Día de los Muertos, celebrated in Mexico and in Mexican American communities, is a day for families together to pray for and remember their loved ones who have died. (October 30, 2010)

With just a few days before Día de los Muertos, Spanish-language students spent Thursday turning a Corona del Mar High School classroom into a veritable sugar skull factory.

"You take the sugar mixture," said Ethan Wu, a first-year student, as he swept sugar into a pile on his desk.

"You pack it in tight," added Bridgett Storm. After it's un-molded, dried and decorated, "It goes on an altar along with candles, photos, things they like to eat and marigolds, which are their flowers of death."

"It's Day of the Dead," added Kellen Givens. "It's a Mexican holiday."

Día de los Muertos, celebrated in Mexico and in Mexican American communities, is a day for families together to pray for and remember their loved ones who have died. Officially, the holiday takes place Nov. 1 and 2, but many communities hold celebrations during the weekends surrounding those dates.

"They spend the whole night out at the cemetery where their family and friends are buried," said student Tim Hanson. "They have a party and a feast."

"Where other cultures fear death, they embrace it," said Aaron Senk. "They fear it not."

Spanish teacher Shondra Yanno has had her students make calaveras — sugar skulls — for six years. This year, 220 students created three sugar skulls each, taking turns using molds and packing them with a mixture of sugar, meringue powder and water. On Friday, the students will decorate them with colorful frosting and then either save them or eat them.

"They last," she said. "Some students make Christmas ornaments out of them."

Earlier this week, students watched a movie about the holiday and sampled traditional sweet breads, she said.

"They love it absolutely," she said. "Anything that isn't bookwork."

City Council reviews solar panels

The Newport Beach City Council last week directed staff to develop policies that will give the city more control when it comes to solar panel installations.

At a study session, the council heard a staff report that outlined how a state law meant to encourage solar panel installations limits local city efforts to regulate unless there are health and safety concerns.

Some cities, however, have voluntary guidelines for solar installations. There are also a number of cities that offer perks to builders who follow the voluntary guidelines.

"I think we're too timid on these kinds of things," Councilman Ed Selich said. "I just think it's something we ought to take a more aggressive approach with."

The issue heated up last spring when an Irvine Terrace homeowner added 168 panels on a hillside above Bayside Drive.

Three neighbors testified at Tuesday's meeting that the panels created glare, and they were frustrated that the city didn't try to regulate the project.

"This could have easily gone on the roof," Robert Olson said. "Our neighbors aren't happy. It's what we call solar blight."

Olson invited city staff to visit his home between 3:30 p.m. and sunset, when he says the panels create a blinding glare in his Balboa Island home.