From Earthquakes to Murders and elections, 2019 was one for the record books.
The top Santa Monica stories of 2019 ranked in approximate order.
January 6, 2020
The news stories happening in Santa Monica this year ranged from the highly unusual to the highly typical. Here's our take on the year that was.
The Ridgecrest Earthquake
A magnitude 6.4 earthquake shook the Southland at 10:33 in the morning on Independence Day. This was followed by a larger, magnitude 7.1 quake the next day. Both quakes were centered in the small community of Ridgecrest, which was hard hit by the largest earthquakes to occur in the region in 20 years. No damage or injuries were reported in Santa Monica, though the shaking inspired some to refresh their emergency kits.
Tyler Skaggs, Samo alum and Angels pitcher, dies of drug use
A santa monica high school alumnus and the son of a Samo teacher, Angels pitcher Tyler Skaggs was found dead in his Texas hotel room the afternoon before a series against the Texas Rangers. Subsequent investigation revealed his system contained copious amounts of fentanyl, oxycodone, and alcohol. His passing was mourned by the community and has sparked calls for baseballs professional organizations to aid players in dealing with drug use and addiction.
SMPD Officer dies in drowning accident in Hawaii
Santa Monica Police Officer Rashad Riley died in April while swimming in the waters off the Hawaiian island of Kauai. His funeral at Saint Monica's was attended by every police officer not on duty and many community members who remembered him with warmth and gratitude. He served in the police department for three years and was a cherished member of the Department's Homeless Liaison Program.
Notre Dame Cathedral burns after Samo Choir performs there days before
On a Friday in April, historic Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, France, suffered a major fire centered in the roof of the structure. Only three days earlier, the santa monica high school Choir had performed there during a tour of the country. Choral Director Jeffe Huls wrote, "Our student performers mourn with the citizens of Paris at the devastation of such a historical landmark. We were deeply saddened by the news we first heard as our flight touched down at LAX."
Civic Center Field breaks ground
Following a long fight by resident activists, a sports field was approved by all relevant agencies for the site currently occupied by the Civic Center Auditorium's parking lot. Interested parties such as our rapacious city council wanted to put a hotel and multi-use retail on the site, but actually bowed by community pressure (over decades) to create a much-needed sports field.
What should be unusual but isn't
Wildfires burn the region
Major fires in the greater Los Angeles area began in early October with the Saddleridge Fire in the San Fernando Valley. Closer to home, the Getty Fire broke out on the morning of October 28 with high winds quickly driving the flames into a pricey area of Brentwood. Much of Pacific Palisades and even a few streets in Santa Monica came under mandatory evacuation orders. Schools in Santa Monica were closed because of heavy smoke and the closure of many streets and freeways, preventing teachers from commuting to work. The disruption lasted about a week. In other parts of the state, power companies deliberately cut power to prevent high winds from downing lines and starting new fires. Video evidence reportedly shows that a tree branch hitting a power line in a high wind started the Getty Fire, which ended up destroying 12 homes.
Recycling center closed
The Santa Monica City Council decided to close its recycling center in June and ship out our recycles rather than pay twice as much to deal with them ourselves. Across the nation, recycling centers were hit hard by China's decision to stop buying our garbage in January of 2019. The collapse of the recycle 'industry' this year exposed the lie that had been told to the nation's residents that their separated 'recyclables' were getting transformed into usable goods. They weren't. They never were. California does not have a single factory that takes our trash and makes it into something else. Instead, we were shipping it all overseas and making it into somebody else's problem. Now it's ours again.
Spate of parking structure suicides
People wanting to commit suicide discovered that the highest point of easiest accessibility was in the parking structures on 4th Street. The structures are only about four or five stories high, making death a non-certainty should one jump from the top. Nevertheless, four people since September of 2018 have managed to kill themselves by jumping off the downtown parking structures.
And the usual crap
Our city government's wins and losses in court
(A win) The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Santa Monica's ordinance limiting Airbnb
Santa Monica's Home-Sharing Ordinance only allows residents to invite visitors into their homes for a profit when the resident is present in the home and possesses a City business license. Otherwise, property owners are prohibited from offering their pads on platforms like Airbnb. The Santa Monica law had been challenged by Airbnb and Homeaway.com, but the city prevailed.
(A win - for them, not us) California Court of Appeal stays projected city special elections
After a trial court judge ruled that the city's current at-large system of voting for our leaders is racially biased and illegitimate, our city council appealed to a higher court. The initial judgment would have forced the city to hold special elections last August, with voting by districts drawn by the plaintiff in the case. (The city had declined proposing voting districts.) The appeals court ruled that by-district elections would not have to be held until after the appeal was heard. So the current city council gets to keep their seats. Copious amounts of money are being spent by our current city council to fight the by-district election ruling. Fighting to keep at-large voting serves no purpose other than to protect the power of the current city leadership. In fact, extending this lawsuit with an appeal is using a great deal of money that would be better put to use solving some of the city's actual problems, such as crime and homelessness.
(A loss - for them, not us) SMMUSD settles class action lawsuit regarding "free school"
The school district reluctantly settled a class action lawsuit brought against them for violating the state constitution's free school guarantee. The plaintiffs alleged that the school district requires students to purchase supplies, uniforms, and other equipment. Schooling is supposed to be free in this state, and students should not have to pony up money in order to attend PE classes, do their math homework, or participate in sports. The school district refuses to admit it was wrong of them to ask students to pay out what could, in some instances, be large amounts of money. However, the terms of the settlement state that the school district must abide by the free-school guarantee from now on. As another part of the settlement, students who were in school in 2017 will receive some reimbursement for money they spent on their schooling.
What happened in our city's (over-)development saga:
The Plaza at Santa Monica released its Draft Environmental Impact Report
The multi-use, 12-story proposed development in downtown Santa Monica on city-owned land continues its progress toward construction, despite strident opposition by residents who'd rather see a park go up than a privately owned multi-story hotel/office/retail block.
SCAG imposes 9,118 additional units on Santa Monica
The quasi-governmental Southern California Association of Governments came up with their allotment of the 1.34 million housing units state agencies have said will move into the various cities of the region. They decided Santa Monica should rezone to allow an additional 9,118 units over the next eight years. Our city council is already chomping at the bit to accommodate this request, wanting nothing more than a green light for upzoning past the restrictions residents want.
And of course, every day we see more storeys added to the construction going on near the freeway on Lincoln Boulevard. In other locations, hundreds of units of so-called affordable housing have been approved ,and some are already under construction. Most are located in neighborhoods south of the freeway and none are welcomed in the neighborhoods where they are to be located. Meanwhile Community Corp. and the other affordable housing developers make a living by taking out long-term loans to pay their salaries and construct housing that is designed more to salve the consciences of the city council than it is to ease the pain of residents turned out of buildings that are going under in order for private developers to construct high-end, market-rate housing.
But the biggest story is the homeless
The January homeless count came up with 985 individuals living on the streets of Santa Monica, a 3 percent increase over the previous year (which was an increase over the year before that, and so on).
While the city council approved a contract of almost half a million dollars merely for tracking the homeless over the next five years, those living al fresco in Santa Monica continue to suffer and cause suffering to city residents. Some sensational crimes committed by mentally ill or drug-addicted renegades in Santa Monica include a house fire set on the Pacific Coast Highway in March that closed the highway for hours. A violently addled individual struck an elderly man in the face, causing great damage, near Reed Park, a spot that has become infamous for its drug-using visitors. In January, a man hijacked a bus in Westwood and forced the driver to take him to Santa Monica.
Meanwhile, the homeless themselves complained of abuses at shelters run by the People's Concern, with a petition circulating calling for accountability in social service agencies. The petition appeared just two days before the city council voted to delete a requirement that its Social Services Commission perform audits of the agencies that receive public money for housing the homeless. (Wait. Shouldn't that be the main function of the Social Services Commission?)
And at the federal level, the United States Supreme Court let a ruling stand that seems to deny cities the right to arrest people for camping in public. (It doesn't do that, really, but people are panicking. Cities can still outlaw tents and other structures, and they can outlaw public sleeping in certain places and times. And they can certainly outlaw health hazards like public urination and defecation.)
Here's wishing all of you a healthy, happy, fulfilling year to come. Even though it's against our self-interest as a news organization to wish for only good news, we'll wish it anyway. We are fairly certain Santa Monica will nevertheless continue to provide a steady source of wild and crazy stories.