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2017 YEAR IN REVIEW: Homeless, new marijuana laws top 2017 stories

The year 2017 will be remembered as the year Donald Trump became president of the United States, making it an interesting year as far as news-making was concerned. What is and what isn’t news became as important as the main issues of the year.

In Southern California, 2017 was the year government leaders finally decided to address the homelessness crisis. Local leaders also fought with Trump over immigration issues and local governments wrestled with what do with marijuana, which becomes legal for recreational use by adults over 21 on Jan. 1, 2018.

Those are among the top stories of 2017 that we look at in our annual year-in-review issue.

Officials seek lower

homeless numbers

In January, the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority sends volunteers out into the darkness to count the number of homeless people.

Officials were stunned when the numbers were announced in May. The number of homeless people in Los Angeles County had increased 23 percent from January 2016. There were now 57,794 people living on the streets, their cars, under freeway overpasses and along the Los Angeles Rivers and other waterways, up from 46,874 people in 2016.

Officials used words like “staggering” and “abysmal” to describe the 23 percent increase.

But officials had begun planning to solve the problem even before the dramatic numbers were revealed.

In November 2016, voters in the city of Los Angeles approved Measure HHH, a $1.2 billion bond issue to pay for more than 10,000 units of housing.

And in March 2017, Los Angeles County voters approved a .25 percent sales tax increase that is expected to raise $355 million annually over the next 10 years. The money will be spent to provide services for homeless people that will hopefully get them off the street permanently.

In November, the United Way of Greater Los Angeles and Los Angeles County announced an innovative grant program with cities in the county that saw 47 of the county’s 88 cities submit applications.

The idea was to get cities to develop their own strategic plans for dealing with homeless issues, with the United Way and Los Angeles County providing funding resources.

“Each application that we received was reviewed by a county CEO staff member, United Way staff member and two volunteers from our Home For Good Funders Collaborative,” said Chris Ko, director of homeless initiatives for the United Way of Greater Los Angeles.

“Their scores and comments were all collected and utilized in the award deliberation meetings that followed with reviewers and with the other members of Funders Collaborative.”

Each city will receive a planning grant ranging from $30,000 to $70,000, depending on the number of homeless families and individuals within its municipal boundaries.

West Hollywood is one of the grantees.

“We’re excited and grateful,” said Corri Plank, project manager of the West Hollywood Homeless Initiative.

“West Hollywood has a long history of serving its vulnerable population including its homeless community members. This is another opportunity for us to look at some of the various pieces of data on our homeless community, to look at strategies that are included in the county initiatives, to look at some of the things we’ve been doing and we look at what our social service providers are doing.”

The next homeless count is the last week of January 2018. Officials are hoping for better — meaning lower — numbers this time around.

Los Angeles officials waited until December to pass new laws dealing with the legalization of marijuana. Many other area cities voted to ban the sale and cultivation of recreational marijuana, but West Hollywood was one of the few cities to welcome the legalization of the drug. (File photo)

Los Angeles officials waited until December to pass new laws dealing with the legalization of marijuana. Many other area cities voted to ban the sale and cultivation of recreational marijuana, but West Hollywood was one of the few cities to welcome the legalization of the drug. (File photo)

New pot regulations

to take effect Jan. 1

When Californians voted in November 2016 to legalize the recreational sue of marijuana for adults 21 and over, the new law didn’t take effect until Jan. 1 2018, giving the state and local governments a year to prepare for it.

Some area cities took little time to decide they didn’t want to deal with legal pot and voted not to allow permits for the sale, cultivation or distribution of marijuana within their boundaries.

Los Angeles took most of the year to develop its procedures, with the City Council approving regulations Dec. 6 and Dec. 13.

Council President Herb Wesson said he hopes the new laws will be a national model for other cities to follow.

“We are L.A. We are a big city. We do big stuff, that’s who we are, that’s how we roll,” Wesson said. “And there are cities throughout this country that are looking at us today.”

The rules approved by the panel would create limitations on how many cannabis businesses could be located in each neighborhood, similar to the regulations imposed on the alcohol industry, and also create requirements on how far cannabis businesses must be located from “sensitive sites,” including schools, public parks and other cannabis retailers.

Retail businesses must be 700 feet from sensitive sites under the rules, while non-retail and delivery businesses must be 600 feet from schools.

Bellflower allowed voters to determine policies. A ballot measure in March was approved by voters to allow as many as 12 licenses for sales, cultivation and distribution for medicinal marijuana only.

It took the council another nine months to award four permits for sales and another for cultivation and that came after a marathon 10-hour City Council meeting.

Compton originally voted against allowing marijuana sales in the community but now has competing measures on a Jan. 23 special election ballot to settle the issue.

West Hollywood, always one of the most liberal cities in the county, is the only city so far to approve places to consume marijuana as part of its response to legalization.

A legal dispute over a former convent in Los Feliz ended in November when a jury verdict favored the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and singer Katy Perry. Businesswoman Dana Hollister was ordered to pay the archdiocese and Perry almost $15 million in damages. (File photo)

A legal dispute over a former convent in Los Feliz ended in November when a jury verdict favored the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and singer Katy Perry. Businesswoman Dana Hollister was ordered to pay the archdiocese and Perry almost $15 million in damages. (File photo)

Legal battle over

former convent ends

LOS FELIZ — A 2 ½-year legal fight over a former convent ended in December when a jury awarded compensatory and punitive damages to the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and singer Katy Perry in a lawsuit against businesswoman Dana Hollister.

The jury ordered Hollister to pay nearly $15 million in total compensation for interfering in the sale of the convent that belonged to the California Institute of the Sisters of the Most Holy and Immaculate Heart of the Virgin Mary and doing so with malice.

The convent had been vacant since 2011 because it became too costly for the five retired sisters who lived there to maintain and no longer accommodated their physical needs.

Two of the five sisters who had lived there, Sisters Rita Callanan and Catherine Rose Holzman, maintained they had the authority to sell the Waverly Drive property to Hollister, who had agreed to pay the sisters paid $44,000 with a contingent promissory note to pay another $9.9 million in three years.

Perry’s offer was for $14.5 million, consisting of $10 million in cash and an agreement to provide an alternative property for a house of prayer worth $4.5 million.

The archdiocese, which first filed suit in June 2015, argued that the two sisters had no authority to sell the property. The sisters countersued, naming Perry as a co-defendant. Perry then filed a cross complaint.

The jury awarded the archdiocese $10.07 million, $3.47 million in compensatory damages and $6.6 million in punitive damages.

Perry was awarded $1.57 million in compensatory damages and $3.3 million in punitive damages.

Attorney Michael Geibelson, representing Hollister, said his client’s dreams of putting a hotel on the former convent site were wiped out by the verdict.

Sexual misconduct

charges hit Hollywood

HOLLYWOOD — The casting couch has long been one of the secrets of the movie industry — something that lurked behind the scenes but was rarely talked about — until 2017, when several prominent industry people found themselves accused of sexual harassment, sexual assault and everything in between.

Producer Harvey Weinstein, directors James Toback and Brett Ratner, comedian Louis CK and actor Kevin Spacey were five of the most prominent personalities who were accused of improper actions toward women.

Weinstein, a producer long considered one of Hollywood’s most powerful people, was fired from The Weinstein Company after dozens of women accused him of sexual harassment or assault. He was also expelled from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the Producers’ Guild, and the Directors’ Guild.

Weinstein issued an apology for his behavior but vehemently denied ever engaging in non-consensual sexual activity.

Almost 40 women reported years of perverted and creepy behavior by Toback, the director whose credits include “The Pick-up Artist” and “Black & White.”

Ratner announced he was stepping away “from all Warner Bros.-related activities” after six women, actresses Natasha Henstridge, Olivia Munn, Jaime Ray Newman, Katharine Towne, aspiring singer Eri Sasaki and background actress Jorina King; accused him of sexual harassment and misconduct in private homes, on movie sets or at industry events.

Following the allegations, Playboy Enterprises said it was suspending plans to team up with the movie director on a biopic of the company’s founder, Hugh Hefner.

The fallout against Spacey may have been the most severe.

The studio behind the hit series “House of Cards,” Media Rights Capital, suspended Spacey while it investigated “serious allegations” concerning his behavior on set.

That came shortly after Netflix said in a separate statement that it would not be involved with any further production of “House of Cards” if the show included its star, Spacey.

A representative for CAA — Creative Artists Agency — confirmed that Spacey was no longer a client, and his publicist, Staci Wolfe, also confirmed that she and Polaris PR had split from Spacey after he was accused of making sexual advances to young men.

Actor Anthony Rapp was the first to accuse Spacey of an unwanted sexual advance that occurred when Rapp was 14 and Spacey 26.

Filmmaker Tony Montana told Radar Magazine that Spacey drunkenly groped him in a Los Angeles bar in 2003.

That was followed by actor Harry Dreyfuss, the son of actor Richard Dreyfuss, reporting that he was groped by Spacey when he was 18 and while his father was in the room, though unaware of what was going on.

Louis CK was accused in a New York Times story of sexual misconduct with five women and quickly acknowledged his guilt.

The fallout was swift, with FX Networks ending its professional relationship with him and a film distribution company scrapping plans to release his new movie.

A survival march for victims of sexual harassment, assault and abuse was held in Hollywood Nov. 12, led by Tarana Burke, who has been talking with young women about sexual assault and abuse for more than 10 years.

“For every Harvey Weinstein, there’s a hundred more men in the neighborhood who are doing the exact same thing,” Burke said.

Polanski petitions

to return to L.A.

HOLLYWOOD — One of Hollywood’s oldest sexual assault scandals was dusted off throughout the year in courthouses as attorneys for Roman Polanski continued to try and clear his name in connection with his 1977 guilty to plea to unlawful sexual intercourse with a 13-year-old girl.

Defense attorney Harland Braun filed court papers in March, saying Polanski would return to the United States for sentencing if a judge determined that he has “already done his time.”

But Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Scott Gordon ruled there was “no sufficient or compelling basis for reconsideration of these issues.”

In a separate pleading, Braun had asked the court to honor an alleged promise by Judge Laurence Rittenband to forego additional jail time for Polanski in exchange for the filmmaker’s submission to a diagnostic study.

Gordon denied that request on grounds that Polanski must present himself to the court to seek relief under the fugitive disentitlement doctrine.

The director, writer and producer — who won an Oscar in 2002 for “The Pianist” —fled to France in 1978 before his sentencing and still lives in Europe. Southern California authorities have tried for years to bring him back to America.

Polanski’s teenage victim made a rare appearance in a Los Angeles courtroom June 9 and asked that the drawn-out criminal case against the fugitive Oscar-winning director come to an end.

“I would implore you to consider taking action which can finally bring this matter to a close as an act of mercy to myself and my family,” Samantha Geimer told Judge Gordon.

Deputy District Attorney Michele Hanisee acknowledged that victims have a broad set of rights, but it does not include the right to dictate the outcome of a criminal case.

“We do object to the motion to dismiss,” the prosecutor told the judge.

Gordon rejected Braun’s request in August, citing a 1976 California appellate court panel’s ruling in noting that “a court may not dismiss a case merely because it would be in the victim’s best interest.”

“The defendant in this matter stands as a fugitive and refuses to comply with court orders,” Gordon ruled.

In December, Los Angeles police confirmed they were investigating a woman’s allegation she was assaulted by Polanski in 1975.

Police did not release any details about the alleged victim, but she was identified by the British newspaper The Sun and the Los Angeles Times as Marianne Barnard, who contends the Oscar-winning director molested her when she was 10 years old during a photo shoot at Will Rogers State Beach near Pacific Palisades.

LaTisha Nixon made an appearance at a West Hollywood City Council meeting in August, asking city officials to conduct an investigation of the drug overdose death of her son, Gemmel Moore, in the apartment of local businessman and political donor Ed Buck. (Courtesy photo)

LaTisha Nixon made an appearance at a West Hollywood City Council meeting in August, asking city officials to conduct an investigation of the drug overdose death of her son, Gemmel Moore, in the apartment of local businessman and political donor Ed Buck. (Courtesy photo)

Drug overdose leads

to WeHo investigation

WEST HOLLYWOOD — At first, the drug overdose death of Gemmel Moore, a 26-year-old gay black man on July 27, was simply that.

Moore was found dead in a local apartment. His mother, who lived in Texas at the time, was notified of his death by deputies at the West Hollywood Sheriff’s Station, who wrote it off as a typical drug overdose. But LaTisha Nixon decided she wanted more answers about her son’s death.

She found out her son died in the apartment of a wealthy, white businessman, Ed Buck, who was known for making political contributions to prominent Democrats, both locally and nationally.

She found her son’s journal, in which he blamed Buck for his addiction to methamphetamine, which led to his death.

According to the journal and stories that Moore’s friend told Nixon and investigators she hired, Buck liked to invite young, gay black men to his apartment where he introduced them to methamphetamine.

In November, the Los Angeles County coroner’s report on Moore’s death revealed that “24 syringes with brown residue, five glass pipes with white residue and burn marks, a plastic straw with possible white residue, and a clear plastic bag with a ‘piece of crystal-like substance’” were found in Buck’s apartment after Moore’s death was reported.

Jasmyne Cannick, a social and political activist and publicist, who has worked with Nixon since Moore’s death, said anybody else found with that amount of drug paraphernalia in their home would have been prosecuted by now.

“If you had that many syringes and drugs and other things in that quantity in your house, you’d be in jail,” she said. Anybody would, she said – except Ed Buck.

Buck has refused to comment on the case. His lawyer, Seymour Amster, issued a statement shortly after Nixon and Cannick went public with accusations.

“It is unfortunate that the sheriff’s department is reacting to unsubstantiated allegations,” Amster said. “This is a tragedy, not a crime. [Buck] had no involvement in Gemmel’s death.”

He said the coroner’s initial ruling of an accidental overdose should have closed the case and the continuing investigation is unwarranted.

Members of the Friends of Griffith Park staged a protest near the Beachwood Drive trail leading to the Hollywood sign. The city began limiting access to that entrance to the trail April 18 as part of a legal settlement involving a suit by Sunset Ranch Hollywood Stables. (Courtesy photo)

Members of the Friends of Griffith Park staged a protest near the Beachwood Drive trail leading to the Hollywood sign. The city began limiting access to that entrance to the trail April 18 as part of a legal settlement involving a suit by Sunset Ranch Hollywood Stables.
(Courtesy photo)

Hollywood sign

access an issue

HOLLYWOOD — The Hollywood sign, one of the most attractive landmarks to tourists, became a point of contention once again after a judge issued a ruling blocking access to the trail leading to the sign near Beachwood Drive.

The ruling came in a lawsuit filed by the operator of Sunset Ranch Hollywood Stables, which provides horseback rides in Griffith Park.

In the lawsuit, the ranch owners complained that the city began funneling hikers onto its “exclusive easement road” two years ago by advertising that pedestrians could safely access the area using a new gate.

In February, a Los Angeles Superior Court judge found that hikers could not be barred from using the easement area. However, the judge also concluded that the city had channeled thousands of pedestrians toward the ranch every month, blocking access to the property.

In late March, the city agreed to spend $100,000 on a traffic study in and around Griffith Park and the Hollywood sign. No results of the study have been revealed.

In April, the city announced it would permanently close the Beachwood Drive gate to the Hollyridge Trail to obey the court order issued in February.

But a motion filed in Los Angeles Superior Court May 1 by Friends of Griffith Park, the Griffith J. Griffith Charitable Trust and the Los Feliz Oaks Homeowners Association claimed that the city’s action directly contradicted the judge’s ruling.

“A basic right of Angelenos is access to its public parks. Any access threatened by special interest groups to Griffith Park land is a violation of Colonel Griffith’s declaration that the park be free and open to all,” said Clare Darden, a trustee for the Griffith J. Griffith Charitable Trust.

Later in May, Mayor Eric Garcetti, suggested in a television interview that a gondola could be used to ferry people to the sign.

Mayor easily

wins re-election

LOS ANGELES — The city’s municipal election March 7 produced few surprises as Mayor Eric Garcetti was overwhelmingly re-elected to a second term as mayor with more than 80 percent of the vote.

Ten people challenged Garcetti but only Mitchell Schwartz, who identified himself as a political strategist, an environmentalist and an entrepreneur, mounted any type of campaign against the incumbent mayor and Garcetti defeated Schwartz by an almost 10-1 margin in total votes.

City Councilman Mitch O’Farrell, who represents part of Hollywood, also was easily re-elected. O’Farrell received 60.38 percent of the vote to avoid a runoff against Sylvie Shain, a housing rights activist who received 13.87 percent of the vote.

In a Los Angeles school board race, school board President Steve Zimmer was forced into a May runoff against Nick Melvoin. Melvoin, a former teacher who was supported by charter school advocates, unseated Zimmer in the runoff.

In West Hollywood, incumbents John Heilman and John Duran were elected to new terms on the City Council.

Also on the March ballot was Measure S, which would have placed a two-year moratorium on developments that required amendments to the general plan.

The measure, backed by anti-development groups in Hollywood and other parts of the city, but opposed at City Hall, received only 31 percent of the vote and was soundly defeated.

Garcetti was sworn in to his second term at the first of July and soon was being mentioned as a possible candidate for president in 2020.

Longtime Hollywood couple Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell each received stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in a rare joint ceremony in May. They have been a couple since 1984 when the met on the set of   ‘Swing Shift.’ (Courtesy photo)

Longtime Hollywood couple Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell each received stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in a rare joint ceremony in May. They have been a couple since 1984 when the met on the set of
‘Swing Shift.’ (Courtesy photo)

Walk of Fame

welcomes new stars

HOLLYWOOD — Like any year, the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce welcomed new members to the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Among people receiving their star during the past year were actress Viola Davis, actress Amy Adams, filmmaker Brett Ratner, pioneer boy band New Edition, singer Adam Levine, actor George Segal, radio personality Elvis Duran, actor John Goodman and Haim Saban, who created the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers.

In May, the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce hosted a rare joint ceremony in which longtime Hollywood couple Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell received their stars.

Others receiving stars were actor Gary Sinise, actor Chris Pratt, composer Jerry Goldsmith, celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck, soap opera producer Ken Corday, rapper-turned actor Ice Cube, illusionist Criss Angel, actor Jason Bateman, actor Jeffrey Tambor, singer-songwriter Charles Aznavour and ventriloquist Jeff Dunham.

Also receiving stars were filmmaker George Romero, Tejana singer Selena, and actors Nick Nolte and Dwayne Johnson.

 

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