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Year in Review: May – Santa Monica Daily Press

State Senator Ben Allen said he was advocating in Sacramento for ways to see State money directed toward infrastructure, education and climate resiliency.

Cody O’Connor, a 25-year-old cancer survivor from Cincinnati, Ohio, finished a cross-country walk from New York to Santa Monica. O’Connor walked across the country on a “Walk for Hope” for nine months to raise $300,000 for pediatric cancer patients and to shine a light on the ongoing mental and emotional toll that a diagnosis can have on a person and their family. 

Iao Katagiri whose resume of community contributions was almost too long to list died from a swift progression of cancer at age 70. Katagiri worked at the RAND Corporation from 1975 to 2016 where she began her career as a researcher and went on to serve for many years as the Director of Community Relations. Katagiri seemed to only become busier in retirement, doubling down on her commitments to the many non-profit boards she served on. 

City Councilmember Phil Brock said public safety Downtown was at a crisis point and wrote in an email that he supported dissolving the Downtown Santa Monica, Inc. Board and replacing the safety ambassador program with armed private security and more SMPD personnel. 

City Hall said its current facilities use agreements, also called joint use agreements, with SMMUSD will continue until 2027. Each year, the City of Santa Monica pays the SMMUSD about $10 million to keep district facilities open outside of school hours.  

Los Angeles police arrested a suspect after an early morning stabbing on the Venice Boardwalk. Officers were called to Ocean Front Walk and Navy Street when a man was stabbed in the neck. Police said the victim was conscious and taken to hospital in stable condition.

Supervisors Sheila Kuehl, Holly Mitchell, Janice Hahn, Hilda Solis and Kathryn Barger approved support for a proposed Senate Bill,  that increased abortion access in the state. The bill included a $20 million state budget request to further its efforts toward providing abortion access to California residents and non-residents. 

Amazon announced plans to create more than 2,500 corporate and technology jobs over the coming years in multiple cities across California including 1,000 jobs at Santa Monica’s Water Garden. The company will expand its Tech Hubs in San Diego and the Los Angeles area, including Irvine and Santa Monica.

In a 3-2 split the L.A. County Board of Supervisors narrowly passed a motion proposing a new master government entity in charge of coordinating a County wide response to the ever spiraling homelessness crisis. Critics said the list of government agencies currently addressing homelessness in LA County resembles alphabet soup and has led to an uncoordinated response. The recommendation to create a new entity with direct responsibility, accountability and authority for handling homelessness came out of the County’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Homelessness.

The Westside School of Ballet welcomed three professional dancers after they left their homes, friends and career behind in Russia. The group performed at Santa Monica’s Broad stage with other guest dancers and current Westside students. 

School District officials celebrated what they hoped would be a return to normalcy as virus cases remained low following the winter spike and spread was relatively nonexistent at school sites. 

The annual homeless count found 807 people living homeless in Santa Monica, either in tents and makeshift shelters, vehicles, sleeping rough on the street, or within homeless shelters. The count, the first to be released since 2020, showed an 11-percent decline in the total number of homeless people tallied compared to the most recent data available but a significant increase in the number of people on the streets compared to in shelters. In tandem with the release of the 2022 homeless count data, the City unveiled a series of proposals to strengthen its fight against homelessness. 

Santa Monica’s 2021 tourism statistics painted a bright picture compared to 2020, but remained nowhere near as hot as the 2019 numbers. Visitorship rose by 72.5 percent, from 2.03 million visitors in 2020 to 3.5 million in 2021, yet reflected less than half of the 8.41 million visitors in 2019. So while total spending rose by 65.3 percent from around $453 million in 2020 to $750 million in 2021, it paled in comparison to $1.89 billion in 2019. 

The Santa Monica Police Department (SMPD) provided information on its drone program. The $12,000 drone is on call 40 hours a week from its perch above the Santa Monica Public Safety Facility, ready to fly off at a moment’s notice to answer service calls. The drone, also known as a UAS, or unmanned aircraft system, is steered by a sworn officer and overseen at all times by a non-sworn licensed pilot who stands on the facility’s roof with eyes on the drone at all times. 

City Council announced Douglas Sloan would be the new City Attorney. Sloan worked for the City of Fresno for the past 16 years and headed the legal department for the past nine. 

The California Department of Education recognized McKinley Elementary for “demonstrated efforts to support students in four target areas: student engagement, distribution of technology, nutrition services, and social emotional well-being of students.” 

Community Corporation of Santa Monica announced plans for a shared marketplace specifically for hyper-local vendors. The collaborative retail space will offer an opportunity for small businesses to get their products in front of customers without paying the often prohibitively high costs of entering a brick and mortar. The marketplace is slated to open in January 2023 in the ground floor of CCSM’s new 48-unit affordable housing development Brunson Terrace, which is located at 1819 Pico Blvd.

Four people were arrested following a stabbing in Tongva Park including three juveniles and one 19-year old man. The adult, Los Angeles resident Joseph Zachariah Theus was booked for providing a false ID to police and then released. The three minors (two male, one female), were arrested for robbery and one of the males faced additional charges of assault with a deadly weapon. The group was accused of stabbing a homeless man after they tried to steal his phone. 

The Stamp Out Hunger food drive returned after an unplanned two-year hiatus due to the coronavirus pandemic. The annual food drive collected donations for Santa Monica-based Westside Food Bank and residents were asked to leave out nonperishable food items to be picked up by letter carriers. 

Traffic was snarled on the PCH due to a strange set of circumstances. The backup began when a tent blew onto the busy road forcing traffic to avoid one lane. While the tent created its own backup, a second incident began that increased congestion as an elderly man drove his motorized scooter onto the road with an SMPD officer in very slow pursuit. When the pair encountered the rogue tent, the officer stopped to remove it from the road and while the officer battled the wind, the scooter made a turn onto the Incline. After securing the tent in his car, the officer caught up to the scooter who had subsequently turned into Palisades Park. The man was given a verbal warning to stay off roads and sent on his way. 

City Hall released a report on the state of transportation in the city. All modes of transportation were still lower than pre-pandemic levels. Parking transactions also plummeted but rebounded to the point that monthly average parking transactions overtook monthly Big Blue Bus ridership, which used to dwarf parking. About three quarters of respondents to a survey said they had used a shared scooter and a third used a shared bike. 

Inflation eased slightly after months of relentless increases but remained near a four-decade high, making it hard for millions of American households to keep up with surging prices. Consumer prices jumped 8.3%. Excluding the volatile food and energy categories, so-called core prices jumped twice as much from March to April as they did the previous month. The increases were fueled by spiking prices for airline tickets, hotel rooms and new cars. Apartment rental costs also kept rising. 

Despite ongoing understaffing issues, SMPD announced it would increase patrols in Downtown Santa Monica by restructuring existing priorities and creating  a new special operational unit that would work in the Downtown and Promenade area.

Vote by mail ballots hit mailboxes for the June primaries ahead of the November midterm elections. Vote by mail ballots were sent to every registered voter in Los Angeles County as part of the expanded efforts to encourage voting. 

The Santa Monica Main Library hosted the Korean Classical Music and Dance Company. Under the artistic direction of Don Kim, the company performed the ceremonial and social dances that are an integral part of Korean culture. Dances included a “flower crown dance” and country drum dances traditionally performed during the harvest season. 

With Santa Monica, Los Angeles County and the State embroiled in a mental health care crisis city officials began exploring a partial solution to problem on a local level by opening a behavioral health care center. Where that center will be located, what services it will offer, how many beds it will hold and what population it will serve are all up for discussion. 

City Council voted unanimously, 5-0, to allow the outdoor “parklet” program, which included dining, retail and gyms, plus other outdoor uses such as fitness classes in parks, to continue to operate fee-free for the summer. 

A five-member City Council voted unanimously to support a motion directing the City Manager’s Office to prepare a study session on allowing the sale of non-medicinal cannabis. In 2017, shortly after recreational marijuana was legalized statewide, Santa Monica passed an ordinance restricting local sales to medicinal purposes. This ordinance only allows for two dispensaries to operate, lays out strict rules for where they may be located and requires hefty permitting fees. The ordinance is set to expire in 2023, at which point Council may vote to extend it or include recreational sales. 

Jamie Riddle and Vittoria Lopes earned first-place finishes at the Herbalife24 Triathlon Los Angeles International Distance race. The event welcomed over 2,000 athletes, including elite and amateur triathletes and more than 50 professionals from the United States, the United Kingdom, Asia, and South America, who battled it out across the finish line. 

Candidates for races in the June primary wracked up endorsements including traditional players like local democratic clubs and less traditional including Kim Kardashian. 

Motional, a driverless car company with offices in Santa Monica, began offering food delivery through Uber Eats. The offering was an expansion for Motional who have been working on driverless taxi service for several years. 

District officials releases a report detailing significant damage at John Muir Elementary / Santa Monica Alternative School House (SMASH). The extensive and severe water damage, combined with suspected insect damage and dry rot, would eventually cause the displacement of nearly 600 students enrolled at the 5th Street campus in Ocean Park as the District rushed to investigate and remediate issues discovered on campus. 

Homeless individuals in Santa Monica with access to Emergency Housing Vouchers (EHV) were given priority access to the City’s affordable housing system, second only to Santa Monica residents who were facing no fault evictions. The addition of voucher-holders reordered the wait list for the City’s limited affordable housing supply to those facing eviction, EHV holders, Right to Return participants and individuals who live or work here. 

One year after Gov. Newsom first proposed universal prekindergarten for all California four-year-olds, SMMUSD leaders prepared to phase in the free program, which would gradually expand the current transitional kindergarten, or TK, programs for students just a little too young to start kindergarten. 

An ongoing leadership dispute within the Housing Commission over who was actually Chair scuttled months of meetings just as the city was scrambling to address a deficient housing element that jeopardized access to state funding and local development controls. The fiasco prompted City Council to suggest temporarily suspending the Commission, but following strong pushback from commissioners, Council backed down from the proposal and allowed the group to agendize a new election to select a Commission Chair.

Olympic High School Principal Anthony Fuller announced his resignation in a scathing 1,200-word letter describing what he felt was “hypocrisy” amid school district leadership, alleging they deprived Olympic students from advantages afforded to other Santa Monica students; in response, Superintendent Ben Drati wrote his own letter calling Fuller’s accusations misinformation. 

The Santa Monica Planning Commission approved a luxury hotel, apartment, retail and public space project on Ocean Avenue at Santa Monica Boulevard, designed by renowned architect and longtime Santa Monica resident Frank Gehry. At the hearing, many of the seven commissioners were effusive in their praise of the project, which has been nearly 10 years in the making.

Los Angeles County moved from low to medium severity Covid environment but deaths remained low despite an increase in  most metrics including case counts, transmission rates and hospitalizations. 

Santa Monica Dolphins Rugby Club qualified for the postseason en route to Club Nationals in Atlanta. The Dolphins emerged atop the Pacific Super Regionals trouncing the Portland Eastside Tsunami before besting Olympic Club of San Francisco.

In a fast-paced forum at Venice’s Rose Room, hosted by The Westside Current, Circling the News, the Santa Monica Daily Press and the Acorn, all six candidates for County Supervisor, District 3 had a chance to present their positions in advance of the primary election. 

The long delayed demolition of Parking Structure official began with small work inside the structure but became significantly more visible with the start of  “major structural demolition” that temporarily impacted traffic on 4th Street. The structure, on 4th Street between Santa Monica Boulevard and Arizona Avenue, was demolished to make way for a city-owned mixed-use residential / retail building with services for formerly homeless individuals, as well as affordable housing. 

Advocates and Santa Monica residents Miki Lamm & Elizabeth Gelfand Stearns attended the Alzheimer’s Impact Movement (AIM) 2022 Forum in Washington, DC to discuss legislation with Congressman Ted Lieu. The advocates hoped to secure support for key legislation toward Alzheimer’s care, treatment, prevention and, ultimately, a cure for Alzheimer’s disease and all dementia.

More than 80 young SMMUSD students were reclassified from English language learners to proficient in English. The students joined more than 200 parents, staff and well-wishers as they received certificates marking the occasion.

SMMUSD’s budget was once again in the black. The data put the final unrestricted general fund balance for the SMMUSD at around $37.4 million for the 2021-22 school year. Three percent, or a little under $6 million, of that had to be set aside for what the State of California calls “economic uncertainties,” meaning the real final balance is just under $31.7 million. That was $6 million more than had been expected.

With a resurgence of the dangerous “pass out challenge” on social media, Santa Monican Judy Rogg redoubled her ongoing advocacy work to address the behavior. Her son, Erik Robinson, died from the activity 12 years ago while a student at Lincoln Middle School. 

The Crow comedy club opened. Founded by Santa Monica native and mother of two Nicole Blaine, The Crow sought to elevate comedy culture and create a welcoming space for comics of all ages, gender and abilities. 

Santa Monica officials responded to a horrific Texas school shooting by increasing security at local campuses and providing resources to individuals who need them. 

City Council began debates over raising revenues through a ballot measure. Following debates over which taxes and priorities should be addressed, Council eventually supported an increase in taxes paid by hotel guests and an increase in fees paid by home sellers for sales over $8 million. Mayor Sue Himmelrich gathered signatures to put a separate housing tax measure on the ballot that also targeted home sales. The Mayor’s measure passed as did the increase in hotel tax and a tax on recreational marijuana sales. 

The American Red Cross Los Angeles Region honored community heroes who demonstrated extraordinary acts of courage and humanitarian service at its 17th Annual Hometown Heroes Ceremony including two Santa Monicans, Jose Barron and Anthony Diaz. The two employees of the Santa Monica Community Recreation Division witnessed an off-duty city police officer suffer a cardiac arrest at the Memorial Park gym. They dialed 9-1-1 and, relying on instructions from dispatcher Joanna Worgen, initiated CPR and used the defibrillator. For their efforts, the pair received a Santa Monica Fire Department’s Citizens Award.

Sheriff Alex Villanueva announced “Operation Safe Travel”: his plan to remove an estimated 5,700 homeless people he said are currently living on trains and buses across Los Angeles. 

A parking lot located off Venice Boulevard in Venice was among 26 city owned properties that Los Angeles Controller Ron Galperin urged city officials to take advantage of to house people experiencing homelessness. 

The city’s FY 2022-23 budget, showed how $664.7 million will be used to cover growing costs and replenish pandemic-drained coffers, ultimately leaving little leftover for service enhancements that many residents were eager to see. There were several financial factors and needs constraining the City’s ability to focus the FY 22-23 budget on service restoration. These included inflation, supply chain disruptions, the need to rebuild reserves, the need to increase staff compensation and the need to resume replacement of dated city equipment. 

Scores of runners, walkers, sprinters and amblers joined together on a bright and breezy afternoon for the 2nd annual Rick Crocker 5K Challenge. The event commemorates former SMPD Officer Rick Crocker, who was killed in 2005 by a rocket propelled grenade while he was serving in the Marine Corps in Iraq. All proceeds from the event support the Police Activities League, an organization that Crocker passionately supported. 

As rates of suicide, homelessness and mental illness continued to spike across the County,  the Los Angeles Department of Mental Health targeted new strategies to improve the under performing status quo of mental health care. The department lobbied for an exemption from the longstanding Medicaid exclusion of mental health care facilities with more than 16 beds. Additionally, it worked to strengthen discharge protocols and outpatient care at these facilities in an effort to break cycles of repeat inpatient stays. 

The nonprofit Santa Monica Animal Shelter Foundation (SMASF) held its first fundraiser and open house. The shelter, which is run by the City of Santa Monica, is a city service that  receives support from the SMASF, an independent 501(c)3 nonprofit with a volunteer board. 

Mark and Addie Van Gessel purchased Rick’s from Owner Howard Alpert, reopened the space as Tavern on Main.

April — June


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