Santa Monica Lookout
|Top Santa Monica Stories of 2016||
| By Jonathan Friedman|
December 23, 2016 -- Even years are always eventful in Santa Monica because they feature City Council races. But for the first time in recent memory, the council contest was a dull affair. Did that mean 2016 was a total dud for the Santa Monica political scene? Not even close.
The usual battles on airport and development took place--arguably in even more heated fashion than in past years. Santa Monica's city attorney of more than 22 years stepped down, and the school district's chief went off to the desert. The Expo line finally opened--bringing trains into Santa Monica for the first time since Eisenhower was president, and commuting in and out of the city became easier with the return of the new-look Santa Monica Incline.
Plus, Santa Monica has a new minimum wage that will continue to grow each year through 2020
It was an eventful year, and here (in no particular order) are some of the top stories:
LUVE Is an (Election) Battlefield
LUVE had many obvious opponents, including developers with projects in the pipeline and those owning existing structures who worried about remodeling (both the planned and the unplanned due to earthquakes). But it was also rejected by traditional slow-growth leaders such as Councilmembers Kevin McKeown and Ted Winterer who said it created too many unintended consequences. Nearly all the major endorsements from various groups were for a "no" vote.
This opposition combined with a seven-figure-dollar campaign against the measure led to LUVE's defeat ("Backers of Defeated Santa Monica Slow-Growth Measure Blame Development Money, Claim Success," November 10, 2016). But with LUVE defeated, the battle over development issues continues in Santa Monica. And something similar to LUVE could even be on the ballot in the near future ("Santa Monica City Council Reconsiders Public Vote on Development," December 8, 2016).
Council Gets Serious About Airport Closure, and the FAA Doesn't Like It
Meanwhile, the City attempted to evict its two major aviation tenants, and neither Atlantic Aviation nor American Flyers Flight School are accepting this action without a fight ("City in Holding Pattern As Two Santa Monica Airport Tenants Defy Eviction," October 18, 2016). All parties are expected back in court in January. The FAA has also ordered that the evictions be temporarily halted.
While the various legal fights pile up, the City continues to make serious plans for what the public property could become if the airport ever closes ("Santa Monica Embarks on Environmental Study of Airport Park Expansion," August 10, 2016). And one other thing that could add a new wrinkle to this seemingly never-ending conflict is the announcement by the company JetSuiteX that it would offer inexpensive flights in and out of Santa Monica Airport beginning in February ("Promise of 'Affordable' Flights from Santa Monica Airport Angers Activists," December 19, 2016).
Expo Opens to Excitement
Early numbers show people are taking advantage of the trains that take passengers from Downtown Santa Monica to Downtown Los Angeles with many possible stops along the way. But there has been some concern, including a report of increased crime along the route ("Theft and Similar Crimes Jump More Than 50 Percent Near Santa Monica Expo Line," December 6, 2016).
City Attorney Resigns After 22 Years
While her predecessor many years ago was fired, Moutrie's exit was much less dramatic. Her reasons for leaving were to spend more time with her family and to travel. At just shy of 70, she decided the time was right. Her final meeting was full of tributes ("Retiring Santa Monica City Attorney Bids Farewell," December 15, 2016).
Veteran School Officials Step Down
Lyon was credited with various actions, both actual accomplishments and for setting the path toward possible positive changes for the district in the future. But some observers say that like her many predecessors, she was unable to do much about the achievement gap. A diversity expert from UCLA issued a damning report in the spring saying two decades of efforts by the SMMUSD had not made much of an impact ("Santa Monica-Malibu Schools Get Failing Grades in Closing Achievement Gap," April 20, 2016).
Low-Wage Workers Get a Raise
The first step in the path toward the $15-per-hour minimum salary went into effect July 1, with the bottom hourly salary for most workers rising to $10.25. It will rise to $12 next year.
The City Council Election That Barely Was
But at least the council had an election. The SMMUSD board didn't have one because there weren't enough candidates. This has not happened in modern local school board history. Incumbents Maria Leon-Vazquez and Ralph Mechur as well as newcomer Jon Kean earned board seats without needing to run a campaign.
Council Updates Anti-Corruption Law
Although the report from consultant John Hueston stopped short of accusing O'Connor of ethics violations in her role in the Elizabeth Riel hire/fire affair, it did say she was "not mindful" of the City's anti-corruption law when she contacted then-City Manager Rod Gould numerous times about Riel shortly before her firing ("Offer Rescinded to Political Activist for Santa Monica’s Top Communications Job," May 29, 2014).
Councilmember Ted Winterer said O'Connor's actions had "tainted" her accomplishments in other areas. Others also had harsh words. But the council would not censure O'Connor as some activists wanted. Hueston's report led to the council making changes to the anti-corruption law to strengthen it. These amendments went before the voters in November and were passed with no active opposition campaigning against them.
Santa Monica Remembers
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