The Third Street Promenade (File photo)

By Marina Andalon
Daily Press Staff Writer

This has been a summer for the record books, from the excruciating warm weather to the expanding of the economy and according to Downtown Santa Monica Inc.: the strength of Downtown Santa Monica.

On Aug. 17, Downtown Santa Monica hosted its annual breakfast meeting at the Fairmont Miramar Hotel featuring speakers from the city and DTSM Inc.

Mayor Tony Vazquez opened the program praising Downtown for becoming the envy of other cities worldwide and said additions like the Colorado Esplanade, have vastly improved the Downtown experience.

Vazquez and City Manager Rick Cole said Downtown’s continued growth will be built on a foundation of new transportation options but both said the City would be tackling homelessness as part of the Downtown’s continued evolution.

“Now with the Metro you can literally walk down to the pier and to the beaches,” said Vazquez. “Downtown is doing a great job making it so pedestrian friendly. I know traffic is one of our key issues and I know the city staff is working diligently on this issue.”

Vazquez said the City is targeting traffic by providing mobility options.

The City has its newly inaugurated bike share program, Breeze, now with 75 locations and 500 bikes throughout the city. City Hall has revamped all of the Big Blue Bus lines feeding into the Expo station, to encourage people to use public transportation and Downtown has 12 new scramble pedestrian crosswalks to ease the flow of visitors and residents on foot.

However, City Manager Rick Cole said traffic professionals are now saying traffic is the worst it has ever been.

Cole said more needs to be done to address the congestion problems including a planned expansion of the Go With the Flow program and prohibiting left turns during peak at hours at specific intersections.

In addition to mobility, Cole and Vazquez cited homelessness as a top strategic goal for the next three to five years for Downtown Santa Monica.

According to city statistics, more than 40 percent of police calls are due to homeless issues and over 15 percent of fire calls are related to homeless issues.

Cole said diverse resources like librarians, bus drivers, and park staff are constantly dealing with the problem of homeless people of the city.

Vazquez said during the last annual homeless count, 728 individuals were recorded living on the streets. Vazquez encouraged the community to work together to find a solution to the homeless problem but at least one potential idea, creating a city funded sober living facility, was met with nervous laughter when proposed as part of Cole’s speech.

Cole has high hopes to help solve the homelessness issue that surrounds Downtown. He feels the city needs to be more data driven in addressing its problems, including homelessness.

In addition to potential sober living locations, the city will be counting how many times officers, or firefighters contact the same homeless person and will be asking for non-profit organizations to help out.

In the end, both city figures said it would be a community effort.

“I ask the individuals of Downtown Santa Monica, not to ask the city what the city can do to solve this problem,” said Cole. “But ask yourself, what we together as partners can do to solve this problem not just here in Santa Monica but as a region.”