Downtown: The area around the Promenade is under scrutiny. Clara Harter


At LAUSD’s Mark Twain Middle School, the Seed to Plate garden was used to help feed local families. Parents in the Mark Twain booster club and Latinos Unidos group saw the growing number of food insecure families and paired up with FoodCycle LA to give out bags of food including fresh produce from the school’s garden.

Santa Monica City Council retroactively reestablished an interim zoning ordinance to prevent the proliferation of fast food restaurants on the Third Street Promenade, also preventing retail chains with more than 150 domestic locations from opening up on the thoroughfare. 

​​Two new drive-ins opened in Santa Monica: the Street Food Cinema, playing well loved classics, and the WE Drive-In screening first run films. Drive-in movies had a huge resurgence during the pandemic.

County officials felt they had turned a corner in the ongoing COVID-19 surge with the seven-day average daily case count dropping by 67 percent from over 15,000 on Jan. 8 to 5,093 on Jan. 27.

Ongoing implications from COVID-19 manifested in a 44 percent decline in tourism-related revenues to the city. 

A Venice restaurant recovered a $20,000 custom pizza oven after thieves failed to tie it down during a robbery. The Rose restaurant saw its two-ton oven loaded into a truck, but it was later abandoned after it came loose and hit a local’s car just over a mile from the restaurant. 

Despite pandemic driven revenue losses, City Hall said it would enhance some community services. Staff recommended the elimination of five vacant police officer positions so funding could be diverted to fund additional hours for library staffing, homeless service coordination, code enforcement efforts, a tenant counseling pilot program and a new 311 customer service call line.

Five young leaders from Santa Monica spoke at the California Youth Leadership Summit, sharing their vision for global cooperation on the biggest issues of the day. The online event was organized by the Sister Cities International Southern California Chapter in lieu of its annual in-person conference.

Construction began on the Las Flores housing project — a sleek and environmentally friendly building set to bring 73 affordable housing units to the Pico Neighborhood. The 94,000-square-foot project is located at 1834 14th Street and led by the Community Corporation of Santa Monica in partnership with R.D. Olson Construction and DE Architects. The building, which is slated to open in fall 2022.

Allegedly fraudulent and malicious conduct prompted the City of Santa Monica to file a lawsuit against local landlords who were accused of violating the City’s Tenant Harassment Ordinance and eviction moratorium. The complaint was filed against Youseph and Hanokh Golshirazian and SoCal Investment Company, LLC, for allegedly attempting to drive rent-controlled tenants out of their homes since they first purchased their 30-unit residential property located at 153 San Vicente Boulevard in 2017.

The Santa Monica City Attorney’s Office filed a criminal complaint alleging unlawful raising of a tenant’s rent by more than is allowed during the pandemic. The complaint levied three counts of price gouging against the owners of a multi-unit apartment building located at 1433 Euclid Street, WS Communities, LLC and 1433 Euclid Street, LLC. 

A new training program run by Venice Arts aimed to help low-income youth break into the entertainment industry. The Film & Digital Media Career Pathways Program program provided skills training, hands-on projects and internship placements to equip students with the confidence, experience, and connections necessary to find stable work in creative sectors.

As L.A. County approached the new case count threshold for elementary school reopening, SMMUSD worked to reach agreements with its unions for the return of in-person programming.

With nearly 40 percent of the Promenade’s storefronts vacant and over 60 percent of those vacancies predating the onset of the pandemic, officials began work on a new vision for revitalizing the area. 

To celebrate the many successes and contributions of Santa Monica’s African American community, local residents gathered for the second annual Black Excellence Community Awards at the month’s conclusion.

The World Surf League, located on Main Street, launched its “30X30” campaign, calling on world leaders to take drastic and immediate action to preserve the ocean. The goal was simple: protect 30 percent of the ocean by 2030. 

Council began the search for a new City Manager. Former City Manager Lamont Ewell was hired to help replace Lane Dilg after she moved to Washington, D.C. Council eventually hired David White for the position.

Metro announced plans to study roadways around the area as a potential site for a congestion pricing pilot program designed to reduce rush hour traffic. Congestion pricing is designed to decrease the number of cars on the road during peak travel times by charging a fee for entering high density areas.

SMMUSD leaders said they expected students to be back on campus and participating in-class activities by the start of the 2021-22 academic year.

Santa Monica was represented on television over Super Bowl weekend with several locals either part of the show or in commercials, including Amanda Gorman, the 22-year old poet who shot to fame at the inauguration of President Joe Biden, reading an original poem during the pregame festivities. 

The Samohi Jazz Band hosted its first live concert in almost a year using specialized software to synchronize several digital performances. 

Muralist Corie Mattie created a 100-ft.-wide mural supporting The People Concern’s “Together, We Can End Homelessness” campaign. The mural located on 7th St and Colorado Ave features a series of interconnected hands symbolizing the communal effort needed to tackle homelessness.

Santa Monica City Council voted to formally oppose two housing bills in the state legislature. Councilmembers voted 5-1 to oppose senate housing bills SB 9 and SB 10. Councilmember Gleam Davis was the only “no” vote and Mayor Sue Himmelrich recused herself from the vote prior to discussion of the two items.

Historic Belmar Park opened to the public following a virtual grand opening celebration. The final project recognizes the City’s displaced African-American community with representations of the area’s once-iconic homes. 

Television host and relationship expert Laura Berman warned parents about the dangers of social media and drug use after the death of her teenage son at their Santa Monica home. The purchase of Fentanyl-laced drugs through platforms like Snapchat became a significant point of discussion during the year.

Venice residents continued to oppose plans for a new homeless shelter at a former hotel and some accused officials of deliberately building services in Venice to keep the homeless population out of other parts of the area.

Scott Anderson died from skin cancer on Jan. 18 at age 57, leaving behind a generation of surfers whose boards, championship careers and personal values were the product of his loving shaping. Anderson was known globally as a world class board builder and locally as a man of pure heart and no ego, who was endlessly giving and as loyal as they come. 

The City of Santa Monica introduced a new policy that would allow historically-displaced residents a chance to return to the neighborhoods of their ancestors. The “Right to Return” criteria was added to the city’s Below Market Housing program, a local initiative that provides Santa Monica residents and workers with apartments in the private sector at a rent that is lower than market rate.

The SMMUSD school board passed the District’s first historical resources policy, making it one of only a few school districts in California with such a policy.

A suspected drunk driver crashed into a Main Street parklet. The crash prompted discussions about ways to slow traffic and close portions of the street to cars during peak hours.

Local property owners continued calls for increased oversight on the Third Street Promenade to curb the growing number of individuals who camp in public elevators and garages.

Wallace Umber, a World War II veteran and former director of the Santa Monica College Emeritus Band, died age 96 from COVID-19 complications, leaving behind a legacy as a father and devoted teacher. Umber’s friends and family said he faced many adversities in his life and always rose above with patience, grace and an ever even-keeled demeanor.

L.A. County reached the case count threshold to reopen elementary schools; however, Santa Monica-Malibu schools were not part of the immediate reopening push. While some L.A. schools returned students to campus within days, SMMUSD was in the same boat as LAUSD and other major districts as it awaited a finalized reopening agreement with the teachers union. 

Local residents and workers are rallied around JW Marriott housekeepers to resolve a dispute with hotel management in the wake of rumors the hotel may soon be sold. The property was eventually sold in May. 

After working with a slashed budget and reduced staff for many months, the Santa Monica Animal Shelter relaunched its volunteer program to help further its commitment to rehabilitating rescued pets.

Santa Monica’s first civilian police oversight body began accepting applications from residents who felt they were qualified to promote the best practices in community-oriented policing.

Classified staff members in the SMMUSD called for hero pay and increased protections from COVID-19.

Local parents demanded schools reopen as soon as possible as the county case counts were lower and an agreement was in place between the SMMUSD and Santa Monica Malibu Classroom Teachers Association. Parents continued to state their displeasure with the District’s distance-learning model.

Santa Monica crime figures for 2020 were driven by two huge trends with impacts from the pandemic offsetting the May 31 riots to settle at about a 5.5 percent reduction in serious crime. Part 1 offenses, traditionally defined as the more serious crimes, declined by about 255 calls, according to figures from the Santa Monica Police Department. According to SMPD, there were declines in murder, robbery, aggravated assault and larceny. Burglaries increased, as did car theft and arson. Rape calls were identical year-on-year.

After the pandemic pummeled L.A.’s enormous fitness industry, a new permanent and semipermanent outdoor exercise industry took root in Venice and Santa Monica. While these businesses cultivated a growing following, the overall state of the general fitness industry remained dire.

L.A. County prepared to expand vaccine eligibility to approximately 1.3 million workers in education, emergency services, and food and agriculture sectors. The new phase of vaccination was essential for reopening schools in L.A. County including SMMUSD.

In the wake of reduced funding and tourism, Santa Monica City Council looked to use public private partnerships to bring in millions of dollars in additional revenue. With revenues expected to be $11.6 million lower than initial budget projections, Council decided to implement a digital wayfinding program that could generate an estimated $2 million from advertising revenue a year.

The L.A. County Board of Supervisors voted, 4-1, to pass a “hero pay” ordinance. The board ruling required large grocery and drug retailers in unincorporated L.A. County to compensate employees an extra $5 an hour for 120 days. The “hazard pay” was in response to the boost stores received during the pandemic and health risks their employees faced. 

The proliferation of plastics and reduction of group clean-ups due to COVID-19 fueled a pollution pandemic on local beaches. In partnership with environmental education nonprofit Grades of Green, a team of students from Lincoln Middle School’s Women in STEM club ran a technology forward and socially distanced pollution reduction campaign.

With the help of man’s best friend, scientists at the Prostate Cancer Foundation in Santa Monica proved a dog’s nose can be an accurate early detector for prostate cancer. The team of researchers seek to use findings from the study to eventually develop a “robotic dog nose” — potentially taking the form of a smartphone app that detects prostate cancer from urine samples.

Santa Monica City Council prioritized strategies to address homelessness throughout the Westside. A four-hour discussion concluded with Council affirming its intentions: to prevent housed Santa Monicans from becoming homeless; address the behavioral health needs of vulnerable residents; advocate for regional capacity to address homelessness; and maintain access to safe, fun, and healthy open spaces. 

Santa Monica’s Zero-Emissions Delivery Zone Pilot began. Thanks to a partnership between the City, Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator and a number of private companies, the first-in-the-nation Zero Emissions Delivery Zone allowed robot food delivery in the pilot zone. Parts of the program were eventually expanded throughout the city. 

Community members planned a COVID Memorial Day event at Bergamot Station. The local event was part of a larger grassroots effort that began with the organization #MarkedByCovid, which was co-founded by Arizona resident Kristin Urquiza after her father died from COVID-19.

A far call from the usual joyous gathering, the State of the City event was nevertheless poignant, peppered with tales of tenacity, reflections of loss and renewed hope for the road ahead. The online event included speeches from city officials and recognition of the pandemic’s impact including the residents who passed away due to COVID-19.

After months of inaction by Los Angeles officials, a burnt RV was finally removed. Rose Ave. and Penmar Ave. had long been a hotspot of homeless issues in Venice, but a string of RV fires left many residents at their wits’ end. Many local residents blamed CD-11 Councilman Mike Bonin for failing to address rising rates of homelessness and crime in Venice.