Photo by Ted Soqui
2015 was a big year for billionaires in Los Angeles. Eli Broad opened a new museum on Grand Avenue. David Geffen sprinkled more of his money around, donating $100 million to UCLA for a new private school called (of course) Geffen Academy. And Stan Kroenke got ever closer to bringing his football team to Inglewood.
It was also a year for rising stars in the political sphere to make their move. Some stories came from nowhere — did anybody see Donald Trump coming, except maybe Donald Trump? For others, the year marked another step in what seemed an inexorable path to power.
Maybe it’s always a good year for politicians and billionaires (not to mention billionaire politicians). But it was also a big year for social movements, as determined activists and academics pushed their causes from the fringe into the mainstream. Whether it was the police brutality protests that took shape under the banner of Black Lives Matter or growing outcries over the marginalization of women in Hollywood, this was a year for fighting back.
Here’s a look at the 10 people who most influenced events in Los Angeles this year.
10. Eli Broad
In September, Eli and Edythe Broad unveiled their latest gift to Los Angeles, a free museum to share their collection of contemporary art with the public. Opinions on the museum have been mixed, with some admiring its translucent veil and others comparing the building to a Bose radio or a cheese grater. Either way, it gave Los Angeles something to talk about, and something new to do on the weekend. September was also the month when Austin Beutner was fired as publisher of the L.A. Times. That kicked off a frenzy of speculation over whether Broad would buy the L.A. Times and restore it to local ownership. That did not come to pass, but he must have been flattered by the attention. To top it off, Broad undertook a controversial $490 million plan to double the number charter schools in L.A. Unified, with the goal of serving half of the district’s children. Pretty big year for him.
via David Ryu for Council District 4
9. David Ryu
It’s hard to think of a Los Angeles politician who had a better year than David Ryu. A year ago, he was on leave from a job at a health services provider. He was one of 14 candidates running to succeed Tom LaBonge on the City Council. The favorite was LaBonge’s chief of staff, Carolyn Ramsay, and Ryu was considered a long-shot at best. But he tapped into powerful opposition to the pace of development in neighborhoods from Silver Lake to Sherman Oaks. He finished a strong second in the primary and then scored an upset win over Ramsay in the May runoff, becoming the first-ever Korean American on the council. Since then, the currents that carried him into office have only grown stronger, with activistsseeking a ballot measure to halt mega-projects.
8. Frank Gehry
The world’s most famous architect got a loving retrospective at the L.A. County Museum of Art this year. Seeing the show, which runs through March 20, is like getting a tour of the top-secret Gehry Partners studio. The exhibit space is filled with models, sketches and photographs of famous works like Walt Disney Hall and the Guggenheim Bilbao, and some that were never built. But while he was being feted, Gehry was also being roasted for getting involved in the effort to naturalize the L.A. River. The L.A. River Revitalization Corp. invited Gehry to lend his ideas and technical expertise to the project. But that offended some old hands on the river, chiefly poet Lewis MacAdams, who blasted him as an interloper. It’s not clear what exactly Gehry will contribute to the project or where the city will get the billions it needs to bring the river to life. But just having his name attached gives the project greater prominence and prestige. With that, what was once a forgotten storm channel may become more central to the city’s identity.
7. Alex Nogales
The story of the year in politics was Donald Trump. The orange-haired billionaire caused a stir when he entered the presidential race in June, vowing to build a wall at the border to keep out Mexican “rapists.” Republican voters apparently liked what they saw, as Trump quickly took the lead in the polls and hasn’t given it up. Trump also has many detractors, and among the most effective has been Alex Nogales. The president of the Pasadena-based National Hispanic Media Coalition has organized protests and boycotts, spurring the effort to get NBC to cut ties with Trump. Nogales also threatened a boycott of the PGA, leading to the cancellation of a tournament at Trump’s golf course. His efforts haven’t hurt Trump’s poll numbers, but he did force powerful interests to rule a certain brand of anti-Mexican racism out of bounds for polite company.
6. Casey Wasserman
Sports agent Casey Wasserman was named the most powerful man in L.A. sports by the L.A. Daily News this year — and that was in April, before L.A.’s 2024 Olympic bid, with Wasserman at the helm, arose Lazarus-like from the grave. L.A. got the nod when Boston got cold feet and backed out. That means that Wasserman has two years to convince the International Olympic Committee that L.A. deserves its third crack at the games. Wasserman, the 41-year-old grandson of late studio mogul Lew Wasserman, has been around this world before, having served as vice chair of L.A.’s 2016 bid. That didn’t get very far. Neither did his effort to bring the NFL to downtown L.A. But the stars might be aligning this time. The Olympics have seen some costly boondoggles lately, leading many in the West to question whether it’s worth it. After Boston withdrew, voters in Hamburg, Germany, pulled the plug on that city’s effort as well. It’s possible that only Los Angeles — where memories of the ’84 Games are still fond — has enough community support to pull this off.