The Big Blue Bus is installed new technology on 12 buses to help drivers avoid preventable accidents. The Mobileye Shield+ Collision Avoidance System Pilot Program will remain in place for one year at a cost of $124,263 before officials decide if it should be rolled out to all buses.
The Santa Monica Malibu Education Foundation donated almost $2.5 million to local schools for the school year.
Downtown Santa Monica Inc. (DTSM) reported a small drop in revenues. According to DTSM, the downtown area accounts for 4.5 percent of the city’s total area but generates 36.2 percent of total sales tax revenues. Total taxable sales declined slightly year on year, dropping 2.13 percent from $1,194,771,400 in 2015 to $1,169,279,000. Sales actually increased at Santa Monica Place by 3.39 percent. However, sales dropped by 7 percent on the Promenade. Sales also dropped by 6.55 percent on Lincoln Blvd. Sales increased by 2.6 percent in other areas of the downtown. Pedestrian activity was down 7.87 percent year on year on the Promenade with a daily average of 30,505 visitors.
A cluster of vehicle incidents kept public safety officials busy. Local officers assisted LAPD with a car chase that ended on 14th Street, in the second incident a car sheared off a light pole near Alta and Ocean and in the third a tow truck hit a pedestrian near Ocean Park and 28th.
Metro expanded their bikeshare system into Santa Monica and the surrounding area. The Metro system follows the successful growth of the local Breeze system but Metro’s bikes are not compatible with the existing system. Metro bikes must be picked up and returned to the specialized racks and the black bikes charge in 30 minute increments. The Breeze bikes can be picked up and locked anywhere within the system (with a small charge for locking a bike outside a hub) and charge by the minute.
A new memorial was installed at the Public Safety Facility recognizing fallen police officers and firefighters. The project was a collaboration between the Police Department and the City’s Cultural Affairs Division. Artist Eugene Daub was selected for a piece that officials said reflects the many ways officers and firefighters serve and give back to the community.
The Santa Monica Police Department (SMPD) evacuated the Santa Monica Pier and surrounding
area following a bomb threat. Multiple anonymous phone calls were placed to outside law enforcement agencies regarding a bomb on the Pier and those agencies forwarded the threats to SMPD. Officers began an investigation during the early afternoon hours and the discovery of a suspicious vehicle triggered the evacuation. However, no explosives were found and the area was eventually reopened.
City Manager Rick Cole requested a new, fulltime staff member dedicated to working on the city’s growing homeless problem. Cole asked the council to approve more than $320,000 to fund the position through the 2018-19 fiscal year.
The school district named Dr. Jacqueline Mora as the new Assistant Superintendent, Educational Services. Dr. Mora replaces Dr. Terry Deloria who is now superintendent of Jefferson Union High School District in Daly City.
City Hall released the second draft of the City’s Wellbeing Index and the results are similar to the inaugural findings: life in Santa Monica is pretty good but there are still areas to be improved. Locals reported a satisfaction rating of 7.4 out of 10, above the national average of 6.9. Two-thirds said they are happy most of the time and 74 percent were optimistic about the future. Residents said they were unhappy with their ability to influence government decisions and younger residents said they didn’t have enough time to relax.
Santa Monica broke ground on a new water reuse project designed to help the city reduce its dependency on imported water. The Santa Monica Clean Beach Project will install a large catchment tank under the parking lot near the Santa Monica Pier. It will collect up to 1.6 million
gallons at a time and officials said it could result in savings of 560 acre feet per year, equal to 275 Olympic sized pools or about 182 million gallons per year. That water could save the city more than $31 million in imported water fees over the next 30 years.
A small earthquake rattled nerves and got people talking on social media, but didn’t
cause any major damage. The magnitude 3.6 quake was felt by thousands of residents in west Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Beverly Hills, across the San Fernando Valley and as far north as the Antelope Valley. The U.S. Geological Survey said the epicenter was about 3.6 miles (6 kilometers) northwest of the Westwood neighborhood.
Bird, an on demand scooter rental company, opened in Santa Monica. Scooters are dispersed throughout Downtown and users can reserve/unlock one using a smartphone app. Each ride costs $1 plus 15 cents per minute. At the conclusion of a ride, the user can leave the scooter at their destination and lock the scooter using the app. The black scooters quickly gained popularity downtown but the city opened a legal case against the company arguing Bird lacked the proper permits to operate.
Residents of neighboring communities rebelled when Los Angeles officials began narrowing traffic lanes on some streets. The “road diets” sparked an effort to recall Los Angeles Councilman Mike Bonin and were reversed in the Playa Del Rey area.
Santa Monica held its second open streets festival. The event closed sections of Main Street, Colorado Ave. and Ocean Ave. to cars but brought out pedestrians and bike riders. Each section of the closure had its own entertainment and activities such as live music or interactive exhibits.
Officials began describing a changing demographic among homeless individuals and the challenges that change poses to service providers. While current efforts have successfully brought some chronically homeless individuals in from the streets, the programs are ill-suited to handling an increasingly transit homeless population that does not remain in the city long enough to benefit from outreach efforts.
City Hall waded into national politics by approving up to $25,000 in matching funds to help local
Dreamers, residents who were brought to the country without immigration approval as children, avoid deportation for two more years. The money will go to students and residents and was approved just days before the deadline to submit applications and pay a $500 filing fee in order to extend their legal status in the country.
Nelson Hernandez, Senior Advisor on Airport Affairs, announced his retirement and plans to move to Puerto Rico to be with his family. Hernandez says he was already planning to move back to the island for retirement before Hurricane Maria left Puerto Rico devastated and largely without power but the emergency sped up his plans. BBB employee Suja Lowenthal was named his replacement for the short duration of the jobs remaining life as the position is set to expire in the summer of 2018.
City Hall began a series of discussions about the city’s economic future. In addition to debating the future of retail and transportation changes, officials said they want the city to think big about the future. Mayor Ted Winterer said the city needed to look beyond short term problems/solutions and consider the broader implications of trends like climate change and technological advancement.
Los Angeles County announced plans to modernize its voting technology. The new system will roll out in the summer of 2018 with new voting booths that integrate smartphones, touchscreens, QR codes and old-fashioned paper. Some changes will be procedural, not digital. The June 2018 election will introduce the new vote-by-mail ballots and drop-off program.
Anuj Gupta was hired as Deputy City Manager. He said his new job directing policy for the City will focus on the same issue that has been on the minds of many residents – the growing homeless population in Santa Monica and what do to about it.
An investigation into a shooting near Pico and 20th resulted in the arrest of a man also wanted in connection with carjacking and robbery cases. No-one was hurt in the shooting but the shooter used a vehicle stolen in a Culver City carjacking. When they arrested the suspect, officers also connected him to a pair of open robbery investigations.
City Council reiterated its stance on marijuana sales in the city with an ordinance that prohibits recreational sales in the city while allowing two dispensaries and “light manufacturing” of medical cannabis products within city limits sometime in 2018. An annual permit fee
for the dispensaries will be $1,822 and $99 for manufacturers. Light manufacturing would allow production of cannabis-based lotions or edibles without a retail storefront in the city. The dispensaries can only open along a two mile stretch of Wilshire Boulevard from Lincoln to the city limits or on Santa Monica Boulevard between Lincoln and 20th or between 23rd and Centinela Avenue. The shops may not be within 600 feet of a school, daycare, park, library, social services center, or the other cannabis business. The ordinance is more restrictive than state law requires, leaving some entrepreneurs complaining they could not find a storefront.
California’s iconic Whale Tail license plate celebrated its 20th anniversary. Money from the popular plates funds several programs Statewide including some in Santa Monica. The plates are issued by the DMV and the additional money is transferred to the California Coastal Commission who then issue grants to hundreds of local agencies.
A federal judge issued a temporary restraining order preventing the City of Santa Monica from pursuing a project to shorten the runway as Santa Monica Airport. The delay lasted about a week but the judge ultimately ruled the city could proceed with the plan to shorten the runway from nearly 5,000 feet to 3,500.
An unusual crime case converted a potential victim into a potential suspect. A local man called police to say his car was being stolen. While officers were on their way, the man took his gun and confronted an unarmed suspect who was sitting in the driver’s seat of the man’s car. The car owner shot the victim who then fled the scene. The potential car thief was found nearby with a gunshot to the chest but the injury was not life threatening. While the thief was arrested, the man was also investigated for potential charges although he was eventually cleared.
Santa Monica moved forward with plans for an ambitious $77 million City Services Building, after the Coastal Commission approved the project. The public facility will strive to meet the Living Building Challenge, a rigorous environmental standard for construction that few buildings in the world have achieved. Activists argued against the approval but the Commission sided with the City. At the same meeting, the Commission also approved plans for an Early Childhood Learning Lab that will replace 230 parking spaces just blocks away in the Civic Center lot.
A bicyclist was hit and killed by a car on the Pacific Coast Highway near the Annenberg Community Beach House. The crash happened just a few blocks away from where a car hit and killed a pedestrian earlier in the year.
After nearly a decade of detailed plans that ended up in the dumpster, the former Jerry’s Liquor on Wilshire Blvd was back before officials. The Architectural Review Board reviewed new plans at 2919 Wilshire Boulevard for a two-story building hosting a variety of restaurants and cafes, complete with 52 underground parking spaces.
The City Council opened debate on a controversial requirement for restaurants and other food vendors who lease City owned property to enter into a labor peace agreement (LPA) with
a local union. The idea met with strong opposition from local restaurants but council advanced the idea for a future vote despite a lack of support from the community.
Jurors convicted a man of sexual battery related to a groping incident on the Expo train. A
16-year-old girl told police the man sat next to her on the train and then proceeded to inappropriately touch and grope her at the 17th Street station. The man had been charged with a similar offense in another Los Angeles County jurisdiction
Assistant City Attorney Joseph Lawrence retired after more than 30 years of service. He twice served as interim City Attorney and worked on some of the City’s most important litigation including soil contamination from the gasoline industry and the closure of SMO.
Santa Monica High School graduate Commander Randy Bresnik’s spoke to locals from the
International Space Station. The astronaut participated in the communication event that included students of the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District from Grant Elementary
School, John Adams Middle School, and Santa Monica College. Fellow astronaut Joe Acaba also participated.
Nicole Jordan and her colleagues at Santa Monica-based FlightWave Aerospace
Systems, Inc. unveiled the Edge, a tri-copter, fixed-wing drone that can take off straight up into the sky and then fly like an airplane through the air earlier in the year. The local company’s technology has promising applications for a variety of industries.
A Santa Monica family was burned out of their apartment but the family dog was saved. Local firefighters carry specialized equipment, including special oxygen masks, that give pets a fighting change in an emergency situation.
Malibu residents reiterated their desire to split from the district despite pushback from the Board regarding separation recommendations provided by Malibu advocates. The district eventually said Malibu should consider making payments to Santa Monica for up to 50 years but that figure riled Malibu officials. The Board said it would return to the issue in February.
The Santa Monica Police Department searched for a suspect connected to a stabbing at the
intersection of 4th St. and Santa Monica Blvd. Officers learned the suspect and victim were involved in a confrontation prior to the stabbing but the suspect fled the area prior to police arrival.
An interactive community art project, Santa Monica Rocks, launched and the Santa Monica Fire Department got in on the fun. The effort, organized by two artists from Ten Women, places decorated rocks around the city with instructions to find rocks decorated by others and either rehide them or replace them with decorated rocks of their own.
The city recruited about 200 volunteers to participate in a new program that uses fitness trackers to study healthcare data. The study is in response to the City’s 2017 Wellbeing Index, which found only 38 percent of locals are active for twenty or more minutes a day.
A shooting erupted downtown between a pair of party buses. A verbal argument began between the two groups in Palisades Park near the pier and escalated into violence. One woman died as a result of her wounds.
A Metro Expo Line train hit and killed a pedestrian near the 17th Street Station. Officers found the body and the conductor said he did not see he had hit a pedestrian and continued westbound to the 4th Street Station before realizing what had happened.
A Santa Monica man was accused of defrauding the U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs (VA) out of $11.4 million over the last ten years and bribing at least one federal official to keep the scheme going. The scam involved failing to report $4.7 million in revenue and adding $8.2 million to expense reports to the Federal Government.
The City Council received a draft of the City’s new Electric Vehicle Action Plan. The plan calls for adding 200 public charging ports for electric vehicles (EVs) to the city by 2020, with a long-term goal of having 1,000 public ports by 2025. The infrastructure improvements required to create the stations are estimated to cost $2.42 million over three years, with net new costs at $1.46 million. To encourage private development, the plan increases requirements for EV-ready parking spaces in new construction and offers rebates to support new infrastructure. Staff will explore fees to recoup the cost of electricity and maintenance to the city.
A report on Ellis Act evictions from rent-controlled apartments said multi-family buildings are often replaced by single-family homes or condos with fewer units, hurting the city’s overall housing stock. Some members of the Rent Control Board took issue with the study saying it didn’t provide enough analysis to aid in decision making.
Local politicians Tony Vazquez and wife Maria Leon-Vazquez came under increased scrutiny after Maria was accused of voting on contracts that potentially benefitted her husband. Tony was also accused of failing to fill out financial disclosure forms. The School Board launched an investigation into the conflicts that expanded to cover Boadmembers Ralph Mechur and Oscar De La Torre.
Santa Monica received grant money to confront the problems of homelessness. The city received $70,000 to develop a comprehensive plan in addressing the ongoing issue. City Hall has until March 2018 to create its individual plan.
City Council voted to link the City’s Breeze Bike Share program with other nearby jurisdictions using same technology, including Beverly Hills, West Hollywood and UCLA. If approved by all jurisdictions, the network will give members access to hundreds of bikes by Spring 2018. Those members will no longer receive $20 “out of hub fees” for leaving a Hulu branded bike in a connected area and memberships will work across systems.
The City’s risk manager warned against ballooning workers’ compensation costs. The City of Santa Monica spent about $9.6 million on medical treatment and other payments to injured employees during the most recent fiscal year. Less than half of the money went to medical costs, with $5.8 million comprised of indemnity payments for lost wages and permanent disabilities ($1.9 million and $3.9 million each).
The City Council voted to slash taxicab franchise fees in the latest attempt to save the
struggling industry. The annual franchise fee per cab will be reduced from $1,100 to just $452 for the coming year. The Council also extended the franchises and permits of the five taxicab companies remaining in Santa Monica.
City Council approved 164 new apartments in the downtown with two Development
Agreements for plots owned by NMS Properties and its offshoot, WNMS Communities. One of the lots is part of a complicated land-swap with the City to build Fire Station No. 1. and wouldn’t have required council attention if not for NMS’s plan to construct nearly 300 parking spaces under the building. The developments were approved despite community concerns over working with NMS.
More than 800 Santa Monica restaurants received a letter from the City Attorney’s office warning that surcharges on customer receipts may violate state and local laws on pricing transparency. The letter follows implementation of Santa Monica’s minimum wage rules that included rules on the use of surcharges. In order to be legal the charges must be disclosed before customers order and restaurants cannot imply the charge is a government fee or tax.
Just a day after workers issued a strike threat, workers and managers at Providence Saint John’s Health Center reached a new labor agreement. About 450 workers voted to join SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West in February and the union began informational pickets in October during the midst of contract negotiations.
City Hall unveiled its plans for tackling the growing homeless population in Santa Monica. The City is moving forward with a comprehensive approach to homelessness that focuses on the individual as the region and country responds to a surge in homelessness. The plans call for more training of city staff to handle homeless related problems and an expansion of street teams to provide outreach/services.
A local family was displaced by a house fire. The family of four awoke to the smell of smoke and the sounding of smoke alarms and quickly escaped without injury. The fire was brought under control in 30 minutes and confined to the apartment unit of origin which consisted of a 2-story open floor plan occupying the 2nd and 3rd floor of the building.
The City moved forward with a $136,000 parking study to submit to the Coastal Commission along with plans for the Civic Center Field. Field advocates questioned if the study was necessary and accused Council of trying to delay the project or create a situation that would cause the Commission to veto the project. Officials said the study was necessary and would actually aid in the application for approval.
The City chose to partner with rideshare company Lyft to update its transportation options for seniors. The Big Blue Bus’s “Dial-A-Ride” program was renamed MODE and the will become a smartphone based system. With the $2.4 million Lyft contract, Dial-A-Ride’s 3,500 clients will
be able to simply call a Lyft to receive the city-subsidized rides. The price will not go up but users will have to reregister.
Neighbors rallied to oppose a proposed preschool in the Pico neighborhood. Opponents said the facility would ruin the quite character of their street while supporters said NIMBYism should prevent the needed service from opening. Council delayed making a decision on the project until the New Year.
A verbal argument on the Santa Monica Pier escalated into a dangerous assault. A driver tried to rundown a construction worker near Bubba Gump Shrimp and while the victim was not seriously hurt, the car damaged the decorative boat at the pier entrance. The driver was
arrested on suspicion of a DUI and attempted murder.
Wildfires erupted in Southern California. The Thomas fire that began near the city of Ventura eventually became the largest fire in State history and several fires burned thousands of acres throughout the region. While Santa Monica was not directly threatened by flames, smoke covered the city for several days and ash covered outdoor surfaces. Local firefighters were also deployed to the various fire zones.
Santa Monica City Council voted to join an upstart regional public power agency made up of cities in Los Angeles County. The decision will let locals choose to pay more for their electricity in order to power their homes with renewable energy. Joining the Los Angeles Community Choice Energy (LACCE) partnership will save on overhead costs and increase negotiating power with utilities rather than going cities trying to establish programs by themselves.
Staff recommended the iconic Twilight Concert Series be put on hold for a year while the city searched for a way to handle crowd size on the beach and pier. Costs to police the event have ballooned to over $1 million. Council unanimously voted against police and staff recommendations to put the Twilight Concert Series on hiatus and instead voted to move the concerts later into the year while looking for ways to reduce attendance. Evan Spiegel, billionaire CEO of Snapchat, also offered $1 million of his own money to cover the costs of policing the series.
Neighbors mounted an effort to save an old Western Sycamore tree on California Avenue by having the tree landmarked. Few trees have received landmark status over the city’s history and the Commission decided not to make a decision on the application at their December meeting citing absences by several Commissioners.
Santa Monica opened registration for the annual homeless count. The 2018 count will be held overnight on January 24 and organizers need about 250 volunteers to do the count efficiently.
City Council approved using $500,000 in federal community development block grants to help remodel about a dozen affordable housing apartments just one block south of Santa Monica’s border. In exchange for the funding, Venice Community Housing (VCH) will set aside three of the 14 apartments for people on the Santa Monica Homeless Service Registry.
The Santa Monica Airport was closed for 10 days to allow for the runway to be reduced to 3,500 feet as part of the Consent Decree with the Federal Aviation Administration. The closure was supposed to allow time for a study related to noise and pollution but poor air quality from the regional wildfires made it difficult to achieve all of the study goals.
Council decided to look into drafting a ballot measure for the 2018 election that would
protect against development exceeding the size guidelines in the Downtown Community Plan
(DCP), which was adopted after intense debate earlier this year. Most Councilmembers said they would not support any solutions that would require large developments go directly to the ballot box but would favor requiring a supermajority of the council on some votes.
A survey found Santa Monicans were generally happy with their access to parks. The survey also found support wasn’t strong enough to guarantee passage of a new parks bond in the upcoming election and Council chose delay discussion of a bond until 2020.
The deal to close Santa Monica airport withstood a legal challenge. A U.S. District Court judge dismissed a lawsuit from a local pilot and pilot-in-training challenging a settlement agreement between the city and the FAA to shorten the runway at Santa Monica Airport and obtain control of the land in 2029.