Strange Days 2016 in Review
By Joe Piasecki
2016 was a hot mess — surreal, painful and incredibly loud.
The Trump-Clinton-Sanders circus brought America’s angry, obnoxious and even hateful undercurrents to the fore, fueled by a proliferation of “fake news” in the Facebook echo chamber. Facts, R.I.P. This year was all about emotion and talking without listening. This year fought dirty.
This was also a year of feeling helpless in the face of human tragedy: traumatizing images of civilian casualties in Syria and drowned refugees, the deadliest mass shooting in American history at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, terrorist attacks in Europe and a pipe bomb going off in New York — violence brought closer to home by fresh memories of the December 2015 terrorist attack that killed 22 in San Bernardino, and then again with the UCLA murder-suicide in June.
The whole world just seemed to go crazy, and Westside neighborhoods were not exempt. In January, a 17-year-old died from a gunshot wound to the head in the Marina Marketplace parking lot, and a 47-year-old man died in a drive by shooting near Via Marina and Panay Way in March. The broad-daylight August shooting death of a 37-year-old construction worker in Venice remains unsolved and unresolved, and a teenager is suspected of stabbing a 22-year-old pregnant woman to death in November underneath the Venice sign at Windward and Pacific avenues.
Women, minorities and the LGBTQ community spent much of 2016 feeling under attack, but fought back with unprecedented cultural expressions of power and pride.
In the same year that white nationalism rebranded itself as the “alt-right,” the Academy Awards became #Oscars SoWhite and police shootings of unarmed black men dominated the summer news cycle, the Black Lives Matter movement became a groundswell. “Ghostbusters” reboot star Leslie Jones rose above the racism and misogyny of Twitter trolls, and “black girl magic” became a cultural meme as gymnast Simone Biles dazzled the world at the Rio Olympics.
West of the 405, three women took a stand against date rape by intervening after they saw a man slip a roofie into his date’s drink at a Santa Monica restaurant. The former Playboy model who photographed a naked 70-year-old woman in
a Playa Vista gym locker room and body-shamed her on Snapchat now faces criminal charges via the L.A. City Attorney’s office.
In Venice, members of the local LGBTQ community lost a longtime sanctuary in May when Roosterfish shuttered due to rising rents on Abbot Kinney Boulevard but responded with the inaugural Venice Pride celebration in June and united again for a candlelight vigil for Pulse Nightclub shooting victims at Windward Circle.
But there’s no denying it was an awful year for icons who defied gender and cultural norms. We started off the year mourning the death of David Bowie in January. Bill Rosendahl, a widely beloved Westside public figure who was the first openly gay L.A. City Council member, died in March. Prince died in April. Muhammad Ali died in June. Juan Gabriel died of a heart attack at his Santa Monica home in August. Westside civil rights and anti-war activist Tom Hayden died in October. And this week alone, we lost George Michael and Carrie Fisher. Another adjective to describe 2016: ruthless.
Not everything went badly in 2016, however.
Westchester residents and LAX finally reached some measure of détente, with the airport giving up northern expansion to allow for parkland and low-density development instead.
Locally, public transportation had a banner year, with new light rail stations extending the Expo Line into Downtown Santa Monica and the city’s Breeze Bike Share program off to a strong start — nearly 300,000 trips in its first 12 months. The capper came in November when Los Angeles County voters passed Measure M, a half-cent sales tax that will raise billions for trains and buses over the next 40 years.
And after decades of inertia, Los Angeles finally started doing something about homelessness. In April, L.A. City Councilman Mike Bonin put forth a multi-faceted plan to end homelessness in Venice that started with setting aside the former Metro Bus facility in Venice for affordable housing construction and continued on to include a mobile hygiene wagon providing showers for the homeless. Bonin was also a key figure behind Proposition HHH, the city’s successful bid to raise $1.2 billion for subsidized housing.
But the topic of the year in Venice had to be gentrification. Locals coined the term “Venice Remodel” to describe how developers are using loopholes in city zoning code to proliferate McMansions in Oakwood. Astronomical rents on Abbot Kinney Boulevard are chasing out many of the local businesses that made it what it is, and a bungalow in the Venice Canals sold in July for a post-recession record of $2,000 per square foot.
And speaking of gentrification, Venice-based Snapchat — the social media platform of choice for those born after 1990 — is getting lots of hate from the local Facebook-using crowd for buying up or leasing more than 100,000 square feet of commercial and residential property in Venice, displacing some local businesses in the process. Snapchat has so far responded by offering haters nothing but silence — and by quietly contributing to local nonprofits, such as funding a vocational tech program at the St. Joseph Center for an entire year.
To the south, Playa del Rey residents were and still are at each other’s throats over a proliferation of short-term vacation rentals there, with Bonin-proposed regulations still wending their way through City Hall. In Marina del Rey, the renovation of the Oxford Basin Lagoon and the demolition of the 1960s-built Neptune Marina Apartments — probably the area’s last remaining market-rate waterfront housing still affordable for a family on the lower end of middle-income — continued the steamroller of change.
Though everyone experienced it differently, 2016 was a pretty rough ride for a lot of people. 2017 brings hope for a better year, but buckle up for more uncertainty and change.
What else was important to you this year? What are your hopes for 2017? Let us know at email@example.com.