9 Big Stories That Mattered In Southern California In 2018
2018 was a crazy few years, but it had its moments. Here at LAist, we tried to come up with a list of them -- stories, issues, and events -- that said something more about life in Southern California. It's not an exhaustive list by any means, so if you think we've missed something, sound off in the comments below.
Now, time for that trip down memory lane:
WELCOME TO THE 'NEW ABNORMAL'
The year started with a startling reminder that a wildfire is only the beginning of the danger for neighborhoods at the edge of urban regions. In the aftermath of the Thomas Fire that burned last December, mudslides in Montecito and other Santa Barbara County communities killed 23 people. The disaster heralded another year of record destruction and showed just how quickly homes can be wiped away by flames or fire-primed debris flows.
And now it's official: the 2018 fire season is the deadliest and most destructive ever recorded in California. November's Camp Fire is now the biggest wildfire in the state's recorded history. Locally, the devastating Woolsey Fire destroyed hundreds of homes and burned nearly 90 percent of national park land in the Santa Monica Mountains. Gov. Jerry Brown characterized this as "the new abnormal" for the state, where years of drought have turned much of our wildland into a tinderbox. And we're not doing ourselves any favors bybuilding homes in fire-prone areas using methods that don't save houses. It doesn't appear that local governments, developers or prospective homeowners will be learning from those lessons anytime soon.
HOMELESSNESS SOLUTIONS VS. NIMBY RAGE
Call it NIMBYs First Law: For every action by local government to address the homelessness crisis, there is a vocal and opposite reaction from local property owners. Usually that reaction is "sure, something should be done, but absolutely not here --and if you try, prepare for a fight."
And those battle lines were drawn all over Southern California this year, with a high-profile showdown in Orange County and a series of clashes in L.A. -- especially after Mayor Eric Garcetti announced an initiative he said would fast-track the construction of emergency homeless shelters throughout the city. That came just before a KPCC investigation found safety and sanitation problems in shelters around L.A. County were the reasons thousands of shelter beds sit empty every night.
Since Garcetti unveiled his plan in April, Angelenos in several council districts protested in the streets, shouted down city officials in heated public meetings and even threatened to recall their councilmembers. Residents in Koreatown were outraged enough to persuade Councilman Herb Wesson to move a proposed site from the edge of the neighborhood to the edge of his district. A proposed site in Sherman Oaks has been in limbo for months. Plans in San Pedro and Wilmington were also met with scorn. As 2018 ends, a few project sites have been approved and one has opened (we're keeping track of all of them here).
SCOOTERS, SCOOTERS EVERYWHERE
An affordable, environmentally-friendly alternative to ease congestion or an unruly threat to public safety? That was the dilemma at the heart of the electric scooter debate, which zipped into the public discourse in a big way this year. E-scooters started appearing in Venice and the city of Santa Monica late last year, but it all came to a head in 2018.
The two major operators, Bird and Lime, worked from the philosophy that it's better to ask for forgiveness than permission and dropped hundreds of scooters in neighborhoods, then waited for local governments to respond. And cities did that this year, though not without drama. When Santa Monica threatened to cut Bird and Lime out of a pilot program, the companies turned off their scooters in protest. Long Beach and Los Angeles also scrambled to draft new rules and start pilot programs. Other cities opted to ban scooters altogether. Don't be surprised when you start seeing more of the two-wheelers grouped on sidewalks and zipping around the region as other companies get in on the craze.
#METOO HITS HOME
The impact of the #MeToo movement continues to radiate locally, moving beyond Hollywood and into the state legislature, L.A. City Hall, higher education and public transit. As more victims of sexual harassment and abuse come forward, institutions across SoCal are facing scrutiny for their failure to act to protect their workers, patrons and students. The L.A. Times investigation into multiple, shocking allegations of sexual misconduct against former USC gynecologist Dr. George Tyndall -- and the payout he received from the university when he left in 2017 -- sparked outrage, a multi-million dollar lawsuit and the resignation of USC's president. The university formed committees and task forces to figure out how to prevent something similar from happening in the future, but some of their outreach hasn't been received well by students and victims who've reported abuse.
THE ORANGE CURTAIN FALLS
If you thought you had Los Angeles' famously conservative neighbor all figured out, you didn't. Orange County has long been considered a Republican stronghold, but the midterms changed that. Democrats swept all seven congressional seats representing Orange County residents, flipping four that had long been in Republican control. That had national ramifications, helping give Democrats a majority in the House of Representatives. And at the state level, Democrats took back a supermajority in the Senate and kept it in the Assembly, consolidating power and making it that much easier to push through their policies (especially with incoming governer Gavin Newsom).
OUR CITY OF GOLD LOST SOME OF ITS LUSTER
It's been a devastating year for the food world. Barely a month after Anthony Bourdain's death, L.A. lost one of its most articulate culinary advocates. Jonathan Gold was much more than a restaurant critic but in that capacity he did something revolutionary -- he treated strip mall joints, "ethnic" restaurants and hole-in-the-wall takeout windows with the same reverence that most food writers reserved for ritzy spots with PR teams and name-brand chefs. In the internet era of 2018, that hardly seems noteworthy. Back in the day, he was flinging open the door to L.A's food scene for a hungry audience. His palate was exceptional. So were his words and his affection for his native city. He will be missed.
A TRAGEDY IN THOUSAND OAKS
Mass shootings continued to permeate the American psyche this year, with one shattering a Southern California community in November. Twelve people, most of them in their early twenties, were fatally shot at the Borderline Grill and Bar in Thousand Oaks during a popular "Country College Night." Among the victims was 54-year-old Ventura County Sheriff's Sgt. Ron Helus, who investigators later explained was killed by friendly fire while confronting the gunman, who authorities said took his own life. LAist/KPCC combed through publicly available dispatch tape from that night to better understand how authorities responded. The audio shows a swift initial response that ground to a halt once Helus was shot. Only one person shot by the gunman survived.
NEW LEADERSHIP -- AND UPHEAVAL -- IN LOCAL LAW ENFORCEMENT
You might have heard there's a new sheriff in town. For the first time in a century, an incumbent L.A. County sheriff was ousted by another candidate. Alex Villanueva ran as a radical reformer and emphasized his Democratic identity in his bid to defeat Jim McDonnell -- and it worked. The new sheriff is already making big changes in America's largest sheriff's department, cleaning house and weakening some rules meant to discipline deputies for misconduct.
The Los Angeles Police Department also got a new leaderearlier this year. Chief Michel Moore took over the department when Charlie Beck retired in late June. And his tenure got off to a rocky start, as he dealt with the aftermath of two police shootings in which officers killed an innocent bystander in Silver Lake and a homeless woman held hostage in Van Nuys. The L.A. Times later revealed that Moore took a brief retirement before being promoted to chief, collecting about $1.27 million in the process. That shed light on the city's controversial DROP program and sparked calls for reform.
A TUMULTUOUS, PROMISING YEAR FOR LOCAL JOURNALISM
Southern California's local news landscape saw some monumental shifts this year, the biggest being the L.A. Times and San Diego Union-Tribune escaping the clutches of Tronc and returning to local ownership under biotech billionaire Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong. The deal closed in June and Soon-Shiong made good on his promises of big changes at the L.A. Times. The paper's operations moved from their historic home in downtown L.A. to El Segundo and went on a hiring spree.
But as the L.A. Times pushes for renewed investment in local journalism, several other community print publications had their newsrooms gutted, like the 11-paper Southern California News Group -- or stopped the presses for good.
Then there's the sad saga of L.A. Weekly, which has faced boycotts and searing criticism after a new ownership group took over in late 2017. This August, one owner sued the rest, alleging they've worked to enrich themselves at the expense of the city's once-beloved alt-weekly.
And we can't forget ourselves, can we? In February, KPCC announced its purchase and planned revival of LAist, which was abruptly shut down in October 2017. We officially re-launched the site in June and have been loving every minute of it. We're excited to continue to report local stories that matter to you.
See you in 2019.
Ryan Fonseca and Elina Shatkin contributed to this story.
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