The year 2017 will be remembered as the year Donald Trump became president of the United States, making it an interesting year as far as news-making was concerned. What is and what isn’t news became as important as the main issues of the year.
In Southern California, 2017 was the year government leaders finally decided to address the homelessness crisis. Local leaders also fought with Trump over immigration issues and local governments wrestled with what do with marijuana, which becomes legal for recreational use by adults over 21 on Jan. 1, 2018.
Those are among the top stories of 2017 that we look at in our annual year-in-review issue.
Officials seek lower
In January, the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority sends volunteers out into the darkness to count the number of homeless people.
Officials were stunned when the numbers were announced in May. The number of homeless people in Los Angeles County had increased 23 percent from January 2016. There were now 57,794 people living on the streets, their cars, under freeway overpasses and along the Los Angeles Rivers and other waterways, up from 46,874 people in 2016.
Officials used words like “staggering” and “abysmal” to describe the 23 percent increase.
But officials had begun planning to solve the problem even before the dramatic numbers were revealed.
In November 2016, voters in the city of Los Angeles approved Measure HHH, a $1.2 billion bond issue to pay for more than 10,000 units of housing.
And in March 2017, Los Angeles County voters approved a .25 percent sales tax increase that is expected to raise $355 million annually over the next 10 years. The money will be spent to provide services for homeless people that will hopefully get them off the street permanently.
In November, the United Way of Greater Los Angeles and Los Angeles County announced an innovative grant program with cities in the county that saw 47 of the county’s 88 cities submit applications.
The idea was to get cities to develop their own strategic plans for dealing with homeless issues, with the United Way and Los Angeles County providing funding resources.
“Each application that we received was reviewed by a county CEO staff member, United Way staff member and two volunteers from our Home For Good Funders Collaborative,” said Chris Ko, director of homeless initiatives for the United Way of Greater Los Angeles.
“Their scores and comments were all collected and utilized in the award deliberation meetings that followed with reviewers and with the other members of Funders Collaborative.”
Each city will receive a planning grant ranging from $30,000 to $70,000, depending on the number of homeless families and individuals within its municipal boundaries.
West Hollywood is one of the grantees.
“We’re excited and grateful,” said Corri Plank, project manager of the West Hollywood Homeless Initiative.
“West Hollywood has a long history of serving its vulnerable population including its homeless community members. This is another opportunity for us to look at some of the various pieces of data on our homeless community, to look at strategies that are included in the county initiatives, to look at some of the things we’ve been doing and we look at what our social service providers are doing.”
The next homeless count is the last week of January 2018. Officials are hoping for better — meaning lower — numbers this time around.
New pot regulations
to take effect Jan. 1
When Californians voted in November 2016 to legalize the recreational sue of marijuana for adults 21 and over, the new law didn’t take effect until Jan. 1 2018, giving the state and local governments a year to prepare for it.
Some area cities took little time to decide they didn’t want to deal with legal pot and voted not to allow permits for the sale, cultivation or distribution of marijuana within their boundaries.
Los Angeles took most of the year to develop its procedures, with the City Council approving regulations Dec. 6 and Dec. 13.
Council President Herb Wesson said he hopes the new laws will be a national model for other cities to follow.
“We are L.A. We are a big city. We do big stuff, that’s who we are, that’s how we roll,” Wesson said. “And there are cities throughout this country that are looking at us today.”
The rules approved by the panel would create limitations on how many cannabis businesses could be located in each neighborhood, similar to the regulations imposed on the alcohol industry, and also create requirements on how far cannabis businesses must be located from “sensitive sites,” including schools, public parks and other cannabis retailers.
Retail businesses must be 700 feet from sensitive sites under the rules, while non-retail and delivery businesses must be 600 feet from schools.
Bellflower allowed voters to determine policies. A ballot measure in March was approved by voters to allow as many as 12 licenses for sales, cultivation and distribution for medicinal marijuana only.
It took the council another nine months to award four permits for sales and another for cultivation and that came after a marathon 10-hour City Council meeting.
Compton originally voted against allowing marijuana sales in the community but now has competing measures on a Jan. 23 special election ballot to settle the issue.
West Hollywood, always one of the most liberal cities in the county, is the only city so far to approve places to consume marijuana as part of its response to legalization.
make traffic worse
PLAYA DEL REY — Los Angeles is notorious for its traffic and 2017’s “road diets” — part of a pilot safety program — didn’t help to change that stigma. The lane reductions in Playa del Rey in some instances removed traffic lanes in both directions.
The public reacted with complaints about the pedestrian-friendly updates slowing traffic to a crawl calling it “one-lane madness.”
The lane reductions were meant to improve safety. Between 2003 and 2016, there were 244 collisions that resulted in injuries occurred along Pershing Drive, Culver Boulevard and Jefferson Boulevard, and eight people lost their lives, according to city data. Councilman Mike Bonin backed the project and he defended the road alterations.
“We don’t need to sacrifice another mother or child to make way for as many speeding cars as we can jam through our neighborhoods,” Bonin wrote.
The updates included restriping on Vista del Mar, Culver Boulevard, Jefferson Boulevard and Pershing Drive. All four streets were reduced to a single lane in each direction with a center lane for turning. Diagonal parking spaces were added to stretches of Pershing, Culver and Vista del Mar, while new bike lanes were added to Jefferson, Culver and Pershing.
An online petition calling for an end to the project gathered thousands of signatures and an online campaign raised tens of thousands of dollars for its supporters to take legal action against the city and organize opposition.
In July, the Los Angeles Department of Transportation announced it was adding an extra traffic lane —spanning a few blocks from Nicholson Street to Jefferson Boulevard along Culver Street. The following month, Councilman Bonin declared that traffic lanes would be restored in Playa del Rey.
However, on Aug. 10, a group of Westside residents called KeepLAMoving took it a step further and filed a lawsuit against the city of Los Angeles calling for the project to end.
“We’ve documented 27 accidents in two months,” said John Russo, chief analytics officer for KeepLAMoving. “That’s an astounding increase of 132 percent over the previous average of just 11.6 per year. The fact is, our streets are not safer. Our residential streets are being deluged with cars cutting through to avoid the gridlock created on the arterials, our businesses are dying, air pollution is noticeably worse, and our quality of life has diminished.”
In October, Mayor Eric Garcetti and Councilman Bonin announced that the remaining traffic lanes removed in Playa del Rey would be restored — with lane restoration work scheduled to start later that month.
Culver City gets
CULVER CITY — The Culver City Unified School District got a new superintendent before the year was over — she’s the first African-American to hold the position. On Dec. 12, the five-member Culver City school board voted unanimously to appoint Leslie Lockhart as superintendent of the Culver City Unified School District. She was named interim superintendent after the former Superintendent Josh Arnold left his post in June.
“Leslie Lockhart has been serving as interim superintendent for these past six months, and has demonstrated that she has the talent, vision, passion and skills to be CCUSD’s next superintendent,” said school board President Kathy Paspalis.
Arnold only lasted a year as superintendent. He was dismissed because the board did not share the same vision of leadership for the district. Before coming to Culver City, Arnold had been serving as the assistant superintendent of educational services in the Los Alamitos Unified School District in Orange County.
During his tenure in the district, Arnold set in motion several initiatives, including plans to install system-wide air conditioning, demolishing the non-operational swimming pool; pursuing total inclusion of special education students into the mainstream classroom, and establishing Makerspace classrooms in each of the elementary schools.
The school board said it was committed to pursuing those projects in the coming years. The board also praised Arnold for upgrading the district’s brand and image, particularly an extensive social media campaign called Culver Pride.
Lockhart has worked for the district since 1998. She was hired as assistant principal of activities and discipline at Culver City High School. She also was the principal of El Rincon Elementary School before moving to the district office to be director of categorical programs. Her last position was as assistant superintendent of human resources – a job she continued while acting as interim superintendent.
“I wholeheartedly accept this full time position. It is my honor and privilege to continue to serve CCUSD as superintendent,” Lockhart said. “I thank the board for their vote of confidence in me, and the staff and community for their steadfast support. As I have done for the past 19 years, I will work daily with the best interests of the children of this district in mind.”
CULVER CITY — Culver Studios has been recognized for its giving spirit not just for the holidays, but all year long. The production studio has a long line of philanthropic activity supporting public education and Culver City schools.
The production studio presented a check for more than $3,300 to the Culver City Backpacks for Kids program to help ensure that needy students have sufficient food for the weekend. The funds were the proceeds of a family carnival featuring food, rides, games and entertainment hosted on the Culver Studios historic front lawn in April.
In May, the Culver City school board honored the studio for its contributions toward education. In November, the Culver City Education Foundation thanked them for its $15,000 donation towards the Front and Center Theatre Collaborative – an innovative theater education program for all district students.
Culver City Backpacks for Kids has grown rapidly since its start in 2013 at one elementary school where teachers noticed that some of their students came to school hungry on Mondays. Parent and school volunteers began putting together simple backpacks to provide students food for the weekends.
Supported by the Culver City Council PTA, Backpacks for Kids is run entirely by volunteers and receives no funding from the school district or state or federal sources. Food drives are held in December at all schools, and twice a year the program hosts a food and donation drive at a local supermarket.
“We are so pleased to have the Culver Studios as a neighbor and generous sponsor of our school district,” said Kathy Paspalis, president of the Culver City school board. “They are a model of good corporate citizenship and we look forward to working with them for years to come.”
Culver Studios partners with the school district, the Culver City Education Foundation, the Culver City Council PTA, and nearby Linwood E. Howe Elementary School, to host fund-raising events for the groups and activities for students on the studio lot.
At the 2017 Culver Studios community holiday party, Hackman Capital CEO and President Michael Hackman announced another generous donation to the Culver City Backpacks for Kids Program.
“At this time of year, it is of utmost importance to make sure that no student goes without sustenance,” said Hackman.
The gift will finance the purchase of two weeks’ worth of supplies for the program that helps ensure that needy Culver City students have sufficient food for the weekend.
WEST LOS ANGELES — The residents of Vintage Westwood Apartments feared they would have to leave their home last year, but 2017 was a year of victory for the senior citizens.
Dozens of elderly residents were told to be out by April, so Watermark Retirement Communities could complete a $50 million renovation and convert the building on 947 Tiverton Ave., into a residential care facility with assisted living. The current facility is unlicensed and does not provide health care options.
However, Watermark spokeswoman Laura Mecoy, said most of the residents were given a year to move from the start. The residents were given the option to move back in at the same rental rate and would have been paid up to $19,700 per unit for moving costs — an amount required under the Rent Stabilization Act.
Los Angeles City Councilman Paul Koretz stepped in to help and publicly accused Watermark of being a “greedy corporation,” run by “faceless, heartless wheeler-dealers.”
The City Council approved a motion — introduced by Koretz — that directed the city’s Housing and Community Investment Department to report back within two weeks on making the determination.
On Feb. 14, around a dozen residents or their children spoke at the City Council meeting and talked of the stress and hardship an eviction would mean.
“I may not show my anger and my fear by my voice, but we are all really very frightened, very distressed and emotionally upset about the feeling that we have to evacuate the building,” resident Jane Monbach said.
The City Council unanimously approved a motion by Koretz to ask the Housing and Community Investment Department to decide if the property should be designated a residential hotel, which would make it ineligible for the Ellis Act evictions.
The Ellis Act is a provision in California law that provides landlords with a legal way to get out of the rental market business.
On Feb. 17, a letter from Watermark Retirement Communities, carbon copied to City Council members and Mayor Eric Garcetti, was sent to the residents saying everyone can stay. However, the offer came with a warning, that the council needed to stop trying to make the property a residential hotel. Executive Director Allison Marty of Watermark Retirement Communities added that residents who wished to stay during the renovations could do so, although they may have to temporarily move rooms or be temporarily moved to a hotel at no cost to them.
In June, the city went forward and designated the building a “residential hotel,” which prevented the tenants from being moved out.
City fights Venice
Beach safety, curfew
VENICE — The beach curfew enacted in 1988 to deter late night crime — covering beaches, piers and seafront parks from San Pedro to Pacific Palisades — has the possibility of being relaxed. On top of that, some argue that the city has failed to keep the beaches clean and safe.
Lawyers for the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office have urged a judge to dismiss a legal challenge to Los Angeles’ 29-year-old overnight beach curfew, saying it conforms with the California Coastal Act. However, attorneys for two opponents of the ordinance said the city should have submitted the law to the California Coastal Commission for review before enacting it.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Susan Bryant-Deason did not immediately rule on the city’s motion, saying she would take the issues under submission and issue a decision soon.
However, she did hand the plaintiffs a favorable ruling when she granted their motion to dismiss one of the city’s affirmative defenses: that the entire action was barred because the enactment and enforcement of the curfew was not the type of “development” that requires Coastal Commission approval.
Lawyers for the city maintain the ordinance is needed to limit vandalism and crime on the beach and that the curfew is exempt from the permit provisions of the Coastal Act. They also claim the lawsuit should have been brought within three years of the curfew’s enactment.
Meanwhile, the Venice Stakeholders Association has filed an appellate court brief in hopes of keeping alive its lawsuit that claims the city and county of Los Angeles are neglecting the beach area. They also argue in its brief that the issues it is raising in the case must be tried by a jury and are not subject to the city and county’s motions for summary judgment.
The complaint blamed the city for failing to enforce an ordinance that restricts people from setting up encampments to sleep overnight at the beach area, which is considered a park owned by the city and partly managed by the county.
In 2015, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Gregory Alarcon ruled against the city and county’s effort to have the lawsuit dismissed, but that decision was later overturned by the 2nd District Court of Appeal, and the association’s appeal brief is an effort to keep its lawsuit moving forward.
When the lawsuit was filed in 2014, Los Angeles City Councilman Mike Bonin, said he also was frustrated by the “deplorable conditions on and near Venice Beach” but that the city’s own attempts to manage vending, sleeping in public areas, camping and trash in the area had all been hindered by the courts.
VENICE — A Venice High School teacher was named one of five 2018 California Teachers of the Year. Kirsten Farrell, a health science and medical technology teacher, is the only Los Angeles Unified School District teacher this year to receive the honor.
“I want to thank the California Department of Education for this very special recognition,” Farrell said. “I have always been — and continue to be — inspired by my students and by my many dedicated colleagues every single day.”
Farrell created one of the first LAUSD sports medicine teams, which she founded at Venice High in 2004 in partnership with the West Coast Sports Foundation. In addition to teaching students about anatomy, medical terminology and the ability to treat athletic injuries, the program helps them recognize signs of concussions and trains them in CPR, use of defibrillator and other life-saving techniques.
“We are incredibly proud of Ms. Farrell for this important distinction,” said LAUSD acting Superintendent Vivian Ekchian. “In addition to exhibiting educational excellence, she is someone who embodies an entrepreneurial spirit. Breaking new ground in important fields, she is an amazing role model for students everywhere.”
A 21-year teaching veteran, Farrell has served at Venice High for 15 years as a regional occupational program and career technical education teacher. She has taught a variety of courses, including sports medicine, medical terminology and sports therapeutics. She is also a certified athletic trainer.
Farrell’s’ recognition also garnered accolades from Los Angeles school board.
“We celebrate the amazing talent in Los Angeles and are proud to have Ms. Farrell honored as a California Teacher of the Year,” said school board President Mónica García. “Ms. Farrell models the qualities of inspiring educators, like excellence, commitment, healer, scholar and bridge builder. And, we salute her work to get more students to the graduation finish line, ready for college, career and beyond.”
Presented by California Casualty and the California Teachers of the Year Foundation, the California Teachers of the Year Program began in 1972 to honor outstanding teachers and encourage new teachers to enter the profession.
Culver City bans
CULVER CITY — The city became the 108th city in California to adopt a citywide ordinance that bans the use of polystyrene items used at fast-food restaurants.
The ban was approved by the City Council May 8 and took effect Nov. 8.
Polystyrene, which is a synthetic polymer plastic that comes in two forms: foam (often mistakenly referred to as “Styrofoam”) and solid (straws, cutlery, coffee cup lids), are commonly used by restaurants for take-out food orders.
The polystyrene ban prohibits the sale of foam foodware, including coolers that are not encased in another material. All food establishments providing take-out food are prohibited from using solid and foam polystyrene products and are required to ask their customers whether they want cutlery included with their takeout order. Egg cartons, meat trays used for the sale of unprepared food, food prepared outside of the city and foam packing materials used in shipping containers are exempt from the ban.
“One of the primary examples of the amount of Styrofoam waste can be found in Ballona Creek,” Mayor Jeffrey Cooper said.
Ballona Creek flows through Culver City as an open channel, which drains stormwater and urban runoff within the 130-square-mile Ballona Creek Watershed to the Pacific Ocean.
The City Council went even further in its efforts to prevent all types of trash that ends up in Ballona Creek by installing waste and recycling receptacles along the creek bike path, as well as key areas within the Ballona Creek Watershed.
Ballona Creek Renaissance — a Culver City nonprofit organization with a mission to improve Ballona Creek — brought its polystyrene ban proposal to the City Council Sustainability Subcommittee, which in turn recommended it to the City Council. After deliberation, the City Council adopted the resolution to ban polystyrene in the city.
After the ban was approved, the city conducted a six-month comprehensive outreach program that included a series of workshops with food providers, geared toward explaining the ban and identifying alternative products and their suppliers.