What this year will mean for our neighborhoods, the economy and the environment

The westward expansion of Metro’s Expo Line will arrive in downtown Santa Monica in a matter of months.  Photo courtesy of Metro

The westward expansion of Metro’s Expo Line will arrive in downtown Santa Monica in a matter of months.
Photo courtesy of Metro

Will city officials make a decision about the Santa Monica Civic in 2016?

By Rick Cole

The short answer is yes: The city will make a decision about the Civic Auditorium, but we don’t expect the decision to lead to a quick reopening.

The landmark Santa Monica Civic Auditorium opened in 1958. Designed by architect Welton Beckett, the Streamline Moderne building is a focal point for Santa Monica’s Civic Center and is warmly remembered for its legacy of cultural and community memories.

The building’s vulnerability to earthquakes led to suspending regular operations in 2013 — the same time that California’s abolition of redevelopment eliminated funding for a complete rehab of the building. That closure forced hard choices over how best to preserve and repurpose the building and the surrounding site for future generations.

The Santa Monica City Council appointed a Civic Working Group of nine residents to lead a community dialogue around the future of the Civic and the surrounding site. The working group recently completed their task of coming up with recommendations to achieve the vision of a mixed-use cultural district with the Civic as its anchor. Their complete report is available at smgov.net/civic.

Bringing the building up to modern safety codes (and operating a venue offering a full range of cultural, entertainment and community events) is pricey. There are no easy answers — unless a benevolent philanthropist is willing to write a check for $50 million dollars or so. The Working Group looked at all other viable options for re-opening the Civic, including tapping public funds for the capital and operating expenses, partnering with a private operator and/or adding revenue-generating uses to the site.

Next year the council will consider the Working Group’s Report and recommendations. One first step might be to issue a request for proposals to assess interest in a public-private partnership to rehab the Civic Auditorium and put it back into operation. So, the next year will see progress — but don’t hold your breath waiting to book event tickets in 2016.

Rick Cole is city manager of Santa Monica.


What will L.A. City Hall’s $100 million for the homeless actually accomplish?

By Steve Clare

Predicting the future is risky business, unless you are in the business of sheltering the homeless in Los Angeles. Then it’s more like predicting the weather. So long as you predict that tomorrow will bring the same as we have today, you’re on pretty safe ground.

Notwithstanding loud protestations of grave concern, acknowledgements of a deep and worsening  housing crisis, declarations of intent to declare a state of emergency, goal setting of 100,000 new housing units over the next seven years, promises to identify and spend $100 million on housing the homeless;  despite professed urgency that included a city report that L.A. is spending $100 million on managing homelessness rather than solving it, the mayor’s appointment of a new homelessness deputy and the City Council’s creation of a new Homeless and Poverty Committee; and despite the forecast of torrential rains this winter which will no doubt cause the death of many left unsheltered, the mayor and City Council have actually done very little to ameliorate the living conditions that unhoused residents of Los Angeles are forced to endure.

The L.A. Homeless Services Authority’s homeless count last January indicated a 12% increase in homelessness over the previous year in the city and county of Los Angeles. Later this month, volunteers will spread out again to count the homeless.  And it is a safe bet that unless it rains hard enough to drive homeless people out of the open where they are easy to identify and into hiding spaces that are more difficult to locate, the homeless count in L.A. will increase again.

It’s also a pretty safe bet that the city will not come up with $100 million of new funding to constructively address homelessness this coming year and that the city will not expand its housing stock by 14,000 units or even meet its stated goal to create a measly 500 affordable housing units next year.

But will the city continue to pass new ordinances and enforce existing ones that criminalize the status of being homeless in Los Angeles? I sadly predict that it will.

Steve Clare is executive director of the Venice Community Housing Corporation.



 Will low inventory and high sales prices continue to dominate the Westside housing market?

By Monica Trepany

Mark Twain said it best: “Buy land, they’re not making it anymore.”

Low inventory and high demand will continue to be the norm for 2016.

The California Association of Realtors is forecasting a 6.3% national increase in sales of existing homes into 2016, but in California that increase is forecasted at 3.2%.

Demand contributing to higher home prices is definitely on the rise, with our beautiful weather, growing job markets and local amenities attracting not just local buyers, but international buyers as well. These international buyers aren’t just looking for homes. Due to the volatility of financial markets, they are using real estate to diversity their investment portfolios — often paying cash, and thereby competing with traditional buyers obtaining financing by other means.

Another market segment is real estate investors who are now realizing significant gains on their current real estate and have sold out in this bullish market. These investors are now sitting with a large amount of cash and needing to purchase real estate in a short period of time to complete 1031 tax exchanges, which is also driving demand upwards.

In contrast, renters and prospective buyers now struggle to afford the costs associated with a hot rental market, with many tenants seeing their rental rates drastically increase. Newer complexes located near increasing job markets on the Westside are averaging $3,000 for a one-bedroom apartment, and two-bedroom apartments are averaging $4,500. This trend is pushing multiple residents into single units and causing renters to jump into the housing market — that is, if they have access to a down payment.

Though there are many factors that could affect supply and demand, including interest rates and the national and global economies, as of now the housing market is expected to continue improving in 2016 while a shortage in supply and decreased housing affordability will also continue.

Optimistic about a strong real estate market, Leslie Appleton-Young summarizes as such: “The foundation for California’s housing market remains strong, with moderating home prices, signs of credit easing and the state continuing to lead the nation in economic and job growth.”

While the future remains to be seen, I am optimistic about continued strength and growth in the real estate market. In the meantime, we should be grateful to call the Westside our home.

Monica Trepany is a real estate broker and president of Playa Realty.


How will choosing a new county supervisor in 2016 shake up Marina del Rey?

By Roslyn E. Walker

It won’t, because the shakeup began from the inception of Marina del Rey and when it became a “cash cow” for Los Angeles County and not a “marina for the people.”

It won’t, because there are only five supervisors for a county of more than $10 million people and very little voter interest in who the supervisor is, and because the 50-year history of the marina has proven that the business model of L.A. County acting as landlord to run, maintain and protect the marina is beyond faulty.

Despite three new supervisors taking office in 2012 and 2014, votes remain constant to continue to morph Marina del Rey into a city out to and even over the water, where even before every tree and animal is gone and the density of buildings and traffic is at a maximum, the putrid fumes from the heavy equipment necessary to build all this inhibits walking and cycling.

Roslyn Walker is a community activist in Marina del Rey.


Will El Niño storms bring more exotic wildlife to Santa Monica Bay?

By Sarah Sikich

Over the summer, as El Niño brewed in the eastern Pacific, abnormally warm water moved its way up the California coast. By August we were experiencing ocean temperatures in the mid-70s. As a surfer, I welcomed these warm temps, as they meant long surf sessions in Malibu without a wetsuit!

For those of us with our eyes on the water, 2015 marked a year of unusual wildlife sightings in Santa Monica Bay.

Riding the warm currents northwards, several species of marine life not resident to Southern California made their way to our local waters, including graceful whale sharks, cartoon-like pelagic red crabs, swift hammerhead sharks, threatened green sea turtles and quizzical reef cornetfish.

Probably the most unusual sea creature spotted along our coast was the tropical and venomous yellow-bellied sea snake that washed ashore in Oxnard this fall. This sea snake hasn’t been spotted in California for more than 40 years, and never as far north as Oxnard.

But we don’t expect to see another influx of warm water species in 2016. Generally, coastal waters start to cool after El Niño brings winter storms, and most of our ocean visitors will travel back south as the warm waters recede. But that doesn’t mean we should take our eyes off the water. A few of these tropical visitors may take up more permanent residence in our local waters, like butterflyfish have at Catalina Island.

The projected “Godzilla” El Niño has the possibility to serve up a series of storms and large west swells throughout Southern California over the next several months. Although that means fun waves for us surfers, if this winter ends up anything like the El Niños of the 1980s and 90s, much of Southern California’s beach sand may disappear, coastal bluffs will erode, and some homes and businesses will flood. Scientists predict that El Niño events will intensify in coming years due to climate change.

It is imperative that coastal communities throughout Los Angeles invest in adaptation actions to enhance resiliency in the face of climate change and extreme storm events. Protecting and restoring coastal areas like wetlands, kelp forests and sand dunes will leave coastal communities and the environment better prepared and protected for the impacts of stronger El Niños. Heal the Bay will continue to advance policies to help prepare and buffer our coast against impending climate change impacts and educate the public about coastal threats associated with climate change. We are committed to helping people understand how they can support sound solutions that protect coastal communities and our critical natural resources.

Sarah Sikich is vice president of Heal the Bay.


 What will happen next in the city’s battle with the FAA over Santa Monica Airport?

By Tony Vazquez

The controversy over the Santa Monica Airport will continue into the New Year and most likely for years to come. The facts are Santa Monicans have voted to take control over our airport land. Yet the FAA continues to favor aviation interests to the detriment of the health and safety of the families that live near the airport.

After almost two years, including four extensions of time to render a decision, on Dec. 4 the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) finally released its director’s determination that may affect the timing of Santa Monica regaining local control over our airport. The issue before the FAA was whether the city’s assurances stemming from a 1994 FAA Airport Improvement Program (AIP) grant expired in 2014 or whether the assurances expire in 2023. According to the determination, the assurances expire in 2023.  The implication is that the city must continue to adhere to federal grant assurances and operate the airport accordingly until 2023. The city disagrees with the determination.

We believe the determination is factually incorrect and inconsistent with best grant management practices. Here’s why. Airports that receive FAA grants are obligated to meet and maintain certain assurances. We understand that and have fully complied. However, federal law states that after 20 years from the date of acceptance of the grant offer, the city — just like any other FAA grantee — is no longer subject to the assurances. Santa Monica accepted the grant in 1994; therefore the determination is wrong on the facts and is not sustainable.

The determination is not the final word; it is only the first. The city is entitled to two levels of appeals within FAA. The next level would be with an FAA hearing officer. Should the hearing officer agree with the director, the city may appeal to the FAA associate director of airports. And, of course, if the FAA associate director sides with previous conclusions, the city may pursue our rights in federal court.

The City Council has yet to decide as a body whether to appeal the determination. That decision will come in 2016. As mayor, I can say the city is fully committed to realizing the will of the voters, who in 2014 voted overwhelming in favor of Measure LC (Local Control).

We hope FAA senior management will rectify the agency’s initial error. Regardless, the city will keep fighting for local control over the airport land. The voters have spoken, and we will never give up!

Tony Vazquez is mayor of Santa Monica.


What will 2016 mean for the environment?

By Eric Strauss

2016 will be the Year of Going Native. Efforts to incorporate the benefits of biodiversity and historically local species in planning and restoration are expanding across the city. The City Council is forwarding a vigorous agenda, along with many non-profit and university partners, on the benefits of diverse and native plant and animal communities. Healthy ecosystems provide needed ecosystem services to their inhabitants that would otherwise require expensive engineered solutions. Nature can help us solve so many of our urban challenges, such as water conservation, climate change, public health and crime reduction.

Eric Strauss is a professor of biology at Loyola Marymount University and executive director of the LMU Center for Urban Resilience.


Will Los Angeles put new restrictions on short-term vacation rentals?

By Mike Bonin

Yes, I am confident the city of Los Angeles will impose regulations on the short-term rental industry this year. We need a smart and enforceable set of regulations that protect neighborhoods, affordable housing, and our too-scare rental stock.

I personally advocate a regulatory system that distinguishes between “good short term rentals” and “bad short term rentals.”  I’d like to outlaw the wholesale theft of rental housing by speculators operating rogue hotels, while finding a way to allow people to rent out a spare room and make ends meet.

To do that, we need rules with teeth and a commitment that the city is serious about enforcing them. The Planning Department will have a draft ordinance available in a few weeks, and soon after the council will take up the matter. Public input will be crucial to making sure we get this right.

Los Angeles City Councilman Mike Bonin’s district includes Venice, Mar Vista, Del Rey, Playa Vista, Playa del Rey, Palms and Westchester.


Will the Expo line help alleviate Westside traffic?

By Francie Stefan

Traffic and circulation are top concerns cited by many people. In 2016 Expo Light Rail will open all the way to downtown Santa Monica. Coupled with Expo’s protected bike and pedestrian path which extends west to 17th Street in Santa Monica, this $1.5-billion project will create a new way for people to get where they are going without having to get in their car.

In 2016 we will celebrate new choices for mobility in the region — train stations, shared bikes and cars, direct bus lines with real time information, expanding shared ride services, and safer walking and biking. Santa Monica will enjoy more choices to get to Expo and to move all around town.

The Expo Light Rail will connect Santa Monica with downtown Los Angeles in about 46 minutes, even during peak times when that car trip can take 1.5 hours. Riders from any of three Santa Monica stations get access to the entire region through a network of light rail, subway and rapid bus transit options.

Breeze Bike Share sponsored by Hulu launched this year in November with 500 bikes at 75 hubs at locations throughout Santa Monica. The number of people riding Breeze will continue to grow, attracted by this new cleaner, greener and more convenient way to go. The same bikes will be launched in systems in West Hollywood, Beverly Hills and Long Beach.

Access to a car when you need it will be provided with car share operated by ZipCar. Members can use a range of low-emission car types by the hour, with 20 cars in public spaces and another 40 cars on accessible private lots.

Big Blue Bus is rolling out new lines and services to provide exceptional Expo integration, informed by thousands of resident and user comments. With many key destinations just beyond walking distance from the new stations and station parking at a premium, first- and last-mile connections will be crucial to maximizing the benefit of the rail line on traffic congestion and quality of life. The plan will leverage the strengths of the current Big Blue Bus route system, and will serve existing riders and attract new riders.

Our city has been focused on how to best welcome Expo to Santa Monica. We are testing signals, creating suggested routes for smoother circulation and offering a variety of transportation options that don’t include vehicle trips. We also want the public to know that the trains that will be entering Santa Monica are short three-car trains, approximately 300 feet long. These trains will clear an intersection in the same amount of time as a normal light cycle at a busy crossing. The longest residents will have to wait for a train crossing is one or two minutes.

The city of Santa Monica and Metro will continue to work with its residents, stakeholders, businesses and community organizations to make our transition to a rail city a seamless one.

Francie Stefan is the city of Santa Monica’s transportation & strategic planning manager.


Will El Niño keep people out of the water or keep lifeguards busy with more rescues?

By Lidia Barillas

This year we had more than 15,000 rescues because of changes in the weather or hazardous weather conditions, so we broke the record of 14,523 [Jan. 1 to Dec. 25] set last year. We think we’re going to be in for a very busy year given the amount of rain that we’re expecting.

We’re hearing that El Niño could create extremely hazardous weather conditions, including a lot of rip currents. For people to come to the beach it’s typically correlated to weather. Looking at our records from the last El Niño storm season (1997-98), we see that that was also a very high rescue year — 14,097 in 1997, according to county records.

One thing that the public needs to understand is that ocean conditions can still be very hazardous even after the rainstorms subside. There could also be high surf warnings and coastal flooding associated with El Niño.

Another thing that concerns us is the level of bacteria that might be on our beaches during and after the storms, so we’ll be working with the county Dept. of Public Health to put up signage to notify the public if there is a high level of bacteria at a particular beach.

Lifeguards’ preparations for incidents related to an El Niño event consist of the following:

Incidents related to an El Niño event can also include lightning warnings or small craft advisory warnings, advisories due to high winds, and
marine mammal rescues related to domoic acid poisoning.

Lidia Barillas is a Los Angeles County lifeguard specialist. She dictated her response to Gary Walker.


Will charter school enrollment west of the 405 continue to grow in 2016?

By Marco Petruzzi

I can predict with complete confidence that in 2016 families west of the 405 — and across all of LA — will continue to want great public school choices for their children.

No one can predict, however, if charter enrollment will continue to grow; but that’s really not what’s important to me, nor should it be important to anyone what the “school label” is. Families want innovative options as part of a thriving education community that includes public charters, traditional schools and magnets. Parents will then find effective ways to put their children on the pathway to success in college, leadership and life.

Instead of focusing on enrollment, we should be ensuring that parents have the tools at their disposal to assess how their students are doing and how schools are contributing to their students’ success, which is a much more difficult task.

As LAUSD focuses on this issue, promoting all high-quality options for families (Yes, including public charters!) and providing transparency and choice will continue to be paramount, particularly for the students most in need.

Marco Petruzzi is CEO of Green Dot Public Schools, which operates 18 schools in Greater Los Angeles, including Ánimo Westside Charter Middle School and Ánimo Venice Charter High School.


 Will rental housing costs continue to rise?

By Andrew Woo

Rents in Los Angeles increased by 8.3% in 2015, driven by job and wage growth. A two-bedroom apartment in L.A. now costs roughly $2,400 per month.

As of December, Santa Monica had the second-highest median rents of any city (or specific unincorporated area) in California, with two-bedroom units going for an average of $4,200 and one-bedroom units for $2,670, according to data drawn from the listings on our site. In first place was San Francisco ($4,610 and $3,500, respectively), and in third place was Marina del Rey ($3,940 and $3,080).

In 2016, we at apartmentlist.com expect rent price increases to be more moderate: 4% to 6%. Rents will still increase as employment and wage growth improve, but apartment building permitting is higher than it has been since 2005, and this new housing supply coming online should help keep rent increases more moderate.

Andrew Woo is the data scientist for apartmentlist.com.


Will there be a more cohesive partnership between LAPD and Mar Vista Gardens?

By Enrique Fernandez

I think that with the newly arrived Capt. Nicole Alberca we have a chance to work together a lot better than three or four years ago. The police are really trying hard to build trust with the residents of Mar Vista Gardens, and that’s the way that you have do things with the residents who live here. But I think this year we can definitely make more progress.

Our new senior lead officer for Mar Vista Gardens, officer Hector Acevas, grew up in the area, so he knows the neighborhood and that’s important. For many years, we would have a lead officer for a short time and then they would leave. It’s critical that we have continuity because the senior lead gets to know all of the people who can help them identify problems and work with the residents to make the community safer.

The collaboration that started last year is a good start, but it’s going to be critical to keep the leaders of Mar Vista Gardens involved if it’s going to work. I personally would like to see more officers interacting one-on-one with the residents, and I’d like to see more officers getting out of their cars and walking around so they can develop relationships with people. I know the police say they’re doing that already, but I’d like to see more of it.

People who live in Mar Vista Gardens know who’s causing most of the problems and they’re willing to help, but they have to feel that they can trust you. It’s just like any other community. This year we can rebuild that trust, but both sides have to be willing to interact with each other face-to-face and be honest with one another. We need continuity and stability. That will go a long way to building trust this year.

Enrique Fernandez is a member of the Del Rey Neighborhood Council and a former resident of Mar Vista Gardens.


Can you see any downsides to implementing the Great Streets concept in downtown Mar Vista?

By Sarah Auerswald

As a 19-year resident of Mar Vista, I see no downside to the Great Street designation for Venice Boulevard. In fact, I think it will be wonderful.

The changes that are proposed include the protected bike lane everyone’s talking about, but there’s so much more to it than that. Parts of the proposal are safety-related, including adding mid-block crosswalks along Venice Boulevard that will help keep people safe while crossing the street. There are also plans to add sustainable landscaping along the median and sidewalks, which will help make the whole area more beautiful and “greener.” Plus there are plans to add public art to Venice Boulevard, with some projects already underway.

The overall goal is to help create a feeling of “Main Street” on Venice, rather than a highway, and I think that’s going to be great. I can’t wait.

Sarah Auerswald is president of the Mar Vista Chamber of Commerce.