By Joe Piasecki
It’s been a big year for local news. No Top 10 list could cover everything that happened here in 2015, but several stories stand out as defining the yin-yang of triumphs and troubles that made for a roller-coaster 365 days west of the 405.
10. Marina del Rey Turns 50
Birthdays are a big deal, and Marina del Rey’s 50th was no exception. The April celebration included a weekend festival, tall ships docked in the harbor, a cake-cutting that involved costumed pirates and a free outdoor concert by Three Dog Night. On a deeper level, the occasion gave us all the chance to reflect on the marina’s history and purpose while contemplating what we want it to become over the next half-century.
9. Sea Lions in Crisis
With warmer coastal water temperatures disrupting ocean feeding patterns, hundreds of malnourished young sea lions showed up on local beaches this year. Peter Wallerstein of Playa del Rey-based Marine Animal Rescue came to the aid of a record 475 ocean mammals — mostly starving sea lion pups, but also imperiled fur seals — between January and November, and he expects to be busy again in 2016.
8. Harrison Ford’s Plane Crash
When Han Solo crashes a plane, that’s national celebrity news. But for locals, actor Harrison Ford’s “forced landing” of a vintage Ryan PT-22 on a Penmar Golf Course fairway in March reignited the debate about the future of Santa Monica Airport. Santa Monica officials keep pushing to wrest control of SMO away from the FAA, which would likely result in flight restrictions, and that’s an issue not likely to go away soon.
7. Schools Battle for Resources
Traditional public schools are feeling the squeeze as charter schools attract more students and move into empty LAUSD classrooms, while specialized programs designed to keep families from leaving the district are encountering resistance from supporters of neighborhood schools. Plans to build a $30-million facility at Mark Twain Middle School to house the popular Chinese dual language immersion program at Broadway Elementary collapsed this year under community pressure.
6. Mandatory Measles Vaccinations
Santa Monica schools had some of the lowest immunization rates in Southern California at the beginning of this year. After a measles outbreak shut down a child care center at SaMo High in February, newly elected state Sen. Ben Allen (formerly on the school board) succeeded in passing legislation to end personal belief exemptions being invoked by parents in record numbers. Allen’s principled stance on the issue wasn’t universally popular in his district, which made it all the more impressive. And for that, Allen is our local lawmaker of the year.
5.Short-Term Rentals Proliferate
It wasn’t that long ago that Westsiders would associate online vacation rental broker Airbnb with holiday travel, but this year the company has for many become synonymous with depleted rental housing inventory here at home. Thousands of short-term rental offerings west of the 405 have prompted Santa Monica to enact new restrictions and has City Councilman Mike Bonin leading the charge to tax and regulate the practice in L.A.
4.Rising Crime Rates
In the first half of the year residents of Westchester, Playa del Rey, Playa Vista, Del Rey, Mar Vista, Venice, Palms and Manchester Square reported 400 crimes to LAPD — up 47% from the 272 reported during the same six-month period of 2014. Property crimes also spiked, with the number of auto thefts rising from 377 to 482 and thefts from vehicles increasing from 635 to 901. New LAPD Pacific Division Capt. Nicole Alberca has redeployed department resources to bring those numbers back down.
3. Redevelopment in Marina del Rey
Nary a week or two goes by without a letter to the editor or online comment critical of county plans for growth and development in Marina del Rey — especially environmental concerns. The clear-cutting of 650 trees in the Oxford Basin Lagoon in January to make way for flood control improvements and replant the area as a nature preserve was the first flashpoint this year. More recently, county approvals for a hotel complex and adjacent wetlands park on an undeveloped parcel at Via Marina and Tahiti Way have fanned the flames of controversy.
2. Playa Vista’s Growth Spurt
The rolling 2015 opening of the $260-million Runway at Playa Vista retail and entertainment complex cemented Playa Vista as a micro-city unto itself — one soon to be populated by as many as 13,000 residents and many of the top companies in tech. Over the past year or so, Google bought 12 acres for $120 million, Yahoo Inc. and Jessica Alba’s The Honest Co. signed lease agreements, IMAX opened a $45-million West Coast headquarters, and rapid housing construction has kept an average of 3,000 workers busy each day.
1. Violence in Venice
The pressures of rapid gentrification and a growing homeless population in Venice collided this year with violent and often deadly results. On May 5, a 29-year-old homeless man was shot to death by police near Windward and Pacific avenues under highly suspect circumstances, and in July police shot and killed a knife-wielding 41-year-old homeless man on Rose Avenue. A 26-year-old boardwalk musician was shot to death outside the Cadillac Hotel during a confrontation in August, prompting murder charges against the hotel’s owner and a local gang member. With homelessness up 12% this year in L.A. and local housing prices shooting up, socioeconomic turmoil in Venice went from simmer to boil in 2015.