CITYWIDE — Memory favors tragedy and so 2013 will likely be a memorable year for Santa Monicans.

Our two stories that seemed to generate the most interest from our readers were sad ones.

June was marred by gun violence, with a mass shooting, followed by two gang-related shootings.

September ended with a deadly plane crash at Santa Monica Airport.

Priscilla Morales is consoled by a parking enforcement officer after being in the library at Santa Monica College where a gunman, later identified as John Zawahri, 23, opened fire on June 7. (Photo by Paul Alvarez, Jr.)

Priscilla Morales is consoled by a parking enforcement officer after being in the library at Santa Monica College where a gunman, later identified as John Zawahri, 23, opened fire on June 7. (Paul Alvarez, Jr. editor@smdp.com)

But there were new installations, too. City Hall opened Tongva Park and Santa Monica got its first new train tracks in decades as the city by the sea moved closer to having three train stations of its own. Parking Structure 6, once tangled up in the redevelopment agency dissolution, opened with its 700 parking spaces and was released from the state’s grip.

The echoes of the redevelopment agency dissolution, which occurred in 2011, were heard throughout the year. City Hall settled a lawsuit with the California Department of Finance for nearly $57 million but did win the transfer of six disputed Downtown parking structures. Transfer of Tongva Park and the extension of Olympic Drive will likely follow, city officials said.

The Civic Auditorium was not so lucky. The RDA cash, meant to fund a much-needed $51 million upgrade, was not salvaged. The auditorium closed in July while the community decides what to do next.

And of course, with over 30 commercial and residential projects currently pending City Council review, development remained one of the most hotly debated topics of 2013.

 

Lone gunman terrorizes city 

 

Six people were killed and four wounded as a result of a killing spree that ended in a shoot-out with police in the Santa Monica College library.

Zawahri (Photo courtesy SMPD)

Zawahri (Photo courtesy SMPD)

On June 7, John Zawahri, 23, armed with a semiautomatic rifle and 1,300 rounds of ammunition, shot his father and brother, torched their home on Yorkshire Avenue, and car-jacked a vehicle, holding the driver at gunpoint. He shot at a Big Blue Bus and then into an SUV, killing the driver and mortally wounding the driver’s daughter. He exchanged fire with police on the Santa Monica College campus and shot a woman outside of the library. She later died.

Zawahri then entered the library, where he fired about 70 rounds, killing no one. Two SMPD officers and an SMC officer gunned him down inside the library. He was taken outside where he later died.

The shooting once again raised questions about gun control and the need for more services to treat the mentally ill as Zawahri, who showed signs of being unstable while as a student at Olympic High School, was able to assembly his weapon using parts he ordered from out of state and received by mail.

Two days after the shooting rampage, a man in his 30s was injured by gunfire while riding a bike in the Pico neighborhood and two days after that a 29-year-old man was shot and killed in an alley off of Michigan Avenue near 15th Street. Both shootings were gang-related.

Vigils and discussions about gun violence were held throughout the city in the following weeks.

 

Plane crash

 

Firefighters survey the crash site at Santa Monica Airport in September. (Photo courtesy David J. Hawkins)

Firefighters survey the crash site at Santa Monica Airport in September. (Photo courtesy David J. Hawkins)

A jet crash at Santa Monica Airport left all four passengers dead including Mark Benjamin, CEO of Morley Builders. The plane, which was landing at the airport on the evening of Sept. 30, veered into a hangar. The hangar caught fire and the roof collapsed.

The crash fanned the flames of the already contentious debate over the future of the airport, with neighbors complaining that SMO presents a threat to their homes. Advocates of the airport called the politicization of the crash insensitive.

The cause of the crash is still under investigation by the National Transportation and Safety Board.

 

SMO lawsuit

 

Not long after the crash, City Hall filed a lawsuit against the Federal Aviation Administration hoping to settle, once and for all, who controls the future of the Santa Monica Airport and its 227 acres.

City Hall claims a contract obligating them to operate the airport in exchange for federal funding expires in 2015. The FAA maintains that it expires in 2023, and could even go beyond that.

“They believe that (City Hall) is legally obligated to continue operating the airport as it now operates and to keep operating it forever because of the post-war transfers,” City Manager Rod Gould said earlier this year.

Morrison & Foerster, the law firm hired to represent City Hall in the case, is charging $575 per hour.

That’s not a high price to pay for some residents who have complained for decades that the airport is dangerous since more jets are using it and it lacks proper runway safety areas. Some homes are located as close as 300 feet from the end of the runway.

Neighbors to the east are concerned about toxic fumes coming from the older planes and jets, some saying their lemon trees have turned blacked from the exhaust. A recent study by UCLA researchers shows more potentially toxic ultrafine particles are found in the air around SMO, raising more concerns about health impacts.

Supporters of the airport say it is an economic engine that attracts people to the city by the sea and will be critical in a natural disaster or terrorist attack.

 

A group protesting the closure of the Fifth Street post office placed this sign in front of the building in June. (Brandon Wise brandonw@smdp.com)

A group protesting the closure of the Fifth Street post office placed this sign in front of the building in June. (Brandon Wise brandonw@smdp.com)

Santa Monica icons shuttered

 

Two Santa Monica buildings, with a combined 130 years of existence, closed their doors this year.

The Civic Auditorium is shuttered, perhaps temporarily, as City Hall tries to figure out what to do with it. The 55-year-old building, which has hosted the Academy Awards and Bob Dylan, has its own council-appointed advisory group. The Civic Working Group is charged with finding ways to finance the seismic upgrades and modernization.

The Fifth Street post office, a 75-year-old historical building, was also closed. The post office relocated to Seventh Street and the old building is up for sale. Federal officials made the decision to close the New Deal-era building and sell it to help close a multi-billion-dollar shortfall caused by a mandate to pay future retirement costs today and a significant drop off in people using snail mail.

Several tenured restaurants closed this year, including Norms (49 years), Omelette Parlor (37 years), Renee’s (33 years), and Yankee Doodle’s (22 years).

 

Outdoor fitness restrictions

 

The City Council voted to restrict and charge trainers holding fitness classes in public parks.

All seven neighborhood groups and three council members supported an all out ban of training in Palisades Park, but council settled on a one-year pilot program that imposes higher fees for the park.

Advocates of the trainers said that the fees, particularly group fees, are too high. As of last check only six trainers had applied for group licenses in Palisades Park.

 

A man views the 'Weather Field No. 1' sculpture at Tongva Park in November. (Daniel Archuleta daniela@smdp.com)

A man views the ‘Weather Field No. 1′ sculpture at Tongva Park in November. (Daniel Archuleta daniela@smdp.com)

New park

 

Despite heavy reliance on RDA money, Tongva Park was finished this year.

The 6.2 acre park built at a cost of $42.3 million, $7 million under budget, opened to the public in September.

The fountain in the newly opened Ken Genser Square across the street opened briefly but has since been closed and is under repair.

Council members decided to name the park after a Native American tribe, although there were some who claim Tongva wasn’t the tribe’s name at all, but rather a tool the natives used. City officials surveyed residents to find out what they would like to call it. One suggestion: New Bum Park.

 

Malibu school cancer scare

 

Three teachers from the Malibu High School campus reported that they had been diagnosed with thyroid cancer in October, sparking demands for sampling and cleaning of the buildings.

Results from air tests for PCBs, a cancer causing substance, came back safe, according to Environmental Protection Agency standards, but PCB levels recorded in caulk and dust in several rooms were high enough to trigger EPA involvement.

The schools are undergoing an EPA-approved cleaning over winter break and will be tested again before school starts on Jan. 6. They will undergo further testing, with EPA oversight, next year.

 

A sign instructs the public to avoid the 'Chain Reaction' sculpture. (File photo)

A sign instructs the public to avoid the ‘Chain Reaction’ sculpture. (File photo)

Chain gang

 

The clock started ticking in January for “Chain Reaction,” the sculpture given to City Hall in the early 1990s by Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Paul Conrad.

Council agreed on a deadline of Feb. 1, 2014 for advocates to the raise the necessary scratch to repair the sculpture. Estimates range from $85,000 to $555,000. Council promised to match the donations up to $50,000 and thus far just over $40,000 has been raised.

 

Development abounds

 

A Frank Gehry-designed 22-story luxury hotel was proposed for Ocean Avenue at Santa Monica Boulevard.

New designs for the proposed 21-story Fairmont-Miramar Hotel were released in February and earlier this month Cesar Pelli, known for building one of the world’s largest structures, was brought on as the architect.

Two six-story affordable hotels were approved for the corners of Fifth Street and Colorado Avenue.

Council selected a developer to pursue designs for a massive mixed-use project on a 112,000-square-foot plot of city-owned land on Arizona Boulevard between Fourth and Fifth streets.

A 737,000 square foot Olympic Boulevard and 26th Street project, which includes creative office space, apartments, restaurant and retail, passed the Planning Commission and will be heard by council next year.

There are 33 development applications pending currently as the Planning Commission is wrestling with the Zoning Ordinance Update, which will regulate the uses of different areas of the city and various types of businesses. Council will likely approve the ordinance next year.

Many residents have been vocal in their opposition to all the development. Even native actor Robert Redford got in on the action, criticizing Santa Monica’s recent boom. Others support development, acknowledging that it brings in additional cash for City Hall to use to provide public services. We have a feeling traffic is playing a major part in fueling the opposition.

 

Samohi's boys' basketball team celebrates after winning the CIF-SS Division 1A title. (Photo by Morgan Genser)

Samohi’s boys’ basketball team celebrates after winning the CIF-SS Division 1A title. (Morgan Genser editor@smdp.com)

Sports: Samohi boys’ basketball wins regionals

 

Jordan Mathews led the Santa Monica High School boys basketball team to the state championship game in Sacramento this year.

The team won the Southern California regional finals but lost at the state level in its first appearance since 1928.

Mathews, who is now in his first year playing ball at Cal State, put up 19 for the Vikings to beat Loyola in the regionals.

In other sports news, the Los Angeles Marathon returned to Santa Monica for the fourth year. This year it stayed dry.

 

dave@smdp.com