The Samohi Lady Vikings flag football squad made a splash in its first campaign, going undefeated in Ocean League play. Credit: Santa Monica High School

The Samohi Lady Vikings faced an unconventional inaugural 2023 flag football season, marked by uncertainty about the game rules and skepticism in the male-dominated sport. Despite lacking traditional measures for success, the team overcame challenges, gradually gaining momentum and ultimately securing an undefeated Ocean League championship with a 16-3 overall record, including a perfect 8-0 Ocean League record. The players and coaches navigated unfamiliar territory, defying expectations and achieving a remarkable outcome.

Scuba dive boat captain Jerry Boylan, 69, has been convicted of criminal negligence in the 2019 fire that killed 34 people, including two from Santa Monica, marking the deadliest recent maritime disaster in the US. The verdict, one count of misconduct or neglect of a ship officer, follows a 10-day trial in downtown Los Angeles. Boylan faces potential sentencing to 10 years in prison on Feb. 8, the sole individual charged in connection to the tragic incident. His public defenders refrained from commenting after the courthouse verdict.

Despite the easing of the COVID-19 pandemic, the urgent issue of food insecurity persists, prompting the Westside Food Bank to host its 33rd annual 5K Hunger Walk. This event, aimed at raising awareness and funds for food assistance, saw hundreds of participants wearing blue shirts along Santa Monica’s Ocean Front Walk. Westside’s President and CEO, Genevieve Riutort, stressed the severity of the food crisis, describing it as “record high,” underlining the ongoing need for support in ensuring ample, nutritious food for those in need.

Santa Monica’s Pico district stands out as a hub of local business success, notably characterized by a strong work ethic along Pico Boulevard. The “Our Pico” portrait gallery, a collaboration between the Pico Improvement Organization and photographer Sam Comen, showcases the human stories behind the storefronts. The project, funded by a grant from the City of Santa Monica’s Art of Recovery program, features engaging portraits of 41 workers in various roles, capturing the essence of hands-on work, entrepreneurship, and artisan crafting. Comen’s empathetic approach aligns with the project’s goal to highlight the humanity of Pico’s diverse businesses.

The Samohi Vikings football team achieved a notable victory on Nov. 3, securing their first playoff win since 2019 with a 33-27 triumph over Santa Ana. The win marked a turnaround season, following a 6-4 regular season record in 2023. Despite an early 14-0 deficit and poor visibility due to fog, quarterback Wyatt Brown led the team to success, throwing for 278 yards and two rushing touchdowns. Brown’s stellar performance added to his record-breaking 2023 campaign, previously holding the single-season passing yards record for his sophomore season.

The Samohi Cross-Country girls’ varsity team secured a spot in the postseason preliminary meet during the challenging Bay League Finals on Nov. 2. Despite finishing fourth at the meet, just missing the top three cutoff for preliminaries, their 11th-place Southern Section ranking granted them a “wild card” bye into the Mt. San Antonio College meet. Junior standout Phoebe Benun continued her dominant 2023 campaign, winning the 3-mile varsity race and claiming back-to-back individual Bay League championships, a feat not achieved since 2008-2009.

In a narrow vote, Santa Monica City Councilmembers approved the Justice for Renters Act, with four in favor, one against, and two abstentions. The act, which has qualified for the November 2024 state ballot, aims to address limitations imposed by the Costa Hawkins Act. Costa Hawkins restricts rent control on single-family homes, condos, and units built after 1995, as well as prohibiting “vacancy control” preventing rent increases between tenants.

A Los Angeles City Council committee voted 3-2 against extending the pandemic-related rent increase freeze set to expire on January 31, 2024. Instead, they approved a proposal allowing smaller rent increases for properties covered by the 1979 Rent Stabilization Ordinance. Councilmember Bob Blumenfield amended the proposal, requesting the city attorney draft an ordinance temporarily setting rent-controlled unit increases at a capped 4% from Feb. 1 to June 30, 2024, addressing legal and fairness concerns.

Little Amal, a puppet symbolizing a 10-year-old Syrian refugee girl, captivated spectators on the Santa Monica Pier as part of the Amal Walks Across America tour. Operated by a person inside and supported by the Handspring Puppet Company, Amal walked the length of the pier, welcomed by Hawaiian dance teacher Kumu Hula Keali’l Ceballos and his Halau Hula Keali’l O Nalani dance company at the west end. Inspired by a character from “The Jungle,” the puppet represents refugees worldwide, concluding its journey across America after visiting over 35 cities and participating in 100 events.

Despite California investing billions to house homeless veterans, the number of former military service members living on the streets has remained steady for nearly a decade. Presently, one-third of the nation’s unhoused veterans reside in California. The state’s competitive housing market, combined with the challenges veterans encounter upon returning home, contributes to the persistently high rates of veteran homelessness, according to Alex Visotzky, senior California policy fellow at the National Alliance to End Homelessness.