By Edwin Folven, 12/27/2012
Elections, Endeavour and a big rock captured the headlines
As 2012 comes to a close, it is pertinent to look back on the people and events that shaped the local area during the past 12 months.
Presidential election years are usually very eventful, and the past year lived up to the billing. One of the main stories at the beginning of the year followed how the political landscape was altered through redistricting. The boundaries of federal, state and local legislative districts changed, and familiar faces, such as Congressman Henry Waxman, found himself running to represent a newly redrawn 33rd Congressional District. The district for Congresswoman Karen Bass also changed, and she ran for re-election in the 37th Congressional District. West Hollywood saw two new leaders emerge through redistricting in Congressman Adam Schiff, whose district was redrawn to include the city. Newly elected state Assemblyman Richard Bloom succeeded former Assemblyman Mike Feuer in the newly redrawn 50th District. Even the Los Angeles City Council boundaries changed under redistricting, and although the 4th and 5th Districts largely retained their familiar boundaries in the Miracle Mile and Hancock Park areas, City Council President Herb Wesson gained much of Koreatown in the 10th District, later prompting a lawsuit filed by groups representing the Korean-American community who believe they are underrepresented in city politics.
The year began on a very serious note, when a serial arsonist set fire to more than 50 apartments between Dec. 29 and Jan. 2. Approximately 35 of the arsons occurred in Hollywood or West Hollywood. The suspected arsonist, German national Harry Burkhart, was arrested by a West Hollywood sheriff’s deputy during the early morning hours of Jan. 2. It has been alleged that he may have gone on the arson spree because his mother was facing deportation to Germany. Burkhart was living in a Sunset Boulevard apartment at the time of the fires. He currently remains in custody, facing nearly 100 felony charges relating to the arsons, and is expected to face trial next year.
Medical marijuana regulation remained in the news in 2012, with the Los Angeles City Attorney, and later the city council, backing an ordinance that would ban all dispensaries, but would allow for patients and their caregivers to grow and share a small amount of the drug. The council eventually passed such an ordinance, but it was later rescinded when medical marijuana proponents gathered enough signatures to force a vote on the issue. The council is now awaiting California Supreme Court clarification on whether cities have the right to regulate dispensaries, and a ruling may come in 2013.
Same-sex marriage also remained in the headlines during the past year, with the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals first ruling in February that Prop. 8 is unconstitutional, upholding an earlier decision by Judge Vaughn Walker that invalidated Prop. 8, and setting the stage for the issue to be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court. Three weeks ago, the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case, and a decision on whether gays and lesbians will be allowed to marry in California is expected by next summer.
Rumors circled about a change in venue for the Academy Awards prior to the 84th annual show in Hollywood in early 2012, and the Kodak Theatre later underwent an ownership and name change to the Dolby Theatre. Oscar will remain in Hollywood for the foreseeable future, however, as the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences decided to stay in the venue that was created specifically for the show, signing a 20-year lease with the theatre’s owner, CIM Group.
While Hollywood is used to big premieres, the Los Angeles County Museum may have had one of the biggest debuts of the year when “Levitated Mass”, a 340-ton boulder turned public artwork, was slowly wheeled 105 miles from a quarry in Riverside to the museum. The journey culminated with hundreds of people lining Wilshire Boulevard for the rock’s arrival in the wee hours of March 10.
Changes were also underway most of the year at Fairfax High School, where principal Ed Zubiate, who had been at the school for six years, abruptly retired in late February. Zubiate said he had planned to retire at the end of the school year, and left early to give the district adequate time to find a successor before school started again in September. The school’s current principal, Carmina Nacorda, was selected in July. The Fairfax High School football team also took its first snaps on the school’s new $6.3 million football field this fall. However, the school’s music program faced a bumpy road after former director Ray Vizcarra left for a teaching position in Beverly Hills, and a new director wasn’t chosen to lead the program until several weeks into the fall semester.
Some residents of Hollywood became uneasy about changes they believe will occur under the controversial Hollywood Community Plan, approved by the Los Angeles City Council in June. The plan calls for increased development around public transportation facilities, and along major thoroughfares. The plan was supported by City Councilman Eric Garcetti, 13th District, who represents the Hollywood area. Some residents believe, however, that the plan will lead to overcrowding, an increase in traffic and parking congestion, and new pressures on infrastructure.
The infrastructure got some relief from pressure along Wilshire Boulevard in 2012, with the city and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) completing $800,000 in repaving to the curbside lanes. The project was good news for motorists, who had endured a bumpy ride with the numerous potholes that lined the street. Wilshire Boulevard will be undergoing major changes during the next few years, as Metro begins work on the Bus Rapid Transit project in 2013, which will add bus-only curbside lanes to the street the following year. Preliminary work also began this fall on the Westside Subway Extension, with the first phase planned from Wilshire/Western to Wilshire/La Cienega. Crews will be conducting exploratory work for tunneling in 2013, and stations have been selected on sites at Wilshire/LaBrea, Wilshire/Fairfax and Wilshire/LaCienega.
Another memorable moment came in the early fall, when the Space Shuttle Endeavour made its final flight aboard a large transport plane that circled the city numerous times. Tens of thousands of people gathered to view the shuttle’s final voyage into Los Angeles, on its way to being exhibited at the California Science Center. Having Endeavour permanently housed in the museum is a tribute to the Southern California science and aerospace industries, which were largely responsible for designing and building the orbiter.
The political season really heated up in the fall, with President Barack Obama making high profile visits to Los Angeles. He railed supporters at the Nokia Theatre in October, and attended private fundraisers. President Obama was re-elected in November in an election where the local Democrats also fared very well. Waxman, Bass and Schiff all won re-election, and Bloom, a Democrat, narrowly defeated a challenger from the same party, former Assemblywoman Betsy Butler. Numerous ballot measures with ramifications to the local area were also decided during the November election, such as Prop. 30, a tax increase authored by Gov. Jerry Brown that will provide money for public schools, and Measure B, a countywide initiative sponsored by AIDS Healthcare Foundation that will require condom use in adult films.
As soon as one election season ended, a new one began looming. The municipal primary election is scheduled for March 5, and the four front-runners have already launched high-profile campaigns in the mayoral contest. The field includes three city hall veterans — Councilmembers Eric Garcetti and Jan Perry, and City Controller Wendy Gruel — as well as attorney and radio host Kevin James. Several other citywide contests are also heating up, such as the race for city attorney — with former Assemblyman Mike Feuer and attorney Greg Smith challenging incumbent Carmen Trutanich — and the contest for the 13th Council District in Hollywood, which will be vacated by Garcetti because of term limits. With unresolved issues such as the upcoming municipal election, the subway extension, and the ruling on Prop. 8, 2013 will be filled with big news.