Looking Back at 2008

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This is Kevin Roderick with LA Observed for KCRW.

Those of you who hear me in this spot through the year probably realize that I occasionally take the chance go back and close the circle on stories.

It's something we never did enough of when I was a newspaper editor. But here and in my online reporting I try to take care of the updating business.

And of course, there's no time like the end of the year to freshen up. So here's a look at what became of some of the subjects we've talked about during 2008.

One running story in Los Angeles for the last couple of years has been Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's effort to take control of the LA Unified School District.

Slow, faltering progress is the most balanced way to characterize the mayor's lack of real success. His piece of the LAUSD pie withered down to barely a few schools.

But then, he got his man -- in a manner of speaking.

This month's forced buy-out of Superintendent David Brewer ends a saga that began when the school board ambushed Villaraigosa and quickly hired Brewer before the mayor could get his reform plans in place.

Now the mayor's top education adviser, Ramon Cortines, is the head guy. Advantage Villaraigosa. But it also means the ball is now his to serve.

If the schools don't get better, the mayor won't have anybody left to blame.

Proceeding down the City Hall ladder, the other two citywide elected officials are still squabbling over which of them holds which powers under the city charter.

And while the outcome matters to governance, it's starting to matter less and less what Rocky Delgadillo and Laura Chick think. Both of them are termed out in 2009 and didn't line up another office to run for.

So they are beginning their final months in office.

Meanwhile, Delgadillo will be remembered for the giant digital billboards that are still spreading across LA. The City Council finally heard enough of the rising furor to – just this week - impose a modest three-month moratorium.

We'll have to wait and see if that has any effect -- but I'm doubtful.

On the police beat, the mystery of the murder of sheriff's deputy Juan Escalante may finally be solved. For months investigators had few leads into who shot Escalante outside his Cypress Park home as he left for work on a Saturday morning.

Was it tied to his assignment at the central jail, where he interacted with hard core killers and gangsters? Now they don't think so.

Two members of the Avenues gang were arrested and charged, for what looks like a coincidental encounter on the street.

The best part about revisiting old stories is the chance to fix facts and impressions that have gone out of date, or were never all that precise to begin with.

One of those concerns the train collision in Chatsworth that killed 24 people in September. The early reporting said the Metrolink engineer ran a red light. The initial investigation was so certain of it that the National Transportation Safety Board confirmed that the light had been working but was ignored.

But after a couple of months the evidence has mounted that something crucial is still unknown. Witnesses reported all along seeing a green light telling the engineer to leave the station in Chatsworth, headed north into the path of a southbound freight train.

Now officials aren't so sure the red light issue was - pardon the expression – as black and white as first believed.

In the news, the facts change with time and further investigation. I have no doubt that some of these stories will have new twists to report next year.

Until then, Happy New Year from this corner of KCRW.

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