City Hall began work on a new zoning document to govern Santa Monica’s coast. The new plan will update a 1992 document and if approved the LCP would streamline potential coastal development by centralizing authority with the City of Santa Monica as opposed to the current system that requires the involvement of the California Coastal Commission.
Santa Monica passed a new minimum wage ordinance that will reach $15 by 2020. While several nearby agencies, and entire States, ultimately moved to a $15 minimum wage, Santa Monica’s rules are more generous. They include more paid time off, allow unions to bypass the rules in negotiations and set a higher standard for hotel workers.
Santa Monica moved forward with plans for a new downtown fire station. The project is a three-story, 45-foot high building totaling approximately 28,690 square feet in size. Up to 20 firefighters will work in the station.
Final recommendations were released for the future of the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium. The Civic Working Group recommended an entertainment/arts complex with a private operator as the best option for rehabilitating the building and meeting the community’s desire for a professional performing arts venue. In response to community desires for a sports field on the site, Council agreed to study the options including a temporary field adjacent to Samohi.
The Big Blue Bus revised service in anticipation of Expo opening. Service changes included a focus on north-south travel including new routes to Marina Del Rey. The route to the Marina generated controversy when neighbors complained the street was too narrow to accommodate the bus resulting in the route shifting.
Debate continued on the possibility of a new movie theater in Downtown Santa Monica. Council directed staff to begin negotiations with a developer for use of the city-owned property currently used as a parking garage. However, council asked for a more robust economic analysis, better information about parking and potentially, a revised design.
WaiveCar added to the city’s mobility options. The service allows on-demand use of a car with no or little cost to drivers. The cars are paid for by advertising sponsors.
In a reversal of existing policy, Council approved free library cards for residents and visitors alike. Council eliminated a $25 fee that had been imposed on non-residents applying for a Library card.
In response to a regional problem with mail theft, the Postal Service began modifying local mailboxes to account for the use of counterfeit mailbox keys. Southern California has long been a hotspot for mail theft and the post office said keys have been compromised allowing thieves to access mail boxes in businesses and apartments. At the same time, the Santa Monica post office has struggled with meeting the demand for postal workers. Officials said about one in five employees are trainees and high volumes of package delivery have stressed the ability of local mail workers.
Outreach began on potential redevelopment of the City’s facility on Michigan Ave. The City Yards are home to hazmat services, traffic operations, street maintenance, housing of fleets, facilities maintenance programs and fire training. The redesign hopes to make the site more usable and more sustainable while hiding unpleasant uses from neighbors.
Quick thinking by nearby residents saved a plaque dedicated to Valerie Nordstrom Barnard. The plaque was part of a display near Joslyn Park that included a mural depicting the area’s history. Damage along a retaining wall required the mural and plaque be removed but neighbors were able to secure the plaque with a promise to have it relocated somewhere new.
City Hall revised advertising policies for the Big Blue Bus. Advertising had been limited to commercial operations with the bulk purchased by movies, television shows or health care services. AIDS Walk Los Angeles had accused the city of operating illegally but the case was settled in 2014. The revision to the policy expands the number of potential advertisers that could be allowed on buses.
Sarah Letts announced her resignation from Community Corporation of Santa Monica, the city’s largest affordable housing developer. Letts served as the organization’s Executive Director for five years and said she will take a similar job with the Hollywood Community Housing Corporation.
Council formally adopted the Pedestrian Action Plan, codifying and centralizing existing pedestrian friendly programs under a consistent organizational structure while also creating a plan for future programs that will facilitate walking citywide.
The Expo line officially opened on May 20. Phase 2 of the line was a $1.5-billion, 6.6- mile light-rail project from Culver City to Santa Monica with seven new stations: Palms, Westwood/Rancho Park, Expo/Sepulveda, Expo/Bundy, 26th Street/Bergamot, 17th Street/Santa Monica College and Downtown Santa Monica. The first phase of the Expo Line between downtown Los Angeles and Culver City opened in 2012
City Council passed new rules for lobbying local government. After two prior attempts at creating new rules council settled on a set that will define a lobbyist as anyone who is paid to communicate with any official or employee of the city for the purpose of influencing decisions.
Those lobbyists must register with the city, disclose their clients and report who they’ve spoken to within 10 days of being hired or before the first meeting related to their lobbying, whichever comes first. Lobbyists are also required to disclose any gifts or expenditures Santa Monica released the results of the 2016 Homeless Count. The point-in-time homeless count total is 728 individuals, a decrease from 738 (1 percent) in 2015. The street count is 416, an increase from 402 (3 percent) in 2015.
Santa Monica’s electrical grid received infrastructure upgrades to improve reliability. According to Southern California Edison (SCE), the number and duration of power outages decreased in 2015 for the Santa Monica area at large and the City in specific. SCE has about 56,575 customers in Santa Monica spread among 48 circuits. The number of customers per circuit varies wildly from Palisades at Montana/9th St (10 customers) and Aircraft on Donald Douglas Loop (34 customers) to Riptide covering a swath of town from PCH to 7th and Wilshire to San Vicente (4,760) and Albatross that covers a narrow band from Wilshire to San Vicente between 7th and 9th (4,710 customers).
The California Coastal Commission held one of its roving meetings in Santa Monica. The commission has recently ousted its former executive director and appointed John Ainsworth as the interim leader. The Commission faced a year of criticism over its handling of development issues along the coast and internal politics.
In a continuing trend, more of the city’s rent controlled units left the market and those that remained became less affordable. According to the annual report rent controlled units experienced more turnover, higher prices and less affordability over time, with officials pointing to a rebounding economy and overall greed as the causes. With vacancy decontrol laws allowing landlords to set units to market rate when a tenant leaves, the median rent for new renters is at least double that of longtime tenants, Construction continued on two new hotels Downtown at the corner of 5th and Colorado. A Hampton Inn and Courtyard by Marriott were scheduled for completion in the summer or fall of 2016 but both have been pushed to 2017.
An independent investigation into the City of Santa Monica’s ethical procedures determined Santa Monica officials experienced “lapses in judgment” in relation to the Elizabeth Riel case and that the City could enforce its anti-corruption laws. City Hall hired attorney John Hueston to address concerns about the way the city has handled ethics complaints related to the Oaks
Initiative and the hiring/firing of Elizabeth Riel. Hueston concluded that Councilwoman Pam O’Connor acted inappropriately during the Riel situation and recommended the city revise its ethics rules. Councilmembers criticized O’Connor’s actions but she faced no formal sanction.
Council put the Mountain View Mobile Home Park up for sale. The park was a privately owned park until 2000 when it was purchased by the City of Santa Monica. Changes were made to the infrastructure and housing map before the city began searching for a new operator.
Bill Walker was hired as Santa Monica’s new fire chief. Walker began work in May, overseeing the department’s responders and civilian staff. His annual salary will be $257,988. The announcement capped a year of vacancy at the fire chief position following the departure of Scott Ferguson in April 2015.
A multi-year debate over the naming of two Pico Neighborhood ended with formal recognition for both candidates. A newly constructed park adjacent to the Expo maintenance facility will be named after George Ishihara, a World War II veteran and resident of the area. Council also directed staff to rename Stewart Street Park after Joe Gandara, a Santa Monica native killed in WWII at the age of 20. Gandara was also recognized with a dedication plaque at the Expo station.
As the cost of housing continues to increase, Santa Monica’s most at risk renters got a little help from the Federal Government. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) agreed to significantly increase the value of housing subsidies under the Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) program, formally known as Section 8, that provides aid to low income renters such as seniors, families and individuals with disabilities. Locally, the City of Santa Monica began work on its own rent subsidy program and officials will return with a draft of the local program in 2017.
Tourism continued to support the local economy, according to figures presented by Santa Monica Travel and Tourism (SMTT). About 8.3 million visitors came to the city in 2015, an increase of 5.3 percent. International visitors account for about 48.2 percent of total visitors and 56 percent of total spending. Officials said the industry supports about 13,500 tourism jobs, a slight decrease from 13,700 in 2014. The Transit Occupancy Tax, paid by hotel guests, increased by 2.5 percent to $46.6 million and goes directly to the city’s General Fund. Retail sales tax generated by visitors increased $12.4 percent to $11.9 million.
Landmarks Commission declared a cluster of buildings at the foot of the Santa Monica Pier to be landmarks and the new rules will likely prevent the applicant from converting the space into the city’s 22nd Starbucks location.
The Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District will have to create, and adhere to, a new transportation plan if they want to avoid a significant increase in the price of parking downtown. City Hall revised parking rates downtown including at the Civic Center lot where about 200 SMMUSD employees park. The new rates could increases costs for the district by $209,000 a year but Council directed staff to provide options for the district to save money, but only if SMMUSD developed a plan to reduce traffic before January 1, 2017,
Council approved a Development Agreement for a new, 7-story building at the site formerly occupied by Fred Segal (500 Broadway). The project is a mixed-use 7-story (84 feet) building consisting of 301,830 total square feet, including 24,217 square feet of basement area, 35,428 square feet of ground floor commercial space (including a grocery store/market), 249 residential rental units, and 524 parking spaces within a four-level subterranean parking garage.
Council increased the number of possible alcohol outlets downtown while also installing a temporary ban on converting full-service restaurants to “fast-causal.” Both decisions came during an extension of temporary zoning rules governing the downtown area that include requiring a development agreement for projects over 32 feet in height but allow less stringent reviews for less dense projects.
A coalition of apartment owners sued the Rent Control Board alleging the board’s prohibition on charging tenants for water use is a violation of state vacancy decontrol laws.
The Exposition Metro Line Construction Authority and the City of Santa Monica settled a lawsuit over the price of land at the Downtown station. Santa Monica will receive $20 million for a nearly 34,000-squarefoot plot of land at 402 Colorado Ave., where the terminus station has opened.
COAST, Santa Monica’s first open streets event, included about two mile of car-free streets along Ocean Ave and Main St. Local businesses, organizations, community groups, and the City helped draw thousands of people to the temporarily closed streets.
The City of Santa Monica restored civic funding to the Pico Youth and Family Center (PYFC) after receiving an emergency request from the organization. PYFC received $50,000 from the council’s discretionary fund for use as a matching grant with the hope that PYFC could double the donation. The money followed a year without any city funding for the organization and PYFC leaders said it was a sign of a new relationship between the organization and City Hall.
The California Incline reopened after a significant rebuild. The new road is wider and more seismically sound. In addition, a new pedestrian bridge was built over the famous roadway connecting Palisades Park to the beach. Opening day was delayed several weeks to allow for final construction of the bridge.
Breeze bike share revised its prices after its first year of operation. Pay as you go increased to $7 an hour and the three passes increased ride time to 90 minutes per day. Businesses are now able to purchase reduced cost memberships for employees for as little as $19 per year.
Woodlawn Cemetery added an environmentally friendly burial option. The $125,000 project recently earned Woodlawn certification from the Green Burial Council, a nonprofit organization that sets standards for the practice, making the local cemetery the second in Southern California with sanctioned green burial.
Santa Monica’s newly renovated Fairview Library received a formal welcome and opening. Civic leaders, neighbors and library patrons gathered for a brief welcome, tours of the building and a day celebratory activities that included Hawaiian dancing and “how-to” workshops. The library is located at 2101 Ocean Park Blvd.
The council approved new rules for installation and modification of telecommunications equipment that will preserve the city’s ability to hide equipment while allowing for expansion to meet growing demands. Santa Monica’s updates were prompted by action at the
Federal and State level that clarified definitions for equipment.
Large crowds packed the Twilight Concert Series. The concert venue and the Pier itself reached capacity during some of the shows with attendees diverted to the beach. The pier deck has a maximum capacity of about 4,500.
Santa Monica delayed action on regulating local marijuana sales. The City’s zoning code allows two marijuana dispensaries to operate in the city but officials delayed decisions on the process for filling those slots pending the results of the 2016 election and a proposal to legalize recreational marijuana.
City Council heard an appeal to reoccupy the former Post Office building at the corner of 5th Street and Arizona Avenue. Council ultimately approved reoccupation of the site with heavy debate on a proposed fence that would encircle the site.
The City of Santa Monica began a new effort to fight human trafficking including a mandatory education and outreach campaign to potential victims.
The City Attorney’s Office will oversee the program Santa Monica was awarded the 2016 RWJF Culture of Health Prize by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The Prize honors communities for their efforts to ensure all residents have the opportunity to live longer, healthier, and more productive lives.
The slow crawl towards Santa Monica’s participation in the 2024 Olympic games continued with Council approving a pair of letters formalizing the City’s intent to participate as the venue for beach volleyball if Los Angeles is awarded the games. Olympic officials are proposing a temporary stadium near the Santa Monica Pier.
Council accepted the final report for the 15×15 Climate Action Plan that said Santa Monica reduced its emission of greenhouse gases to 80 percent of 1990 levels, exceeding its goal by 5 percent. City Hall plans to increase emission reduction efforts in the future.
Carousel Café announced its closure. The longtime eatery at the base of the Pier was part of a cluster of buildings that eventually earned landmark designation. An application had been filed to convert the space into a new Starbucks.
The Santa Monica Animal Shelter established a new non-profit organization supporting the shelter’s work.
The City of Santa Monica expanded its much-publicized Wellbeing Index. Officials collected a second round of data to augment the grant-funded study to hopefully provide better insight into trends over time.
City Hall fell short of a full-fledged vacant building registry and instead chose to make minor revisions to code compliance rules with direction to revisit the issue down the road if necessary.
A divided Planning Commission approved plans for an expansion to City Hall a revision to the placement of the solar panels and the presence of a previously absent Commissioner was enough for the project to secure four votes.
Council approved a five percent water rate increase for 2017 resulting in an average increase of about $2 per month for the average residential user. The increase was less than the nine percent initially scheduled for the year The Santa Monica Fire Department celebrated its 2016 Firefighter recruitment class with 15 newly sworn in probationary firefighters who began working shifts on Nov. 21.
Council asked for additional revisions to a local rent subsidy program. The program has an initial budget of $200,000 for rental assistance and $100,000 for administration. Staff will evaluate a new approach that focuses on providing enough post-rent income to ensure quality of life for rent burdened residents.
Local developer Neil Shekhter was found to have committed fraud and forgery. The court ruling resulted in a ongoing fight over control of several local apartment buildings and prompted the Council to request a full accounting of the city’s dealings with Shekhter.
The number of taxi’s in Santa Monica was slashed to help the remaining drivers make a living. The reduced the number of cabs by 32 percent, from 300 to 199.
Providence Saint John’s Health Center continued work on a massive new 799,000 square foot development on both sides of Santa Monica Boulevard between 20th and 23rd streets. City Hall extended expiration dates for permits giving the hospital up to 20 years to finish the project.
City attorney Marsha Moutrie made her retirement official in December. Council said goodbye to the longstanding employee with standing ovations and praise from local, state and national leaders.