(1) HERB KATZ, a five-term City Councilmember and Mayor in 2007-2008, passed away January 7 after a long-term battle with cancer; he was 78. Mayor Ken Genser mourned Katz as “one of Santa Monica’s great leaders and friends.” L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said that he had heard Katz called “curmudgeonly,” but added that he had found that curmudgeonly behavior was often an attempt to mask true compassion; he called Herb Katz “a mensch.”
(2) RAIL TRANSIT TO SANTA MONICA moved forward in 2009 as more than 8,900 written and oral comments were received on January’s Draft Environmental Impact Report for Expo Phase 2 that will bring the light rail line to Santa Monica. Those comments were incorporated in December’s Final Environmental Impact Report, which will be considered for certification by the Expo Authority Board on February 4, 2010. “Should that board certify the document and approve the project, engineering and design work will commence, and construction may begin in late 2010,” said a release issued by the Expo Construction Authority. And in August 2009, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa expressed frustration at the pace of the “subway to the sea” and pressed for completion (at least to Westwood) by 2020.
(3) THE ANNENBERG COMMUNITY BEACH HOUSE opened to the public on April 25, culminating a decade’s worth of planning and restoration work by a public/private partnership among the Annenberg Foundation, California State Parks, and the City of Santa Monica. Originally built by William Randolph Hearst in late 1920s for actress Marion Davies, the beach house was damaged in the 1994 earthquake, and much of the five-acre site has been rebuilt so the public can swim in the pool, play on the beach, and throw parties in the ballroom.
(4) CITY MANAGER LAMONT EWELL announced in August that he had decided to retire at the end of 2009. After 34 years of public service, the last four in Santa Monica, Ewell said he felt very fortunate to be ending his career with “one of the greatest cities in the nation.” City Councilmember Kevin McKeown spoke for many when he said, “It is with the utmost regret we acknowledge and accede to his wish to retire, too soon for many of us.” The City Council has engaged Rod Gould of Poway to succeed Ewell effective January 22, 2010.
(5) THE SANTA MONICA PIER turned 100 years old in 2009, and it took a full year to celebrate the centennial. There was the February 18 book launch of Santa Monica Pier: A Century of the Last Great Pleasure Pier by James Harris, Santa Monica Pier historian and community event liaison for the Santa Monica Pier Restoration Corporation; the April 18 sideshow featuring all manner of circus midway entertainment; and the summer Twilight Dance Series marking its own 25th year and the 85th anniversary of the La Monica Ballroom as well as the Pier’s centennial. But the September 9 Centennial Day celebration – grand re-opening ceremony, 100-foot cake, fireworks show – capped the efforts of the Centennial Steering Committee.
(6) MICHAEL ROSENTHAL, founder and publisher of the Mirror, died on September 9, the same day that the Santa Monica Pier celebrated its centennial. He was 56. The Los Angeles City Council, adjourning in his memory, said Rosenthal “was intent on starting a newspaper to fill a gap left in local news coverage when Copley Newspapers shut down the Santa Monica Outlook.” Santa Monica Councilmember Bobby Shriver remembered: “His criticism was succinct and truly felt: he never tried to score points or look smart. That’s newspapering and citizenship at its best.”
(7) DOGTOWN WAS REBORN in Venice as the Dennis “Polar Bear” Agnew Skate Park was opened October 3 at the foot of Windward Avenue. Members of the original “Z-Boys” and the Venice Surf and Skateboard Association gathered with Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and District 11 Councilmember Bill Rosendahl at opening ceremonies for the 16,000-square-foot facility, which includes a large bowl, five mini-bowls, steps, a snake run, and a street course with handrails on the former grounds of the long-demolished Venice Pavilion.
(8) LUCE CONTINUED what may be the longest-running, on-going, fully transparent, participatory political process on record in 2009. In November, the City released the “Preliminary Draft Edition” of the Land Use and Circulation Element (LUCE) – the largest and most controversial piece of the City’s first comprehensive revision of its general plan in roughly 25 years. “The process of engaging the community [in LUCE] was started in 2004 and was extensive, far-reaching and inclusive,” said the executive summary of the November draft, which will guide zoning regulations, real estate and other economic development, transportation improvements, and in some ways even the area’s social and cultural direction for the next 20 years.
(9) CIRQUE DU SOLEIL opened KOOZA adjacent to the Pier in October, marking the return of the clowns, acrobats, contortionists, and other performers who have made Santa Monica their California home. Among them was Ron Campbell, the King of Clowns, returning to his hometown with the now-storied troupe. The big yellow and blue striped tent on the beach housed the extravaganza through December 20, when the view from the Pier returned to the everyday, normal vista of sea, sand, sun, and mountains that graces the seal of the City of Santa Monica.