Santa Monica Lookout
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Looking Back at Santa Monica in 2013

Santa Monica Real Estate Company, Roque and Mark

Harding Larmore Kutcher & Kozal, LLP  law firm
Harding, Larmore Kutcher & Kozal, LLP

Pacific Park, Santa Monica Pier

By Jason Islas
Staff Writer

December 24, 2013 -- New battles started and old battles began anew this year in Santa Monica. Development remained a major flashpoint in the beachside city.

Anti-airport advocates celebrated a victory, as did the local hotel workers' union and private fitness trainers. City Hall won a victory over Sacramento and celebrated the opening of two new parks.

Santa Monica said goodbye to some of its historic buildings, while residents fought to hold on to at least one piece of public art.

And, victims of gang violence got some closure after nearly a decade. It's been a long year, Santa Monica.

Gun Violence Shatters Peace in Santa Monica

The usual peace and quiet in Santa Monica's streets was shattered in June when a troubled youth went on a shooting rampage that ended on the main campus of Santa Monica College.

Police eventually gunned-down 24-year-old John Zawahri but not before he shot and killed five people, including his father and brother.

The three other victims were killed on the campus where Zawahri's rampage came to a violent end. (“Fifth Shooting Victim Was Familiar Face at Santa Monica College,” June 11)

Shortly after the shooting, more gun violence -- this time, gang-related -- erupted in the city's Pico Neighborhood, leaving one dead and one seriously wounded. (“One Dead, One Wounded in Another Santa Monica Shooting,” June 11)

City Hall Restarts Effort to Close Santa Monica Airport

An old battle got new life in 2013 when a citizen group emerged advocating that Santa Monica Airport -- long identified by some as a major source of noise and air pollution -- be shut down and turned into a park. (“New Santa Monica Anti-Airport Group Gains Momentum at First Meeting,” October 8)

Shortly after, City Hall decided once again to go to toe-to-toe in court with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) over the future 227-acre plot of land. While the FAA claims that Santa Monica has to operate at least part of the parcel as an airport in perpetuity, the City, which officially maintained ownership over the century-old airstrip, says that it can close the airport in 2015. (“City Hall Sues FAA Over Future of Santa Monica Airport,” November 1)

A month before City Hall announced its lawsuit against the FAA, a jet carrying four people crashed at the airport. All on board were killed, including the pilot, Mark Benjamin, CEO of Morely Builders, and his son. (“'Tragic Accident' at Santa Monica Airport Under Investigation,” October 1)

Benjamin, a resident of Malibu, was remembered by those in the education community as a generous contributor to the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District. (“Probable Santa Monica Plane Crash Victim Remembered as Generous Community Supporter,” October 1)

Development in the Hot Seat

With a record 35 development agreements and at least three pending projects that far exceed the City's 84-foot height limit, the future of Santa Monica's skyline became a flashpoint this year.

Opponents of dramatic change have rallied the troops to fight three proposed hotel projects along Ocean Avenue, which range from 195 feet to more than 300 feet tall. ("FelCor Reveals Plans for Hotel by Santa Monica Pier," June 7”)

Still, developers hope to wow residents and the City Council with designs by world famous architects Frank Gehry, Rem Koolhaas and Cesar Pelli. ("City Council Taps Local Developer for Downtown Santa Monica Dream Site," December 12)

But opponents argue that Santa Monica has done just fine without tall buildings and that it doesn't need them now.

Comeback of the Living Wage

With half a dozen hotel developments proposed, UNITE HERE Local 11 -- the regional hospitality workers' union -- has renewed the battle for a living wage in Santa Monica.

At the turn of the century, labor activists mounted a high-profile campaign to require all businesses along the coast that grossed more than $5 million to pay workers a minimum of $12.25 an hour. (“Living Wage Persists in Santa Monica a Decade After Losing at the Polls,” November 18)

Voters soundly rejected the ordinance in 2002, but labor activists have persistently pushed for living wage clauses for new hotels. In 2013, the union won a major victory when the developer of two mid-priced hotels Downtown agreed to pay $15.37 an hour to its future employees after months of negotiations. (“City Council Green-lights Two Mid-Priced Hotels in Downtown Santa Monica,” November 14)

While the impact of that agreement on other hotels with pending development agreements is unclear, union representatives have said that they will push for high wages in all future hotel developments in Santa Monica.

Trainers in Public Parks Cause Row

Personal trainers went to the mats this year to fight for their right to use Santa Monica's Palisades Park for fitness classes, but they were met by stiff resistance from residents who said they felt crowded out of the popular beachfront park.

The fight, which garnered international attention, ended in a compromise approved by the City Council that would allow a limited number of trainers to pay a fee to use public parks. Thoe who used Palisades Park would pay a premium fee. ("Santa Monica City Council Approves Limited Use of Palisades Park by Personal Trainers,” October 10)

That wasn't enough for Councilmember Tony Vazquez, who cast the lone dissenting vote against the ordinance because he didn't think trainers should be allowed to use the public spaces for profit.

Nearly a Decade Later, Justice for Victims of Gang Violence

Seven years after Eddie Lopez, 15, was gunned down outside a Pico Neighborhood mini mart, a jury convicted known gang member Jose Zapien of the murder. The popular 15-year-old Santa Monica High School student and star athlete was not affiliated with gangs, police said.(“Gang Member Found Guilty of 2006 Slaying of Santa Monica Youths, November 15)

Zapien, who was 18 when Santa Monica Police arrested him in 2007, was also found guilty of the murder of 22-year-old Miguel Martin, another Pico Neighborhood resident.

Unlike Lopez, Martin had been involved in gangs but had been working to turn his life around when he was chased down and shot in Santa Monica's Virginia Avenue Park in December 2006.

Post Office Closes

Santa Monica lost its historic Downtown Post Office this year after Postal Service officials shuttered the 75-year-old building and put it on the market despite the protests of residents and Congressman Henry Waxman.

Tthe Postal Service then converted its sorting station at Olympic Boulevard and Seventh Streetinto a full-service post office. But patrons complained that the new facility was inconvenient and the parking dangerous. (“Parking Troubles Patrons at New Santa Monica Post Office, December 4) Postal Service officials have promised to provide parking on-site by early next year. (“New Parking Lot at Santa Monica Post Office Will Open in Two Weeks, Officials Say, December 18)

Built under Franklin D. Roosevelt's Works Progress Administration (WPA), the post office was one of dozens closed and slated for sale to help pay off the Postal Service's ever-increasing debts. (“Historic Santa Monica Post Office Closes Next Week,” June 21)

Civic Auditorium Closes

The Downtown post office wasn't the only historic building to close in Santa Monica this year. After 55 years, the Civic Auditorium was shuttered until the City can find $50 million for badly-needed repairs to an iconic buildig that was once home to the Academy Awards. (“To Preserve Santa Monica Civic Auditorium, Revise Specific Plan, Says Expert Panel,” May 13)

City Hall's hopes to use Redevelopment Agency money to fix up the Auditorium were thwarted in February 2012, when Sacramento axed the State's 400 RDAs in an effort to balance the budget.

Sacramento squeezed municipalities for as much of their former RDA money as possible, and Santa Monica was no exception. While the City successfully contested a number of Sacramento's claims, it lost others. (“Santa Monica Will Pay $57 Million to End Battle with State Over Redevelopment Agency Funds ,” October 25)

The City won a major victory this month when it retained ownership of six of its Downtown parking structures formerly owned by the RDA. (“State Says Santa Monica Can Keep Downtown Parking Structures,” December 18)

Chain Reaction

Efforts to save Santa Monica's “Chain Reaction” have picked up speed as the February 2014 deadline to raise the money necessary to save the 26-foot-tall sculpture by Pulitzer Prize-winning artist Paul Conrad fast approaches.

Still, proponents are far short of the $423,000 City officials say is needed to shore up the structural integrity of the aging structure. (“Drive to Save Santa Monica's “Chain Reaction” Enters Final Stretch,” October 16)

February will mark the end of a two-year-long battle that has pitted City officials, who claim the sculpted mushroom cloud made entirely of chains poses a safety hazard, and local activists, who counter that the City is exagerrating the extent of the necessary repairs.

Two New Parks

Santa Monica celebrated the opening of two new parks this year, increasing the bayside city's stock of public space by some seven acres.

Tongva Park, named for the indigenous people who lived in Santa Monica before the Spanish arrived, is a six-acre elegantly sculpted passive space. (“Tongva Park is a Unique Experience in Santa Monica,” September 10) While City Hall's new one-acre front lawn was named after long-time mayor and City Council member Ken Genser, a fierce advocate of renters' rights. (“Santa Monica's New Parks Memorialize Indigenous Tribe, Former Mayor,” October 21)

James Corner Field Architects -- the firm behind New York's High Line Park -- designed and built the two parks, which cost a total of $46 million, in front of City Hall and across the street on the former RAND Corporation property.

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