Fair Game


Council candidate Grant continues to impress; and group home controversy gaining steam locally

TJ headshot AugWednesday evening, I ventured out to the New Port Theater. I was there to drop in on District 4 City Council candidate Robyn Grant’s fundraiser. With no announced candidate running against Robyn, I saw no potential conflict of interest and allowed me to once again find out why I like her candidacy.

Bottom line, Robyn has so eloquently served the community with an appointment to the Civil Service Board, to being appointed to the Library Board of Trustees and the City Arts Commission, to volunteering for nonprofits including Speak Up Newport, Leadership Tomorrow and Friends of the Newport Beach Animal Shelter.

When she spoke Wednesday, she reiterated her three H’s, as she calls them, referring to homelessness, housing and group homes.

On the homelessness front, she discussed its impact on our community and the “need to provide interim housing and wraparound services to assist people, understanding that it’s not a solution to leave people on the streets.” 

With the housing issue, she discussed the importance of “working to relieve the state housing mandates that potentially create unwanted urban density, so that we maintain the culture and vibrancy of Newport’s villages and communities.”

And as far as group homes, Grant said it’s about “encouraging good operators for these facilities and vigorously enforcing laws to rid our community of poor operators so we maintain safety in our neighborhoods.”

This is not an endorsement…yet…but Robyn is certainly an example of what would be a great addition to our future council.

It’s also interesting in Robyn’s final H, group homes, that there’s a related controversy brewing in town in that arena, completely separate from Robyn.

It seems that some residents have been complaining about an operator in town that has opened multiple homes and given concerning indications by prior actions that there could be issues.

So much so, in fact, that Orange County Board of Supervisor Katrina Foley has sent a letter to the City of Newport Beach demanding some action.

Foley opens her letter saying that she has “received complaints about a potential social rehabilitation facility at (address withheld) Tustin Ave.” She continues by saying her concerns are that “this operator (The Mental Health Collective) has a documented pattern of operating two unlicensed social rehabilitation facilities as 6 and under sober living homes, which seems to violate Newport Beach Municipal Code.”

Here’s where it gets tricky, these kinds of homes, once licensed, fall under protections of state and federal laws. However, what Foley adds is that these two homes, one on Kings Road and the other on Santa Ana Ave., are not yet licensed, meaning that she feels the city could in fact intervene.

A City response has now been made by Newport Beach City Attorney Aaron Harp saying, “In response to the City’s enforcement actions…MHC submitted applications to the State of California Department of Social Service (DSS) to operate properties as Community Care Facilities, a group residential use licensed by the State of California and not the City.”

So, in essence, Harp is saying that DSS’s licensing and regulatory authority now governs the permitting and operation of these residential care facilities and therefore the City has no recourse.

Residents are arguing this fact and continue to work with Supervisor Foley and have additionally engaged Assemblymember Cottie Petrie-Norris and State Senator Dave Min.

One resident, who wishes to maintain anonymity, urges the City to take an aggressive approach like Supervisor Foley did during her time with the Costa Mesa City Council, battling group homes in court and ultimately prevailed.

Now, when you take a second and think back to what Robyn Grant said above, “We need to encourage good operators…and vigorously enforcing laws,” it makes some sense.

This issue seems like it’s only heating up.

• • •

The Newport Beach Chamber of Commerce is kicking off the 2022 City Council race with the first scheduled Candidates Forum on Thursday, Aug. 18 at the Newport Beach Public Library. The free admission event will run from 8-9:30 a.m., preceded by a complimentary light breakfast.

Candidates from races that include Districts 1, 3, 4 and 6 have been invited to participate.

Seating for the event will be limited and those with reservations will be seated first. For more info and to make reservations, go to

Lucy Dunn, former CEO of the Orange County Business Council will moderate the panel.

• • •

Two candidates for City Council, Erik Weigand and Grant, have formally qualified for the ballot, according to City Clerk Lelani Brown

The remaining list of Tom Miller, Joe Stapleton, Jim Mosher, Amy Peters, Joy Brenner and Lauren Kleiman are anticipated to complete those efforts in the next few days. The filing period to still enter any of the races closes next Friday, Aug. 12.

Also, multiple candidates mentioned above have been taking short vacation breaks as they prepare for the less than 100 final days of the battle ahead.

• • •

A legendary name in the restaurant business and the patriarch of his family, Salvador Avila, father, grandfather, great-grandfather and founder of Avila’s El Ranchito Restaurants has died at the age of 99.

A man who a number of years ago immigrated to the United States seeking a better life for his family, with an entrepreneur’s spirit and a strong work ethic opened his first restaurant in Huntington Park back in 1966. That empire, shared with his sons, daughters and grandchildren as operators, grew to its current level of 13 restaurants around Southern California.

The family said that “fortunately, his faith in God and the value of family unity solidified the Avila family and ensures that his legacy will continue to be carried on from generation to generation.

He was a wonderful gentleman whom I was fortunate to enjoy a Christmas dinner with a number of years ago.

Sons Sergio and Victor oversee the two Newport Beach El Ranchito operations.

• • •

Speaking of restaurants, Craig Strong is an extraordinary chef. He’s just announced he’s leaving his current kitchen at Larsen at Hotel Laguna and, the rumor is, moving to Big Canyon Country Club.

At Big Canyon that certainly changes the call for just a “hot dog at the turn.” 

Strong, prior to Hotel Laguna, was the chef/owner of Ocean at Main in Laguna Beach, the executive chef at Studio at the Montage Resort, where his efforts earned a Michelin Star, and with The Langham Huntington in Pasadena.

“Craig Strong, whom I consider more a friend than a colleague, has been an integral part of not only the relaunch of the Hotel Laguna’s food and beverage program, but also the Laguna Beach Company’s other culinary outlets,” said Laguna Beach Company founder Mo Honarkar. “Using his incredible talents, and a true passion for Laguna Beach, Craig helped put together an award-winning program and team that will continue his legacy of providing guests an ever-changing menu filled with quality California coastal cuisine. We are grateful for all he has done and look forward to seeing the next chapter of his career. Big Canyon Country Club is lucky to have him.” 

Calls to Big Canyon Country Club for comment went unreturned.