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FROM THIS EPISODE

This is Kevin Roderick with LA Observed for KCRW.

Now that 2009 is coming to a close, I suspect we can all agree it's been a pretty rough year. The recession became more harsh and personal for many in Southern California, and the best thing to be said about it is there are the first signs of better days ahead next year.

That would be nice. Some of the stories we followed here through the year came to welcome conclusions. Others are still pending, shall we say.

The year began, here in this time slot, with concern about a mysterious ailment afflicting brown pelicans along the coast. Sick pelicans have stopped showing up, and even better news is that the brown pelican was removed from the federal endangered species list.

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa isn't quite an endangered politician. But his year would have to be called mixed.

He was reelected to a second term, and that was the best news on his report card – well, that and finding a new girlfriend.

But his reelection numbers were disappointing, just 55% of the vote even without much serious competition. It was a year in which he came to the grips with the reality that he was not going to become governor.

But at least he did get to travel quite a bit. He's been to Africa with his girlfriend, and they went south to represent the city at the big book festival in Guadalajara.

He squeezed in a vacation to Iceland with some of his politician buddies, and this week he's been at the climate change conference in Copenhagen.

In between trips he managed to decide on a replacement for LAPD chief William Bratton. We all survived the suggestion of the police officers union to make the chief an elective position – in other words, another position that the union could try to buy with its campaign contributions.

In Charlie Beck the LAPD rank and file, police critics, City Hall pols and the union all got a chief they can apparently believe in.

The union, meanwhile, finished the year by pumping $400,000 into the losing campaign of city council candidate Chris Essel, for no apparent political gain.

Another union representing city workers also took a loss at the polls. The powerful union for employees at the Department of Water and Power tried to hoodwink voters into passing a solar energy measure that had a trick provision within it that would benefit the union.

That maneuver didn't work, but the union still came out of the year with decent raises for its members while other city hall workers were facing layoffs and salary cuts.

The DWP's own chief, David Nahai, didn't last out the year, stepping down before the political wolves could get him to become a Senior Advisor to Bill Clinton's Climate Initiative.

Clinton actually may have had a better year than any local politician. He flew to North Korea to bring back captive reporters Laura Ling and Euna Lee.

Their early morning arrival at Burbank Airport turned into the best kind of media event, a genuinely emotion reunion with family and friends. The reporters ended up the year pursuing separate book deals – and we'll have to wait and see where that all goes.

Another of the year's biggest events also has yet to write its final chapter – the giant Station Fire that whipped across the Angeles National Forest.

Residents along the San Gabriels will be watching the mountains carefully through the rainy season, hoping not to see the dramatic debris flows that author John McPhee called rock porridge.

As if we need any more proof that to live in LA is to live on the edge… in more ways than one.

For KCRW, this has been Kevin Roderick with LA Observed.

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