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.
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.
5. An LAUSD budget crisis is looming
A few weeks ago, the chief financial officer for the L.A. Unified School District gave a startling report to the school board: By the end of 2019, the school district will face an estimated $1.46 billion deficit.
Officials have known about this coming shortfall for some time now. But 2016 came and went, and the school board has done little if anything to address it.
Long-term fiscal planning is a tricky business. The formula by which state money is apportioned to school districts is changing, as is the amount of money the federal government kicks in. But the fact remains that LAUSD’s population is shrinking, while the cost of its employees’ pension and health care plans are growing.
It doesn’t take a psychic to realize that budget cuts are in the district’s future, and they could be ugly.
4. Crime Is on the Rise
Sure, the crime rate is nowhere near what it was in the early 1990s. But crime in Los Angeles was up for the second year in a row. As of July, overall crime was 6.3 percent higher compared withthe same time last year. Violent crime was up 15.9 percent.
The cause of the crime increase is hotly debated. Some blame homelessness, some blame income inequality, some blame Proposition 47, which reduced certain drug charges to misdemeanors and led to the release of thousands of inmates in California’s desperately overcrowded prisons.
Whatever the cause, it’s a troubling development.
3. L.A. has a lot of police shootings.
Also for the second year in a row, Los Angeles had more fatal police shootings than any city in the country. According to U.K. newspaper The Guardian, there have been 20 fatal police shootings in 2016. The next closest city: Phoenix, with 14.
Yet the LAPD received less criticism, at least on a national level, than other police departments, such as Chicago’s. Only Black Lives Matter, a progressive movement born in California, was beating the drum demanding change. So far, most Angelenos haven’t seemed to notice.
2. Rents are absurd.
Most major cities in America — and especially in California — have experienced skyrocketing rents in the last few years. But the problem has been particularly acute in Los Angeles, which many consider to be the most unaffordable place to live in the country when you factor in our sky-high rents and our comparatively low wages.
The high cost of paying for a place to live is believed to be the major reason why we have so many people sleeping in tents on the street, or in their cars, or in emergency shelters. But high rents have a range of more subtle effects. High rents mean that people have to do things like hold onto their rent-controlled apartments or live out in the suburbs. That can make their commutes longer, which makes traffic worse for everyone. And when only the rich can afford to live in a city, the city becomes less diverse, less dynamic, less interesting.
There is some hope that the high rents will spur developers to build like crazy and flood the market with new units, driving down prices (a large part of the current crisis has to do with low supply and high demand). However, experts believe that only sustained development will solve the housing shortage, and new development could be somewhat limited by Measure JJJ, which voters passed in November and which requires that a portion of units be set aside for affordable housing, as well as by the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, which would limit large-scale development and will appear on the ballot in March.
There is simply no positive way to spin this: Donald Trump is an unmitigated disaster for Los Angeles.
The coming Trump presidency has struck immigrants across the city with fear and uncertainty. And in addition to his call for mass deportations, Trump has threatened to starve all so-called “sanctuary cities” — places that refuse to assist the federal government in its deportation efforts — of federal funding. If Trump were to follow through on that threat, Los Angeles stands to lose billions of dollars.
Speaking of losing buckets of money (not to mention killing your buzz), Trump also could make the legalization of recreational marijuana more difficult by continuing to criminalize it on the federal level. His pick for U.S. Attorney General, Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, bodes poorly for legal weed. (“If Mr. Sessions were to be confirmed, many supporters of legalization worry that his past remarks about marijuana could portend a crackdown,” according to The New York Times.)
Not only is Trump one of the worst things to happen to L.A. in 2016, he also imperils one of the best things to happen to the city this year (recreational weed) and one of the best things about the city, period (its spirit of inclusion).