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DA seeks public’s help identifying additional victims of company accused of selling bogus Internet product 

The Orange County District Attorney’s Office (OCDA) is seeking the public’s help identifying potential additional victims of an Irvine-based Internet sales company accused of selling a bogus car performance chip nationwide. In a civil consumer prosecution filed by the OCDA, GForce Chips (GFORCE) is accused of committing unlawful business practices and engaging in false advertising by selling a sham product marketed as a legitimate after-market car performance chip. The case was assigned Jan. 8, 2015, for all purposes to Department C-16, Central Justice Center, Santa Ana. 

GForce is owned and operated by 31-year-old Ravi Ghataode. 

GForce is accused of falsely advertising on the business website that their product is a legitimate performance chip and fraudulently selling an elaborately packaged circuit board that contains no software. GForce is accused of not testing the product prior to selling it to support their claims. The defendants are accused of making false claims and fabrications about the company on their website, including who founded the company, when it was founded, its location, and who made or engineered the product. 

GForce is accused of selling chips to hundreds of thousands of consumers nationwide at $69 each, and earning more than $15 million dollars by falsely advertising that the chip had software on it specifically programmed for the purchasers’ car, down to the make, model and year, and that once the product was installed in the car’s engine, it would substantially increase gas mileage by four to seven miles per gallon, reduce emissions by 25-40 percent, and increase the horsepower of the car by 30-60 horsepower. 

The OCDA began investigating this case after receiving consumer complaints and learned that hundreds of complaints had been received by the Better Business Bureau, various Internet blogs, and GForce. 

This is the second time in the past four years that Ghatoade has been sued for unlawful business practices and false advertising by the OCDA (Case #00471262). Ghataode was ordered in 2011 by the Orange County Superior Court not to engage in such acts and practices, after settling a prior consumer fraud lawsuit. To read more about that case, please visit www.orangecountyda.org and select the press release titled, “OCDA Obtains $200,000 Settlement From Audio Retailer For Charging Customers For Products That Were Never Shipped And Failing To Issue Refunds,” by searching in the Press Releases and Media Advisories, under the Media Center navigation center. 

If you are a consumer that purchased a GFORCE chip and either never received your merchandise, or your requested refund, or would like to lodge a complaint with the OCDA about the product received, please contact the Consumer Fraud Hotline at (714) 834-6553. 

Deputy District Attorney Michelle Cipolletti from the Consumer Fraud Unit is prosecuting this case.


The Ranch wins Coastal Commission approval, 9-1

By MAGGI HENRIKSON

Last Thursday, the long anticipated hearing before the Coastal Commission commenced, and the property known as The Ranch came out a winner.

The restoration of the property co-owned by Mark Christy had been plagued with stoppages due to an appeal to the Coastal Commission, despite the City of Laguna Beach’s unanimous approval of the remodel, by neighbor to The Ranch, Mark Fudge.

What once was Aliso Creek Inn and Ben Brown’s Golf Course had been in decline for many years, and Mr. Christy welcomed the opportunity to purchase and restore the Laguna heritage property back in June of 2013. Since then, it has been a labor of love returning the iconic canyon property to its proper glory.

Christy stated in his letter to the Coastal Commission (12/31):

“The scope of this project was to remodel and enhance the existing outdated buildings, add needed guest and employee services, restore and enhance the site’s natural elements and provide, within the same building footprints, an additional 33 guest rooms to increase the City’s hotel room inventory and guest’s availability and options. …we have gone to great lengths to lovingly restore the hotel site, clear non-native vegetation from Aliso Creek, and convert the entire golf course irrigation system to recycled water.”

The appellant’s cited concerns included changes to existing rooms, addition of a staff room, and removal of vegetation. 

Christy and the many supporters of The Ranch remodel have responded to the Commission with letters of support, and more than 140 people attended the hearing. Mayor Bob Whalen spoke in favor of the project as did Laguna Beach councilmembers Kelly Boyd, Toni Iseman and Rob Zur Schmiede, and City Manager John Pietig.

At contention were the Coastal Commission staff recommendations to the Commissioners, including fees for the addition of hotel rooms, and other fees The Ranch was only apprised of the day before the hearing. 

The remodel design takes existing rooms that had contained kitchens, removes the kitchens, and thus creates two regular size hotel rooms within the same footprint. The staff recommended significant fees for the “creation” of these additional rooms (“in lieu” fees). 

The staff also recommended a trail system access. The problem is, there is only one access point at the edge of The Ranch, and that would require walking right through the golf course. Christy offered to help facilitate a third-party operation of a shuttle to ferry walkers and bikers safely to the other end of the property. 

Then the Coastal Commission staff wanted the shuttle to go all the way to Aliso Beach. That idea was also fraught with logistical and safety issues.

In the end, logic ruled the day as the Coastal Commissioners decided against their staff recommendations by a vote of 9-1. They approved the project - including usage of the Scout Camp for functions up to 150 people, and sound amplification up to 65 decibels at the property line. They waived the in lieu fees for the rooms, and they did not require the shuttle. Completion of a trail would require participating neighbors and an overseeing agency, but Christy agreed to put  $250,000 toward making that happen.

Christy was very pleased with the outcome, and looks forward to the completion of this enormous undertaking. He said in the letter to the Commission, “We have a decades-overdue, environmentally-correct and widely supported project with nothing to hide.”


The beauty of Treasure Island Park

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Photography by Claudine


Parent education event tonight – “All Roads Lead to Calculus/Statistics” – held at Thurston Middle School

Last fall, renowned speaker and researcher Patrick J. Callahan, Ph.D. spoke to a packed room of parents and educators at the K-12 LBUSD parent education event, “All Roads Lead to Calculus/ Statistics.” 

By popular demand, this event will be repeated tonight, Tuesday, Jan. 13, in Thurston Middle School’s Black Box Theatre, 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.

“Due to the positive parent feedback for Dr. Callahan’s November presentation, this is a repeat session so that more of our parents will be able to hear this important message. Our goal is to prepare all of our students for college and career by providing pathways that ensure student success throughout their high school mathematics experience,” stated Assistant Superintendent of Instructional Services Darlene Messinger.

This year’s implementation of the Common Core State Standards Mathematics (CCSSM) is an exciting time in education. The CCSSM are a part of California’s standards-based educational system, which aligns curriculum, instruction, professional learning, assessment, and accountability. In order to ensure all students master the standards, the CCSSM are aligned to support student attainment of the standards. Efforts to create engaging, real-life and rigorous K- 12 math instruction to help prepare students to be college and career ready are key components of the implementation.

Dr. Callahan has extensive experience both nationally and in California education, including his role as the California Mathematics Project Statewide Co-Director at UCLA and the CalTeach Executive Director for the University of California Science and Mathematics Initiative. He will explain the eight shifts required in mathematics instruction and explore the K-12 math pathways that will include four years of successful coursework resulting in either Calculus or Statistics in the senior year of high school.

Parents attending will learn the expanded definition of math proficiency in the 21st century. Learning about the changes in CCSSM, parents will gain a working knowledge of the K-12 math pathways and the eight math shifts in instructional practices taking place in classrooms.

The Thurston Middle School Black Box Theatre is located on the school’s campus at 2100 Park Ave.


Panoramic Heisler Park

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Josh Ray


Ho Hum! Just Another Killer Whale…

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Rich German

Since we started publishing in 2009, we have had photos of orcas three times. Our Friday edition was the second time and today, thanks to Rich German, is our third time. Rich was on his paddle board when he managed to take this. Thanks!


Longi project gets Coastal Commission green light

By MAGGI HENRIKSON

The Artist Work/Live space, conceived by sculptor Louis Longi, and approved by the City of Laguna Beach and its Local Coastal Program (LCP), was appealed to the Coastal Commission by appellants Devora Hertz, Jackie Gallagher, Audrey Prosser, and Clean Water Now (Roger Butow). 

Regardless of many neighbors voicing objections at the Coastal Commission hearing on Thursday, the project was unanimously approved with revisions.

The 30-unit artists’ work/live space to be built in Laguna Canyon was approved with Longi’s agreement to eliminate 10-foot cantilevered balconies along the back of the building, which Coastal Commission staff recommended, because they were identified as too close to the setback from Laguna Canyon Creek.

Additionally, Longi has agreed to work in consultation with the Department of Fish and Wildlife to remove non-native vegetation in the riparian area, and for habitat restoration.

The design provisions will create a 25-foot setback from the creek, and will also reduce the square footage for living space. Longi estimates that it amounts to a reduction of between seven and ten percent of the total building size. 

Laguna was well represented at the Coastal Commission meeting in Santa Monica, with many locals there for The Ranch’s hearing. None of the City Council present spoke for the Artist Work/Live project.

The opposition included Verna Rollinger, Harry Huggins, and Hallie Jones, and neighbor John Albritton. Stepping up in favor of the project were artists and neighbors Olivia Batchelder, Micha von Doring, and Jorg Dubin.

Longi is please to have cleared the Coastal Commission hurdle. “I’m very happy and excited to get out of the political arena and into the facts,” he said. “The Coastal Commission looked at the facts of the project and voted in our favor, unanimously.”

According to the addendum of the South Coast District Staff findings, the revisions to Longi’s plan met their requirements:

“The Commission finds that the applicant’s proposed 25-foot setback, along with the proposed Habitat Restoration Plan for the setback area (if modified as conditioned), is adequate to protect the sensitive habitat on the stream banks and meet the requirements of the certified LCP. The implementation of the applicant’s proposed Habitat Restoration area, if modified as conditioned, will preserve, enhance or restore the significance of the natural watercourse, as called for by Policy 9-C(b).”

Now Longi will be working on the construction document phase, incorporating the agreed-to revisions, and presenting them to the City. He hopes to break ground sometime by the end of this summer.

“This will be a very community-based facility,” Longi said. “The only limitations will be the artists themselves. It can be anything!” 

He hopes to provide affordable work/live space, particularly for young artists who can’t afford to reside in Laguna Beach. “I want to focus on the next generation of artists,” he said. 

The concept and the vision keep Longi going forward. But the finished product is something he sees as vital to the arts energy of Laguna. “It will give the art community a little kick in the pants.”


Crosscultural Council names longtime resident Mary G Schmidt as its first Executive Director effective immediately

South County Crosscultural Council has announced that Mary G Schmidt joined the Council as Executive Director on Jan. 5, 2015. 

The mission of the Crosscultural Council is dedicated to bridging cultural differences and celebrating the unique diversity in our community. Schmidt exemplifies this with her own blended Latino family. 

“I am thrilled and excited to support the Crosscultural Council’s Laguna Day Workers Center and La Playa Center, which teaches English as a second language at the Boy’s and Girls Club. I believe that education is the gateway that opens up opportunities to build a better life for yourself, your family, and your community.”

As a professional fundraising and special events director of non-profit associations in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and Tempe, Arizona, she brings a wealth of knowledge about donor development, corporate sponsorship, strategic marketing, resourceful revenue procurement, and volunteer recruitment. 

With a passion for philanthropic service, Schmidt has dedicated her life to actively supporting numerous local non-profits and currently serves on the board of directors of Soroptimists International of Laguna Beach, is an actress with “NoSquare Theater Lagunatics”, and a volunteer for The Laguna Food Pantry, Friendship Shelter, and the ASL.

At the Crosscultural Council, Schmidt will primarily be in charge of revitalizing the organization on all levels and increasing public awareness. She will oversee and implement marketing campaigns and public relations, increase services, manage day-to-day operations and work closely with staff, and the Board of Directors. Schmidt is coming on board at the perfect time. 

“What better way to start the New Year than to infuse this 20-year organization with energy and a rededicated focus. I’m really looking forward to working with the Board. The passion they provide to our community at La Playa Center and the Day Worker Center is evident in their many years of service. I am honored to bring the Crosscultural Council to the next level and my goal is to have everyone know who we are, what we provide, and to expand our services.” 

Schmidt’s extensive involvement in Laguna Beach started over 30 years ago as a glass artist in the Sawdust Festival.

“My long-term residency in Laguna Beach gives me a unique understanding of the sensibilities and challenges in our community. As the small business owner of Personal Best Wellness Center, I am skilled in meeting entrepreneurial challenges and creating an atmosphere of cooperation and collaboration with humor and grace. I hope to achieve numerous goals with the Crosscultural Council that we all can be proud of.”

Readers can connect with the Crosscultural Council through its website: www.crossculturalcouncil.com.


Assistance League’s $25,000 grant now in play!

Last month, seven members of the Assistance League of Laguna Beach attended a ceremony at the R.H. Dana Exceptional Needs Facility (ENF) to celebrate the addition of new and specialized playground equipment, funded in part by a $25,000 grant from the Assistance League.  

The enhanced equipment will provide all students in the school the ability to play and swing outside.  One piece of the equipment purchased by the Assistance League is a musical wall that allows students to play chimes and bells.

ENF Principal Judy Dore and District Special Education Supervisors were on hand to welcome Assistance League of Laguna Beach members to view the students playing and enjoying the new swings, music wall, and rocking rides.  

Click on photo for a larger image

Submitted photo

(L-R), with the music wall are Assistance League members Ann Hyde, Lynne Vihlene, Elaine Merz, Karen Mauro, Diane Gelfer, Judy Soulakis and Gayle Whitaker. In back: Sharla Pitzen, Executive Director for Special Education; Judy Dore, ENF Principal; and Amy Hanacek, Capistrano Unified District Trustee


Aps available for City Council committees: PTC & Rec

The City Council is accepting applications for five two-year terms on the Recreation Committee and five two-year terms on the Parking, Traffic & Circulation Committee. Both terms will run through Feb. 28, 2017. 

Interviews will be conducted on Feb. 3, 2015, at 6 p.m. by the City Council at their regular meeting in the City Council Chambers, 505 Forest Avenue, Laguna Beach, California. All applicants will be interviewed.

The Recreation Committee directs its efforts in the area of providing for the recreation and park needs of the community. Meetings are held on the first Monday of the month.

The Parking/Traffic/Circulation Committee acts in an advisory capacity on matters pertaining to parking, traffic, circulation, transit, the Parking Management Plan, and traffic complaints. Meetings are held on the fourth Thursday of the month.

Laguna Beach residents who are interested in serving on one of these committees should obtain an application from the City Clerk’s office or on-line from the City’s website and file by Friday, Jan. 23, 2015, at 5 p.m. Questions may be directed to the City Clerk’s office at 497-0705. Applications will not be accepted after the deadline.

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