Top Local Stories of 2014
December 29, 2014
1. Transit Village Killed by Popular Revolt: 2/18/2014
Texas-based developer Hines will have to go back to the drawing board with its nearly 1 million-square-foot, five-building development proposed for the Papermate location on the north side of Olympic Boulevard between 26th and Stewart streets. The City Council on Tuesday voted unanimously that major adjustments needed to be made to the project before it could receive the council's blessing.
Slow growth advocates and people who oppose crazy amounts of traffic were at City Hall to oppose the Bergamot Transit Village Center, a project that was several years in the making. The mixed-use development includes creative arts office space, residential units and retail. The developer says that the project will create a sustainable community, where people could work, live and shop in one little area without ever getting into a car. Most logical people have determined this is mostly fantasy.
Complaints from the 30 speakers at the meeting ranged, but they mostly focused on three subjects. They said the building was ugly and that it would lead to lots of traffic. They also said, for various reasons, the design violated the city's Land Use and Circulation Plan, or LUCE. The LUCE was just approved during the summer.
"The project as a whole is massive, lacking in public benefits, opposed by residents, and any discussion of a Development Agreement is premature because the Master Plan has yet to be done for the entire 140-acre area, including this site," wrote Diana Gordon, head of the Santa Monica Coalition for a Livable City in a press release prior to the meeting.
2. Pam O'Connor votes in favor of the Transit Village Project, and every single other large project she was ever asked to vote for: 2/3/2014
On Tuesday, as predicted, the Santa Monica City Council voted, 4-3, to approve a Developer's Agreement allowing the Hines development com- pany to build a 767,000 square foot mixed commercial/residential project. The "Bergamot Transit Village" project requires Council approval because it outstrips current zoning limits for the site, the one-time Papermate factory at 26th and Olympic. The Council vote was delayed a week past its original date so the Council members could make a show of listening to widespread resident opposition to the project, which is estimated to bring another 7,000 car trips a day to an already congested area. This was clearly only a show of listening, however. It was evident the vote had already been decided.
Voting to allow the project were Mayor Pam O'Connor, who admits to accepting legal donations from Hines employees to retire her last campaign debt. Also voting to allow the project were relative newcomers Gleam Davis and Terry O'Day. Rounding out the list of aye votes was old-timer Bob Holbrook.
3. Ben Allen Promoted from School Board to Senate, Bloom Elected to State Assembly: 11/03/2014
Not one but two local politicians managed to get promoted to State Government. "I am not jumping around," said Allen, an attorney. "I have stayed in the same place and really gotten engaged at a very organic level in local govern- ment and schools and the community. I think that will resonate with people."
4. Drought Continues: 2/24/14
The lack of rain this winter and a potential water shortage is a con- cern to Southern Californians, espe- cially since Governor Brown declared a drought emergency a few weeks ago. On Monday night the Culver City Council heard a report on the drought as it might affect the local area.
The presentation, given by Fernando Paludi, manager of water policy for the West Basin Municipal Water District, and Paul J. Rowley, district manager for the Golden State Water Company, was meant to be informa- tional and an overview of the situation. No legislation is being considered at this time either on the state or local level (although as Mayor Jeff Cooper observed,
Culver City has ongoing regulations concerning water conservation).
Noting that rain was predicted for later in the week (and it may be rain- ing as this publication goes to press) Paludi added: "No matter how much it rains this week, we are so far behind that we'll still be in a subnormal condiitions for the third consecutive year."
5. Fatal Hit and Run of Tourist: 3/24/14: A 61-year-old woman has died after she and her 32-year-old daughter were struck by a hit-and-run driver in Santa Monica early Saturday morning, police said.
A car struck the two pedestri- ans around 1 a.m. in the 1600 block of Ocean Avenue, just south of Seaside Terrace, as they were crossing the street, Santa Monica Police said.
The pair were not crossing the street at a crosswalk, officials said.
According to police, the vehi- cle fled without stopping. The suspect's vehicle is described as a silver sports coupe, possibly a two-door Infiniti G35, with tinted windows. It will likely have damage on its right front side.
Police said they are looking at surveillance video in which a car matching that description was cap- tured.
The mother, a Wisconsin resi- dent, was visiting her daughter at her home in Santa Monica. The mother suffered severe head trauma and died at the hospital as a result of her inju- ries, police said. The daughter suffered minor injuries.
6. Montana Fire Kills Red Erickson: 3/4/14 A longtime Santa Monica Real Estate Agent Red Erickson died in a fire Sunday on the corner of Montana and 11th Street.
Three fire fighters suffered smoke inhalation, and one other resident of the structure was hospitalized.
The fire was located in a combination busi- ness and residential building at 1030 Montana Avenue. confirmed that Mr. Erickson died on Tuesday night of the injuries he received in the fire. "We received a call for a Structure Fire, Victim Trapped on Sunday the af- ternoon at about 330. Early calls said one if not 2 vic- tims were trapped. Residents heard someone bang- ing on the front door of the residence, on the Montana side. On their arrival, firefighters forced their way into the front door and found Red inside nearby. They began CPR, and transported him to the hospital" said dep. Fire Chief Tom Clemo.
7. Council Treis to Close SM Airport: 3/24/14, and continuing the entire year: The Santa Monica City Coun- cil this week launched an effort to close all or part of the city's airport after July 2015 - a move that could result in years of additional court battles with the federal government.
Council members voted 6 to 0 late Tuesday to develop and evaluate a strategy to scale back flight operations, cut the 5,000-foot runway by 2,000 feet and reduce aviation-related services, such as fuel sales and flight schools.
The decision also calls for the city to consider converting airport land to low-impact non-aviation uses. Meanwhile, it will continue a legal ef- fort to gain control of the facility, which is subject to federal agreements de- signed to preserve the 227-acre air- port, including its 5,000-foot runway.
"We don't want to be told how to use our property," Councilman Bob Holbrook said. "I've sucked in the kerosene fumes.... I've seen the trees turned inside out by jet engines. It's not an environment we should live in."
8. Double Stabbing on Pier: 4/7/14: Three Burbank men accused in connection with a double-stabbing at the Santa Monica Pier in January will stand trial on attempted murder and assault charges a judge ruled this week.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Deborah Brazil ruled Monday there was enough evidence presented during the two-day preliminary hear- ing to move forward with a trial against Araik Ovoian, 24, Gevork Bagdasary- an, 19, and Alex Akbari, 18, for the stabbing and assault of alleged victims Antonio Castillo and Gilberto Dorado.
Ovoian was charged with two counts of attempted murder using a knife, while Bagdasaryan and Akbari were charged with one count each of
attempted murder and assault with a deadly weapon. Each had pleaded not guilty to the charges in January.
A juvenile was also charged in connection with the incident.
Witnesses, including Dorado and two detectives, testified on Mon- day as to what allegedly led to and fol- lowed the incident.
9. Video of Teacher Kicking Students ass Goes Viral: 4/14/2014 Holding red apples, a crowd of more than 100 parents, teachers and students raised their arms high on Sunday in a salute to Mark Black, San- ta Monica High School's suspended veteran science teacher and wrestling coach, and to besieged teachers ev- erywhere.
The rally in support of Black, who was put on leave 10 days ago af- ter physically tangling with a student carrying drugs in class, was also an implicit rebuke to the school district's superintendent, who appeared to side with an unruly student, rather than a re- spected educator and coach.
Santa Monica Malibu Unified School District Superintendent Sandra Lyon caused an uproar when she con- demned the teacher, describing the in- cident, which was caught by a student on a cellphone, "utterly alarming" and Black's behavior "unacceptable."
By the time she backtracked a day later, police had arrested the stu- dent on suspicion of battery, threaten- ing a school official and possessing contraband on campus, and a Face- book page supporting the coach al- ready had thousands of fans.
"You all have spoken and been heard," said rally emcee Timothy Con- ley, director of media and communica- tions for USC's Office of Religious Life. Conley wrestled for Samohi before graduating in 1995. "It almost brings me to tears when I think about Mark Black. He was the first mentor in my life."
10. Move to Ban Pony Rides Succeeds, Ponies Put to Pasture: 5/1/2014: A petition to ban Pony rides at Santa Monica's Farmers Markets (and presumably elsewhere in town), has gathered over 200 signatures, it's MoveOn backers report.
Since Sunday my Move On petition has garnered 160 signatures (39 from Santa Monica) to shut down the pony rides and petting zoo at the Sunday farmers market in Ocean Park. Signers object to ponies cir- cling round and round for hours, teth- ered to a pole, with loud music play-
ing next to them. Let's end this side show and teach our children to be kind to animals," said Marcy Wino- grad. The move ultimately succeeded and the ponies contract was not renewed.
11. Traffic During Obama Visit: 5/11/2014: President Barack Obama is scheduled to arrive today for a two-day visit to Los Angeles for two political fun- draisers and a speech at a gala for an organization founded by Steven Spiel- berg to keep alive memories of the Ho- locaust and other genocides.
The trip will be Obama's 17th to the Los Angeles area since taking office. Most trips have included political fundraisers.
"Since the Clinton presidency, Los Angeles has become the principal donor base for the Democratic Party," Raphael J. Sonenshein, the executive director of the Pat Brown Institute for Public Affairs at Cal State Los Angeles told City News Service.
Before this trip, " would have been inconceivable be- cause so much of the Democratic Par- ty fundraising was on the East Coast." Clinton "turned California into his second political home and that has pretty much continued," Sonenshein said.
12. Transformer Fire at Second Street 5/19/2014 A transformer may be to blame for a late night apartment fire in Santa Monica, officials said Fri- day.
The fire was reported around 10:45 p.m. Thursday at 850 2nd Street, the Santa Monica Fire Department said.
When crews arrived on scene, they saw heavy fire and smoke coming from the third floor of the complex.
Firefighters were quickly able to put out the flames in under an hour and limit the damage.
The cause of the fire was under investigation, but "witnesses accounts have revealed that prior to the fire, a large explosion from an adjacent transformer was observed," Deputy Chief Tom Clemo said.
Five of the complex's 50 res- idents were displaced.
One person suffered a minor injury.
13. City Snuffs Out E Cigarettes: 6/23/2014 Following the city council's meeting on Tuesday evening, action has been put forth on banning the public use of e-cigarettes. The unanimous decision is raising questions over the validity of this new generation of smoking, particularly as now over 45 cities in California are getting behind the ban.
E-cigarettes hit the US market in 2008, and have since boomed across the world. The e-cigarette stimulates tobacco smoking by vaporizing a mixture of propylene glycol, nicotine and various flavorings. Though it has been marketed as a healthier alternative to cigarettes, there has been contestation as to whether this is true, and our own Santa Monica has declared e-cigarettes on a par with tobacco smoking, it appears that this alternative is losing its public appeal.
In addition, previous evidence suggests e-cigarettes may be safer than smoking tobacco products, and possibly as safe as other nicotine replacement products. However, there is insufficient data to draw such conclusions, and the recent growing reports of dangerous malfunctions as e-cigarettes explode has ameliorated people's disillusionment with them.
Just 3 months ago, the council directed the city attorney's office to research and analyse the regulation of e-cigarettes 'with consideration of recent actions in neighboring cities', such as Los Angeles, Long Beach and Beverly Hills. The use of e-cigarettes, or 'vaping' will in future be prohibited from all public areas, including clubs, bars and restaurants, with the exception of the only 2 vapor shops in Santa Monica. But why exactly does the council want it off the streets? Tobacco smoking was denied public use primarily due to the concern of passive smoking and the nuisance of smoke in the air. Yet with the e-cigarette avoiding both of these issues is the council simply finding fault for the sake of it? Should the council use science instead of politics?
Of course, there has been an uproar around the increase of young people smoking, particularly as advertisements for e-cigarettes are reaching a younger demographic, with flavours such as cotton candy and gummy bears. However no action is being made over the marketing of e-cigarettes. In April this year, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) proposed to regulate e-cigarettes as a drug. As such, minors are unable to buy the product and health warnings will be assigned to the packaging. It seems as though the real issue of e-cigarettes inviting younger smokers is not being seen to, which brings us to question whether the council is tackling the right aspect of smoking.
14. City Manager Fires Slow Growth Advocate for Political Activity 6/2/2014: City Manager Rod Gould's con- troversial decision last week to rescind the hiring of Communications Director Elizabeth Riel, may have been due to her membership in a slow growth co- alition called SMCLC. The rescission preceded her actual assumption of any job duties.
SM City Manager Rod Gould, the beneficiary of a $300,000 annual salary, the highest of any City Manager in Los Angeles County (even before you take into account astounding ben- efits and pension); is, naturally, defend- ing himself. He rejects the assertion that the act was a restraint on freedom of speech.
Via Facebook and press re- leases, the debate on this retraction of employment, could soon advance to the council chambers. Personnel mat- ters are ordinarily not public, and items on closed-door session that precedes next Tuesday's meeting concern a per- formance review of Gould and "antici- pated litigation" that could involve Ms. Riel.
15. Santa Monica Priciest Destination in California: 6/23/2014: When it comes to pricey stays in the Golden State, the city of Santa Monica is now number one, according to a survey released Tuesday.
The survey from CheapHotels. org compared hotelrates in the top 30 destination cities throughout Califor- nia during peak tourist season - from Memorial Day and Labor Day - and found Santa Monica tops the list with an average rate of $213 per night for the least expensive double room.
15. Ballot Measures Over Airport, 7/10/14
The City Council's consideration to put forward a ballot measure that would lessen the restrictions of council's power to control Santa Monica airport is being overshadowed by two new companion measures on real estate transfer tax and affordable housing, which appear to have a stronger connection to Santa Monican's and their daily life.
The first measure would set the real estate transfer tax at 0.009% of sales price for all real estate transfers over $1 million, while the second would be an advisory vote on whether the increased revenues should be used for affordable housing.
For a long time now, aviation interests have been a focal point, gaining over 15,000 signatures supporting their measure on the ballot in November. While the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (OAPA) has been campaigning to prevent Santa Monica officials from "over-development" on the property, their opponents have challenged this proposal, saying the OAPA's real interest is to keep the status quo at Santa Monica Airport. Many neighborhood groups and the city's largest political party have also come out against the measure, claiming that it unfairly frames high-density development as inevitable for the airport land- particularly as local anti airport activists insist there is little risk of the airport land being developed at all.
However, this week, attention was diverted away from this discussion and onto two new measures on the ballot in November.
The first measure would require approval by more than 50% of voters, since it is an adjustment to the local transfer tax. If passed, it would generate an additional $4 million to $10.2 million per year, according to City staff estimates. The second measure is an effort to replace as much as $20 million a year in Redevelopment Agency funds, which previously helped build affordable housing in Santa Monica. These agencies were dissolved by California Governor Jerry Brown in an attempt to help bridge the State's budget deficit. Now, there is a push for this decision to be reversed.
15.5: Court's Refuse to Close Airport: 8/15/2014
In a setback for opponents of Santa Monica Airport, a Los Ange- les judge has dismissed a lawsuit that challenged a November ballot mea- sure to protect the facility from closure.
Los Angeles County Supe- rior Court Judge Luis A. Lavin threw out the case filed in May by an anti- airport group that claimed Measure D was misleading, poorly vetted by city officials and violated the state Consti- tution and elections code.
16. City Manager Rod Gould Retires: 8/4/14
Yet another totally overpaid beaurocrat, retires to a lavish pension, and a $565,000 a year replacement. Are we supposed to get excited about this, really?
17. Arson at BMW Dealership, 9/8/14
18. Santa Monica Spends $1,000,00 to Study Level of Happiness Among Resdients: 9/15/14
Not our April fool's issue, really happened.
19. Mayor Accused of Campaign Law Violations 10/4/2014
A local group has accused Mayor Pam O'Connor of repeatedly violating both State and local law, by taking campaign contributions from developers after voting to approve their massive projects. It says that she could be liable both for civil, even crimi- nal penalties, under the Santa Monica Municipal Code's political funding laws.
The Santa Monica Transpar- ency Project submitted a complaint to news organizations, including the Ob- server, and also to the Santa Monica City Attorney's Office last week. In the complaint, SMTP alleges that O'Connor committed 24 violations of the Oaks Ini- tiative. It bars municipal officials from accepting campaign contributions from recipients of large financial benefits from the City--i.e., developers.
20. Voters Defeat Measure D over Airport, 11/10/14
The Santa Monica City Council will retain the right to make decisions about the city's airport now that voters have defeated a pro- posal backed by national aviation inter- ests.
At issue was a dispute over the noise and pollution generated by the small but busy airport. Though there is no scheduled passenger ser- vice, 95,000 flights operate in or out of the airport every year - 15 percent of those are private or business jets.
The 227-acre airport is bor- dered on three sides by residences, and noise from the jets has troubled the neighbors since the mid-1960s.
21. Voters reelect McKeown, O'Connor, but elect Sue Himmelrich: 11/10/14
"Kevin McKeown and Sue Himmelrich-both strongly backed by SMCLC-won decisive victories. They join Tony Vazquez and Ted Winterer to form a new majority that won't just rubberstamp every developer project that comes along." SMCLC
22. Restaurant Guilty of Selling Whale Meat 11/22/14
The parent company and own- er of a Santa Monica restaurant plead- ed guilty Monday to federal charges stemming from serving meat from the endangered Sei whale to undercover investigators in 2009 and 2010.
Typhoon Restaurant Inc. and owner Brian Vidor each pleaded guilty to one count of unlawful sale of a ma- rine mammal at thenow-closed restau- rant The Hump at the Santa Monica Municipal Airport. As part of the plea, Vidor admitted that he was aware his sushi chefs, who have previously pleaded guilty, were serving whale at the restaurant and allowed it.
Typhoon and Vidor will jointly pay a $27,500 fine and will be placed on 18-month and 12-month terms of probation, respectively, if the terms of the plea agreements are accepted by Judge Dale S. Fischer.
23. Open Seat on School Board to be Filled 11/30/14
It was emotional night at the SMMUSD school board meeting Thursday, as three departing school board members said goodbye and shared memories of their tenure on the board. The exiting members, Nimish Patel, Ralph Mechur and Ben Allen were presented with plaques for their service. In attendance were Craig Fos- ter and Richard Tahvildaran-Jesswein, who will be assuming responsibility of Mechur and Patel's seats. Allen's seat will be filled via an appointment pro- cess that will take place later in the year.
Nimish Patel, a board member elected in 2010, decided not to run for re-election. He attributes his decision to a lack of time. Between working as the Managing Partner of the law firm Richardson Patel LLP and his yearn- ing to spend more time with his family, Patel believed he wouldn't be unable to serve another term. Patel's fellow board member Laurie Lieberman laud- ed his enthusiasm and business exper- tise at the meeting.