At around this time last year, journalists at the Los Angeles Times, under new ownership, were voting on whether to have a union represent them. “Once a bastion of anti-union thinking, the newsroom’s proliferation of ‘I Support the LA Times Guild’ signs represents a monumental shift,” writes former PW Deputy Editor Joe Piasecki, who’s now managing editor of our sister (or brother) paper The Argonaut, covering West LA.
While that was happening, in the world of so-called alternative journalism, at the LA Weekly, itself once a bastion of liberal political thought and pro-union sentiment, managers were also acting out of type — decimating their own shop in order to rid the paper of its union. Nine of 13 staffers were fired in a major shakeup, described as a “Game of Thrones” move from which the paper apparently still has not recovered. Purchased by a group of marijuana entrepreneurs from Orange County, the once venerable publication has become less than a shadow of its former self, featuring little more than entertainment briefs in thinly disguised efforts to promote pot use in those and other stories, including dining reviews.
More importantly, however, for reporters, columnists, photographers and editors around the world 2018 was a very dangerous year. Five staffers with the Capital Gazette of Annapolis, Maryland were gunned down in their office last June by a crazed lone gunman. A few months later, another loon, supposedly also acting alone, allegedly sent pipe bombs through the mail to prominent Democratic leaders, including former President Barack Obama, and CNN. None of these devices detonated, thank God. But in October Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi was brutally murdered, allegedly by Saudi Arabian agents over Khashoggi’s criticisms of the royal regime. Before and after all these events occurred, President Trump continued to publicly call products of the mainstream press “fake news” and routinely excoriated the media in general and CNN specifically as “enemies of the people.”
Including the Gazette staff and Khashoggi, at least 53 journalists were killed worldwide in 2018, of which at least 34 were singled out for murder in reprisal for their reporting — nearly double the number from 2017, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.
The past year proved to be even more unsettling and mournful for friends of local journalism, with the untimely deaths of four top writers — PW founding member and best-selling author Greg Critser in January, Pulitzer Prize-winning LA Times food critic and Pasadena resident Jonathan Gold in July, author and former LA Weekly News Editor Charles Rappleye in September, and veteran LA newsman and author Lionel Rolfe in November.
As we’ll see at the end of this past-to-present review of 2018, efforts to eliminate unions from regional newsrooms have been anything but successful, with journalists with the Times getting their wish, and movements for freelancer representation now taking hold in New York and Los Angeles. And, as we’ve seen at the end of most years, there remains a great deal of unfinished work to be done in the worlds of commerce, art, culture, criminal justice, social justice, spirituality, religiosity, politics and journalism.
All Saints Church loses beloved longtime Pastor Zelda Kennedy, who dies at age 70. Activists step up calls for police policy reform in the wake of the beating of Altadena’s Christopher Ballew, with more than 200 people attending a City Council meeting to express outrage. Hundreds of thousands of people participate in the Women’s March, PW founder and best-selling author Greg Critser dies at age 63, activists and officials alike call on cops to start collecting demographic data on stops, Patrisse Khan-Cullors explains why Black Lives Matter in a powerful memoir with Asha Bandele, “When They Call You a Terrorist,” and Pasadena Mayor Terry Tornek calls on the City Council to support a three-quarter cent sales tax increase, a third of those proceeds to go to the fiscally beleaguered Pasadena Unified School District.
Attorneys for 21-year-old Ballew file a lawsuit in federal court against the city and the cops, Glendale rent control advocates submit a second ballot measure to city officials for approval only to have it rejected on technicalities, and cancer survivor Gerald Freeny becomes the first African-American president of the Tournament of Roses Association. Two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Steve Coll (another PW founder) discusses “Directorate S: The CIA and America’s Secret Wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan” at Vroman’s Bookstore, county education officials express “concern” and “alarm” about the way the PUSD manages its finances, local school officials approve mass layoffs to avoid a county takeover, Lisa Derderian replaces William Boyer as the city’s public information officer, local students join a national school walkout to protest against gun violence in response to the shooting at a high school in Florida that left 17 dead, and a task force is formed to find a way to deter people from jumping off the Colorado Street Bridge.
The Altadena Town Council demands that the two controversial police officers in the Ballew incident stay away from their unincorporated town. A second Pasadena officer is suspended in connection with widening ATF probe of cops selling guns online and, with his department mired in scandal, and Pasadena Police Chief Phillip Sanchez announces plans to resign in April. At the newly renovated USC Pacific Asia Museum, Director Christina Yu Yu accepts a new post at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, a second rent control group forms, this time in Pasadena, homelessness remains an intractable problem, even with newly acquired millions in bond and sales tax revenues, and longtime community activist and friend Tim Rhambo dies of a heart attack at age 49.
World traveler Sherry Simpson Dean finds South Korea’s Hallyu revolution helps an American family connect with its cultural heritage in the first of three stories Sherry pens from South Korea, local residents call for an independent investigation of the violent Ballew encounter with police, the task force on the Colorado Street Bridge recommends installation of vertical barriers to keep people from jumping, and activist and former School Board member Marge Wyatt, who led the fight for desegregation of public schools, dies at age 93. Pasadena Congressman Adam Schiff warns that GOP tax cuts will imperil Medicare and Social Security, The Lettermen celebrate 60 years of singing pop hits at the Alex Theatre in Glendale, and PW columnist Ellen Snortland’s documentary “Beauty Bites Beast” brings home the top prize at the Artemis Film Festival.
County education officials press local school officials to get serious about developing a financial stabilization plan — or else, Deputy Police Chief John Perez is picked to replace Sanchez on an interim basis, former Mayor and PCC Board member Bill Thomson is named president of the Pasadena Museum of History board of directors, Santa Anita Park reinvents itself to survive in a world filled with entertainment options, and the city hikes fines for tree ordinance violations. Finalists vying for the PCC president’s position back out, police report use-of-force incidents fall by half as crime drops, the Pasadena Tenants Union fails to collect enough signatures to qualify for the November ballot, and questions abound as voters are asked to change city and school election schedules, approve pot sales, a pot tax, and decide federal, state and county candidates in June 5 primary. In the meantime, Pasadena moves to the center of an expanding Swing Dance Universe, PW Deputy Editor André Coleman joins past and present Southland Publishing journalists in being nominated for LA Press Club awards, and Fuller Seminary officials announce plans for the theology school to leave Pasadena.
Concert promoter Gina Zamparelli, who fought to preserve the Raymond Theatre, dies of a brain tumor at age 59. Voters approve marijuana sales and tax, as well as City Council and school board election changes, Dina Stegon takes over as publisher of PW and Arroyo, and Aliencon links the worlds of space travel, UFOlogy and science fiction at the Pasadena Convention Center. Former Pasadena Councilman Bill Crowfoot is among four new judges named to the LA County Superior Court, Congressman and civil rights icon John Lewis is tapped as Caltech’s commencement speaker 60 years after Martin Luther King Jr. gave that same speech, state and local activists take President Trump to task for separating families at the US-Mexico border, and the Pasadena UN Association chapter uses music to help children in some of the world’s poorest refugee camps. A state rent control initiative qualifies for the November ballot, author David Sedaris talks about his new book, “Calypso,” at Vroman’s, and the Pasadena Museum of California Art (PMCA) announces it will close its doors in October.
Local business leaders and city officials differ on possible impacts of a minimum wage increase to $13,245 an hour, thousands march against Trump’s zero-tolerance immigration policy, Pasadena’s Bruce Rigney recounts working in a nuclear missile bunker in his book “Two Years on the Watch,” Caltech is awarded a $15 billion contract extension to continue operating Jet Propulsion Laboratory for NASA, Pasadena approves a 10-year soccer contract at the Rose Bowl as North America wins the bid for the 2026 World Cup, officials learn the local school district could be $12 million in debt in two years, and the City Council places a three-quarter cent sales tax hike on the November ballot, something the head of the Chamber of Commerce says could hurt business. Local police believe changes to body-worn camera policy could lead to more transparency, and Pulitzer Prize-winning food critic and Pasadena resident Jonathan Gold dies at the age of 57 after battling pancreatic cancer.
Recently retired JPL climatologist Bill Patzert says more people moving to California is the cause of deadlier wildfires, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals allows Norton Simon Museum to keep paintings of Adam and Eve that were plundered by Nazis, and Interim Police Chief Perez says he wants the chief’s job full time. Arlene and Robert Oltman talk about the closure of their dream, the Pasadena Museum of California Art, and officials note that the city’s senior homeless population just keeps growing. The city holds public hearings on police chief recruitment, Colleen Dunn Bates shows her love for Pasadena with the latest edition of “Hometown Pasadena,” and the council unanimously adopts Africa’s Dakar-Plateau as Pasadena’s sixth sister city.
Attorneys accuse Altadena Library Board members of violating state open meeting law via email in trying to fire Library Director Mindy Kittay, the Old Pasadena Management District hires a homeless outreach specialist, another suicide attempt from the Colorado Street Bridge prompts City Manager Steve Mermell to increase fencing around the iconic structure, and Pasadena’s Miriam Pawel discusses her book on the Brown Family’s political legacy in California. Local filmmaker Pablo Miralles’ documentary on the segregation of Muir High receives community praise, the Altadena Library Board president admits to Brown Act violations, former Pasadena police Lt. Vasken Gourdikian learns he faces 2.5 to 15 years in prison when he is sentenced in February for illegally selling firearms over the Internet, disgraced former LA County Sheriff Lee Baca appeals his corruption conviction to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, Pasadena native Sally Field finds her true voice in the memoir “In Pieces,” legendary blind trainer Canto Robledo is posthumously inducted into West Coast Boxing Hall of Fame, and former LA Weekly News Editor Charles Rappleye, a mentor and friend of this writer, dies after a valiant battle with cancer at age 62.
Pasadena teacher and coach Victor Reyna, husband of Pasadena author and publisher Thelma Reyna, succumbs during routine surgical procedure. He was 74. Frances Arnold becomes first woman at Caltech to win Nobel Prize, the city Health Department warns that typhus is on the rise, and the local school district reveals plans to close three schools and eliminate sports at Blair High School. In the upcoming election, Proposition 10 would open the door for local governments to enact their own rent control laws, Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times reporter C.J. Chivers tells the story of America’s longest wars through the eyes of “The Fighters: Americans in Combat in Afghanistan and Iraq,” the City Council votes to end the contentious traffic-calming Orange Grove Boulevard “road diet,” and the county’s “Big Dig” sediment removal project at Devil’s Gate Dam draws the ire of residents and activists alike.
A report by Alternet’s Alex Henderson finds many states had devised devious ways to keep minorities from voting, Jennipha-Lauren Nielsen, aka Queen Classy and Sassy, is chosen as Queen of the 2018 Doo Dah Parade, and in commemorating the 100-year anniversary of the end of World War I PW looks back at Gen. John “Black Jack” Pershing, who mixed war and romance before, during and after “The War to End All Wars.” In election news, Propositions 6 and 10 both lose, but Measure I, the quarter-cent sales tax increase, and Measure J, an advisory measure asking whether a third of those funds should be used to help public schools, both pass. Danny Wooten, an evangelical minister and former Pasadena Public Works Department analyst who embezzled $6.4 million from the city, is convicted on 53 criminal counts, and white power signs are found posted at South Pasadena High. Local firefighters are called on to help battle fight the lethal Woolsey fire, advocates say rewards outweigh risks in adopting foster children, and National Geographic photographer Charlie Hamilton James talks at Caltech about the Amazon, Africa and tribes isolated from the world. An expert on use of force claims officers used reasonable force in the Ballew incident, and dear friend and veteran Los Angeles journalist and PW contributor Lionel Rolfe dies at the age of 76.
The county and Glendale freeze rents while both craft ways to combat oppressive monthly payments, Pasadena officials decriminalize street vending to conform with state law, All Saints Church holds a memorial service to acknowledge lives of people who died while homeless, and Pasadena officials announce that they will soon be accepting permit applications for commercial cannabis businesses. The Amgen Tour announces it will again finish the statewide bike race in Pasadena, and an ad hoc group is formed to figure out how Measure I funds will be distributed to the Pasadena school district.
As noted from the outset, a new union movement, one representing freelance writers, is taking off in New York and Los Angeles. For more on that story, pick up the Jan. 3 edition of the Pasadena Weekly at your local street rack or newsstand.
Happy New Year, Everyone.
Enjoy Mr. Freeny’s parade, the theme of which is “The Melody of Life” featuring Chaka Khan, serving as grand marshal. It should be a ball.
As for the game, being a native Pennsylvania and a lifelong Penn State fan, all I can say is, Go Huskies!