Santa Monica Lacks Safety for Visitors: Businesses Ask City for Help

(Editor’s warning: the photos at the end of the piece are graphic and disturbing. This editor will leave a space between the end of the story and the  photos, so readers can exit and avoid looking at them.)

A sign went up on the Promenade on December 18 that caught national attention “Santa Monica Is Not Safe – Crime, Depravity, Outdoor Mental Asylum.”

Circling the News visited Santa Monica on January 6 at noon to walk the streets and see the situation first-hand.

The Santa Monica Third Street Promenade used to be a place to take out-of-town visitors, now it is not recommended.

There are two issues for visitors. The first is the parking structures. Elevators are out-of-service or have homeless sleeping in them. One of the elevators in Parking Building 5, nearest the mall, had a fire almost a year ago, but now neither elevator is working.

Lack of elevators in five and six story structures means there are no ADA accommodations. Additionally, the electrical outlets are being used by the homeless for phone charging.

The second and perhaps most troubling issue are the disheveled and mentally ill that roam the streets – and the way they are ignored, as if people lying on the street are simply street furniture.

In front of an empty store front in the 1300 block of Abercrombie & Fitch, a man was masturbating as he was lying on the sidewalk. As soon as he finished, he folded his hands and . . .and continued to lie on street.

Graffiti was evident, including swastikas on several lamp poles. The Abercrombie and Fitch sign had been tampered with. On the 1400 block mailboxes that led to upstairs apartments had been opened.

CTN witnessed a drug deal at the corner of Broadway and Fifth Street. Further up the street, across from REI, human feces and toilet paper were next to a building.

Promenade fountains have become bathing and laundry sites for many homeless.

At one time there were no empty store fronts on the promenade, and stores included a Barnes & Nobel, an Old Navy, The Gap, Banana Republic, J. Crew and Guess.

Now there is a 47.5% vacancy rate on the Promenade, and 39% vacancy in the overall Downtown Santa Monica area  (this does not include office space vacancies).  If one excludes pop-up businesses, the true vacancy is closer to 55 %.

In the Santa Monica Place Mall, located at the base of the Promenade, store front after store front is empty. At one time Macy’s, then Bloomingdales, anchored the large space on the ground floor, now it is empty (visit: https://www.santamonicaplace.com/Map#/).

CTN asked Santa Monica residents where they did holiday shopping and was told they went to Century City, which was “really nice, safe and had a nice combination of expensive and affordable stores.”

Gap, which used to be on the corner of Santa Monica and Promenade, suffered from looting during the 2020 riots. A resident said there were two fires within the store and that “no one was killed,” but said that police were asked to stand down, while rioters destroyed the building.

On Friday, there were four guards at the Promenade’s Apple Store. According to one source, the Adidas store on the Promenade has had its window smashed in April and November. The Footlocker has had its windows smashed four times in the last 16 months.

But, the most recent trend, instead of “smash and grab” is “walk in and grab.”

CTN was told those crimes are not always reported to police because landlords feel nothing will be done to the perpetrators and because tenants think it is bad for business if tourists know. Store’s insurance rates go up.

Although total residents have increased in Santa Monica, 75,000 (2019) to 94,000 (2022), the number of police officers has declined from 230 (2019) to 175 (2022). Santa Monica Police Chief Ramon Batista has said a necessary number for the city would be 250.

At the Santa Monica Place mall, at the foot of the Promenade, three weeks ago on a Saturday morning, criminals drove a vehicle through a Louis Vuitton window, grabbed merchandise and drove out.

Now fencing has been installed nightly around the perimeter of the mall.

A Santa Monica resident said so many stores have left the Promenade,  “because the landlords want to much for rent.”

Asking a Santa Monica landlord why so many stores have left, he responded “they [city government] gave up on Santa Monica.”

In its heyday, Promenade rents were comparable to Rodeo Drive.

Now, “Landlords have to respond to the situation,” a landlord said. That means that it is better “to have a tenant in a space – to have it filled – even if you’re not getting a lot for it.”

That means that some of the store fronts have been filled with “pop-ups.” Those tenants are on a month-to-month basis. The rent is often about 10 percent of the sales, plus some share of triple net (the tenant pays the property tax, insurance and trash.)

Per the City and Downtown Santa Monica, Inc. sales tax revenues for the fourth quarter were down about 20 % from the previous two quarters, and the Apple Store, which is a main anchor on the Promenade, reported a 23% decrease in sales for the same period.

Sales tax revenue is the main source  (30% to 40%)  of funding for Santa Monica’s Police and Fire Departments, and paramedics.

As people went through the trash cans, and others seemed to be mentally ill, talking to themselves, CTN asked about policing.

The new Santa Monica Mayor Gleam Davis is on record as saying, “we don’t want to see police.”

The Promenade is under the DTSM, (Downtown Santa Monica, Inc.) which is a nonprofit organization that works with Santa Monica to manage the business assessment district. The group includes six people elected by property owners, six people appointed by the City and the City Manager David White or his designee is the 13th person.

DTSM, in 2021, replaced police with a “Safety Ambassadors” program. These people patrol the streets and “address quality-of-life issues.”

CTN sent several emails to White asking about sales tax revenue and the effectiveness of the Ambassador program, but never received a reply.

The ambassador in front of three sleeping homeless people on a bench was cheerful and explained that he was there to answer any questions visitors might have.

This editor asked him if the people behind him were getting help, he responded, “They can sleep there if they want.”

In Tongva Park, a children’s playground had a homeless man sleeping on a bench next to the play structures. An ambassador was asked if that was allowed, and he said, “I was just over there, let me go tell him to move.”

This editor also found a man on a park bench that appeared to be motionless—no discernable breathing—and a helpful ambassador called a paramedic.

In a June 22 Santa Monica Lookout story (“Downton Officials Reject Calls to Replace ‘Safety Ambassadors’”), it was reported that “DTSM operates a dispatch center to help triage calls and relay valuable information to our friends at the SMPD.

“All ambassadors observe and report unwanted or criminal activity. But they cannot enforce the law. Only police officers can do that,” said Barry Snell, the former board chair and interim CEO for Downtown Santa Monica).

CTN reached out to Constance Farrell, Spokesperson for Santa Monica City and asked:
1) How many people are currently hired by the City of Santa Monica to be ambassadors? What is the pay scale?

2) When did the program start?

3) How many homeless have been helped? And are the total incidents reported involving the homeless going up or down?

Circling the News never received a response.

There appears to be no health care for the man lying on the sidewalk next to a center.

 

The Santa Monica Library now has a two-hour maximum for people using it. CTN first noticed the influx of questionable people when she deemed it wasn’t safe to park in a public city lot under the library to take a yoga class a block away.

According to reports and photos, the parking lot has now seen an increase of nighttime activity that includes sex, and drug trafficking.

Reed Park has become a needle distribution site. Members of The Santa Monica Coalition, a group of property and business owners, and residents, who are trying to see the homeless are helped and public streets safe for residents, discovered that Santa Monica has a needle exchange program in local parks.

The Santa Monica City Attorney told the Coalition to send a letter to then County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, recommending the program be moved to City-owned buildings and done under medical supervision.

Kuehl’s response was to expand the program to Tongva, Douglas and Palisades Parks, in addition to the 3rd Street Promenade.

One of the four founding members of the Coalition and a property owner on the Promenade, John Alle, contacted Supervisor Lindsay Horvath’s office weeks ago and spoke to top deputy Myrna Gutierrez, who said neither she nor the Supervisor knew anything about the program and would get back to him.

When Alle followed up, Gutierrez said she had discussed the program with Horvath. But the Supervisor would not take a position until a new Health Services Director was brought in.

Alle said, “the parks are ‘backyards’ for 75% of the SaMo residents who live in apartments. That has been taken away from resident by addicts from outside the city and others who want to experiment with drugs in the fresh air.”

People are given a bag with clean needles, synthetic drugs, condoms and a card that says, “Have a nice high.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why would a landlord stay on the Promenade or even Santa Monica?

“Let’s admit we have a problem and let’s address it,” Alle said. “This could be the biggest come-back story –  if we take care of the issues.”

Visit: thesantamonicacoalition.org.

 

 

 

 

WARNING: The images below, taken in downtown Santa Monica, may be disturbing.

 

 

This entry was posted in businesses/stores, City, Crime/Police, Homelessness. Bookmark the permalink.

22 Responses to Santa Monica Lacks Safety for Visitors: Businesses Ask City for Help

  1. Stephanie Houge says:

    Oh god This is awful. Thank you .

  2. Stefanie Cho says:

    Thank you for the stellar reporting!!
    I hope everyone reads it and realizes that voting has consequences.

  3. gilbert dembo says:

    great report, please send to all on SM city council and if you could, every one in Santa Monica

  4. Tom Meade says:

    Good reporting Sue.

  5. Krishna Thangavelu says:

    A truly terrible state of affairs. Thanks for a comprehensive report. The entire Santa Monica City Council should be fired. An absolutely beautiful tourist designation has been allowed to become a dangerous slum. If that is not bad city management I don’t know what is.

    We have a nationwide labor shortage in all areas including policing. Corporate America solves this sort of scenario by recruiting talent globally. This is a proven management practice but apparently our amateurs in government aren’t up to speed on best practices in management and leadership.

    Absolute incompetence in City Management. Time for the residents of SaMo to bring in turnaround leadership.

  6. I live one block from Reed park and three from 3rd Street. In the four years I have been here 3rd Street has turned into what you have described. It is so sad. I can not walk at night nor early morning as mall has to be “sweeped” is night residents. Tourists are fewer, performers are fewer. Used to be a wait list, performers had to change every two hours to give everyone a chance.
    Everyone in the city and city council know the problems. How to fix it? I sure do not have the answer. I suggest resident/tourist user friendly establishments. Fast food restaurants, grocery store, drug store, cleaners, banks. FYI, Reed Park has improved in the last few years. But has a way to go. Pushes my button how St. Monica’s turns a blind eye to their across the street neighbor. Those who read this article, get involved, speak your piece, Things have to be changed NOW !!!

  7. Cindy Simon says:

    This is as good a piece of journalism as I’ve ever read anywhere. Thank you Sue, for shining a bright light on this tragedy
    … a tragedy only a few miles away. I can remember the Promenade as a vibrant and go-to destination for lunch, dinner, movies, shopping, a coffee… the city council persons of Santa Monica should read your article and consider how their progressive policies have turned out. Shame on them.

  8. Murray Levy says:

    What a shame! Well meaning “progressives” in Santa Monica concerned with protecting individual rights and freedom have turned a vibrant exciting place into a nightmare. This should be taken as a warning. It can easily happen here in Pacific Palisades. Somehow society must achieve a balance between protecting individual rights and enforcing rules of behavior necessary in a civilized society. A good beginning might be forcing people living in illegally parked vehicles or illegally located tents into decent facilities rather than “offering” them services.

  9. Sylvia Boyd says:

    So hard to understand when you will unfailingly get a ticket of you’re 5 minutes overtime, not just at a meter but in a parking lot as well. Guess those $$ are more important than the survival of a once wonderful city.

  10. Derby says:

    Excellent report and a devastating look at what many of us have been watching unfold for years now. It is mind-boggling residents vote for people that approve of this situation. Hopefully, educating residents of the direct link between who they vote for and what you see on the streets every day, will have an impact. Sad

  11. 'joy' says:

    This is as good an investigative news story as I’ve ever seen. As I was formulating questions in my mind, they were answered by the story. Although helping the unhomed is important, allowing them to sleep and defecate on the streets is ludicrous at best and dangerous in so many ways, at worst. Your research is thorough, and your piece is well-written without sensationalism. Thank you. I had no idea the depth of the problem in the Promenade. How do we help solve the problem, not just talk about it? Thanks

  12. Jon Berg says:

    More than disgusting. I am moved to anger. Please read my past articles on the Santa Monica mayhem in the Santa Monica Observer. You can see the past ones by googling Jon Berg Santa Monica Observer or Jonathan Berg Santa Monica Observer (some originally were under the latter name). I am a 26 year resident, and not a natural activist/gadfly, but I am moved to anger at how the progressive fanatics have destroyed this town. Indeed, the Sue Himmelrich/Gleam Davis/Caroline Torosis/Kevin McKeown/Denny Zane set and countless others who know who they are, like Ted Winterer and Kristin McCowan and Sheila Kuehl, have had a hand or are having a hand in this disaster. Gleam Davis and Caroline Halitosis must be censured and removed from office immediately. That will be a good start. Please look for my forthcoming articles.

  13. carole taub says:

    This is shocking to see, and read. But I’m so glad you did so, and bravo to you for publishing this piece. If something isn’t done to eradicate this issue, it’s only going to continue to grow. There’s just too much talk and empty promises. What’s needed is action.

  14. Bla James says:

    it also goes back to Senator Ben Allan, a do nothing on important issues who mainly has office visits with corporate heads, does nothing on state housing, education, rehab/homeless and traffic congestion. Assembly person Bloom didn’t do any thing about same issues. Inclusionary, socialism to take from

  15. Manson Jones says:

    Up until a few years ago I worked in an office at the corner of Broadway and the third street promenade. I witnessed medical emergencies, intravenous drug use, teenage prostitution, robberies, assaults, and a suicide. My coworker witnessed a murder in front of REI one afternoon. I was once followed down the promenade and challenged to a fight by a homeless man. I reported this incident to a Santa Monica Policeman, who was on the promenade, shortly after it happened. He showed no interest in helping, essentially refusing to talk to me.

    The building required a security code to enter. Entering and leaving the building became a regular cat-and-mouse game, to prevent homeless people from gaining access.

    I tried riding the big blue bus to work. I learned that there are a couple of guys who regularly ride the bus who harass people. One of them seemed to be a grifter, trying to get people’s personal information. One evening a guy got off the bus in Pacific Palisades with a full bag of charcoal briquettes and walked into Temescal Canyon Park.

  16. Bruce Schwartz says:

    Award winning reporting !!

  17. george georgiou says:

    makes no sense!!!!!!
    to protect the rights of very very few to the detriment of the rights of hunreds of tousands of law abiding working law adiding people
    George Georgiou
    83 yrs old and working 60 hrs a week

  18. Sarah Conner says:

    Vital and unparalleled reporting. It’s surreal that Santa Monica has declined to this extent. When will Angeleno’s awake from this nightmare.

  19. Abby Hamel says:

    I usually come to SM three or four times a year, and stay for a 2-3 nights for pleasure and business. I like walking around third Street. There’s some great restaurants in Santa Monica, riding my bike on the strand, walking on Ocean Boulevard.
    I came up in Sept 2021, on my first day there almost got accosted by a homeless person on third street outside of a business. Stores were closing early, because employees did not feel safe, and I couldn’t believe how many businesses had gone out of business. I came back again in September 2022 for an art show. I stayed in Santa Monica near the ocean. I could not believe how much worse the homeless problem got in that one years time.. walking along Ocean at 9 AM in the morning I walked past several homeless people, sleeping, walking, strung out, rambling. I saw crews cleaning with bleach in hazmat suits. even though it was 9 AM, I did not feel safe … I was followed for two blocks by somebody that was definitely high and homeless. I didn’t smell the ocean, but I did smell human feces, bleach, urine and unshowered humans.. It was an unbelievable sight, my heart broke for the people and for the city of Santa Monica. I experienced the same unsettling, feeling and experience in Venice along the boardwalk. Down Venice Boulevard. I could not believe how many homeless people were wandering around. I don’t feel that anybody in leader ship is doing anything in Santa Monica, they are letting this happen. I have since moved my business trips and pleasure trips out of Santa Monica and I don’t plan on coming back up anytime soon. I unfortunately San Clemente and San Diego are suffering the same problems. This is not a lack of money to deal with the problem, leader ship doesn’t think that there is a problem, that’s the problem!!! Where our tax dollars going to keep the public safe and in clean public spaces?? I wrote a letter in fall of 2022 explaining my concern, my experience, and that I probably wasn’t going to bring my dollars back up to Santa Monica anytime soon for fun or for any business, to City Hall and to the mayor of Santa Monica and nobody responded to me.
    Santa Monica is absolutely not safe, and if leader ship doesn’t change this course of action soon, Santa Monica will only get way worse with crime, drugs and homelessness.

  20. Elvee says:

    “7. Should the police budget be reduced?

    Yes, if you mean that we should rethink policing and redirect funds away from an armed police response to every call for assistance. I anticipate that the recently-created civilian oversight committee will, among other things, evaluate potential alternatives. As part of this effort, we should invest more in services that prevent crime such as mental health and youth diversion programs. Some of these changes may cause funds to be reallocated within the police budget and others may require some divestment from the police budget and investment in other departments’ budgets.”

    “in other department’ budgets” could it possibly be into the mayor’s and cronies pockets or useless non-profits with high salaried CEO’s???

  21. John Miehle says:

    I served the people of SM for thirty years on SMPD. I retired as second in command of SMPD. At that time, after years of hard work by all officers, SM was one of the safest cities in SOCAL.

    When I was hired, in the mid seventies, SM was the fourth most violent city in the state. What this excellent investigative article describes is a return to that time. A time when the SM 3rd Street mall stores looked like second hand junk shops, many with concrete blocks and plywood tops for counters and sales tables.

    A new political era took over in 1982 and rebuilt the mall. When done, it became the daily and nightly tourist destination for thousands. Safety was insured by civilian Parking Structure Guards and Police Officers assigned to a substation on the Mall.

    By the late 80’s homelessness has become a serious problem, drug dealing and assaults were rampant in Pal Park as was homeless panhandling on the Mall and surrounding area. The Homeless harassed people on the mall, sleeping and dedicating in store fronts, etc.. Citizens and businesses demanded change or they would remove council members.

    The city council enacted codes to correct these complaints and we enforced them. However, the drug problem in Pal Park, from the SM Pier to Wiltshire was out of control. In the early 90’s , James Butts was hired as chief. His direction to us was, clean it up. Teams of officers did nightly buy bust stings on homeless drug dealer, performed reverse stings, posing as drug dealers.

    The result, SEVEN HUNDRED AND THIRTEEN FELONY DRUG ARRESTS IN 90 DAYS WITH A 98% CONVICTION RATE.

    Chief Butts then formed The Office of Special Enforcement to maintain the efforts in the park and to deal with all crime that needed specialized enforcement. It was so effected that for the next 15 years, SM was one of the safest cities in the state.

    I retired and a bit later, Chief Butts retired. There was also a change in the council and city manager.

    When I read this article, all the negative things and liberal policies I had seen in print and heard word of mouth in the 20 years I’ve been retired proved true.

    The good news is that, just like the late 80’s, if enough SM Citizens are tired of their freedoms and lifestyle being trashed out of the prioritizing of homeless issues, YOU CAN CHANGE IT BY DEMANDING CHANGE !

    I retired in a state far away from California due to seeing what was coming. However, my roots there are deep. My Great Uncle, Francisco Sepulveda, was the recipient of a 36,000 acre land grant from the King of Spain he named Rancho de San Vicente. It included all of what is now Santa Monica. My Cousin Juan Carrillo was the first Mayor of SM.

    TAKE YOUR CITY BACK !

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