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Top Stories in 2021: A Bleak Winter
 

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By Jorge Casuso

January 28, 2021 -- As the new year begins, Santa Monica continues to grapple with an increasing number of coronavirus cases and a record number of related deaths.

Meanwhile, the Council -- with three new members elected as part of a slow-growth slate -- signals a sharp turn in its housing policies as it begins plotting to build nearly 9,000 new housing units mandated by the State.

Winter comes to an end with a bitter battle pitting newly elected Councilmember Oscar de la Torre and the Council majority that excluded him from deliberating on the voting rights case filed by his wife.

JANUARY

Santa Monica witnesses a deadly start to the year, as coronavirus cases surge and a record 16 virus-related deaths are reported in the first week of the year ("Santa Monica Sees Weekly Surge in COVID-19 Cases, Record Number of Deaths," January 12, 2021).

The deaths -- which typically take two weeks to confirm -- reflect a deadly Christmas week that saw a swelling wave of cases in the midst of a regional Stay At Home Order issued on December 6.

In a grim accent to the bleak holiday season, a man jumps to his death from a Santa Monica Place parking structure marking the city's first public suicide of the year and the second in less than one month ("Man Leaps to His Death from Mall Parking Structure," January 11, 2021).

On the political front, State Assemblymember Richard Bloom -- a former Santa Monica mayor who championed environmental, housing and transportation bills in his eight years in Sacramento -- announces he will run for County Supervisor in 2022 ("Bloom to Run for County Supervisor in 2022," January 6, 2021).

After more than a hour of testimony and debate, the Council votes to once again select Sue Himmelrich as Mayor and Kristin McCowan as Mayor pro tem after the previous votes were challenged. This time the vote is unanimous ("Himmelrich, McCowan Solidify Support, Keep Top Council Posts," January 13, 2021).

Spurred by nationwide protests over the deaths of Black citizens at the hands of police, the Council unanimously approves the creation of Santa Monica’s first civilian police oversight commission ("Santa Monica Establishes Civilian Police Oversight Commission," January 14, 2021).

Two days later, the School Board appoints Keith Coleman to fill the seat Oscar de la Torre had refused to relinquish after being elected to the City Council in November ("School Board Chooses Coleman to Fill de la Torre's Seat," January 15, 2021).

Before the month ends, in one of the most combative public meetings in recent Santa Monica history, the Council determines de la Torre has a conflict of interest and must be excluded from closed door sessions pertaining to the voting rights lawsuit against the City ("EXTRA -- Council Votes to Exclude de la Torre from Closed Sessions on Voting Rights Case," January 26, 2021).

Despite deep cuts, the Council must dip into emergency reserves as Santa Monica's crippled economy pushes the City's budget into the red during the coronavirus shutdown. It is not expected to recover for another four years ("EXTRA -- City to Dip Into Emergency Reserves as Economic Downturn to Last Until 2025," January 21, 2021).

The month ends on a positive note as the number of local coronavirus cases drops by more than half over the last two weeks of January, hitting the lowest weekly level in more than two months ("Weekly COVID-19 Cases in Santa Monica Hit Lowest Level Since November," February 2, 2021).

FEBRUARY

COVID-19 cases continue dropping and by mid-February reach the lowest level in more than three months. City officials attribute the drop in part to beefed up enforcement of its emergency orders ("Santa Monica Boosts Enforcement of COVID-19 Emergency Orders," February 18, 2021).

The year-long coronavirus shutdown results in a slight drop in serious crime, with 256 fewer incidents than in 2019, but there were nearly 26,000 fewer calls for service ("EXTRA -- Crime Dips During COVID-19 Shutdown, Calls for Service Plummet," February 19, 2021).

On the political front, the Council signals a sharp turn on development led by the three newly elected "Change" members, who vote to oppose two housing bills sponsored by liberal lawmakers in Sacramento ("EXTRA -- New Council Breaks With Past Housing Policies," February 10, 2021).

Pro-development Councilmember Gleam Davis recuses herself from participating in any decisions concerning the Miramar Hotel redevelopment after the State's ethics watchdog advises her she has a financial conflict of interest ("Councilmember Davis Has Financial Conflict of Interest in Miramar Project, FPPC Says," February 5, 2021).

Housekeepers at Santa Monica's Le Merigot Hotel file a complaint with the State's top workplace health enforcer Thursday alleging the hotel -- which has fought unionizing efforts -- has failed to safeguard them from the COVID-19 pandemic ("Housekeepers Keep Pressure on Santa Monica Hotel Reportedly for Sale," February 26, 2021).

As February draws to a close, a woman jumps to her death from a Santa Monica Place parking structure, marking the third suicide at the upscale shopping mall in less than six months ("Woman Leaps to Her Death from Santa Monica Place Parking Structure," March 1, 2021).

MARCH

One year into the coronavirus shutdown, City officials report Santa Monica has lost 130 small, locally owned businesses, while a City business survey indicates that "many more are facing closure in the months to come."

The shutdown, however, provides an opportunity to further Santa Monica's green efforts by becoming the first city in the nation to test a system that replaces large fume-spewing delivery trucks with non-polluting vehicles in its most congested areas ("Santa Monica to Test Nation's First 'Zero Emissions Delivery Zone,'" March 1, 2021).

Despite the ongoing health emergency, Santa Monica's housing market begins to turn, with rents rebounding and the city's home prices ranking third in the nation ("Santa Monica Rents Rebound, Home Prices Third Highest in Nation, Studies Find," March 3, 2021).

Under the State's final housing allocations Santa Monica must plan to build 8,895 new housing units -- more than two-thirds of them affordable -- by October 2029 ("Santa Monica 's Housing Target Finalized at Nearly 8,900 New Units," March 4, 2021).

City officials announce Santa Monica will receive $26.7 million in federal funding -- a "small fraction" of the revenue lost due to the coronavirus shutdown -- as part of a $1.9 trillion stimulus bill ("EXTRA -- Santa Monica to Receive Nearly $27 Million in Federal Relief Funding," March 8, 2021).

New child molestation cases continue to be are filed against the City and its police youth program, which already is paying a $42.6 million settlement. The filings bring to nearly 100 the total number of children allegedly molested by City employee Eric Uller ("Number of Plaintiffs Filing Child Molestation Cases Against the City Could Reach 100," March 9, 2021).

Setting the stage for a potential lawsuit, the Council unanimously approves an urgency ordinance mandating a temporary $5-an-hour pay hike for workers at 24 local grocery and drug stores ("Santa Monica Approves Extra Pay for Grocery, Drug Store Workers," March 11, 2021).

Councilmember de la Torre sues the City of Santa Monica for barring him from Council meetings, discussions or decisions pertaining to the voting rights case ("Councilmember Sues City Over Conflict of Interest Decision," March 19, 2021).


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