They’ve finally arrived. My annual awards for the great, middlin’ and downright hideous in Santa Monica during 2014.

The City Council voted to advance the proposed 12-floor “Plaza at Santa Monica” and voted for the 767,000 sq. ft. Bergamot Transit Village, AKA “the Hines Project,” earlier in the year. The Planning Commission praised a proposed 330,344-square-foot, seven floor,mixed-user at 500 Broadway. Despite resident opposition, planning staff is advocating for mega-sized neighborhood activity centers, opportunity centers and overly large Tier 3 developments on major boulevards. It’s a comedy of errors that replays year after year after year. The Planning Commission, City Council and city planning staff once again share the “Urban Ugly” Sammy for assisting with and approving some truly hideous developments.

Nobody in the planning department can explain mysterious changes to the Land Use and Circulation Element (LUCE) documents like the conversion of over 100 residential properties to commercial use and the insertion of messaging in the draft Zoning Ordinance Update that called for regulations to “enhance the City’s fiscal health.”

Most of us know how these behind closed door changes came about. In the meantime, the “Got Me” Sammy goes to the Planning and Community Development.

The 2014 “Need More Congestion” Sammy goes to the planning department’s transportation mismanagers. Every day, more street space is appropriated for “pie in the sky” schemes that give preference to bicycles (outnumbered by cars/trucks by 100 to 1) and downright dangerous pedestrian plans. For decades, planners and politicians alike have deliberately done nothing to improve our motoring experience in the mistaken belief we’ll give up driving and walk, bicycle or ride the unreliable BBB.

Big Blue Bus (BBB) management gets the “What Were You Thinking?” Sammy for its new bus stops. Bad design, bar stool seats, mushroom sun shades that don’t shade and clumsy placement make for a complete mess. BBB split the Number 3 route so riders have to take two buses – the “3” and “3M” when going from north of Wilshire Boulevard to the Southside and vice-versa. Packed busses still leave riders waiting at stops. Again, in 2014, BBB wins the “Worst Customer Service” Sammy, hands down — edging out parking operations by a bumper.

I’m still enthusiastic about Evan Meyer from the Beautify Lincoln (Boulevard) group for his work with streetscape beautification through murals and street art.Over the last year, a number of world class works have gone up on local walls from internationally-known street artists, thanks to Meyer. Again, this year, Meyer gets my “Thumbs Up” Sammy.

The “Enough, Already” Sammy goes to the people who want to close Santa Monica Airport. Two competing ballot measures in the November election were a waste of time, energy and completely unnecessary. The future of the airport is in the courts and will be for some time. And, if you seriously think that current airport land will become one big park, you’re kidding yourself, planning to run for City Council or probably believe in flying pigs.

Santa Monica voters automatically won the “Smart Vote” Sammy when they turned down Measure H which would have established a real estate transfer tax of $9 per thousand dollars. The revenues generated would have gone to build more low income, public housing. It’s good that voters are realizing that raising taxes to fund affordable housing — the vast majority of which goes to families recruited from outside Santa Monica ‚Äì isn’t their best interests.

The “Sucky Neighbor” Sammy for 2014 goes to Palihouse Hotel at Washington Avenue and Third Street for just being a terrible and inconsiderate neighbor.

Administrators at the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District came very close to winning the 2014 Sammy for “Fiasco of the Year.” First, there was the rush to judgment involving teacher/wrestling coach Mark Black’s confrontation with a student suspected of selling drugs in his classroom. Then, came the flap over the firing of winning Santa Monica High boys baseball coach Kurt Schwengel. Schwengel’s termination was as messy as it gets with political game playing, rule bending, cronyism and favoritism running amok with the hiring of Schwengel’s replacement.

However, the “Fiasco of the Year” Sammy goes to retiring City manager Rod Gould. He reversed his decision to hire Elizabeth Riel as the city’s public relations chief and spokesperson literally days after he signed a contract with her and after a certain councilwoman complained to him about Riel’s past political activity allegedly targeting said councilwoman. Then, a Downtown insider was quickly offered the position and accepted. With much stink in the air, Gould announced his resignation as City Manager effective end of January.

Local school teacher, Marcy Winograd convinced herself that ponies at the Main Street Farmers Market pony ride were being abused, so she launched a hysterical, fact-challenged campaign to shut it down. “I am no longer silent in the face of animal cruelty disguised as benign children’s entertainment,” pony-whisperer Winograd told the press even as animal welfare/veterinarian groups and city officials found her charges baseless and totally without merit.

Nevertheless, four members of City Council decided not to renew Tawni’s Ponies and Petting Farm, Inc’s contract for next summer. This circus deserves two Sammys: the Sammy for “Righteous Nuttiness” goes to Winograd while the “Gutless Leadership” Sammy goes to Kevin McKeown, Ted Winterer, Gleam Davis and Tony Vazquez who voted to can the ponies based on fabrications and then suggested replacing them with “non-animal-related, children-oriented activities”

Happy New Year, everyone. Hoping for a better 2015.

Bill can be reached at

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