SM BEACH — For people confined to a wheelchair, getting close to the waves has never been easier.
City Hall has replaced and added accessible walkways at a handful of locations along the sand, just one of several improvements to the beach experience highlighted during the third annual Beach Summit, hosted by the Santa Monica Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB).
The summit, an open forum aimed at creating the best beach experience possible for visitors and residents alike, was held Tuesday at the newly opened Annenberg Community Beach House, another addition that city officials and representatives from the tourism industry said makes Santa Monica an attractive destination.
Summit participants took part in three, 30-minute brainstorming sessions focusing on public safety, environmental stewardship and amenities and services. The goal was to inform community members about progress made and gather any knew suggestions to better realize Santa Monica’s brand promise, which was developed at the first beach summit.
The brand promise, something visitors should expect when coming to Santa Monica, is, “Santa Monica … the best way to discover L.A.; an unforgettable beach city experience filled with eye-catching people, cutting-edge culture and bold innovations. It is the essence of California lifestyle.”
City Hall’s Open Space Manager Callie Hurd said in addition to the walkways and the beach house, other improvements have been made, including the renovation of four Perry’s Café locations and the installation of 500 new cans along the beach, for a total of 700 trash and trash/recycling combo bins. Perry’s provides food, drinks and bike/rollerblade rentals, as well as a beach butler service.
City Hall is also continuing with a trash valet program to cut down on litter along the sand and is looking to spread the word about a pilot recycling program, which features 110 recycling bins on the beach. Hurd said the program was not as successful as City Hall hoped, necessitating more outreach to visitors.
A beach parking lot on Ocean Avenue has been converted into green space that can catch urban runoff while providing more open space. Hurd also highlighted the GLOW arts festival and Cirque du Soleil’s return to Santa Monica in the fall as examples of cutting-edge art events that make the beach a unique destination.
And despite rough economic times, Hurd said City Hall is committed to maintaining the same level of service residents and visitors expect, pointing to future projects which are in the pipeline. Those projects include new beach and bike path signage and the replacement of eight beach restrooms that date back to the 1950s.
There will also be real-time beach parking signs, volleyball pole replacement and a beach stories project which will compile stories of important people and events in the history of the beach to be used by community partners.
“We’ve come a long way in the last two years,” said Misti Kerns, executive director of the CVB. “I’m thrilled that we are becoming more of that beach experience you expect.”
An issue that came up frequently was the bike/pedestrian conflict that exists on the bike path. Currently, the pedestrian path does not extend all the way to the north end of the city limits, forcing people to walk along the bike path, which on weekends can become heavily congested, creating the potential for serious accidents.
While there is already a commitment from the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors to extend the bike path to Sunset Boulevard, no funding has been committed to extending the pedestrian path, although talks are underway.
City officials said they are also looking into creating some kind of sand tram to transport people from the Santa Monica Pier to other destinations along the beach, but there are still some safety issues that need to be addressed, as well as how a tram could get past the pier.
Hurd said City Hall has been focusing on the “low-hanging fruit,” because of budget and time constraints.
“It’s what’s affordable, what works and what the community wants,” Kerns said.
When it comes to public safety, the creation of the Neighborhood Resource Officers program has been instrumental in addressing issues along the beach, said Deputy Chief Phil Sanchez with the Santa Monica Police Department. By assigning one officers to manage the beach beat, problems can be addressed more rapidly than before. Sanchez said the NRO program has its roots in the first beach summit, when residents expressed a desire to have more contact with officers.
“The community wanted to have more direct contact … to get immediate answers and engagement,” Sanchez said.
Officer Richard Carranza is the NRO for the beach beat. He said has been working with the Beach House staff to enhance security and ensure the facility is not targeted by taggers. He also said ballards have been installed near the 1550 beach parking lot and the bike path to protect bike riders from drivers, as well as along potions of Ocean Front Walk. He has also notified business owners that they cannot have delivery trucks use Ocean Front Walk.