Events: Businesses found some success this year including Randy’s opening and an anniversary at a nursery. SMDP photos

SEPTEMBER

SMMUSD invited the public to explore the new $133 million Discovery Building at Samohi, a three-story structure hosting 28 classrooms (including rooftop classrooms), an Olympic-size pool and an indoor-outdoor cafeteria. The building opened in time for the 2021-22 school year.

Randy’s Donuts opened an outpost in Santa Monica at the corner of Wilshire and 9th in a formerly vacant coffee shop.

Two large yachts raised eyebrows as they moored in the Santa Monica Bay. The 285-foot superyacht Lonian, owned by entrepreneur Lorenzo Fertitta, was en route to San Diego; next to it was Hodor, its 217-foot support vessel.

County officials continued to focus on vaccines as a primary tool to prevent COVID-19 from disrupting local schools as students returned to class en masse across the county. Case rates among youth were climbing, particularly among the age groups unable to receive a vaccine, in early September. However, while cases climbed, County Director of Public Health Barbara Ferrer said L.A. County was faring better than the national average.

After weeks of worry over the impact of a more infectious Delta variant on the County’s COVID- 19 fight, early September data showed trends were heading in a positive direction, but officials warned the Labor Day holiday could jeopardize progress as could abandonment of safety protocols like masks, distancing and vaccine advocacy. Officials urged caution and patience for the holiday.

Local students showed impressive resilience to learning loss over the pandemic. “We didn’t have a significant decrease or significant data that showed that there was actual learning loss,” Assistant Superintendent Jacqueline Mora said. “We can see that we needed to focus and prepare to provide support to our students that are in that tier three area.”

SMC student Joshua Elizondo, a former foster youth, was appointed as the sole student member of the California Community Colleges Board of Governors, with plans to amplify other student voices “to be able to give back and build a better system.” 

St. Joseph Center CEO Dr. Va Lecia Adams Kellum reflected on the nonprofit’s Venice Boardwalk intervention, which cleared the Boardwalk of tents during the summer. As of Sept. 2, St. Joseph’s reported that 185 people were in interim housing and some individuals were permanently housed, including two in shared housing and five with family.

Heal the Bay celebrated its 32nd anniversary by officially moving back to an in-person group cleanup for Coastal Cleanup Day on Sept. 18. The annual event encourages volunteers to clean beaches up and down the California coast. 

SMMUSD offered an update on its plans to combat COVID-19 at the start of the school year. Nearly all students returned to classrooms, with 200 opting for independent study in fall 2021. Drati said the district required masks when students crowd together during passing periods and lunch time. He also said that all teachers and staff were required to be vaccinated unless otherwise exempt. If a student tests positive for COVID-19 they must quarantine for 10 days.

Santa Monica’s vaccine rate was higher than county, state and federal averages, with 83% of residents ages 12 and up vaccinated with at least one dose by the first week of September, compared to 77% of Californians, 74% of LA County residents and 73% of Americans.

Venice and Santa Monica car shows were scheduled to celebrate Hispanic culture and contributions to the local area. The free, family-friendly events featured lowriders, vintage Chevrolets and classic Pontiacs, among other vehicles. The Venice show raised money for the Venice Mexican American Traquero monument.

Several members of the Public Safety Reform & Oversight Commission were upset by City Council’s decision to temporarily restrict the Commission’s abilities while the City negotiated a pending unfair labor practice claim with the Police Officers Association. From the perspective of many, but not all, Commissioners, the temporary restrictions were unnecessary, severely handicapped their ability to function and signified an underlying opposition of SMPD to civilian oversight.

County regulators recommended a proposal to split the SMMUSD advance to the next stage of analysis following a preliminary report that concluded eight of nine conditions for a split were unmet. According to staff, many of the unmet conditions were the result of poor or lacking data and further study was needed to make final determinations.

Santa Monica Brew Works, the first and only locally owned independent craft brewery on Los Angeles’ Westside, announced its latest edition of limited-released beers celebrating local businesses. The brewery teamed up with organic coffee roasters Groundwork Coffee Co. for its latest effort, following partnerships with other local iconic places such as Bay Cities and Rip City Skates. They collaborated on a Golden Mocha porter called Breakfast Brew.

Community live music returned with the Americana in the Park concert series, which was scheduled to take place at Gandara Park, on Sundays between Sept. 19 and Oct. 10. Musical acts featured a great range of Americana music from its origins in African, Appalachian, roots, blues and bluegrass, to its modern forms of folk and country.

Republican Gubernatorial candidate Larry Elder was the target of racial slurs and a thrown object while touring Venice. Several men with bandanas around their faces and a woman in a gorilla mask confronted the talk show host while he was walking through the area with local residents. 

The City of Santa Monica commemorated the 20th anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks this Saturday with an expanded, but still brief, ceremony Downtown. The 2021 commemoration was a more formalized and expanded version of smaller events that have taken place every year since the 2001 attacks.

Santa Monica marked the anniversary of September 11 with a ceremony at a local fire station. 

School districts throughout the state, including SMMUSD, experienced a fiscal windfall due to a surge in state payments linked to COVID-19, but officials warned the surplus cash was a temporary blip and not part of an ongoing change to funding. SMMUSD revenue for the 2019-20 school year increased by $1,488,977, more than triple the revenue increase for the prior year. District revenues were up six percent overall.

Bay Area institution Nick the Greek popped up in Santa Monica, serving souvlaki, gyros, pita sandwiches and more in a quick-service restaurant space just off the Promenade.

After 25 years at the helm, Joel Roberts announced he would step down as CEO of the federal grant program Projects for Assistance in Transition from Homelessness as of January 2022. The agency caters to 20 percent of California’s homeless.

The Santa Monica Classic came through town in mid-September. The 5K and 10K races brought about 2,000 people to Downtown and included some post race activities. 

Hispanic Heritage month kicked off in Santa Monica with a jam-packed agenda of events organized around the themes of “Cultura, Comunidad y Comercio.” The month ran from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15 with the aim of exploring Latino identities and experiences through the lens of culture, community and the economy. The Latino community has a longstanding and influential presence in Santa Monica, where currently approximately 16 percent of residents and 30 percent of staff members are of Hispanic or Latino ancestry.

Santa Monica-based program Students 4 Students, a volunteer project that was established to house homeless students at UCLA, expanded into a statewide program providing shelter at multiple campuses including USC, UC Davis and UC Santa Cruz with UC San Diego also considering its own campus shelter.

Polls were quiet during the Tuesday, Sept. 14, gubernatorial recall election, as many local voters opted to vote by mail. 

California Governor Gavin Newsom won a landslide victory in the Republican-led recall election. Local Democratic politicians reacted, with mayor Sue Himmelrich saying, “Our hard work in Santa Monica to stop the misguided recall effort was rewarded with our big victory last night. Now it’s time to turn our attention to the hard work of restoring a safety net for those less fortunate, addressing the challenges of global warming and creating the truly progressive government we wish we had in the state of California.”

Santa Monica Elks 906 celebrated Patriot Day at the Lodge. The lodge had a 20th Anniversary of 9/11 memorial. They honored Santa Monica Fire Department Captain Mike Fitzgerald as the 2021 Elks Firefighter of the Year. The lodge also awarded Stephen J. Schechter, a local Santa Monica citizen, with the Frank J Italiano Award for Americanism as the 2021-2022 Elks Patriot of the Year.

The Santa Monica Fire Department announced the launch of a brand-new type of emergency resource, the Community Response Unit (CRU) on Sept. 13. The CRU is a typical-looking ambulance staffed by two firefighters, but it has a unique mission of providing an alternative response to 9-1-1 calls to better address the needs of vulnerable populations in Santa Monica, including people experiencing homelessness.

City council engaged in a heated debate over the way meetings are conducted, with particular focus on council discussion items. Problems brought forward included discussing topics that are already in the process of being agendized, making consequential decisions without a staff report and the late hour at which these items are heard. In response to these problems, councilmembers added a rule to meeting procedures requiring all discussion items be discussed with the City Manager prior to being submitted. 

COVID-19 cases reported among L.A. County youth continued to decline, falling 40 percent during the second week of September.

City Council waived street sweeping citations issued between Aug. 30 and Sept. 3 after residents were caught off guard by the resumption of weekly street sweeping, which resumed after a pause of more than a year.

City officials gathered on the Promenade to kick-start Hispanic Heritage Month. Events included programs at local libraries, the Hola Mexico Film Festival, a screening of the Disney movie “Coco,” the Masanga Marimba Ensemble and a closing celebration outside City Hall. 

Newsom signed SB 9 and SB 10 into law. Each bill was designed to slice through local zoning ordinances as California struggled with soaring home prices, an affordable housing shortage and stubborn homelessness. He also announced the state would put $1.75 billion into a new California Housing Accelerator, which he said would speed building 6,500 affordable multi-family units that had been stalled for lack of tax-exempt bonds and low-income housing tax credits.

Safe Place for Youth welcomed a new executive director on Aug. 2 after founder Allison Hurst returned to her native England. Erika Hartman took over the lead of the program, which helps homeless youth.

Los Angeles County officials warned that lagging vaccine rates could undermine progress combating COVID-19 just as cool weather magnifies the danger of the disease. At a mid-September press conference, LA County Health Director Barbara Ferrer said the rate of new vaccinations was falling and vaccination rates for almost all groups were below the levels necessary to prevent a winter spike in cases.

The City announced it had begun recruiting for a two-year trades intern program. The program is designed to provide a supportive skilled job training experience to adults between the ages of 18 and 30 and targeted toward residents with limited education credentials.

County officials advanced a petition to create a standalone Malibu school district, saying they would make a decision on the proposal in about March 2022. At a virtual meeting, the Los Angeles County Committee on School District Organization said more time was needed to evaluate Malibu’s proposal to split the SMMUSD along city limits.

The Annual Santa Monica Police Activities League Poker Tournament took place at the Santa Monica Moose Lodge. The hours-long Texas Hold-em event raised thousands of dollars for the youth program and had over 100 participants.

The Architecture Review Board reviewed designed plans for two new Mid City developments: an 88-unit residential project at 2906 Santa Monica Blvd. and an office complex at 1633 26th St. The residential complex is a four-story building with ground floor retail and residential units, three levels of above ground residential units and a two level subterranean garage. The plan takes advantage of a new State Density Bonus Law that allows for increased density and height limits in exchange for the inclusion of affordable units.

A man was shot in the leg near a homeless encampment in Venice. 

Twenty-year-old baker Jyan Isaac Horwitz, who founded Jyan Isaac Bread in March 2020 during the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, opened his first full-sized brick-and-mortar location with 25 employees. Horwitz started with a small window location on Ocean Park Boulevard and an Instagram account.

A suspect was arrested in connection with a Sept. 6 road-rage shooting in Santa Monica. Eliott Ferrando, 24, was arrested at his Los Angeles home on Sept. 21 for attempted murder and was being held on $1 million bail. Ferrando was taken into custody after SMPD officers served a search warrant on the 11800 block of Ocean Park Blvd., just outside city limits.

A coalition of downtown Santa Monica property owners said they believed deteriorating conditions on the Promenade and in Downtown parking garages and alleys were deterring visitors and businesses from coming to the area.

SMMUSD hosted intense public debate over student vaccinations. At the meeting, Superintendent Ben Drati said he had been the victim of threats over proposed policies. The board asked for a special meeting dedicated to the topic that would include a complete analysis of the issue. By the end of 2021, no vaccine mandate had been put into place.

The sidewalks and street corners of Montana Avenue between 6th and 17th streets were lined with artwork, activities for children and live music during the Montana Art Walk, which featured see artwork outside on easels, large paintings, photography, and ceramics.

The Food and Drug Administration approved third shots of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine formula for people who are 65 and older, people at high risk of severe illness, and health care workers and others in danger of becoming infected on the job. Los Angeles County pledged to work to ensure that those eligible for COVID-19 vaccine booster shots were able to get their third dose.

After 13 months and two extensions, the California eviction moratorium expired on Sept. 30, making landlords able to pursue eviction proceedings on unpaid rent beginning in October. So long as tenants have submitted monthly “COVID-19 related financial distress” forms, they can never be evicted for rent owed between March 1, 2020 and Sept. 30, 2021.  Landlords can decide to pursue this back rent as consumer debt in a small claims court.

SMMUSD was in the midst of a severe bus driver shortage, leading the district to lower requirements for bus driver positions to try to fill the urgent need. According to the District, there is a bus driver shortage throughout the entire country, directly impacting Santa Monica’s K-12 students. The District also proposed raising the pay for open positions.

The Chamber of Commerce hosted a meeting with local doctors— Priya R Soni MD, FAAP; Dr. Kimberly Petrick, family medicine physician; Dan Uslan, MD MBA; and Dr. Mana Baskovic, obstetrics and gynecology — aimed at clarifying the current state of the pandemic.

Santa Monica’s Pasjoli restaurant earned its first Michelin Star in this year’s guide. The restaurant joined Rustic Canyon and the two-star Melisse as Michelin awardees in the City. Two restaurants, Colapasta and Tumbi, earned Bib Gourmand awards. Ten (Michael’s, Cassia, Citrin, Fia, Elephante, Milo+Olive, The Lobster, Birdie G’s, Chinois on Main and Lunetta) were recognized with the Michelin Plate award.

In a community meeting organized by Promenade property owner John Alle, L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva was highly critical of the City’s approach to homelessness in the Downtown area and candid about what he would do differently. Lt. Geoffrey Deedrick of the Sheriff’s Homeless Outreach Service Team (HOST) and Pastor Ron Hooks of local homeless service provider West Coast Care joined him on a panel. Councilmembers Phil Brock and Oscar de la Torre also attended the meeting and gave speeches on the conditions of safety, homelessness and cleanliness Downtown.

Two Samohi students, Shira Schlessinger, 17 and Kate Albert, 18, spent most of 2021 selling cookies to raise awareness and funds for Alzheimer’s care. Each month they delivered “Goodies for Granny”. By September, they had raised and donated over $3,000 to support Alzheimer’s support, research and advocacy.

Council altered zoning ordinances to help bring a host of new business types to the Promenade. The new permissible land uses included childcare services, pet stores, hotels, medical and dental offices, tattoo parlors, cinemas and theaters, convention centers, and general personal services. The zoning changes also gave businesses more flexibility to utilize rooftop, second floor and alleyway spaces. These changes were the first step in Downtown Santa Monica Inc.’s Third Street Promenade Stabilization and Economic Vitality Plan.

The Santa Monica Chamber of Commerce held a meeting with Senator Ben Allen and attorneys Rebecca Herman and Bron D’Angelo of Pettit Kohn to discuss the next steps for tenants and landlords in need of assistance following the end of the eviction moratorium.

AUGUST

OCTOBER

Matthew Hall

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...