Homelessness, cannabis, electric scooters and California’s war against Trump dominated our headlines in 2018

By Joe Piasecki

Everyone experienced 2018 differently. You might have found a great job or lost one, got married or divorced, had a child or buried a loved one — events more personally profound than anything coming out of the 24/7 news cycle. There are, however, several themes that help describe the collective experience of our Westside neighborhoods over the past 12 months. Reflecting on the five most prominent local news topics of 2018 should remind us that we go through life not only as individuals but as members of our community, and that every new day is another chance to make this community a better place to live.

1 Homelessness: Compassion, Consternation & Backlash

Whether you live in an ocean-view penthouse or a 1988 Buick LeSabre, it was impossible to avoid witnessing the persistent proliferation of homelessness — without question Greater Los Angeles’ greatest moral indignity. Even as local governments and nonprofits expanded housing and social services resources, this past year local homeless people continued to die on our streets, some at the hands of a careless driver or hunted down by an apparent serial killer.

In Venice, the epicenter of homelessness in West Los Angeles, the city’s plan to create a temporary homeless housing facility at the former Metro bus yard on Main Street triggered passionate reactions of both support and opposition. Those fighting against temporary and permanent supportive housing projects in Venice have argued in part that expanding homeless resources could attract more unsheltered homeless and exacerbate related quality of life impacts near homes and schools. But fact-based public discussion has largely been drowned out by personal vitriol directed at L.A Mayor Eric Garcetti and City Councilman Mike Bonin, whom residents shouted down during an October town hall at Westminster Avenue Elementary School.

Step back from the noise and it becomes clear the status quo is no longer an option. If 2018 was the year the scourge of homelessness finally came to a head, 2019 is shaping up to be the year we break it or it breaks us.

2 California vs. The White House

On the anniversary of President Donald Trump’s inauguration, the second Women’s March Los Angeles called for increased voter participation. Local Congress members Ted Lieu and Maxine Waters have emerged as national leaders encouraging confrontational resistance to the Trump administration and most of its policies. In March, thousands of Westside students joined a wave of national school walkouts demanding action to prevent mass shootings. In June, the separation and detention of immigrant families at the border galvanized local activists. In November, a Blue Wave of Trump opposition — more like a tsunami in California — culminated in a Blue Wave of Democrats retaking the House of Representatives. Local artists continually answer calls for “creative resistance.”

Political conservatives aren’t exactly an endangered species in Los Angeles, but 2018 was no easy time to wear that label on your sleeve. National media often rely on Santa Monica High School as a cultural barometer, and this fall the founder of Samohi’s youth activism club wrote eloquently in these pages that the ideological tribalism that divides America has wreaked havoc on the social bonds of students who don’t appear to be passionate enough about disliking Trump.

3 Taming the Electric Scooter

Though it may seem a little silly in the rearview mirror, residents of coastal communities in general and Santa Monica in particular were absolutely obsessed with electric scooters for most of 2018. Consistent ridership, particularly among younger people, made fleets of scooters omnipresent from Montana Avenue to Culver Boulevard. Related safety and nuisance issues — namely dormant, often toppled scooters blocking public rights of way — gave scooter critics (some angry to the point of outright vandalism) ample reason to complain.

For the first half of the year, it felt like scooter operators operated with total impunity. At the height of summer, local officials finally took action to regulate fleet deployments and ban scooter riders from crowded sidewalks and beach bike paths. And by the time kids headed back to school, Santa Monica City Hall had completely flipped the script, with the arrival of regulation-friendly fleets owned by rideshare giants Uber and Lyft giving the city leverage to force major concessions from Bird and Lime.

4 Legal Recreational Cannabis

January marked the beginning of legal recreational cannabis (industry and public officials hardly call it marijuana anymore) in Los Angeles. Long-term cultural ramifications remain to be seen, but the sky didn’t exactly fall as what some used to call pot ascended from the underground to the cultural mainstream. As expected, however, recreational cannabis is big business. Look no further than Abbot Kinney Boulevard, where leading retailer MedMen operates a thriving location that feels nothing like a head shop and an awful lot like an Apple store.

5 Wildfires & the Environment

California’s 2018 wildfire season was the most destructive and deadly on record, with epic conflagrations obliterating the town of Paradise in Northern California and ripping through Malibu with unstoppable force. Amid the heartbreak, the latest science on climate change portends that the unusual weather patterns feeding such disasters will only accelerate in the years to come. Environmental restoration projects along Santa Monica Beach and the LAX Dunes, vastly improved water quality at Mother’s Beach in Marina del Rey, and overwhelming voter approval of new funding for storm water capture demonstrate that there is hope for positive environmental change. The great existential challenge of 2019 is to amplify such victories on a global scale.

1. Jan. 20: Women’s March Los Angeles called for increased voter participation on the anniversary of Trump’s inauguration (Photo by Maria Martin)
2. March 14: Thousands of students across the Westside walked out of classes on March 14 as part of a national youth protest against gun violence
(Photo by Maria Martin)
3. April 19: Eddie Davis, aka “The Penny Man,” is killed while asleep near the Venice Boardwalk
4. April 28: The Walgrove Wildlands anchored the Mar Vista Green Gardens showcase in April (Photo by Courtnay Robbins)
5. May 1: Austin Beutner promises to fight for all students as the new superintendent of LAUSD schools (Photo by Shilah Montiel)


KCRW master storyteller Joe Frank dies of cancer at age 79 on Jan. 15

Police arrest a suspect in the 2014 hit-and-run death of Playa Vista resident Paul Grover on Jan. 16

The city issues permits in January for the Westside’s first legal retail cannabis shops, including four in Venice, two in Del Rey and one in Westchester

Westchester celebrates the grand-opening of a community-funded pocket park on West 80th Place in North Kentwood

“Cool School” painter Ed Moses dies at age 91 in his Venice home on Jan. 17

The second annual Women’s March Los Angeles calls for increased voter participation exactly one year after the inauguration of President Trump


State officials end the public comment period for Ballona Wetlands restoration plans on Feb. 5, with a final determination due in 2019

A Marina del Rey couple is arrested on Feb. 8 and charged with bilking a retired teacher out of $1 million

L.A. County District Attorney Jackie Lacey presents a Courageous Citizen Award to Mar Vista resident Steve Oseas for foiling a local assault and robbery

Night + Market Sahm in Venice and Coni’ Seafood in Del Rey open to rave reviews

A routine probation check on Feb. 28 in Mar Vista reveals an arsenal of untraceable “ghost guns” connected to a network of thieves operating out of the Ballona Wetlands


Longtime Culver City Chamber of Commerce leader Steve Rose dies on March 5 at age 71

On March 8, Los Angeles County prosecutors decline to file charges against the police officer who shot and killed unarmed 29-year-old Brendan Glenn during a May 2015 confrontation near Venice Beach

Snapchat begins its retreat from Venice to a new headquarters near the Santa Monica Airport

Thousands of students throughout the Westside walk out of classes on March 14 as part of a national youth protest against rampant gun violence

County officials pass new laws about boat cleaning to combat copper pollution in Marina del Rey

Caltrans unveils plans to widen Lincoln Boulevard from Jefferson Boulevard to Fiji Way


Longtime Neighborhood Council of Westchester-Playa leaders quit after the board declines to enforce expulsions of routinely absent members, but later quietly rejoin the board

On April 10, Daniel Lee becomes the first African-American to win a city council seat in Culver City

The Los Angeles Times announces on April 13 that it will relocate its headquarters to El Segundo

The Blue Door, a new theater created to stage plays starring disabled actors and military veterans, opens on April 13 in Culver City

An April 19 “Vexit” town hall in Venice explores whether the neighborhood should break away from Los Angeles to become its own city

Venice Beach personality Eddie Davis, aka “The Penny Man,” is killed by a wrong-way driver on April 19 while asleep on the sidewalk

The Walgrove Wildlands anchors the Mar Vista Green Gardens Showcase on April 28


Austin Beutner is appointed LAUSD superintendent on May 1

Cynthia Renaud is sworn in May 8 as Santa Monica’s Chief of Police

The Venice Beach Business Improvement District offers property assessment refunds for its delayed rollout of safety and cleanup patrols, which begin in May along the boardwalk

Controversial multimedia artist Sam Durant is feted on May 20 as the Venice Art Walk & Auction’s featured artist

L.A. City Councilman Mike Bonin announces May 24 that the city plans to use the former Metro bus yard in Venice as temporary housing facility for local homeless people

County officials complete upgrades to Yvonne B. Burke Park in Marina del Rey

6. June 21: Opponents and supporters of temporary homeless housing in Venice clashed during a public information session in June (Photo by Joe Piasecki)
7. June 23: Rep. Maxine Waters (D- Los Angeles) call on activists to get more confrontational with the Trump administration during a Westside demonstration in June decrying the detention of immigrant children (Photo by Maria Martin)
8. July 10: After LeBron James is traded to the Lakers, Kobe Bryant loyalists destroy a “King of L.A.” mural co-created by “Touch of Venice” artist Jonas Never outside Baby Blues BBQ (Twitter photo by @nicolasito1987)
9. Aug. 30: Santa Monica and Los Angeles began enforcing new laws to regulate the proliferation of electric scooters (Photo by David Zentz)


The Marina del Rey Halibut Derby returns June 2 and 3, without a scantily clad Miss Halibut for the first time

The Los Angeles Chapter of the California Restaurant Association honors Tony Palermo of Tony P’s Dockside Grill with its lifetime achievement award on June 8

Rep. Ted Lieu joins in June 9 grand opening celebrations for Med Men’s recreational cannabis store on Abbot Kinney Boulevard

The Santa Monica City Council votes on June 11 to impose stricter regulations on grab-and-go electric scooters

Backlash against plans for temporary homeless housing in Venice erupts during a June 13 public information session at Westminster Avenue Elementary School

Tom Hanks plays Falstaff in the Shakespeare Center of Los Angeles’ fundraising production of “Henry IV” at the West Los Angeles VA campus

The killer of popular Mercedes Grill line cook Guillermo “Memo” Carmona-Perez is sentenced to 12 years in prison on June 25

Heal the Bay upgrades the water quality score for Marina “Mother’s” Beach from an F to an A three weeks before its June 28 grand re-opening after an extensive facilities remodel

Mel’s Diner completes its restoration of the former Penguin’s Coffee Shop in Santa Monica, and in short order readers of The Argonaut vote it Best New Restaurant in our annual Best of the Westside contest

Decrying the separation of immigrant families and detention of children at the border, more than 1,500 people join Westside community organizers and elected officials in a June 23 protest at the West Los Angeles Federal Building


L.A. City Councilman Mike Bonin is one of 17 people arrested on July 2 during a civil disobedience protest blocking the entrance to an immigration detention center in Los Angeles

A federal court rules July 5 to dismiss a legal challenge aiming to prevent the future closure of Santa Monica Airport

A Marina del Rey woman who called herself The Bitcoin Maven is sentenced to a year in prison on July 10 after pleading guilty to money laundering for dark web drug sales

Not long after the Cleveland Cavaliers trade LeBron James to the Los Angeles Lakers, Kobe Bryant loyalists destroy a “King of L.A.” tribute by prolific muralist Jonas Never outside Baby Blues BBQ

After hitting the intersection of Abbot Kinney and Washington boulevards, a homeless man who calls himself Todd the Volunteer singlehandedly removes all traces of litter along Lincoln Boulevard from Playa Vista to Marina del Rey as well as along Culver Boulevard from Lincoln to Alla Road

The Marina del Rey Symphony joins international celebrations of what would have been Leonard Bernstein’s 100th birthday with a staging of music and dance at Burton Chace Park


LAPD officers begin enforcing an electric scooter ban on the Venice Beach bike path on the first weekend in August

Silver Strand locals celebrate the opening of Via Dolce Park on Aug. 4

“Crazy Rich Asians” opens in L.A. on Aug. 15 and goes on to be the top-grossing romantic comedy of the past 10 years

Following years of community organizing and a herculean final push, L.A. City Council members vote 13-0 on Aug. 17 to uphold an appeal by Playa del Rey residents to block the four-story Legado apartment project slated for Culver Boulevard

Frank T. Rios, who ruled the 1950s Beat poet scene as one of “the Holy Three,” dies Aug. 20 at age 82

Santa Monica’s new electric scooter regulations appear to squeeze out initial operators Bird and Lime in favor of new fleets operated by rideshare services Lyft and Uber, but Bird and Lime agree to concessions that result in all four companies operating limited fleets

Loyola Marymount University opens its tech-driven Playa Vista Campus, geared especially toward film production, with the start of classes in late August

1. Sept. 28: The Boys & Girls Clubs of Venice celebrated its 50th anniversary in September (Photo by Niall O’Brien)
2. Nov. 8–21: The Woolsey Fire destroyed more than 90,000 acres of Malibu and surrounding areas in November (Photo by Mia Duncans)
3. Nov. 8: Google unveils its adaptive restoration of the historic Hughes Aircraft Company Spruce Goose Hangar (Photo by Connie Zhou)
4. Nov. 29: LAPD Chief Michel Moore announces 10 new patrol officers and heightened enforcement efforts on Venice Beach during a November town hall (Photo by Ted Soqui)
5. Dec. 1: The parents of hate crime victim Mathew Shepard joined Westchester Rotarians on Dec. 1 in an effort to spread tolerance despite ideological divides (Photo by Ted Soqui)


Nicole Willett, chief of staff for L.A.’s Department on Disability, is killed on Labor Day when her kayak is struck by a boat in Marina del Rey’s main channel

Santa Monica Pier reboots its Twilight concerts with multiple smaller stages on autumn Wednesdays

Alleged serial killer Ramon Escobar is charged with four counts of murder and multiple assaults following a reign of terror against the homeless in Santa Monica and Los Angeles from Sept. 8 until his Sept. 25 arrest

Trader Joe’s applies for a liquor license in Marina del Rey, but won’t confirm its plans to open a grocery store within the Pier 44 redevelopment until December

The Westchester-Playa and Del Rey neighborhood councils vote in mid-September to designate “safe parking” lots where people who live in their cars can sleep securely overnight and access public services

The Emerson Avenue Community Garden hosts its third annual Westchester Music & Arts Festival on Sept. 15

The Boys & Girls Clubs of Venice celebrate 50 years of serving local youth with a Sept. 28 gala celebration


Santa Monica’s Oct. 1 COAST open streets event and related Off the Hook sustainable seafood festival celebrate alternative transportation and environmental activism

The burgeoning Culver City Arts District celebrates the electric scooter zeitgeist with its inaugural Walk & Roll Festival on Oct. 6

Afghanistan-born activists join Code Pink in Venice on Oct. 7 for a vigil to mark the 17th year of the American military presence in Afghanistan

Former Santa Monica city employee Eric Uller is arrested on Oct. 15 and charged with molesting children involved with the Santa Monica Police Activities League; he will die by suicide before a Nov. 15 court appearance

Santa Monica Playhouse begins its month-long Binge Free Festival of experimental new theater on Oct. 15

The 23-year run of Venice Boardwalk restaurant On the Waterfront opens a new chapter on Oct. 24 as The Waterfront, a stylish hangout reflecting Venice’s more upscale trajectory

Venice residents opposed to temporary homeless housing at the former Metro bus yard on Main Street shout down Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and L.A. City Councilman Mike Bonin during an Oct. 25 town hall at Westminster Avenue Elementary School


Google employees in Venice, Playa Vista

and around the world stage a walkout on Nov. 1 to protest the company’s handling of sexual harassment reports

Amid the Blue Wave of the midterm elections, Gavin Newsom is elected governor and voters reject ballot measures to relax prohibitions against rent control and repeal the new gas tax

L.A. County voters approve the Measure W parcel tax to fund stormwater recycling infrastructure and elect Santa Monica City Councilman Tony Vasquez to the Board of Equalization

Santa Monica voters re-elect Kevin McKeown and Sue Himmelrich to the city council; challenger Greg Moreno finishes near the top of the at-large field to bump out Pam O’Connor, the council’s longest-serving member

On Nov. 7 a gunman opens fire at the Borderline Grill in Thousand Oaks during Country College Night, a popular event among Pepperdine University students

The 2018 wildfire season becomes the most destructive and deadly wildfire season on record in California, including the 97,000-acre Woolsey Fire that burned 1,643 structures in and around Malibu between Nov. 8 and Nov. 21

Google unveils its adaptive restoration of the historic Hughes Aircraft Company Spruce Goose Hangar

Nov. 10 marks three milestones for local arts institutions: Otis College of Art and Design celebrates a century in Los Angeles with its 100% Festival; Beyond Baroque Literary Arts Center celebrates 50 years in Venice with a “Bohemian Bacchanal” honoring Viggo Mortensen and Will Alexander; and experimental arts incubator the 18th Street Arts Center celebrates 30 years in Santa Monica

The Venice Neighborhood Council hosts a Cannabis Town Hall on Nov. 13, featuring industry experts and public officials

Mariner’s Village is spared from the wrecking ball after L.A. County Supervisor Janice Hahn brokers a new renovation deal that includes nearly 200 new units of affordable housing

Firefighters responding to an apartment fire in Westchester discover the bodies of two sisters, one of them a teenager, shot to death before the blaze; police arrest a teenage double-murder suspect the following week

Following an extensive remodel, Chaya Venice suddenly closes for good after 27 years on Main Street

L.A. City Councilman Mike Bonin announces on Nov. 28 that the city will create a new public dog park on the grounds of Glen Alla Park in Del Rey

LAPD Chief Michel Moore hosts a Nov. 29 town hall about crime in Venice, announcing 10 new patrol officers and new crime-fighting tactics that include enforcement of beach curfews


On what would have been their son’s 42nd birthday, the parents of hate crime victim Matthew Shepard join local Rotarians at Loyola Marymount University for a Dec. 1 forum prompting tolerance in the face of deep ideological divides

After three years of construction along Via Marina, new residents begin moving into the 585-unit, 10.4-acre AMLI apartments

On Dec. 11, the Los Angeles City Council approves funding for temporary homeless housing in Venice and other parts of the city

A Starbucks coffee shop quietly opens on the Venice Boardwalk, in the former location of the Venice Beach Freakshow

After 46 years in Santa Monica, Piero Selvaggio plans to shut down the iconic Italian restaurant Valentino on New Year’s Eve