Year in Review October – Santa Monica Daily Press – Santa Monica Daily Press

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Santa Monica’s PS1 Pluralistic School turned 50, and its founder Joel Pelcyger continued to live by the school’s founding question: “What is the purpose of School?” Pelcyger was born and raised in Brooklyn, NY. A child of the 60’s, he was an idealistic kid that wanted to change the world. He’s been in charge of PS1 Pluralistic School for over 50 years.
As an enticement to join the venerable institution, Santa Monica Bay Woman’s Club offered free bridge lessons to new members. Proceeds of the membership drive helped fund the Elmira T. Stevens Scholarship Fund for Santa Monica High School seniors.
Planning Commission granted CPC Compassion Inc. a permit to operate Santa Monica’s first medical marijuana dispensary at 925 Wilshire Blvd. Chief Medical Officer Dr. Paul Song said he did not want to be a disruptive force in the City and planned to work with the Santa Monica Police Department to ensure safety.
Fed up by watching repeat offenders pile up criminal records, SMPD and the City Attorney’s office tried a new approach to break local cycles of incarceration. They started offering qualifying individuals the opportunity to have their criminal filings dismissed in exchange for committing to an individualized 90 day treatment program.
DTSM honored Día de los Muertos by highlighting the traditional Mexican cultural celebration of life and death. Festivities included: live entertainment, art installations, food, goods from local vendors and family-friendly activities on the Third Street Promenade.
While the City and its staff were still recovering from the sting of 2020’s pandemic-induced budget cuts, short-term financial news continued to be positive with year end revenues exceeding projections by $20 million.
In the shadow of a 31-student quarantine at John Muir Elementary School and SMASH, the SMMUSD school board decided to shelve talks of a vaccine mandate. Board members expressed concern with Governor Gavin Newsom’s vaccine mandate for students due to its inclusion of personal exemptions and vagueness of a formal timeline.
A massive storm barreled toward Southern California after flooding highways, toppling trees, cutting power to about 380,000 utility customers and causing rock slides and mud flows in areas burned bare by wildfires across the northern half of the state. Drenching rains and strong winds accompanied the arrival of an atmospheric river — a long plume of Pacific moisture — into the drought-stricken state.
Longtime Santa Monican Rick Stoff wants residents to focus on one small thing a month they can do to help out and then to ask their friends to do the same. This is the premise behind The Volunteer Collective, an organization he founded that has grown from a small email list to a registered nonprofit with an army of volunteers several thousand Strong.
It was endgame for chess enthusiasts at longtime player haunt Chess Park. After five years of unsavory behavior and issues around homelessness, Recreation and Parks Commissioners voted to remove all benches and tables and temporarily close the Park.
Council approved an organic recycling mandate to take effect on Jan. 1. The new rules fulfilled a state mandate and aligned with the City’s zero waste goals. Under the system, every building is to be provided with a green bin, where all organic waste can be disposed of, be it food scraps, garden waste, paper, wood or foodsoiled paper products.
A 17-year-old female was arrested for attempted murder after a downtown stabbing. According to the Santa Monica Police Department, officers were called to the area of 5th and Broadway at about 11:40 p.m. on Oct. 26 for a reported knife attack.
Despite huge success in vaccination and some of the best case rates in the Country, officials at the state and local level asked residents not to become complacent in the fight against COVID-19 as tentative warning signs emerged in infection models.
The granddaughter of Arthur Reese demanded their family name be removed from the Venice Community Housing Reese Davidson Project. Sonya Reese Greenland, the granddaughter of Arthur Reese and the Reese trustee and family historian, sent a cease and desist letter to Becky Dennison, the executive director of Venice Community Housing (VCHC), and Sarah Letts, the executive director of Hollywood Housing Corporation.
SMDP reported on the insidious reach of Los Angeles’s methamphetamine crisis. In 2018 the explosion of meth in Los Angeles made national news. Since then the drug has only become cheaper, more potent and in certain instances more deadly.
Despite promising signs of a return to normalcy, pedestrian counts, spending levels and hotel occupancy Downtown over the past year were roughly half of pre pandemic levels. These figures were detailed in Downtown Santa Monica, Inc.’s annual report, which shared plenty of optimism for future recovery, but could not avoid the fact that the last year was economically devastating for many Downtown businesses and hotels.
Santa Monica burst into the 2021 Michelin Guide with its mere 8.4 square miles capturing fourteen individual Michelin recognitions. At the top of the culinary honor roll was hometown Chef Josiah Citrin whose intimate 14 seat tasting menu restaurant Mélisse earned two stars. 
Bike It! Walk It! Week returned to Santa Monica schools and all eyes were on the Golden Sneaker award that recognizes the school that has the highest percentage of students walk, bike, scooter or take public transportation. The week’s mission was to cut down on emissions in town and teach children ways to live more sustainably. 
City Council bid farewell to Interim City Attorney George Cardona and welcomed back former three decade City lawyer Joseph Lawrence to take over the temporary position. Lawrence began working for the City in 1986 and retired from his position as Assistant City Attorney in October 2017. 
The state mandated that Santa Monica build 8,895 total units of housing including 6,168 affordable units by 2029, and City Council opened the door to challenging that number. Council members voted 5 to 2 to ask the Westside Cities Council of Governments to discuss whether the WSCCOG should join a lawsuit alleging that the California Department of Housing and Community Development should recalculate the Regional Housing Needs Assessment.
The Mini Fall Festival returned to Virginia Avenue Park on Saturday and highlighted art from Santa Monica College students along with numerous children’s activities.
The Santa Monica Police and Fire Departments pursued active investigations after a trio of serious weekend incidents. Officials pursued a pair of arson investigations and followed up on an early morning crash that closed a section of PCH. The first fire occurred on the south side of Garage 5 in Downtown when homeless activity resulted in the destruction of one elevator cab. The blaze happened at about the same time as an accident on PCH.
Neighborhood restaurants are the bread and butter of community, which is why it was heartbreaking for Mark Verge to close OP Cafe, but heartwarming to breathe a new plant-based life into Margo’s. Verge has lived in Santa Monica his entire life and runs four local eateries — Ashland Hill, Golden Bull, Art’s Table and Margo’s — alongside his high school sweetheart turned wife Lani.
Santa Monica hosted its first Taco Wars featuring some of the best taco chefs from the Southwestern United States and Mexico. The annual event will rotate taco styles and highlighted carnitas this year. 
The largest owner of property in Santa Monica, NMS Properties, Inc., was once again in the hot seat as the City and Rent Control Board filed a lawsuit against the company and its affiliates alleging that they illegally evicted rent controlled tenants in a building now being used for unlawful rentals.
Santa Monica launched a program to move 100 people from its interim shelters into permanent homes, serving the dual benefit of freeing up more capacity to move unhoused individuals off of local streets. The initiative was made possible thanks to funding allocated to the City from the federal government via President Biden’s American Rescue Plan. 
Los Angeles leaders approved one of the nation’s strictest vaccine mandates — a sweeping measure that requires the shots for everyone entering bars, restaurants, nail salons, gyms or sporting games. Los Angeles City Council voted 11-2 in favor of the ordinance that required proof of full vaccination starting Nov. 4.
All signs pointed to Santa Monica College welcoming back students for in-person learning come Jan. 4 according to information presented to the SMC Board. As part of their preparations for returning students to campus, officials tested opening procedures and educated themselves on the perils of fake vaccination cards.
After a year and a half of children participating in distance learning, isolation from other children and an increase in screen time, the Cayton Children’s Museum sought to provide children with the opportunity to remember the joy of discovery-based play.
The Michelson Institute for Intellectual Property awarded three Santa Monica College faculty members the Educator of Excellence Award for their leadership in championing intellectual property and entrepreneurship education.
220 San Vicente Blvd. was the subject of the largest consolidated case in the Rent Control Board’s history. The case concluded with commissioners authorizing a collective total of $642,645 in rent reductions to tenants in 17 units for damages suffered during over half a decade of construction.
The Children’s Burn Foundation launched an interactive exhibit at the California Science Center that teaches children and adults alike about the science of fire, how to prevent a fire and what to do if a burn injury occurs.
SMMUSD touted their future sustainability goals and said they were on track with their current ones. The District’s sustainability plan was adopted in March of 2019 and serves to make the district a more efficient, healthy and sustainable community.
Council hired an Inspector General to assist police oversight and reform efforts and approved the finalized draft of the Housing Element update. An Inspector General was promised when the Public Safety Reform and Oversight Commission was formed on January 26 in response to concerns raised during summer 2020’s Black Lives Matter Protests.
SMMUSD struggled to fill positions in several categories including custodial staff, bus drivers, nurses, paraeducators and special education teachers. The district previously struggled finding bus drivers and at a meeting of the SMMUSD Board, the student representative said staffing shortages on campus are starting to impact student life.
At around 2:07 a.m. on Oct. 11 a white van ran through the outdoor dining barrier at Berbere restaurant, hit an outdoor booth at Heroic Italian restaurant and smashed into the windows of Thunderbolt Spiritual Bookstore. According to SMPD, a few minutes later two males wearing hoodies entered through the broken glass, stole the cash register and then fled. The cash register was later found in the 1400 block of alley 5, which is located directly behind the stores.
After 18 months of interim leadership, David White took the helm as the permanent City Manager of Santa Monica. White has five years of experience as the City Manager of Fairfield and two years of experience as the Deputy City Manager of Berkeley, where he recently relocated from.
The Los Angeles Fire Department was called to an RV fire located at the 15800 block of the Pacific Coast Highway. A call came in at 2:13 a.m., according to the LAFD. Firefighters said two engines, eight firefighters responded to the fire. This was the second RV Fire on the Westside in less than a week.
It’s hard to visualize the effects of climate change, but a new graphic that showed what the Santa Monica Pier could look like if temperatures continue to rise helped put things into perspective. In less than a century, one of California’s most popular tourist attractions could be underwater due to rising sea levels.
After 15 months of planning, dozens of community meetings and a six hour long council discussion, Councilmembers voted 5 to 2 to approve the City’s 6th Cycle Housing Element Plan. This 180 page document outlined the City’s plan for creating 8,895 new housing units, of which 6,168 must be affordable, by 2029. These numbers are mandated by the State’s Regional Housing Needs Allocation and the plan must be certified by the Department of Housing and Community Development. 
The union representing film and television crews said its 60,000 members would begin a nationwide strike if it did not reach a deal that satisfies demands for fair and safe working conditions. A strike would have brought a halt to filming on a broad swath of film and television productions and extended well beyond Hollywood, affecting productions in Georgia, New Mexico and other North American shoots.
The Westside Food Bank saw an unprecedented spike in need when the COVID-related stay-at-home orders first went into effect last year, and after regressing toward the norm during summer months, the demand is at extremely high levels yet again. Over the past 19 months, WFB has distributed almost twice as much food as normal, as many new families required first-time assistance. The local food bank generates 50% of their food income during the holiday season and is hoping to maintain the status quo to help with the very high level of demand.
On the evening of Feb. 7 Santa Monica teen Sammy Berman Chapman was killed by a Xanax pill laced with fentanyl that he bought on Snapchat. In response to incidents such as this, Snapchat launched an outreach campaign to educate users on the dangers of fentanyl; improved detection and removal of drug dealers on its platform; and expanded its team that works with law Enforcement. However, its critics said it could and should do more to protect users. 
With most of Los Angeles’ professional sports teams playing, L.A. County health officials said FDA approved rapid tests could be used as an extra layer of protection. The county was still seeing substantial transmission and health officials asked community members to remain vigilant to avoid a devastating winter surge.
The Public Safety Reform and Oversight Commission submitted a draft report regarding recommendations to reform public safety in the city despite failing to formally endorse the work via a majority voice. The Commission had been working on a document that incorporates recommendations made by the OIR group following last year’s riots, responses from SMPD and follow-up plans by the Commission itself.
Santa Monica Police Department’s newest Chief, Ramon Batista was officially sworn into service in front of City Hall. Batista was accompanied by his wife Nina and daughter Annemarie. His sister was also in the crowd along with his cousins. He will be the City’s first Latino Police Chief, which reflects the organization’s commitment to build a diverse workforce that better represents the community.
In an attempt to better cater to the causes of the moment and attract new members, Rotary International launched new cause-based clubs, including a “protect the environment club” coming in January 2022. 
The Venice civil rights attorney, who disappeared from the public stage after a 2007 conviction for tax evasion, bankruptcy fraud, and money in 2007, is representing the property owner of 723 Ocean Front Walk, the building that burned down in January because of a homeless encampment. Stephen Yagman filed the lawsuit on behalf of Benjamin Schonbrun; also a civil rights attorney, against Snap Inc, the city of Los Angeles, Mayor Eric Garcetti, and Councilmember Mike Bonin, for allegedly failing to maintain a lease agreement and allowing homeless encampments to expand around the building.
Alexandria Diaz was charged with three counts of assault with a deadly weapon for attacking three victims on Oct. 14, including former ‘Survivor’ contestant Michelle Yi. The incident took place at 2nd St. and Arizona Ave. at around 6 a.m. when Yi was opening up the Pilates Platinum studio where she teaches. According to SMPD Public Information Officer Rudy Flores, Diaz struck Yi with a metal pipe and poked her with a reciprocating saw blade.

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