With the passing of far too many beloved community leaders, the retirement of key public figures, a number of hot-button issues decided by the City Council and a host of celebrities coming to town to either perform or hawk their latest books or films, 2016 wasn’t that much different than any other year in recent Pasadena history.
What set this year apart from others was the number of firsts, lasts and extremes in the worlds of business, politics and criminal justice.
On the national stage, Hillary Clinton became the first female presumptive presidential nominee of a major party. But in the end, billionaire real estate tycoon Donald Trump became President-elect Trump, beating Clinton in an upset election that CIA and other intelligence officials now say was hacked by the Russians.
Honestly, the best spy novelist could not make this up, but it’s true, just as it now appears Trump really is going to go after undocumented immigrants, put the military on an aggressive war footing, and dismantle the government agencies charged with ensuring civil rights, quality housing, equal education, and a clean environment. This is what “Drain the Swamp” means to Trump and the extremists who put him in the White House, inferring, of course, that all those who enjoy these rights and benefits — minorities, women, children, students, seniors, workers, poor people — are swamp dwellers. One cannot predict what will happen from one minute to the next with the mercurial Trump in charge of the government.
At the local level, equally momentous and downright incredible events captured headlines, like those about the county’s former undersheriff being sentenced to five years in prison on corruption charges, and the former sheriff now facing 20 years behind bars on similar allegations related to violence in county jails. Both of these prosecutions are enough to give anyone pause about the integrity of law enforcement, but not more so than the case of former Pasadena school volunteer John Laurence Whitaker. Whitaker, formerly known as John Whitaker Betances, is still being held in the Orange County Jail after more than a decade while awaiting trial for the murders of two women. Not only integrity but competence seems to be in question in this case.
On the upside, businessman Ishmael Trone becomes the first African American to serve as chair of the Chamber of Commerce board of directors. And in other firsts — and lasts — Californians can now for the first time smoke marijuana for medical reasons and recreational purposes. Along with that, a $15-an-hour minimum wage law has been enacted. Pasadena has a new city manager in longtime city employee Steve Mermell, and former LA county Supervisor Mike Antonovich has left his seat due to term limits after 36 years on the board. He ran for the state Senate in November, losing to former Assemblyman Anthony Portantino, who now occupies the seat once held by Carol Liu of La Cañada Flintridge. Like Antonovich, Liu was also termed out of office.
In Antonovich’s absence, however, came his longtime Chief of Staff Kathryn Barger, who now sits in her former boss’ seat. Though she is the lone Republican on the ostensibly nonpartisan board, Barger is part of a first-ever four-woman supermajority on the five-person panel.
Perhaps by remembering stories about the past year we will have a better idea of what awaits us next year, for which the stage has been set by the events of 2016.
To all of our readers and friends, have a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.
— Kevin Uhrich
The year begins with people bracing for heavy rains from the “Godzilla” of El Niño storms, but the downpours never materialized. As three Pasadena City Councilmen prepare to discuss five separate shooting incidents in less than a month, President Obama announces his own plans to stem gun violence through an executive order following mass shootings nationwide. In other city news, Pasadena Playhouse Artistic Director Sheldon Epps announces his retirement, the Tournament of Roses Association selects Brad Ratliff as its president, and PWP increases water rates after drought cuts into the agency’s revenue stream. When it came to police oversight, Councilman John Kennedy, head of the council’s Public Safety Committee, says he needs more information about a recently hired oversight consultant. At the Rose Bowl, officials start seriously looking at a music festival to help compete against the Coliseum and a new NFL stadium being built in Inglewood for the Rams. In business, the Pasadena Chamber of Commerce surveys members on a minimum wage increase smaller than $15 an hour, and the city receives a $5 million insurance settlement from a $6.4 million embezzlement discovered the previous year.
The City Council bucks its business community and approves a $15 an hour minimum wage. In the world of art, the Museum of Neon Art opens in Glendale. And in the world of medicine, the National Labor Relations Board rules in favor of nurses trying to unionize at Huntington Hospital. Judy Collins inaugurates the Rose concert stage, as Dr. Terrence Roberts recounts his experience as a member of the Little Rock Nine and former Sheriff Lee Baca learns he could serve up to six months in federal prison for lying during the FBI’s probe of inmate abuse in the county jail. At the end of February, the Weekly learns that a former Pasadena school volunteer John Laurence Whitaker, formerly known as John Whitaker Betances, is still being held in the Orange County Jail after more than a decade while awaiting trial on two murder charges. As of this week, Dec. 22, Whitaker is still there and still awaiting trial.
LA County transit officials extend the Gold Line from Pasadena to Azusa as the FBI goes hunting for former Glendale cop and convicted pedophile Art Crabtree, who skipped a parole hearing but was later caught in Mexico. March also sees the passing of community volunteers Walt Jackson, 80, and 65-year-old Cynthia Rosedale, a fixture at the city’s Senior Center, as well as longtime newspaper columnist and historian Sid Gally, who was 95, and Cameron Turner, a popular journalist and community activist who was just 52. In addition, Marion Meredith Beal, father of City Attorney Michele Beal Bagneris and a Congressional Gold Medal recipient who was among the first African Americans to serve in the Marines, passes away. Also in March, former PW cartoonist Ted Rall sues his former bosses at the LA Times, claiming they ruined his reputation by firing him due to a dispute with the LAPD over a controversial blog post, and a sibling quarrel over their mother’s estate leads to two arrests of a woman at the requests of her brother — a Pasadena police sergeant and head of the department’s Financial Crimes Section.
This month sees the city back away from its previous position and allowing both a music festival and an NFL team to do their things at the Rose Bowl. Columnist Earl Ofari Hutchinson writes about then-candidate Donald Trump’s “big mouth” possibly costing him the GOP nomination, and labor activist Pablo Alvarado and Peter Dreier, an author and political science prof at Occidental, warn of the city’s growing wage-theft problem. Also this month, the city introduces an ordinance targeting what officials call “aggressive panhandling.” April’s ordinance comes as officials report homelessness, which was at an all-time low, is decreasing even further. Former MLB Commissioner and ’84 Olympics czar Peter Ueberroth speaks at a fundraising dinner of The First Tee golf charity, Ken Burns’ documentary on Jackie Robinson airs as Jackie’s daughter visits Pasadena, police start investigating the claims of a woman who says her brother — a high-ranking cop — violated her civil rights in two separate arrests related to their aging mother’s estate, residents cheer as notorious crime-magnet Andy’s Liquor store is demolished, and The Rev. Ed Bacon, one of America’s pre-eminent progressive pastors, prepares to leave Pasadena after 21 years at All Saints Episcopal Church.
Inspirational John Muir High Hall of Famer Victor Wright, who was paralyzed in a high school football game, dies at 55, a Glendale commission asks LA County to remove references to former German President Paul Von Hindenburg from La Crescenta Park, Pasadena restaurant owners face rising costs with a proposed Styrofoam ban as a higher minimum wage goes into effect, and teacher union reps and PUSD officials reach a tentative agreement on a new contract. Sandra Tsing Loh brings her book, “The Madwoman in the Volvo,” to life at the Pasadena Playhouse, city health officials want to know what Huntington Hospital officials knew and when they knew it regarding fatal infections from contaminated medical scopes, Gov. Jerry Brown finally allocates funds to an earthquake warning system, and a long list of candidates line up to replace LA County Supervisor Mike Antonovich, who served on the board for 36 years. Antonovich runs for the state Senate seat formerly held by Carol Liu of La Cañada Flintridge.
Two women file a federal lawsuit against the city and the cops in connection with two separate arrests and now a third arrest made in a brother-sister dispute over an aging parent’s assets. Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton find little middle ground as they do battle for the soul of the Democratic Party, Black Lives Matter activist Jasmine Richards is sentenced to 90 days in jail for an incident in La Pintoresca Park, Caltech demands iPhones be taken off the market in a lawsuit filed against Apple, and Clinton ultimately becomes the first female presumptive presidential nominee of a major party. In other news, Playhouse District Association Executive Director Erlinda Romo resigns, the Rev. Mike Kinman becomes rector-elect of All Saints, Astronaut Buzz Aldrin helps lead virtual tours of the Martian surface at JPL, and the City Council approves a contract to purchase body cams for members of its sworn and non-sworn staff. Bob McGowan, who established community policing as the city’s ninth chief, dies at age 88, Pasadena officials honor longtime Pasadena Humane Society Executive Director Steve McNall at his retirement, Roseanne Barr recounts her quixotic 2012 run in the new documentary “Roseanne for President!” and former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka is sentenced to five years in federal prison in connection with the jail scandal that resulted in Sheriff Lee Baca being charged with obstruction and numerous convictions of sheriff’s officials.
Councilman John Kennedy lays out “The State of Black Pasadena” in a column for PW, saying not enough progress has been made in the areas of public safety, education, affordable housing and equal opportunity. City Librarian Jan Sanders announces plans to retire in August, Businessman Ishmael Trone becomes the first African-American chair of the Pasadena Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors, the city’s Minimum Wage Ordinance goes into effect, and the council picks Steve Mermell to take over as city manager for Michael Beck. In court, a federal judge rejects former Sheriff Baca’s six-month plea deal in the county jail scandal. Trial is set for September.
Newly elected City Manager Mermell, a 27-year city employee, talks with PW about his plans to raise revenue and boost morale among fellow workers in his new role, the DMV closes an investigation into cars with disabled placards parked near Rusnak Motor’s Old Pasadena dealership, the City Council approves the city manager’s contract, Civic Center preservationists say “We’ll do what it takes” to fight the city’s vote clearing the way for construction of the Kimpton Hotel on the site of the former YWCA, and Caltech astronomer Mike Brown, the man who “killed” Pluto, talks about the solar system’s newest planet.
PUSD test scores improve but remain far below the state average, comedian and podcaster Marc Maron prepares for the gig of his life at Carnegie Hall, California State Poet Laureate Dana Gioia celebrates “99 Poems” at Vroman’s Bookstore, Caltech and PCC are recognized as two of the nation’s top colleges, celebrity attorney Mark Geragos pulls back the curtain on his fascinating legal career with the new ABC series “Notorious,” and Barry “Eve of Destruction” McGuire helps raise funds for the South Pasadena Library. Local man Reginald Thomas dies after being shocked with a Taser weapon by police, sparking community outrage, and Professor Dreier explains how grassroots activists exposed the Wells Fargo Bank scandal.
Police and an attorney differ on the IDs of the officers involved in Thomas’ death as residents call for an independent review of the incident, John Scott “Snotty Scotty” Finnell, leader of the band Snotty Scotty and the Hankies, a perennial favorite at the Doo Dah Parade, dies of lung cancer at age 65, voters are asked to make some monumental decisions on Election Day, with not only the presidential contest on the line, but also the fate of 17 separate ballot measures, and longtime progressive activist and onetime state legislator Tom Hayden dies at age 76. In other news, Victoria Cecilia Castellanos, a senior at Temple City High School, is selected to reign over the 128th Rose Parade.
Former Sheriff Baca asks US District Judge Percy Anderson for a change of venue in his upcoming corruption trial, but his motion is denied. Baca, who was looking at a six-month sentence under a previous plea deal rejected by Judge Anderson, now faces 20 years if convicted. The City Council passes the aggressive panhandling ordinance just in time for the holidays, comedy legends Eric Idle and John Cleese of Monty Python reunite for a two-man show at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium, protesters decry the council’s closed-door agreement to cut down 70-year-old ficus trees on South Lake Avenue, and Donald Trump captures the White House in an upset victory over Hillary Clinton as California Democrats cruise to victory. Olympic gold medalists Janet Evans, Allyson Felix and Greg Louganis are named grand marshals of the 2017 Tournament of Roses pageant, and author, PW columnist and activist Ellen Snortland’s documentary on women’s self-defense, “Beauty Bites Beast,” screens at Laemmle Playhouse 7.
Penn State wins the Big Ten Conference and prepares to play Pac-12 champs USC in the 103rd Rose Bowl Game on Jan. 2, owners of Twin Palms Restaurant face thousands of dollars in fines for chopping down its two namesake palm trees without a permit, the city refuses to defend Sgt. Michael Bugh, the officer being sued along with the city in the family feud federal lawsuit, and Bernie Sanders tells a crowd in Glendale that it’s time for progressives to “come together” to get what they want in the Trump era. In other news, questions are raised by a proposed PCC Board of Trustees bylaw that would channel all communications through the board’s president, candidates begin lining up for seats on the City Council and the PUSD Board of Education, Pasadena city officials commemorate the home President Obama lived in while attending Occidental College, local institutions take stock of the sanctuary status as Trump threatens to cut federal funds, and Pasadena Congressman Adam Schiff calls for congressional investigations of alleged Russian hacking of the November election. Meanwhile, the heavy rains that didn’t come in January hit in mid-December.