The 5 Best and 5 Worst Things to Happen to L.A. in 2016
This should have been L.A.’s year. It was a year in which the city was celebrated on screens big and small, a year in which the city began to address existential crises of mobility and homelessness. It should have been a year of hope, growth and renewal. Instead, it was the year of Trump.
The Donald’s election stunned Angelenos, who of course voted overwhelmingly against him, and the results cast a pall over 2016. The president-elect calls into question much of what our city celebrates — a diverse, pluralistic society that values its immigrants and the environment.
Perhaps there is comfort in knowing that Angelenos are prepared to fight back. City officials have promised to not cooperate with the federal government should its agents begin deporting undocumented immigrants en masse. And our wonderfully cantankerous governor, Jerry Brown, has sworn that California will defy Trump on climate change, saying recently, “We’ve got the scientists, we’ve got the lawyers, and we’re ready to fight.”
And that's not our only fight. Looking back on 2016, there is much to be concerned about. Crime continued to go up, and for the second year in a row L.A. led the country in fatal police shootings. Our housing shortage, meanwhile, continued to drive up the cost of owning and renting a home, which drove even more Angelenos onto the street.
But let us not despair. There is plenty that L.A. can still feel grateful for. To keep things in perspective, here are the five best and five worst things that happened to Los Angeles in 2016.
5. Recreational weed became legal.
Although it's questionable whether L.A. will be a better place with even more people getting baked in the middle of the day, there are a number of reasons to cheer California voters for legalizing weed.
Ever since medical marijuana became legal in 1996, Los Angeles has struggled to come up with coherent regulations – struggled and failed. How many dispensaries are allowed? Which ones are allowed? Where can they be located? These questions were never really answered, or if they ever were answered, the answers kept changing every few years (or depending on whom you asked).
Legal pot should, in theory, simplify the industry and help city officials come up with a reasonable legal framework for toking up. It also is expected to bring substantial tax revenue and to lead to fewer arrests of minorities, who are disproportionately charged with marijuana violations.
4. The NFL finally came to town.
The long-awaited arrival of an NFL team – even the incompetent Rams – is good news for Angelenos.
L.A. avoided what was sure to be a massive boondoggle when investors chose to build a new stadium in Inglewood and not, as others had hoped, smack dab in the middle of downtown L.A. Inglewood is the perfect place for the NFL – it wanted a stadium, needed investment and refused to give the team owners the tax breaks that other cities have acceded to.
The city of L.A. won’t get that sweet tax revenue, but the region will. And we can still root for the home team.
Gaga over La La Land
3. L.A. continued to play itself.
Los Angeles has long been one of the most filmed cities on Earth. But it was often a stand-in for some other city. It hardly ever played itself, to borrow a phrase from Thom Andersen’s wonderful film essay Los Angeles Plays Itself.
That’s been changing as of late. L.A. was all over our screens in 2016, particularly our small screens. New shows Flaked and Love, both produced by Netflix, lovingly showcased the prized (and thoroughly gentrified) neighborhoods of Venice and Silver Lake. HBO debuted Insecure, a show about a — gasp — black woman living in South Los Angeles.
These were only three of a great number of shows that take place in L.A., including The New Girl, Togetherness and the best one of all, Transparent. And let’s not forget The People vs. O.J. Simpson and O.J.: Made in America, both of which were as much about race and gender in Los Angeles as they were about the eponymous running back.
And then there was La La Land, the saccharine, smothering, bigscreen ode to L.A. It might have divided audiences, but it cemented L.A.'s position as a place that not only makes movies but also inspires them.
2. A new era dawned for public transit.
Since the 1940s or thereabouts, life in Los Angeles has been defined by the automobile. That’s been both a blessing and a curse (though lately it’s been more of a curse).
But 2016 was a breakthrough year for Angelenos angling to get out of their cars – as The New York Times has repeatedly noted. In May, the Expo Line extension opened, connecting downtown L.A. to the Pacific Ocean with train tracks for the first time in 63 years. The above-ground light rail line may be slow, but no matter – people are riding the damn thing! Expo Line ridership increased by nearly 400,000 boardings in 2016 compared with the previous year.
The Expo Line extension is the tip of the spear, the first step toward making L.A. more walkable, bikeable and transit-friendly. And it may have been a major reason why Angelenos, in November, passed Measure M, which will fund, indefinitely, light rail construction throughout the county – with the city of L.A. enjoying most of the spoils.
1. The city took big steps toward fighting homelessness.
L.A.’s homeless crisis is arguably the most severe in the nation — and it has been getting steadily worse. 2016 will, hopefully, be seen as the year we began to turn that around.
Mayor Eric Garcetti, who has been criticized for a lack of urgency around the crisis, took a very significant step that got surprisingly little attention: He directed every city department to come up with a policy to address homelessness. LAPD’s response has been Project HOPE, in which a team of officers has been assigned to go out in the field, talk to people experiencing homelessness and try to get them into social service programs.
More importantly, officials campaigned for Measure HHH, which voters overwhelmingly approved in November. It will raise $1.2 billion through small property tax increases, in order to build permanent supportive housing for the chronically homeless.
HHH is only the first step. L.A. County voters will be asked, in March, to pass a ¼-cent sales tax increase to fund services for the homeless. But it’s a big step, and the fact that voters proved so willing to pay for it is cause for at least some hope.
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