January 3 -- In 2006 the worst tragedy
in Santa Monica history came to an end -- at least for now --
and a longstanding gang problem persisted, claiming the lives
of two young residents. The year saw the City Council continue
to tackle the beachside city's entrenched homeless problem, expand
the smoking ban and outlaw most take-out food containers.
Last year saw an election with results that seemed anti-climactic,
as the voters ushered in less personnel changes than the new city
manager did. The result: The same members will sit on the City
Council, but virtually every top City department has a new head.
So do the School and College districts, after their boards hired
Santa Monica Place will look similar after scrapping an ambitious
redevelopment plan last year, but 415 PCH will be virtually brand
new, the old Marion Davies estate now set to become a public beach
club. And Santa Monica has a new public library that’s already
logged some 750,000 visits.
1. Guilty: A tragedy
that tore at the heart of Santa Monica for more than three years
came to a tentative end in November, when a superior court judge
reluctantly sentenced George Weller to five years probation and
nearly $100,000 in fines.
Despite showing little remorse, the 89-year-old Santa Monica
resident did not go to jail for killing 10 people and injuring
63 when his Buick plowed through a crowded Santa Monica farmers
market in July 2003.
Although convicted of 10 counts of vehicular homicide October
20 in what is reportedly the worst traffic accident in Santa Monica
history, Weller was spared from serving time behind bars by his
advanced age and deteriorating health, said Superior Court Judge
Michael Johnson. (see
The long-awaited sentencing, however, did not put an end to a
legal saga. While a Superior court judge in July ruled that the
should not stand trial for the tragic crash, the same judge did
not leave the Bayside
District Corporation, which runs the Downtown, off the hook,
ruling that the agency was in part responsible for the Farmers
Market accident. The verdict is also still out in 38 separate
lawsuits filed as a result of the crash.
2. New Boss Same as the Old Boss: One
of the most expensive -- and nastiest -- campaigns in Santa Monica
history did nothing to change the makeup of the City Council in
the November race for three open seats, likely indicating that
voters are by and large happy with how their City is run. (see
|Council member Kevin McKeown
is congratulated by former Mayor Dennis Zane. (Photo by Olin
Council member Kevin McKewown withstood a blitz of negative cable
TV ads and mailers to win the top spot, followed by Council
member Pam O’Connor and Mayor Bob Holbrook. (see
While SMRR retained its one-vote majority on the seven-member
council, Planning Commissioner Terry
O’Day became a household name, after seeing nearly $400,000
spent on his behalf by SMRR opponents.
But the rift within SMRR became apparent when O’Connor
failed to give McKeown the fourth vote needed to become mayor.
Instead, she cast the swing vote to split the two-year term between
fellow SMRR member Richard Bloom and SMRR foe Herb Katz.(see
Despite the internal strife, SMRR not only maintained control
of the council, the powerful tenants group swept the races for
four seats on the School Board, four seats on the College Board
and three seats on the Rent Control Board. (see
3. Violent Ends:
A longstanding gang problem in the Pico Neighborhood exploded
into the public light with the slaying of a popular Samohi student
outside a mini mall in February. The fatal shooting of Eddie
Lopez, who was not affiliated with gangs, reinvigorated a
effort to address the thorny issue of youth violence.
|(Photos by Ann K. Williams)
Increasing youth job fairs and resources for single parents,
helping youths recently released from jail, expanding youth sports
and arts programs, implementing early intervention and launching
a more regional approach to gang violence were among the suggestions
made at a community
meeting in July.
That the problem is far from over was brought home during the
final days of the year, when 22-year-old Santa Monica resident
Miguel Martin was gunned down in Virginia Avenue Park, where the
City is sponsoring a youth program to help get kids off the street.
4. Homeless in Paradise:
The homeless were once again Santa Monica’s top issue in
2006, as the City released the results of a
census that counted 1,192 homeless individuals across the
City officials last year implemented several strategies to help
get the homeless off the streets, including a strategy to tackle
the problem on a
regional basis. In July, the City moved ahead with a pilot
Courts” program that established a separate court for
the homeless and mentally ill, providing an alternative to jail
and offering services to individuals convicted of petty offenses.
In August, City
officials announced an agreement to move indoors the largest
groups that for more than a decade have used public land to hand
out food to the homeless. (see
And in October, the City opened a new 55-bed homeless
shelter at Michigan Avenue and Cloverfield Boulevard that
offers temporary housing, supportive counseling and day services
to a number of mentally ill adult men and women.
5. Beach Club Bash: More than a decade
after the old Marion Davies estate at 415 PCH was red-tagged after
the Northridge earthquake, the City will turn the dilapidated
property into a public beach club, thanks to nearly $30 million
from the Annenberg Foundation. (see
|Rendering of 415 PCH Beach Club courtesy
of Douglas Jamieson & Frederick Fisher and Partners
A legal roadblock that threatened to delay construction was
lifted in September after the City Council voted to settle
a lawsuit filed by four nearby homeowners. The settlement
-- which requires separate agreements with the foundation and
the California Department of Parks and Recreation -- sets forth
conditions relating to operating hours, security, lighting, parking
and noise. It also calls for the City to continue to lobby Caltrans
to install a stoplight at the beach club entrance on PCH.
The suit was filed after the City
Council unanimously denied four appeals by its Gold Coast
neighbors who fear the project will pose safety hazards and lower
their standard of living.
6. Banned: In a highly publicized vote,
Council in October expanded Santa Monica’s far-reaching
smoking ban to include all outdoor dining areas, farmers markets
and the Third Street Promenade.
The law, which went into effect on Thanksgiving Day, also stamped
out smoking in outdoor waiting areas -- such as ATMs, bus stops
and movie lines -- and areas around public buildings that are
within 20 feet of entrances, exits or windows that can open.
The tourism industry -- which pumps an estimated $50 million
into the Santa Monica’s economy each year -- worried that
the ban could hurt tourism. But City officials argued that that
the health benefits will far outweigh any potential economic risks.
Smoking wasn’t the only thing banned in 2006. With the
costs to local businesses unclear and a possible lawsuit looming,
Council in December unanimously passed one of California's
broadest bans on Styrofoam and non-recyclable plastic carry-out
The council acted decisively with little to say on the issue
after listening to environmentalists who say the products harm
marine birds and fish and to plastic industry representatives
who argue other products will end up polluting the bay.
With a hardship provision for businesses in place, the ban prohibits
restaurants and stores from serving food -- mostly to-go items
-- in containers made from blown polystyrene, or Styrofoam, as
well as non-recyclable plastic.
7. Posts Filled: New faces filled a slew
of top posts at City Hall in 2006, with new department heads coming
from as near as Long Beach and as far away as Alexandria, Virginia.
In January, City
Manager P. Lamont Ewell took charge of running the City and
quickly established himself as a leader who gets things done.
The former San Diego city manager acted to eliminate the ground
squirrels in Palisades Park, refunded those who paid twice
violations and urged voters to give his post more
power to hire and fire top officials.
He also hired Eileen
P. Fogarty -- a “turn-around specialist” who reformed
the planning process in Alexandria -- to head the Planning Department,
and Long Beach Deputy Police Chief
Timothy Jackman -- who advocates a holistic, open and collaborative
approach to law enforcement -- as police chief.
Shortly before Christmas, Ewell tapped Carol
O. Swindell -- who has headed administrative and finance departments
in two Southern California cities -- as Santa Monica's new finance
8. Educated Moves: City Hall wasn’t
the only public institution that saw sweeping changes in 2006.
Chui L. Tsang took over Santa Monica College in February after
heading San Jose City College for nearly a decade.
Tsang -- whose hiring capped a nearly yearlong search -- will
work with a board with three new trustees elected by Santa Monica
and Malibu voters in November.
The School District also saw major changes when Dianne
Talarico took over from John
Deasy as the new superintendent in July.
Talarico -- who as superintendent turned around Canton, Ohio
schools and boosted student achievement -- quickly found herself
at the center of a brewing controversy when the district’s
chief financial officer, Winston Braham, failed to sign off on
raise for teachers.
The public disagreement led to Braham’s
departure from a district that saw most of its top
posts -- including two School Board seats -- filled with new
9. Back to the Drawing Board: After scrapping
an ambitious plan to rebuild Santa Monica Place, the Macerich
Company unveiled a proposal in September to remodel the struggling
|The proposed open air dining
deck (Renderings courtesy of Macerich Company and Jerde Partnership)
remodel would make large portions of the center open air and
offer a better connection to the Third Street Promenade. There
would be an expanded center court and al fresco dining
on the third level, where the food court would be relocated.
Floated before community and business groups, the plan seemed
to get passing marks, a stark contrast to the original
redevelopment plan, which included three 21-story towers,
an office building, an apartment building and a rooftop park.
Macerich hired a consultant to help determine the kinds of stores
that are in demand and will be looking for retail that complements
what’s already on the Promenade, company officials said.
When construction starts, the process also promises to be less
disruptive than it would have been under the prior plan. Macy's
department store could remain open and the two City-owned parking
structures at Santa Monica Place will continue to operate, Macerich
10. Book It: In January, the City opened
a new chapter in its cultural legacy, when hundreds of Santa Monicans
turned out to join a who’s who of City officials to celebrate
opening of the new $57.7 million Main Library Downtown.
|(Photo by Ann K. Williams)
Under construction for more than two years, the 104,000-square-foot
-- which opened to the public on January 7 -- showcases cutting-edge
sustainable features, as well as an historic mural that has been
out of sight for nearly half a century.
The library’s multistory walls of glass, movable walls
and operable windows make the most of natural light and air, breaking
down the barriers between inside and out, allowing patrons to
wander in and out of the garden courtyard where they’ll
be able to enjoy a cup of coffee while they browse the latest
best seller. Ample parking is available in the 558-space, three-story