining in the Pacific Northwest.
In recent years, dolphins have been washing ashore in higher numbers, but none were making it off the sand alive. This year, PMMC successfully rescued a dolphin, treated it and transported it to SeaWorld San Diego.
Though, the dolphin later died from the illness that caused it to beach itself, Deming notches that as a success.
Then, there is Pudge, an endangered Guadalupe fur seal found in Huntington Beach. The animal is the first successful rescue for PMMC of that species, which, according to NOAA, has been experiencing an unusually high number of die-offs recently.
Pudge remained at the center for 10 days and then transferred to Sea World San Diego. He is expected to be released shortly, Deming said.
“Pudge is going to make it,” she said. “We are so proud of that.”
And that is what PMMC’s 50th anniversary is all about, Stephanie Cunningham said.
“The reward is when those little guys swim out to the ocean,” she said. “It’s just rewarding to see something like this blossom and contribute to the environment. It’s not a local place now, it’s got a presence in California and it’s spreading.”