Santa Monica parks

City Council will discuss ways to make Santa Monica’s parks and beach safer and cleaner at its meeting Tuesday in response to complaints from residents about crime and hazardous waste at several public parks.

Community members and the Parks and Recreation Commission told Council last November that there was a safety crisis in the parks and at the beach, testifying that children have been finding hypodermic needles, bags of meth and open latrines. Residents also said children frequently encounter people living or prostituting themselves in park bathrooms.

“Kids are scared to go to the park,” Rich Hill, a safety officer with Santa Monica Little League, told Council last November.

The commission wrote a letter to Council in January recommending that the Santa Monica Police Department station an officer in Reed Park around the clock for 90 days as a pilot program and schedule more frequent patrols in other parks. It also asked City staff to look into establishing a beach curfew and creating a shelter for homeless individuals to sleep in during the day.

On Tuesday, Council will review and comment on several strategies the City is using to address safety, public health and maintenance issues at the parks and beach, which include stepping up police presence, holding more events, outreach to the homeless and collecting waste. Council can then ask staff to develop new approaches.

Residents have largely blamed Santa Monica’s homeless population for safety and public health problems, but Council and staff have stressed that it will not address such issues by criminalizing homelessness. The staff report on Tuesday’s discussion item also states that the parks and beach do not have a higher crime rate than the rest of the city.

However, staff said the City recognizes some of the most visible criminal or anti-social behavior is committed by homeless individuals and is deploying outreach workers to house people living on the streets. The City is developing care plans for a list of homeless individuals regularly found in Reed and Tongva Parks and coordinating Los Angeles County-funded outreach teams to cover the beach, staff said. (Funding for the City’s outreach workers will expire in June and replacement funding has not yet been secured.)

“Public spaces must be accessible to everyone, and while the City cannot regulate who can use public spaces, the City can and does place reasonable limitations on allowable behavior in public spaces,” staff wrote. “Where drug use and criminal activity enter our public spaces, the City will continue to respond to ensure protection of our community space.”

Council and staff have also promoted holding events at the parks as a way to discourage unwanted activity, noting that criminals tend to prefer deserted parks. The City expanded on its Meet Me at Reed series in 2019 by holding four weekend events at Reed Park in January, but lacks the capacity to further expand the series or take it to other parks, staff said.

To address public safety, staff will look into installing needle drop boxes at the parks, which the City installed at the beach last October, is installing new lighting and making safety improvements to park bathrooms, and is considering deploying Downtown Santa Monica, Inc. ambassadors to certain parks.

The report did not support establishing a beach curfew, noting that the California Coastal Commission recommends against restrictions to beach access.

The City will be monitoring a set of data points to measure the effectiveness of its current and future strategies to make the parks and beach safer, cleaner and more welcoming, staff said. The data points include the numbers of events, police officers deployed, park rule violations and homeless individuals connected with services.

Council will meet Tuesday, March 5 at City Hall, 1685 Main Street. Open session will begin no earlier than 6:30 p.m.

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