SMMUSD board seeks to fill empty seat Jan. 15

Applications for an empty seat on the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District Board of Education are submitted, the interested candidates were by a subcommittee on Jan. 5, and their eligibility determined after press time.

The seat was vacated by Ben Allen, who was elected to the California State Senate on Nov. 4. Allen then resigned his position on the SMMUSD board, starting a 60-day clock to fill the hole on the board.

The six members currently on the board will vote for Allen’s replacement on Jan. 15 in a public meeting.
Board member Craig Foster of Malibu said he’s looking for a candidate that has the interest of the Santa Monica and Malibu students in mind.

“Clearly, I’m going to be looking for somebody who shares that vision that we need to make every decision focused on what’s best for the kids,” Foster said.

A total of 11 candidates submitted applications for the open school board seat. Three of those candidates — Patty Finer, Ralph Macher and Dhun May — ran for the school board in the November general election, but lost.

Foster said electing one of those three candidates would be “problematic.”

“If the school board is acting on the behalf of the people…I think it would be a big mistake to go against the wishes of the voters and put somebody on who had a chance to be elected and didn’t get elected.”

Finer is putting her hat in the ring for the seat again because she feels she has a place on the board, and was not discouraged by what Foster said.

“Craig’s entitled to his position,” Finer said. “I would like to be on the board, I’d like to try to fix the problem. That’s why I decided to run. If it’s not what the board wants, they’ll make their decision.”

Finer already sits on the Visual and Performing Arts Advisory Board for the school district, a position she said she would keep regardless of the results of her candidacy for the open seat on the board.

Among the issues Finer believes are important to the SMMUSD are possible polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in both city’s schools. PCB is a chemical which has been shown to cause a variety of adverse health effects including cancer, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Finer believes the PCB issue is not on the radar of the school board.

“What the board doesn’t want is me there because they know I’m going to look at that issue and I know we have to address it and they don’t want to,” Finer said. “That could be a problem.”

Another candidate in the running for the open school board seat is Jake Wachtel, a teacher and former tennis coach from Santa Monica who co-founded THREADS, a nonprofit organization that donates clothing to families in need.

Wachtel said he was the only cross-district candidate, and feels his experience in education and media would be valuable to the board.

“What I bring to the school board is an ability to understand budgets, understand the classroom and understand policy,” Wachtel said. “All three of those things are very critical to be an effective board member and something that is very needed at this time.”

The public meeting on Jan. 15 will subject the 11 candidates to questions by each of the six board members.

“On the one hand, it’s great that we have all that transparency, it’s great that we have so many people applying,” Foster said. “On the other, these people have a lot of guts to submit themselves to this level of public scrutiny. It’s a brave thing that each of them are doing.”

Foster said the appointment will likely be made that night or soon thereafter.

The main issue facing the school board is the notion of separating Santa Monica and Malibu into their own independent districts, Foster said. The issue has been a point of contention for the past four years.

“I think the best thing that the school district can do to help Malibu schools would be to continue the process that’s in place to put together the thorough understanding of what the two districts would look like independently and…move forward to create those two independent school districts,” Foster said.

Foster is president of the Advocates for Malibu Public Schools, an organization that is working on separating the two school districts.

Finer said she would support separating the districts, but only if it was economically feasible.

“You need to make sure if Malibu wants to be its own school district, it’s strong enough to stand on its own two feet,” Finer said. “I don’t think the numbers are there.”

If the board members do not agree on a candidate during the meeting, they would be forced to try again in a few days, Foster said. If no one is selected after the second vote, a special election would then occur, which Foster said would cost anywhere between $200,000 to $1 million.

“My first choice would be to let the voters decide this,” Foster said. “But it’s really expensive to do that. And that’s money we’re taking directly out of the students’ education.”



Santa, reindeer come to Country Mart

Bailey (right), 7, and Dylan, 5, feed a graham cracker to a reindeer at Malibu Country Mart on Saturday, Dec. 20, 2014.

Bailey (right), 7, and Dylan Gilroy, 5, feed a graham cracker to a reindeer Saturday, Dec. 20, at Malibu Country Mart.

Several families with their children got their pictures taken with Santa and Mrs. Claus, as well as fed graham crackers to two reindeer, at Malibu Country Mart on Saturday, Dec. 20.

The reindeer were in a circular cage and many children pet and fed the reindeer. Children also waited in line with their families to sit on Santa’s lap and have their photo taken.

Four carolers sang holiday songs to entertain those standing in line, as well as those positioned elsewhere in the shopping center. The singers stood near the Santa area, the reindeer cage and in front of the decorated Christmas tree.

The event went from noon-4 p.m.

A man and five children interact with a reindeer at Malibu Country Mart on Saturday, Dec. 20, 2014.

Children gather around a pen to pet a reindeer.

Clockwise from left: Emma,1, Stacy, Greg and Graham McNeal, 3, pose for a picture with an actor dressed as Santa Claus at Malibu Country Mart on Saturday, Dec. 20, 2014.

Stacy (left to right), Emma, 1, Graham, 3, and Greg McNeal pose for a picture with Santa Claus at Malibu Country Mart.


Samohi softball takes it all

IRVINE — Last year, the Santa Monica softball team ended their playoff run in disappointment. But they were determined to force a different outcome in 2014.

“We were here last year [and] got our butts kicked,” head coach Debbie Skaggs said. “The girls knew that we had to come out here and not just be happy to be here, but get here and finish business.”

The Vikings easily defeated the Ventura Cougars, 3-1, in the Division IV CIF-SS championship on Saturday, May 31, giving Samohi its second title in five years.

Junior pitcher Whitney Jones struck out three Ventura batters, while senior first baseman Francesca Golick had two RBIs. Senior infielder Marina Coffin had one RBI for the Cougars.

Samohi’s last division championship was in 2010 when they defeated the North Torrance Saxons, 11-3.

The Viking offense started strong in the bottom of the first inning with senior Sara Garcia smacking a triple into right field, allowing freshman second baseman Jasmine Gomez to score Samohi’s first run.

With Garcia on third, Golick connected on a Ventura pitch, driving in Garcia for an early 2-0 lead.

Jones said her pitching loosened up after her team was able to build an early advantage.

“It feels much better when you have a little cushion,” Jones said.

The Cougars got on the board in the top of the third inning off an RBI by Coffin. However, Golick responded at the bottom of the inning with her second RBI of the game with the bases loaded. Samohi never looked back.

The Vikings were able to use strong defense to take away any chance of a Ventura comeback. With two outs in the top of the fourth inning, junior infielder Amanda Gilchrist launched a double into deep right center field. But Samohi took a ground ball by Ventura’s next batter and was able to retire the side.

“There are plays that, if they don’t make, it could get us into a lot of trouble, into a mess,” Jones said about her team’s defense. “It definitely takes down the other team and pumps up our mentality, which is just great. I can’t ask for a better defense. They really helped me this year.”

Skaggs said the team’s defense is key to their success because of the type of pitcher Jones is.

“We’re known to be a pretty solid defensive club, and that’s what we lean on because our pitcher doesn’t strike out a lot of batters,” Skaggs said.

Despite a slow start, Jones was able to find her pitching groove as the game went on. She said her positioning of the ball is what worked well for her on Saturday.

“I kept the ball low and I kept moving the pitch around, which I think was really effective,” Jones said. “[I] stayed in on some of their hands and took the ball outside when I needed to.”

This year’s championship came with a lot of growth among the team, Jones said.

“We had a really tough season this year before we got to CIF, and then once CIF came, we really gelled together as a team, just like we did last year,” Jones said. “But this year, we had a lot more talent and we were just a stronger team together and we just really had teamwork, which is what got us here.”


Samohi’s playoff run ends

SAMOHI — Santa Monica’s boys’ basketball team scored only 11 points in the third quarter and fell to the Rancho Cucamonga Cougars, 74-56, in the second round of the CIF-Southern Section Division 1AA playoffs on Tuesday night.

Sophomore guard Jonah Mathews led the Samohi Vikings with 20 points while senior guard Ray Mancini added 17.

For the Cougars, senior forward Daylan Lawrence led all scorers with 25 points.

The loss marks the end of a season in which the Vikings finished with an overall record of 17-10, going 8-2 in Ocean League play.

Samohi head coach James Hecht recalled only positives when he looked back on the year.

“I thought we had a good year,” Hecht said. “I think we learned a lot. I think we grew a lot as a team considering the number of players that we had new to varsity basketball.”

The Vikings got off to a slow start and were forced to take a time-out after Rancho Cucamonga held an early 8-1 lead by capitalizing on Samohi’s turnovers. Late in the first quarter, Mathews scored off an assist by Mancini, which brought the Cougar lead down to four.

Mathews, who only had two first-quarter points, got going in the second frame, scoring eight of his 10 first-half points in the quarter. The Vikings were able to cut their deficit to two after sophomore forward Mikhail Brown made a layup, bringing to the score to 25-23 in favor of the Cougars.

Rancho Cucamonoga led at the half, 40-32.

Then the third quarter happened. The Cougars started off by opening up a 13-point lead after senior guard Victor Joseph converted a layup. Samohi answered with two back-to-back 3-pointers from senior guard Chris Johnson and Mathews, but Rancho Cucamonga ripped a 16-4 run down Santa Monica’s throat to end the frame with a 62-43 lead.

“A lot of our turnovers unfortunately led to baskets by them, and I think we got a little deflated,” Hecht said about his team’s third-quarter struggles. “I called time-outs, tried to calm us down a little bit. But I just think some of those turnovers that led to baskets for them were momentum killers.”

The Cougars kept their foot on the gas in the final stanza and wouldn’t let Samohi get close. On one Vikings possession, senior guard Nick Culver started a Rancho Cucamonga fast break with a blocked shot which led to a one-handed throw down by Lawrence at the other end.

Mancini said Samohi’s high turnover rate in Tuesday’s game had more to do with their offense than the Cougars’ defense.

“We were rushing a little bit too much,” Mancini said. “We were trying to be one-on-five instead of sharing the ball. We were just trying to go too fast and trying to shut the crowd up.”

On Friday, Samohi torched the Montebello Oilers by 31 points in the first found of the playoffs. Mancini said the difference between the two games was the team shared the ball more.

“The first game, we had three, four players in double digits,” Mancini said. “We just played freely. We cared for each other and just played for each other.”

Hecht said when the dust of the loss settles, his team can take a step back and look fondly at their success throughout the year.

“I think we could be proud of what we accomplished,” Hecht said. “Third year in a row winning league, second round of the playoffs. We fought the fight.”


Basketball: Samohi finishes fourth in tourney

SAMOHI — The Santa Monica Vikings took fourth place in the Santa Monica Tournament with a 68-60 loss to the Fairfax Lions on Saturday night at home.

Samohi sophomore guard Jonah Mathews led the way for the Vikings with a game-high 22 points while senior guard Victor Costa chipped in with 15 off the bench.

Sophomore guard Antoine Monroe had 20 points to lead the Lions and senior guard Sage Woodruff added 17 points.

Mathews dominated the first quarter, starting with a four-point play after getting fouled and draining a shot from downtown. Fairfax shot back with a 5-0 run to take the lead, but the frame was close throughout, ending in a 15-14 Lions lead.

Mathews had 12 points in the opening quarter, but just 10 points the rest of the game.

“They just face-guarded him and tried to frustrate him,” Samohi head coach James Hecht said. “They didn’t make it easy for him to get open looks or to catch the ball. It was a good game plan.”

Fairfax came out in the second quarter with four straight points in less than a minute, forcing a Vikings timeout. The Lions extended their lead to 27-18 with a 12-4 run.

But Samohi increased their defensive intensity, forcing turnovers and scoring as a result. Senior guard Chris Johnson’s free throw capped a 9-0 Vikings run to tie the game at 27.

Fairfax answered Samohi’s spurt with two 3-pointers by Monroe and a bucket by sophomore forward/center Babacar Thiombane to end the half with a 35-31 advantage.

The game remained contentious in the third. Mathews pulled the Vikings to within two with a 3-pointer, but was immediately answered by Woodruff’s shot from beyond the arc. On one Lions possession, Samohi was able to intercept a pass and ignite a fast break, but then turned the ball over, leading to a basket for Fairfax and a 43-36 deficit.

“We played really hard together, but tonight, there were three or four possessions where we didn’t find our man or we didn’t rotate and those were buckets that (the Lions) got,” Mathews said.

Samohi made some noise late in the quarter when senior guard Ray Mancini stole the ball and knocked down an elbow jumper to cut the Lion lead to just one. But Fairfax answered again, putting together a 6-0 run and ending the frame leading 52-45.

The Vikings cut the deficit to three in the fourth after a pair of Costa free throws, but Fairfax ran off an 8-2 run punctuated by a vicious two-hand dunk by senior forward/center Oleesameeka Nwachee, sealing the victory.

The Vikings stumbled in the face of pressure defense from the Lions all night, often having trouble getting the ball across mid court.

“They were just trying to disrupt our flow and it took us a while to adjust to that,” Hecht said. “I thought as the game went on, our execution got better.”

Mathews feels that these last two losses can teach the team to be better in the future. Samohi is now 2-2 on the season.

“We need to become more mentally tough,” Mathews said. “Two losses can get you mentally. We just need to come together as a unit and play together to win the next two games.”

Samohi dominates Palisades, remains undefeated

PALIHI — Santa Monica High School Vikings head coach Travis Clark can add another notch on his beat-Palisades-at-all-costs belt.

“I didn’t lose to them as a player, and I don’t want to lose to them as a coach,” said Clark, who was a Samohi standout in the late 1980s. “It’s a big rivalry for me, a personal rivalry.”

And with that, Samohi (2-0) routed the Palisades Charter High School Dolphins (1-1) 44-15 Friday night on the road.

Both teams sputtered early, each turning the ball over once in the early minutes of the first quarter. But the Vikings soon hit their stride, scoring two touchdowns late in the frame for a 13-0 lead. Samohi’s dominance continued in the second with another two touchdowns, one coming off an interception by senior Kevin Persons, who had two picks for the game.

“I think that we forced [Pali] to play a little more physical than they’re accustomed to,” Clark said. “I think they had to try and match that and it was difficult to do that.”

Within the first three minutes of the third quarter, the Vikings continued their offensive onslaught with the first of two touchdowns by senior wide receiver De’Jai Whitaker.

“[The offense] was connecting on every level,” said Will Taylor, who amassed 111 rushing yards. “We went over everything in practice and executed out here on the field.”

Samohi’s defense left Pali scoreless in the third quarter and allowed only 15 points for the game.

“Our defense was solid,” Persons said. “Everybody was 11 men to the ball, everybody was playing pursuit, everybody did their job.”

Pali head coach Tim Hyde felt their difficulty scoring was due to Samohi disrupting their game plan.

“We thought we could try and hit the edges against them passing, roll out and do some things,” Hyde said. “They were very disciplined on the outsides and boxed [senior quarterback] Taylor [Mensik] in.”

Samohi senior running back Kwame Duggins chipped in with 100 rushing yards of his own. Dolphins senior running back Joseph Velez ran for 155 yards.

Clark said he came into the game “planning on playing a couple of quarterbacks” due to junior quarterback Nico Basile’s ankle injury he sustained during their last game against the Redondo Union Sea Hawks.

“I was hoping to be able to get through this game with the other two guys and that’s exactly what we did, so the plan worked,” Clark said.

Samohi will be tested in next week’s game against the Mater Dei Monarchs. Clark considers Mater Dei “one of the best teams in the state of California.”

“I think if we practice straight [and] we practice good, we might shock the world,” Taylor said.

Local company a lone wolf in animal stock footage

DOWNTOWN — Imagine the ability to have a lion roaming through the streets of Paris, or an elephant eating in an African jungle — all without having to leave the comfort of an editing bay.

A local Santa Monica company is making that happen by using the latest green-screen technology and a few furry friends.

Green Screen Animals ( offers stock footage of all kinds of wildlife for those who find it too expensive or time consuming to film it themselves.

Several years ago, Mark Shockley used to help his wife Laura, an animal trainer at the time, feed and clean up after animals like lions and tigers after leaving his day job in production.

Shockley came up with the idea for Green Screen Animals in 2006 after a walk on the beach and an “aha moment” that led him to decide to merge his two passions — production and animals.

“It really gave me chills,” said Shockley, president and co-founder of the company. “I thought this is the deal, this could be really, really good and fulfilling at the same time. Thus far, it’s been fantastic.”

He then sought the help of Westley Koenen, senior vice president of Mastercard Worldwide, who joined the project immediately.

So far, the company’s clients have included “The Tonight Show,” “Jimmy Kimmell Live,” various ad agencies, producers of YouTube content, and “a handful of Disney shows,” Shockley said.

A lot of business comes from kid-themed television shows.

“Kids love animals,” he said. “I just think there’s something about it and even when adults see animals, it brings out the kid in us. They’re just so wonderful.”

Shockley said that the bear was the most requested animal, followed by the lion and the elephant.

“Adding a lion or a grizzly bear in your video, man, it increases your production value like tenfold,” he said. “All of a sudden, it makes it look like a giant budget spot.”

The company decided to license and own all the footage they create after their contract ended with Getty Images.

Movie studios often elect to use animals in films, a practice that can sometimes result in injury for the four-legged actors.

To minimize injuries, Green Screen Animals works with the American Humane Association to ensure that no animals are harmed during the production process. The association has been supervising films that use animals since 1939, providing movie sets with “Certified Animal Safety Representatives” that have extensive experience with “animal-related work,” according to their website.

Shockley feels buying stock footage saves filmmakers time, energy and money.

“Quite often when somebody’s in that production mode, they just need it now,” he said. “They just need to get their fix at that moment and if they can go online and look at some clips, that certainly helps save them so much time.”

Salvador Carrasco, professor of film at Santa Monica College, agrees with Shockley.

“The biggest advantage of the green screen technology is cost-effectiveness,” Carrasco said. “As a filmmaker, you need to find a balance between authenticity and practicality. If you want to have animals in your film but can’t afford it, it would be more advantageous for you to use stock footage than to cut the scene out entirely.”

While Carrasco said that there is “definitely” a market for this type of footage, he feels the authenticity of having an animal actually on set “cannot be beat.”

For Shockley, seeing the finished product on a commercial makes it all worth it.

“I really get excited when I see people using this stuff,” Shockley said. “That, to me, is the biggest payoff.”

Shockley said his team films one or two shoots ever year. In between, the company focuses on getting the clips online-ready and selling them to clients.

“It’s funny because people have this image of us doing all this fun animal stuff all the time,” Shockley said.

The online library of critters and creatures, which currently has close to 4,000 clips in full HD, 2K and 4K resolution, is updated once a year.

Pricing for the animal footage ranges from $500 to $4,000 depending on whether a client wants to use it for the web or a worldwide commercial.