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May -- Homeless Deaths, a Record Apartment Sale and a New City Attorney

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By Lookout Staff

December 27, 2022 -- Coroner's data show homeless deaths persist on Santa Monica's streets, an apartment sale shatters records and a project designed by a world-renowned architect wins lavish praise.

Amazon is poised to become one of Santa Monica's largest employers after signing a lease that will bring more than 1,000 high-paying jobs to the City ("Amazon Makes Big Move in Santa Monica," May 3, 2022) .

An investigation by The Lookout finds that 54 homeless persons died in the affluent coastal city over the past two years ("SPECIAL REPORT -- Two Homeless Persons a Month Die in Santa Monica," May 4, 2022).

Nine died on Santa Monica's sidewalks, five were found dead in parks and four on the beach. Another four died in their vehicles.

Santa Monica's homeless population drops by 100 --from 907 to 807 -- over the past two years, but the number of those living on the streets has remained flat, according to the 2022 homeless count.

The 11 percent decrease is driven by a dramatic 35 percent drop in the number of homeless persons staying in local shelters, jails, and institutions due to COVID-19 health protocols ("Santa Monica's Homeless Population Drops During COVID," May 5, 2022).

A man is sentenced to 124 years to life in prison after pleading guilty to a spree of assaults on mostly homeless men in Santa Monica and Los Angeles in 2018 that left five dead and seven injured.

Santa Monica Police arrested Ramon Alberto Escobar, 50, in the early morning of September 24 after he claimed his final victim on a Downtown Santa Monica street ("Man Charged with 2018 Killing Spree in Santa Monica Sentenced," May 6, 2022).

Three juveniles and a 19-year old are arrested and two victims hospitalized after a fight over the theft of a cell phone breaks out in Tongva Park ("Two Stabbed in Park Across from City Hall," May 9, 2022).

The incident -- which drives home the prevalent use of knives in local crimes -- began when a "large group of juveniles," both male and female, confronted a man who appeared to be homeless man lying on a park bench.

Tourism officials report Santa Monica's tourism industry is bouncing back from the coronavirus shutdown but must bring back international visitors before it can fully recover ("Santa Monica Tourism on Road to Recovery, Industry Officials Say," May 10, 2022) .

A key driver of the local economy, tourism logged dramatic increases in the number of visitors and the amount of money they spent in 2020, although the numbers lagged far behind the 2019 pre-pandemic levels.

Santa Monica businesses can continue to operate outdoors after the City Council extends an interim zoning ordinance put in place to boost sales during the coronavirus emergency ("Council Extends Zoning Law Allowing Businesses to Operate Outdoors," May 11, 2022 ).

The extension through September 30 allows permitted businesses to operate outdoor dining, retail and fitness activities without paying a temporary use permit fee.

Two years after embarking on a search to fill the City's top legal post, the City Council hires Doug Sloan -- a veteran lawyer who argued a landmark free-speech case before entering public service -- as Santa Monica's new City Attorney ("Santa Monica Hires Fresno City Attorney," May 11, 2022).

A week later, after a nationwide search, Santa Monica taps Erica Cuyugan, a veteran staff member, to head its Library system as it emerges from the coronavirus shutdown ("Santa Monica Picks Its Own to Head Library System," May 19, 2022).

The City Council green-lights a plan to move those with emergency housing vouchers (EHV), most of them homeless, to the top of Santa Monica's waiting list for low-income housing ("Homeless to Be Given Priority for Low-Income Housing," May 12, 2022).

A report released by the City finds that Santa Monica's efforts to encourage alternate modes of transportation have been dealt a major blow during the coronavirus shutdown ("Shared Mobility Ridership Plummets During Pandemic," May 17, 2022).

After a health emergency was declared in March 2020, Big Blue Bus (BBB) ridership dropped by 59 percent through the rest of the year, while shared mobility ridership plummeted by 77 percent. And the numbers didn't change much in 2021.

With an enthusiasm seldom seen in a City whose populace is skeptical of major developments, the Planning Commission unanimously approves a 316,750-square-foot project designed by Frank Gehry for one of Santa Monica's most visible sites ("Planning Commission Gives Enthusiastic Thumbs Up to Gehry Project," May 19, 2022).

Down the street, the former Champagne Towers -- a half-century-old rent control apartment complex -- sells for $330 million, making it the most expensive apartment sale in Santa Monica history ("Santa Monica Rent Controlled Building Sells for Record $330 Million," May 23, 2022).

Built in 1971 by a development firm controlled by the late bandleader Lawrence Welk, the complex has been home to celebrities from Britney Spears to Larry David.

A small oval-shaped park near the heart of Santa Monica where the late Mayor Bob Holbrook played as a boy is named in his honor after a unanimous vote by the Council he served on for a record 24 years ("Council Names Park for Late Mayor Bob Holbrook," May 25, 2022).

Councilmember Phil Brock proposes a transfer tax measure to counter what he calls the "outrageous" measure Mayor Sue Himmelrich is trying to place on the November ballot ("Brock Proposes Alternative to Mayor's 'Outrageous' Transfer Tax," May 26, 2022).

Brock's measure, which the Council votes to consider, is far more modest than the mayor's -- which focuses on housing and homelessness -- and addresses a menu of budget line items that can change over time.

As the month comes to a close, cornonavirus cases in Santa Monica continue rising, reaching the highest weekly level in four months with no new virus-related deaths reported ("COVID Cases Reach Four Month High," May 31, 2022).

Santa Monica's recent surge reflects a national and Countywide trend driven by the highly contagious Omicron BA.2 lineage and sub-lineages, which is milder and less deadly than previous variants. It is also more resistant to vaccines.

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