Culver City Edition

2018 YEAR IN REVIEW: Legalized pot, sidewalk vending are among top 2018 stories

Elected officials had a busy year in 2018, trying to solve the homeless crisis, dealing with the legalization of the recreational use of marijuana and for many of them, running for re-election.

Those were three of the top news stories over the past 12 months as reported by The Wave. Here is our annual look back at the stories of the year.

Spending begins

on homeless solutions

LOS ANGELES — City and county officials began spending money building new shelters and other housing facilities in a effort to get more people off the streets.

In his annual State of the City address in April, Mayor Eric Garcetti pledged $20 million for emergency shelters in what he called A Bridge Home program.

Garcetti said he wanted A Bridge Home facility in each of the city’s 15 council district complete with trailers, tents and other emergency shelters to “confront the greatest moral and humanitarian crisis of our time.”

Garcetti estimated that through the plan, 1,500 beds would be added to shelters, providing 6,000 people a place to sleep every night if each bed serves four people over the course of a year.

The first Bridge Home facility opened in downtown near Olvera Street. A site in Hollywood also was selected and in October, Councilman Mike Bonin suggested using part of the Westwood Veterans Administration complex for another Bridge Home.

Things didn’t go so well in City Council President’s Herb Wesson’s 10th District. A site the councilman selected on Vermont Avenue near Koreatown was shot down by residents and property owners who forced Wesson to find another site.

In September, the county Board of Supervisors approved $9 million in Measure H funding to be distributed to cities in an effort to promote community-centric solutions to homelessness.

Two-thirds of the $9 million — to be paid out over 18 months beginning in January — will fund projects to increase the supply of interim and permanent housing. The remaining $3 million will be spent on efforts to enhance homelessness services.

Phil Ansell, who heads the county’s Homeless Initiative, said each city has distinct concerns.

“Cities have an important role and a unique perspective on the solutions to homelessness, and the county values each city’s distinct resources, challenges and perspectives,” Ansell said.

A total of 41 cities submitted plans in response to the county’s call for local solutions, with ideas ranging from hiring homeless coordinators to changing local ordinances to increase local housing stock. Those cities will now be eligible to participate in a request for proposal process.

The annual homeless count is coming up at the end of January. Last year’s count

revealed a 5 percent decrease in homeless numbers for the city of Los Angeles and a 3 percent decrease in the county overall.

Officials are hoping for a bigger decrease in the upcoming count.

Reactions are mixed

on legalized cannabis

LOS ANGELES — The city was one of the few in the county to pass laws allowing the sale of recreational marijuana and related businesses. Most of the 88 cities in Los Angeles County took a wait-and-see approach.

Sales of marijuana were so high in the city of Los Angeles that the city was able to expand the number of employees in the Department of Cannabis Regulations from five to 21 in February.

Cities throughout Los Angeles County took different paths dealing with new laws that legalized recreational use of marijuana for adults. A few cities began permitting cannabis shops to open within their boundaries but most of the 88 cities in the county chose to take a wait-and-see approach. (File photo)

The city expected to collect $3.5 million in marijuana-related fees by the end of the fiscal year in June.

West Hollywood, Long Beach, Bellflower, Maywood, Cudahy and Huntington Park were among the cities that passed ordinances allowing marijuana shops to operate.

Los Angeles County, which continues to ban the sale of recreational cannabis in unincorporated areas, spent time trying to figure out how to close shops that were operating illegally.

Supervisor Hilda Solis urged law enforcement agencies to get tough on businesses operating in defiance of the ban.

“For the past year and a half I have been working closely with many community members from my district to combat illegally operating marijuana businesses,” Solis said. “Before the county considers recommendations for expanding marijuana businesses, we must put into place effective measures to end illegal operators.”

Solis called efforts to shut down illegal businesses amounted to a “countywide game of whack-a-mole,” with a new operator popping up in place of every closed business.

And, to no one’s surprise, a report from the county Department of Public Health found that marijuana use was increasing with 12 percent of adults 18 and older using the drug recreationally.

Among adults 21-29, almost 50 percent used pot. The report also indicated that people born in the U.S. were more likely to smoke pot that foreign-born residents.

New sheriff made

electoral history

LOS ANGELES — There weren’t a lot of surprises on Election Day in Los Angeles County, Most incumbents won re-election easily.

The biggest surprise was in the race for Los Angeles County sheriff where incumbent Jim McDonnell became the first incumbent county sheriff in more than a century to be defeated.

New Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva speaks during his swearing in ceremony Dec. 4 at East Los Angeles College. In November, Villanueva became the first person to defeat an incumbent sheriff in Los Angeles County in more than a century. (Photo by Mario Villegas)

Retired sheriff’s Lt. Alex Villanueva defeated McDonnell, who served for 28 years with the Los Angeles Police Department before becoming Long Beach’s chief of police in 2010.

McDonnell was elected county sheriff in 2014 after Sheriff Lee Baca resigned. He defeated Undersheriff Paul Tanaka, Baca’s top aide.

But four years later, McDonnell was defeated by Villanueva, who was supported by the Association of Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs, the union representing rank-and-file sheriff deputies.

Villanueva ran on a platform of “reform, rebuild and restore” the sheriff’s department, which had been tainted by scandal that resulted in Baca, Tanaka and other deputies going to jail after being convicted of federal charges related to violence in county jails.

He quickly made changes at the command level, relieving of duty an undersheriff, four assistant sheriffs, eight chiefs, a communications director and a community outreach director,

He also reiterated a promise to remove federal immigration agents from county jails and announced he would cut down the list of roughly 150 misdemeanor offenses that trigger department cooperation with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents.

In Culver City, voters gave themselves a quarter-cent sales tax increase Nov. 6 and also voted to move the city’s regular municipal elections from April to November in even-numbered years, beginning in 2020.

Measure C, the sales tax measure, was approved by 69.9 percent of the voters. It required 66.7 percent of the vote to win.

Measure D, the municipal election measure, was approved by 82.17 percent of the voters.

Also on Election Day, several longtime Republican districts in Orange and San Diego went Democratic as the Democrats regained control of the House of Representatives in Washington.

In Sacramento, all constitutional officers remained Democrats, led by former San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, who replaced the retiring Jerry Brown as governor.

Airport builds new

terminal in busy year

LOS ANGELES — Construction projects in and around Los Angeles International Airport were ongoing for most of the year.

Officials representing airlines, the city of Los Angeles and Los Angeles International Airport were on hand Nov. 30 for the ribbon cutting on the renovated Terminal 1 at LAX. (Courtesy photo)

The airport opened a new $5.8 million bus center on 96th Street, between Vicksburg and Jenny avenues, as part of the preparation for the construction of an automated people mover and the Intermodal Transportation Facility-West near the airport.

The new facility just west of the old station. The move was necessary as work continues at the site of the future people mover.

The old bus center is located where the people mover guideway, a new street and other access roads are planned. In addition to utility connections, upcoming work includes construction of a road between Westchester Parkway and 96th Street to the west of the Intermodal Transportation Facility-West.

The people mover will travel 2.25 miles from a new consolidated rent-a-car facility near La Cienega Boulevard to the Tom Bradley International Terminal with three stops outside LAX and three stops inside the central terminal area. The Intermodal Transportation Facility is one of the stops, and will include a 4,700-space public parking structure. The new parking facility is expected to open in 2021 with the people mover and rent-a-car facility operational in early 2023.

In November, the airport unveiled a new Terminal 1 following a half-billion dollar renovation.

The upgrades were funded by Southwest Airlines and Los Angeles World Airports and include new dining and retail options.

Completion of the Terminal 1 redevelopment comes as part of the airport’s multibillion-dollar capital improvement program, considered the largest public works program in the history of the city. The Terminal 1 renovation is part of an overall LAX modernization program that is expected ultimately to create more than 121,000 construction-related jobs.

The additions to the terminal include Urth Caffe, Trejo’s Tacos and Cassell’s Hamburgers, among others. The terminal also offers new self-service ticket kiosks and expanded security checkpoints.

“The work happening to modernize LAX is focused on making our airport a more convenient and inviting place to travel through for Angelenos and visitors,” Councilman Mike Bonin said. “The renovations to Terminal 1 will make this part of LAX more secure and more environmentally friendly, and I applaud Southwest and LAWA on their progress so far.”

The four-year, $516.7 million project created 3,475 construction jobs and completely refreshed the aging terminal, which was initially constructed in the early 1980s in advance of the 1984 Olympic Games.

The project was completed with minimal impact to customer service and flight operations, keeping approximately 10 million customers moving through the facility each year of the redevelopment.

Fiesta La Ballona

packs Veterans Park

CULVER CITY — Fiesta La Ballona, the city’s annual summer festival, took over Veterans Park Aug. 24-26.

The festival offered live performances, carnival rides and games, pony rides and a petting zoo, a beer and wine garden, food trucks and a food court, vendor booths showcasing local groups and artisan wares, an aquacade at the Culver City Municipal Plunge and an interactive sustainability information booth.

The Culver City Parks, Recreation and Community Services Department and the Fiesta La Ballona Committee organize and produce the event along with the assistance of almost 70 volunteers. This year’s Fiesta Committee members include Chair Jeanne Min, Vice Chair Tashon McKeithan, Greg Guzzetta, Ronnie Jayne, Lila Swenson, Marcus G. Tiggs, and Robert C. Wayne.

Fiesta La Ballona is considered an environmentally friendly event. Attendees are encouraged to bicycle to the festival or take public transportation. The festival also implements a zero-waste program to ensure resource recovery and protect scarce natural resources. The plan encompasses waste reduction, composting, recycling and reuse, changes in consumption habits, and encouraging fiesta participants to view zero waste as a personal evolution in the relationship between waste and people.

There was plenty of live entertainment throughout the festival. Fiesta-Palooza on opening night showcased local teen bands Late Ship, Vision, Point Antagonist, Mediocre and Leaving London.

The Entertainment Tent’s main stage performances begin at noon Aug. 25 with a new Family Fun Time event featuring New Orleans jazz from Jazzy Ash & the Leaping Lizards, Ramblin Man paying tribute to the Allman Brothers and Gregg Young and the 2nd Street Band playing 1970s and 80s dance music. The evening included Allensworth performing soul, blues and rock, and Crimes of Passion and Heart to Heart performing tributes to Pat Benatar and Heart.

Closing day included Rhythm, Conjunto Jardin, Irie and Louis Cruz Beltran closing the festival with an hour-long set of Afro-Cuban music and Latin Jazz.

Stilt walkers, provided by Red Swan Entertainment, roamed the park Aug. 25 and 26.

Sidewalk vending

becomes legal

LOS ANGELES — Until Nov. 28, Los Angeles was the only large city in the United States where sidewalk vending was against the law.

That changed when the City Council ended years of debate by finalizing an ordinance that legalizes and regulates sidewalk vending. The council action came before a new state law that takes effect Jan. 1 that took much of the decision-making regarding sidewalk vendors out of the hands of local municipalities.

The state law only allow cities to impose vending restrictions based on health, welfare or safety concerns, and also prevents cities from enforcing vending regulations if they do not have a local system in place that conforms with the state law.

Los Angeles will implement a permit system that allows vendors to sell their wares on a certain block or in a certain zone, instead of a regulatory system that would have created a set of rules and standards but would not have granted site-specific permission to vendors.

The council also established no-vending zones — based on health, welfare or safety concerns — at Dodger Stadium, the Hollywood Bowl, Universal Studios, Staples Center, Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, the Hollywood Walk of Fame and other major tourist attractions.

The law requires vendors to be located at least three feet apart from each other, but does not restrict how many vendors can be on an individual block.

The state law prohibits any rule requiring vendors to obtain the permission of nearby brick-and-mortar businesses — something that had been strongly opposed by industry advocates. The City Council considered such a restriction, but abandoned the idea in April.

As 2018 drew to a close, many cities outside Los Angeles were considering their own rules and regulations.

Both South Gate and Huntington Park adopted ordinances requiring permits for sidewalk vendors to conform with the new state law.

Council approves

scooter regulations

LOS ANGELES — Dockless electric scooters became the latest transportation rage and the City Council responded in September by approving an ordinance to create an official pilot program.

Councilman Paul Koretz, who has been raising concerns about the safety of the devices, was the lone vote in opposition to the program, as he was the previous week.

“Making it legal doesn’t make it safe,” Koretz said.

Under the one-year pilot program scooter companies would be limited to utilizing 3,000 scooters throughout the city, with the opportunity to add more if they are placed in disadvantaged communities.

The program also allows any company to apply for a conditional use permit of up to 3,000 devices in the interim 120 days before the pilot program becomes active.

After demonstrating compliance with program requirements and meeting certain performance criteria, the Los Angeles Department of Transportation can allow companies to increase their fleet size, but the program does not specify a cap on such expansion.

The dockless Lime and Bird scooters have proliferated in Westside communities over the last year, leaving local governments scrambling with how to regulate them. The city of Beverly Hills recently banned them for six months, while Santa Monica in August created a 16-month pilot program which caps the number of scooters allowed on the streets.

The scooters work through a phone app that allows people to find and unlock the devices and drop them off anywhere they are allowed, with no docking station or kiosk required.

The council also approved a top speed of the scooters of 15 mph, which is the speed already offered by Bird and Lime.

The new regulations require companies to equip the scooters with a minimum 48-point font warning against riding on sidewalks. Companies also must maintain a 24-hour hotline and respond to improperly parked or inoperable devices within two hours, from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.

In the future, operators will be required to use technology that can tell if a device is parked upright. They city may also designate parking areas for the devices in high-traffic areas.

Beck replaced by

Moore at LAPD

LOS ANGELES — When 2018 began, Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck had two more years to serve out his second and final five-year term as chief.

Thus, it came as a surprise at the end of January when Beck announced he would be stepping down as polic chief June 27.

Mayor Eric Garcetti appointed Michel Moore, who was a finalist for the chief’s position in 2010, to replace Beck.

“The department is ready for fresh eyes to take our organization to even higher levels,” Beck said at a news conference that was called to discuss 2017 crime statistics.

Beck joined the department as a reserve officer in March 1975. He became a full-time officer in March 1977. He was promoted to sergeant in 1984, to lieutenant in 1993, to captain in 1999 and commander in 2005. He became a deputy chief in 2006.

Garcetti called Beck “a man who has led with his heart. This is a man who has been forged in steel, whose family lives and breathes policing, and yet he is one of the most humanistic people I know.”

Garcetti chose Moore, a 36-year LAPD veteran, over Deputy Chief Robert Arcos, and Bill Scott, a former LAPD officer who is now the chief of the San Francisco Police Department.

“One of the most important questions of the moment may be, ‘Why do I want to be the next chief of police of this great city?’ And it’s pretty simple,” Moore said at the press conference announcing his selection. “I wish to continue the momentum in building trust, particularly in communities of color, and improving public safety.”

He added that he wants to make the LAPD “more diverse and representative” while continuing to support those who work for it.

Fraud scheme cost

VA $12 million

LOS ANGELES — A former U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs contracts administrator was sentenced Sept. 24 to five months in federal prison followed by five months of home detention and a year of supervised release for tax fraud and lying to investigators when he denied taking bribes from a crooked parking lot operator at the VA’s Westside medical center campus.

Ralph Tillman, 58, was also ordered to pay $62,000 in restitution to the Internal Revenue Service. After the sentence was pronounced, Tillman was immediately taken into custody.

Tillman complied with a request to speak to VA employees and again to investigators at the VA Office of Inspector General to educate them about “how to detect red flags” when fraud is suspected, Assistant U.S. Attorney Ruth Pinkel said.

Tillman, who resigned in 2014 after being confronted by VA investigators, admitted that he took nearly $290,000 in “hush money” from Richard Scott, owner of Westside Services, which had a contract to operate public parking locations across the VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System.

Scott, 58, of Santa Monica was sentenced in August to nearly six years in prison for swindling the VA out of at least $12 million generated by his parking lots and bribing Tillman to keep the long-running scheme secret.

As part of his job, Tillman was responsible for managing contracts with “sharing partners,” such as Scott’s Westside Services, which were required to share revenues with the agency. He admitted that he first solicited a bribe from Scott in late 2003. About 18 months later, Scott began making monthly cash payments to Tillman, with Scott personally delivering the bribes in sealed FedEx envelopes.

In return for the cash, Tillman failed to scrutinize annual statements from Scott that he knew contained inaccurately reported revenues and expenses. Tillman also admitted that he knew Scott was defrauding the VA out of millions of dollars and that he entered into a contract extension with the parking lot operator in 2011 to continue the fraud and bribery scheme.

In a letter submitted to the court on behalf of the health care system’s executive team in Los Angeles, she expressed “continuing anger, frustration and disgust regarding the actions of the defendants.”

Flanz wrote that while years have passed since Tillman and Scott first conspired to defraud the government, “their corruption continues to harm our campus, our employees, our reputation in the community, and most importantly, the veterans we are honored to serve.”

The VA contract with Scott was terminated in early 2017 after the agency settled a lawsuit that challenged the VA’s use of its Westside campus for any purposes not specifically related to the care and housing of veterans.