The Pier taskforce got to work in January.

Overview:

SMDP staff summarized stories from throughout the year and all 12 months will run in chronological order this week.

Editor’s Note: Today marks the start of SMDP’s annual Year in Review. SMDP staff summarized stories from throughout the year and all 12 months will run in chronological order this week.

January

After 25 years leading Downtown Santa Monica, Inc. and over three decades working in Santa Monica, Kathleen Rawson announced her departure from Downtown Santa Monica Inc. to become the CEO of The Hollywood Partnership. 

Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer announced the city has defended its plan to permit 6,000 new mixed use housing units along the Expo Line transit corridor. A neighborhood group called Fix the City began fighting the housing in 2018 with a legal case to block the building project, which encompasses the Exposition Boulevard corridor in Los Angeles, between Santa Monica and Culver City. The plan, called the Exposition Corridor Transit Neighborhood Plan, allows for dozens of new buildings to be constructed, including some along Olympic Boulevard between Centinela and Barrington, just outside Santa Monica city limits, that are zoned to stand 10 to 12 stories tall. 

Two years after signing a lease, Mayra Vazquez was ecstatic to open the Buena Vida Tea Bar & Garden, or what she called her “little urban oasis.” The tea bar is located at 726 Montana Ave in the former location of the Language of Flowers. Vazquez, who was always a fan of the flower shop, chose to keep its garden and elevate the space into a zen like patio hideaway designed for enjoying the perfect cup of tea.

City staff released a timeline for recontextualizing a pair of 1930s Stanton Macdonald Wright murals, which have been a subject of controversy for several years due to their depiction of native Americans and framing of Santa Monica’s history. Community discussions were planned for May to October and staff is expected to report back to Council with recommendations for recontextualization by January 2023 with a goal to implement the project by the end of 2023. 

Santa Monica students were back in classrooms following a winter break that coincided with a drastic uptick in local COVID-19 cases, with school officials saying their goal was to continue offering in-person instruction unless absolutely forced to go remote. The goal was not met in Malibu, where 20 new virus cases triggered a distance learning day for Malibu High School and Middle School students. 

The largest real estate deal in the city’s history closed with the sale of eight properties to New York based real estate company Tishman Speyer. Tishman’s purchase of 3.1 acres from WS Communities was one of the largest entitled land sales on the West Coast and the largest in Santa Monica’s history. In total, the downtown development portfolio included 325,391 net rentable square feet, including 31,473 square feet of commercial space and 627 multifamily units – all of which are fully entitled and approved by city authorities. 

SB 9 was passed by state legislators in September 2021 and came into effect this year. City Council voted to formally oppose the bill, but was forced to focus their efforts on managing its local implementation. The bill is meant to help  increase California’s housing stock by allowing up to four units to be built on a land parcel zoned for a single family dwelling. Council opposed the bill due to its lack of an affordability requirement and fears that it would result in speculative investors purchasing land parcels and building expensive new units. 

Santa Monica inched one step closer to having a medical marijuana dispensary, as the city’s lengthy permitting and regulatory process continued to crawl forward. Planning Commission issued a conditional use permit (CUP) to a long-awaited medicinal cannabis retailer that plans to move in at 1416 Wilshire Boulevard between 14th and 15th streets — not far from UCLA Medical Center. However, that was just the first in a laundry list of licenses, permits and fees needed to begin operations. Among the slew of permits and certificates required are cannabis  permits, a county health permit, a seller’s permit, insurance and an approved compliance report from code enforcement, plus required fees (around $20,000). 

Following pandemic-era budget cuts, City Hall found some extra cash to spend on maintenance projects. In October of last year, Council determined a one-time $1 million capital improvement saving meant city staff could spend an extra seven figures on one priority in particular: clean and safe Santa Monica. 

Rainstorms helped to replenish California’s thirsty reservoirs, but had an unintended consequence: removing one of Malibu’s tactics for enforcing homeless encampment removal. Malibu had been under a state of local emergency due to a  rise in encampment fires amid dry, windy conditions. According to public safety officials, between January and August 2021, 17 fires had been reported at homeless encampments within Malibu city limits, with more than one spreading to nearby brush. However, wet weather undermined the rationale for the encampment ban. 

The program to distribute LA County’s free at-home COVID-19 test kits was paused due to problems with the vendor getting tests to people’s homes in a timely fashion. The Department of Health Services eventually took over distribution of the test kits. 

Choreographer and dancer Christine Suarez’s vision for creating constructive and meaningful dialogue in divided times earned her a 2022 National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) grant. The money from the grant — which she must match with her own fundraising — will go toward furthering her mission of exploring what being American really means. 

The highly-transmissible omicron variant of COVID-19, shortages of testing availability and changing county health guidelines contributed to a stressful  new year for parents, teachers, students and administrators in the local school district. Schools reported about 10-12 percent positive cases results, with Samohi higher. Local schools also had to deal with staff shortages as the virus affected teachers, administrators and support staff as well as students. 

The City of Santa Monica launched a new interdepartmental task force focused on criminal activity associated with unlicensed vending at the Santa Monica Pier. The group included representatives from SMPD, SMFD, Public Works, Code Enforcement and the City  Attorney’s Office. While the task force was composed of Santa Monica employees it worked in partnership with county offices including the County Department of Public Health. In its first deployment, enhanced enforcement of illegal vending on the Santa Monica Pier resulted in two arrests with police seizing an unregistered gun from a 14-year-old vendor and in a separate incident, a vendor was arrested in connection with an assault. 

City Council discussed, but did not adopt, a potential COVID-19 vaccine mandate to cover a variety of indoor spaces. While LA County was requiring proof of vaccination for indoor service at bars, breweries, clubs, lounges and wineries since October, there was no countywide vaccine requirement for indoor spaces. 

Malibu City leadership was back at the negotiating table with a new offer to break off from the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District: $40 million in an endowment fund focused on closing the achievement gap at six Santa Monica school sites. The two sides continued negotiating for much of the year before announcing a deal in October. 

The Santa Monica Film Festival returned for its 16th iteration under the direction of Santa Monica native David Katz.

The Pico Improvement Organization (PIO) held a neighborhood block party to celebrate a new two-story tall mural celebrating the rich history of the neighborhood. The mural at Pico Blvd and Urban Street was painted by local muralist Marcel Blanco and commemorates several local legacy businesses while adding to the growing collection of street art along Pico Boulevard. 

Local officials were alarmed by fliers found at several schools that linked vaccine debates to antisemitism. The fliers were found at Grant, McKinley, Edison, Will Rogers, Roosevelt, Lincoln and John Adams campuses. They featured a large red “A” and an overlapping green “V” that form a Star of David design. They also contained the words “anti-vaxxer” and a phone number to report individuals who were against vaccines. 

The MLK  Westside Coalition chose to shift its annual MLK Day celebration online in light of the Omicron surge, but the day’s programming still packed a powerful, peaceful punch in honor of the late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. 

Santa Monica-based non-profit the Children’s Lifesaving Foundation surprised UCLA COVID Ward Nurse Shannan Hough and her colleagues at the UCLA Hospital with beauty and skincare gift bags, put together by the staff of Venice-based OSEA Skincare. The bags were filled with high-end skin and beauty products donated by OSEA and their partner brands. 

The Omicron fueled surge in COVID-19 cases entered a grim phase with hospitalizations and deaths increasing following weeks of skyrocketing infections. 

The County Board of Supervisors began efforts to regulate living in vehicles. A multifaceted motion requested the county gather data, identify funding sources and make plans to support homeless people living in RVs while also removing the dilapidated vehicles from public roads.

In an effort to right historical wrongs, the City opened applications for households or descendants of households forcibly displaced by the construction of the I-10 freeway and Civic Center to receive priority for affordable housing in Santa Monica. The “Right to Return” pilot program acknowledged the harm done to primarily households of color through the use of eminent domain during the 1950s and 1960s. It aimed to create a  form of reparations by giving these families the opportunity to return to Santa Monica through high priority placements on the City’s Below Market Housing (BMH) list. 

The eruption of an undersea volcano in the South Pacific sent tsunami warnings around the globe but Santa Monica escaped any significant damage. The National Weather Service issued a tsunami warning for the entire West Coast, however the day passed with no major incidents locally and the warning was lifted. While groups of eager surfers ignored warnings to avoid the water, they were met with unremarkable waves of two to three feet. 

California State Senator Bob Hertzberg entered the race for Third District Supervisor. While he advanced to out of the primary and into the general election, he eventually lost to Lindsay Horvath. 

Microsoft announced a deal worth nearly $70 billion for Santa Monica based Activision Blizzard, the maker of Candy Crush and Call of Duty, to boost its competitiveness in mobile gaming and virtual-reality technology. The all-cash $68.7 billion deal would turn Microsoft, maker of the Xbox gaming system, into one of the world’s largest video game companies. However, the deal stalled due to opposition from regulators. 

Santa Monica Travel & Tourism (SMTT) reported increases in tourism following pandemic induced shutdowns. Local hotel occupancy more than tripled, but was still below the 72 percent occupancy seen in 2019. The average daily hotel room rate was $346, up from 2020’s average which was in the $200s. Sensors located along the Third Street Promenade that help the local business district measure foot traffic on the pedestrian thoroughfare also showed an increase. 

Despite collecting over 39,000 signatures, an effort to recall CD-11 City Councilman Mike Bonin was rejected by the Los Angeles City Clerk as only 25,965 signatures were deemed valid. The recall was fueled by discontent over Bonin’s approach to homelessness, which supporters of the recall said had gotten considerably worse during his tenure and become particularly egregious in Venice. 

The city broke ground on a $72 million improvement project designed to further reduce the amount of water the city imports. The expansion and modernization of the Arcadia Water Treatment Plant near the intersection of Wilshire Boulevard and Bundy Drive is part of an ongoing effort to reduce imported water use in the city. 

Parents who lost children to fentanyl-laced pills sold on Snapchat gathered to protest the company for what they said was a lack of effort in addressing the crisis. 

Jerry Rosenblum, who lived in Santa Monica for nearly 60 years died. Known as a remarkably goal oriented person, at age 88, Jerry set a goal to write his memoir though he had no writing experience. In a year he had completed a first draft and published, “An Angel On My Shoulder.” Jerry was delighted to be honored by Al Roker on “The Today Show” when he turned 100 and died a few weeks later. 

Members of the Public Safety Reform and Oversight Commission (PSROC) called a special meeting to discuss what several members felt were barriers to the commission’s ability to carry out its responsibilities.  While commissioners held differing viewpoints on how well the City has supported its mission, Chair George Brown and several other commissioners said that a lack of resources and slow action from the City is holding back the commission’s work. 

The long-planned Phase Two redevelopment of Providence Saint John’s Health Center went to Planning Commission with Providence Health Systems seeking approval for an overhaul of its South Campus facilities and sign-off on an updated community benefits agreement. Officials ultimately approved plans to remove the existing Saint John’s Health Center foundation building, MRI facility, John Wayne Cancer Institute, and a vacant apartment building to make way for ten new structures. The proposed facilities include hospital space, medical offices, medical research facilities, a health and wellness center, an education and conference center, a child and family development center, day care, restaurants, visitor accommodations, and a minimum of ten units of affordable  multi-family housing.

An unexplained wave of bird deaths stumped environmental experts. Heal the Bay said it received reports of several dead sea birds on the sand in the area around Venice Boulevard and despite months of investigation, no definitive reason was found. 

Officials announced that the Super Bowl Pregame show would be broadcast live from the Pier. The big game returned to the local area after an almost 30 year absence. 

Arts and Letters announced it would close after nearly two decades of operation on Main Street. The decision came two or three years earlier than the owners had planned due to the challenging retail environment amid the pandemic. 

A homeless man was arrested after attempting to assault an employee at Councilwoman Lana Negrete’s music store and subsequently attacking an elderly woman on the street. The assault followed a report detailing the amount City Hall spends on homeless services per year (about $5 million) but the report said little data was available to determine the outcome of outreach efforts. 

Danny Alvarez was chosen to lead the Santa Monica Fire Department. Former Fire Chief Bill Walker departed in May of 2021 to the Bedford Fire Department in Texas and Wolfgang Knabe had been Interim Fire Chief since June of 2021. 

The Santa Monica Fire Department (SMFD) released a report that said it responded to thousands of emergency calls in 2021, with “rescue & emergency medical service incidents” making up the largest share of the department’s activities. SMFD Fire Captain Patrick Nulty said calls were beginning to pick up from the 2020 lull. 

The Saga of Parking Structure 3 continued. Council previously approved plans to demolish the structure and replace it with an affordable housing project. Council picked a housing partner for the project (EAH Inc.) but the project was then delayed by a judge. However, opponents of the project failed to file their paperwork by a court ordered deadline and the same judge gave City Hall permission to tear down the facility. 

February