Looking Ahead

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This is Kevin Roderick with LA Observed for KCRW.

Welcome to the new news year.

When the calendar turns, convention calls for being upbeat about the unknown opportunities the future may hold.

And while optimism figures to be a rare quality as we look ahead into the uncertainty of 2009, from a news junkie’s perspective, I feel safe in expecting a lot of interesting, unpredictable stuff to go on.

First up, of course, will be the inauguration of President Barack Obama. The most famous alum of Occidental College will take office protected by about 100 Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies, sent to Washington just for the occasion.

The festivities will be joined by what sounds like a few million supporters, if you count everybody who says they want to go.

Some hotel rooms have opened up since Obama named anti-gay pastor Rick Warren to give the invocation, but the calculus of the president-elect’s advisors seems to be that this blip will go away.

If you still need tickets, an internal memo posted at LA Observed.com promises admission to the swearing in and every ball for the small donation of…$300,000.

Don’t worry, if you’re not a big partier there are still packages available at 10 grand.

Here in LA, Obama’s appointment of Representative Hilda Solis to a cabinet post -- Secretary of Labor – injects some welcome interest into the local political arena.

Every politician on the Eastside got excited when Rep. Xavier Becerra was rumored to become Obama’s trade representative, only to have the thrill fade when Becerra didn’t get it.

So the Solis vacancy was like a shiny new gift. No matter who wins the seat, the effects will ripple through the politics class. I expect back room deals, the open flexing of political muscle and perhaps open warfare.

In other words, some juicy stories to get the year going. And we’ll need the caffeine jolt.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa figures to be reelected in March largely without public debate about the direction Los Angeles is headed.

None of the incumbents on the ballot with him face much of a challenge either. Term limits means there could be good races for controller and city attorney, but the voter engagement that was so exciting in November will be missing.

And that’s too bad, because the March ballot will feature one of the most potentially controversial initiatives to come out of City Hall in years.

On the surface it’s got the green sheen -– who can be opposed to putting solar panels on roofs all over the city to turn sunlight into electricity?

It’s been sold as a way to reduce the Department of Water and Power’s reliance on coal, but it looks more like an expensive and secretive scheme cooked up by politicians and labor.

Even an LA Times editorial reported a “queasy feeling that Los Angeles voters and ratepayers are about to be snookered."

If we’re lucky, the TV commercials for the solar plan will take our minds off the recession. The economy looks to be the story of the coming year. For the better, hopefully, but more likely for the worse.

We see the end of Weekend America on American Public Media and National Public Radio’s Day to Day -- and those are just the media casualties we know about so far.

Given Sam Zell’s debt load and clumsy leadership, there’s no predicting what will be left of the LA Times.

Some recession losses won’t be missed – like the Las Lomas project, the proposed mini-city where two freeways already mush together into a massive traffic just north of the LA city limits.

But unfortunately, too much of what we could lose will be cultural institutions that help make LA such an exciting and civilized place. Patronize museums, concerts, bookstores, newspapers and public radio in 2009.

With any luck, we’ll be here with you.

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