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Top Stories of 2020 -- WINTER - SPRING
December 30, 2020 -- It seemed a routine, if eventful, start of the year, with the coronarirus still half a world away. By mid-Spring, the coronavirus outbreak would trigger an economic shutdown that put the City deep in the red shortly before riots thrust it into the national spotlight.
As the new year begins, the Arts Commission is busy trying to learn how the City came to lose the iconic mural "Pleasures Along the Beach" that had stood at the corner of 26th and Wilshire for half a century ("SPECIAL REPORT -- City Leaves Public in the Dark Over Loss of Iconic Mural," January 16, 2020).
Later that month, the Hilbert Museum of Art in Orange County announces the mosaic would be the centerpiece when its expandsd museum opens in the fall of 2022 ("Santa Monica's Treasured Mosaic to Be Centerpiece of Orange County Museum Expansion," January 21, 2020).
Meanwhile, attorneys in the voting rights lawsuit filed by Latino plaintiffs against the City are revving up for another court battle.
On January 21, the City -- which appealed a lower court decision that found Santa Monica's at-large elected system discriminates against Latino voters -- files its final brief.
It argues that candidates preferred by Santa Monica's Latino voters almost always win and that assuming they prefer candidates with Spanish surnames amounts to stereotyping ("City Submits Final Brief in Voting Rights Appeal," January 22).
By February, opposition is building against "The Plaza" project proposed on City owned land Downtown.
A coalition of neighborhood and slow-growth groups sends an ultimatum to the developer and City officials -- withdraw the proposed project or we will fight to stop it ("EXTRA -- Neighborhood, Slow-Growth Groups Band to Defeat 'The Plaza' Project," February 19, 2020).
A week later, the City Council votes to halt negotiations over concerns the project may not meet the requirements of California's recently expanded Surplus Land Act ("EXTRA -- City Halts Negotiations on 'The Plaza' Project," February 26, 2020).
By month's end, the coronavirus is starting to hit home, although no local cases have been reported ("City, Tourism Officials Closely Monitoring Coronavirus," February 27, 2020).
Local tourism officials say they are "closely monitoring" the situation and "its impact on inbound travel to Santa Monica and the greater region."
Santa Monica households are encouraged to prepare for any emergency, "including a potential coronavirus emergency in the U.S.," by ensuring their families have a disaster kit at home.
On March 11, Santa Monica College (SMC) and School District officials announce they plan to switch to online teaching as the World Health Organization (WHO) declares coronavirus a pandemic ("SMC, School District Prepare Plans for Remote Classes as Coronavirus Declared Pandemic," March 11, 2020).
On Friday, March 13, the City issues a local emergency proclamation that enhances its ability to access federal and state dollars for COVID-19 response. That weekend it closes City Hall and the Pier ("Santa Monica Closes Pier, City Hall," March 16, 2020).
On March 16, Los Angeles County Health officials confirm the first case of coronavirus in Santa Monica ("First Coronavirus Case Confirmed in Santa Monica," March 17, 2020).
Meanwhile, the battle over a State mandate to build 8,874 units, 70 percent of them affordable, by 2028, is heating up.
On March 10, hours before the Council meets to take up an emergency interim ordinance streamlining Santa Monica's permitting process, nine community groups urge the City Council to appeal the "unattainable, irrational, and environmentally unsustainable" housing targets ("Community Groups Urge Santa Monica Council to Reject Housing Targets," March 10, 2020).
That night, the Council unanimously votes to allow most large housing projects to be approved by planning staff effective immediately ("City Council Begins Clearing Path for Nearly 9,000 New Housing Units," March 12, 2020).
The Council also unanimously votes to pay a total of $42.6 million to settle claims filed by two dozen individuals who allege they were sexually abused while participating in a City run youth program ("EXTRA -- Santa Monica to Pay $42.6 Million to Alleged Victims of Sexual Abuse," March 10, 2020).
City employee Eric Uller, had killed himself in his Marina del Rey apartment in November 2018, three weeks after beeing arrested for lewd and lascivious acts with a minor.
On April 1, the number of COVID-19 cases in Santa Monica surpasses the 50 mark. The following week, the City becames one of the first in Califonia to fine businesses and patrons for not wearing face coverings ("EXTRA -- Santa Monica Workers, Customers Must Wear Face Coverings or Face Fines," April 9, 2020).
In less than a month, a County mandated lockdown has all but shut down the city's once thriving economy.
On Monday, April 13, City Manager Rick Cole calls for layoffs and service cuts to fill a projected $226 million budget gap by July 2021 ("EXTRA! -- City Faces $226 Million Budget Gap Due to Coronavirus Shutdown," April 13, 2020).
On Friday, Cole offers his resignation after coming under increasing pressure for his handling of the corinavirus emergency ("Cole Resigns as Santa Monica City Manager," April 17, 2020).
The following day, the Council taps City Attorney Lane Dilg to steer Santa Monica through the biggest crisis in its 145-year history ("EXTRA! -- City Attorney Lane Dilg Tapped to Run Santa Monica During Historic Crisis," April 18, 2020).
On May 5, the Council -- following Cole's unpopular suggestion -- votes to quickly lay off as many as 247 full-time employees, resulting in sweeping cuts to programs and services ("City Council Slashes Up to 247 Full-time Jobs; Cuts Will Be Felt at All Levels," May 6, 2020).
The following week, a prominent member of a disbanded citizen's budget advisory committee calls the sudden and drastic budget cuts inevitable, even without a coronavirus shutdown ("SPECIAL REPORT -- Coronavirus Shutdown Forced Inevitable Cuts, Fiscal Expert Says," May 13, 2020).
On May 31, just as the city is preparing to open up again, protests over the Memorial Day killing of George Floyd turn violent, as looters ransack stores and demonstrators face off with police ("EXTRA! -- Santa Monica Demonstration Turns Violent, Looters Ransack Stores," June 1, 2020).
Within 48 hours, a petition to remove Santa Monica Police Chief Cynthia Renaud has garners more than 11,000 signatures ("Petition Circulates to Recall Santa Monica Police Chief After Rampant Looting," June 1, 2020).
The following week, Councilmember Sue Himmelrich calls on the Council to launch a review of the police response, but it would take more than two months before the Council acts ("Santa Monica Councilmember Calls for Independent Probe of Police Actions During Looting Spree," June 8, 2020).
A Lookout investigation shortly after the riots finds police were unprepared for the large protests and bands of violent outlaws who swarmed into the city ("PART I -- Santa Monica Police Could Have Prevented Looting Spree, Former Top Officials Say," June 10, 2020).
Shortly before summer ends, Councilmember Greg Morena announces he will resign after learning his position prohibits him from renegotiating his family's restaurant lease with the City ("EXTRA!!! Morena to Resign from City Council," June 17, 2020).
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