Vaccine: More vaccines are reaching arms due to a new surge in cases. SMDP File photo


The Bay Foundation, the Santa Monica-based environmental nonprofit, began the year with a project to protect and restore natural sand dunes in Malibu with the use of native plants including ragweed. The native plants’ roots anchor them in the sand, helping to protect dunes from storm surges and wind erosion.

Beautify Earth spread messages of inspiration with colorful public artwork around the Pico neighborhood. As of January, 130 murals had been painted in Santa Monica, with an additional 60 planned for the neighborhood, many sponsored by corporations. Beautify Earth CEO Evan Meyer said he considered the 2021 project a “sort of healing opportunity.”

The City of Santa Monica closed the Pier over New Year’s Eve and into early January as part of its efforts to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 during the winter 2020-21 surge in cases. The pier was closed from New Year’s Eve through 6 a.m. on Monday, Jan. 4.

L.A. County called off its annual homeless count over concerns about COVID-19 safety. The annual count is designed to direct federal funding and dictate how services are allocated for homeless individuals across the county; because the count was canceled, 2020 funding levels were extended through 2021.

City council upheld a ban on fast food restaurants on the Third Street Promenade, pledging to revisit the ordinance later in the year. 

The Civic Wellbeing Partners funded a microgrant to provide portable solar-powered chargers to homeless people in Santa Monica and elsewhere. The campaign, which was also powered by a GoFundMe online fundraiser, had pledged about $4,000 toward the Universal Human Rights Initiative effort by early January. 

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors extended the countywide eviction moratorium through Feb. 28.

Assemblymember Richard Bloom announced his candidacy for LA County Supervisor. Bloom, once mayor of Santa Monica, is running for a seat that will be vacated by current Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, who is opting to not run for a third term. Bloom said that he would soon be termed-out of his assembly seat but that he wanted “to continue in public service.”

Fourteen local progressive Democrats formed a slate to run for Democratic Party leadership positions in Sacramento, in the race to represent California’s 50th Assembly District in the statewide party.

SMDP profiled essential workers who had stayed on the job during the pandemic. The series discussed the challenges they faced and what motivated them to stay on the job. Subjects included landscaper James Welch, firefighter Jon Sly, sanitation worker Paul Jamar, farmers market coordinator Kym Otterstedt, UCLA doctor Walid Ghurabi and community service officer Jake Buryn.

COVID-19 took the lives of 12 Santa Monicans the last week of 2020, spurring city and county leaders to emphasize precaution during last winter’s spike in cases. At the time, the SMDP reported “10 months passed before LA County hit 400,000 recorded cases of COVID-19 on Nov. 30, 2020, but the caseload has since doubled in a little more than a month.” 

Santa Monica resident Danial Asaria, who beat his first chess grandmaster at just 15 years old, was vying for the title of grandmaster. The Samohi alumnus was also volunteering with the Aga Khan Education Board/Youth and Sports Board to virtually teach free chess classes to Ismaili Muslim kids around the country during the pandemic.

Thirty-three Samohi band, choir and orchestra students were chosen to participate in the prestigious all-state honor choir and musical ensembles. In lieu of the traditional trip to Fresno or Santa Fe, students participated in virtual programming that was later edited together to form the ensemble pieces.

The Santa Monica Pier was closed on weekends through the month of January to contribute to regional efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19 in Los Angeles County. Around the same time, Muscle Beach was shut down due to noncompliance with social distancing rules.

Santa Monica Public Works Director Susan Cline was appointed to a six-month term in the role of acting Assistant City Manager. 

Vienna Pastry announced that due to the strain of the pandemic it was nearing closure after 65 years of service to the Santa Monica community. The pastry shop closed soon after.

An encampment fire on the Venice boardwalk set a vacant commercial building ablaze. The fire, which began before dawn, caused extensive damage to a 68-year-old building at 723 S Ocean Front Walk.

Councilmembers Sue Himmelrich and Kristin McCowan retained their positions as mayor and mayor pro tem in a vote that occurred as a result of alleged open meeting act violations. In an unusual turn of events, each was elected to a two-year term.

City council voted to establish a Public Safety Reform and Oversight Commission to promote the best practices in community-oriented policing for the fair treatment, safety and wellbeing of all.

California began vaccinating residents ages 65 and over. The move, controversial at the time, put seniors in line ahead of emergency workers, teachers, childcare providers, and food and agriculture workers.

The Santa Monica-Malibu Board of Education appointed Keith Coleman to the school board, filling the seat left vacant when Oscar de la Torre was elected to city council. Coleman was at the time the father of a Lincoln Middle School student and Samohi alumnus and was selected from among 22 candidates.

The largest multifamily development portfolio in Santa Monica — comprised of 23 parcels, entitled for the development of more than 2,100 units and more than 200,000 square feet of commercial space — went on the market.

A local resident spoke out asking dog owners to take more responsibility for their pets after a puppy was killed and other dogs were hurt in a pair of dog attacks.

Samohi alumna Holly Capps spoke to the Daily Press about her involvement with POPS — Pain Of the Prison System — a high school club that helped her find a community of friends while navigating the challenges of having incarcerated family members. 

The L.A. City Planning Commission began community hearings for the controversial Reese-Davidson Community, a proposed 140 unit building with 68 units for homeless individuals, 34 for low-income artists, and 34 for other low-income households. The 2.8-acre project, located on the Venice canals, was projected to cost more than $39 million.

The L.A. County vaccine rollout accelerated in mid-January, with five mega vaccination sites opening across the county. These included sites at the Fairplex in Pomona, the Forum in Inglewood, Cal State Northridge in the San Fernando Valley, the L.A. County Office of Education in Downey and Six Flags Magic Mountain in Valencia.

An app called Teen Talk, created by Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters of Los Angeles, allowed teenagers from around the world to anonymously seek mental health support and advice from trained peer advisers. Samohi advisers described the app, saying teenagers can empathize with one another and share support via the smartphone app.

OIR Group — the organization tasked with analyzing the events that led up to and followed the civil unrest that occurred in Santa Monica on May 31, 2020 — continued to hold public listening sessions to gather comments and recommendations from community members.

The First Baptist Church of Venice continued its fight to preserve the 110-year legacy of its historically Black congregation, seeking public letters to support its designation as a historic cultural monument. (The fight was eventually successful, with historic designation coming in October.)

In response to an increase of unhoused people along the Third Street Promenade, local property owner John Alle called on the city to curb the increasing number of individuals who camp out in public elevators and garages, but city and police department leaders said their hands were tied in the matter.

Beloved community member and former Santa Monica Police Department employee Arthur Lopez died of COVID-19. The 57-year-old was described by friends and family as the “heart and soul” of the Third Street Promenade. He was survived by two granddaughters, his son and daughter, as well as his wife.

Venice Family Clinic rolled out a new doctor’s office on wheels, transforming the way it treats homeless individuals by bringing a mobile clinic van straight to them. 

The City of Santa Monica’s mid-year budget report projected ongoing losses due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with officials predicting the economy would not fully recover until 2025. The budget update revealed that revenues were even lower than had been anticipated.

A group of volunteers began organizing trash pick-up events in Venice in response to growing trash problems on sidewalks and other public areas. The group continued to meet on alternating Saturdays, coordinated on its website,

The community of Venice released its 2021 calendar, honoring long standing contributions of Venice’s Black residents, from the workers who built Abbot Kinney’s canals in the early 1900s to community leaders living in the neighborhood today.

By the third week of January, signs began to look positive that the winter COVID-19 surge had peaked, with the number of new cases falling each day.

City leaders called for community input about the possibility of adding a “Right to Return” criteria to the city’s Below Market Housing program, which is 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. This idea was passed by Council later in the year. 

More than SMMUSD  300 students created thought provoking artwork inspired by the prompt “I matter because” as part of the nationwide PTA Reflections Art Program.

The Santa Monica Fire Department began utilizing new technology, Tablet Command, that allowed local firefighters to become more efficient in their future operations and, hopefully, save more lives. The system was designed to keep track of personnel during times of chaos and confusion or during the first moments of an emergency.

The Daily Press counted 35 retail vacancies on Main Street as the economic impacts of the pandemic continued to wear on the local business community. At the time, retail businesses were capped to 25 percent capacity and indoor dining was banned.

Outdoor dining reopened in L.A. County at the end of January, with Governor Gavin Newsom rescinding stay-at-home orders. The reopenings occurred as COVID-19 case counts continued to fall.

The City of Santa Monica scheduled several virtual events to recognize Black History Month during the month of February, in compliance with ongoing COVID-19 restrictions.

The Boys & Girls Clubs of Santa Monica honored 2021 Youth of the Year Jorge Ontiveros. 

Lincoln Middle School was evacuated due to a bomb threat. Because of COVID-19, the school was not operating in person and 20 adults were evacuated from the building. Police did not locate any explosive devices or suspicious items in or around the school.

Santa Monica Black Agenda invited the public to attend “Courageous Conversations: Why Black Lives Matter,” a free virtual event featuring spoken word poetry, a panel discussion and a public forum. Participants included Nakeya T. Fields, Erika Smith, Karen Gunn and Earl Ofari Hutchinson.

Alison Hurst, the founder of Safe Place for Youth, stepped down as its director after 10 years. The organization is the Westside’s first dedicated service provider for homeless youth.  

Santa Monica City Council said Councilmember Oscar de la Torre had a common law conflict of interest that disqualifies him from any closed session or confidential conversation concerning the City of Santa Monica’s California Voting Rights Act lawsuit.

Annenberg Beach House celebrated its ninth annual Happy Birthday Marion celebration virtually. The event recognizes the legacy of original beach house resident Marion Davies. 

The Venice Japanese American Memorial Monument Committee members selected Leslie Aguilar as the 2021 recipient of the inaugural Arnold Maeda Manzanar Pilgrimage Grant. ​​The grant was to provide a stipend for Aguilar, who worked with the Manzanar Committee to help organize the 52nd Annual Manzanar Pilgrimage in April.

The Santa Monica Black Lives Association, a philanthropic organization designed by Black community leaders to support Black Santa Monicans, was officially recognized as a nonprofit and introduced to the public. 


Matthew Hall has a Masters Degree in International Journalism from City University in London and has been Editor-in-Chief of SMDP since 2014. Prior to working at SMDP he managed a chain of weekly papers...