Local property owner John Alle is calling on the city to curb the increasing number of individuals who camp out in public elevators and garages, but city and police department leaders say their hands are tied in the matter.
Alle, who is suing the city over maintenance of the Promenade, has been documenting the increasing number of people who regularly smoke, defecate and erect tents to sleep in the public elevators and garages that are scattered throughout the downtown area and Third Street Promenade.
“It’s been going on for a couple of months every day from night to morning, and without pictures nobody else would ever believe me so I’ve been documenting it,” Alle said in a recent interview where he took issue with Downtown Santa Monica Inc., an organization that acts as the business district’s advocate.
Alle believes the organization should be able to address the homeless problem, which he said has gotten out of hand.
DTSM Inc., CEO Kathleen Rawson said last week that it is currently doing everything it can to keep the area tidy thanks to the help of its ambassador program.
“If you’re on the Promenade, you’ve seen them in their bright teal T-shirts. They act as the eyes and ears of downtown and certainly for the police department,” Rawson said. “We are constantly interfacing with businesses to help address issues related to homelessness or helping property owners register their property for things like no-trespass authorizations.”
DTSM Inc. also continues to work with city partners in the Health and Human Services Department and the Santa Monica Police Department to help homeless and mentally ill individuals find resources and, at the same time, deter anti-social and criminal behavior.
“These teams consistently connect with people experiencing homelessness, even during the pandemic, which every Los Angeles County resident understands as having only made our regional homelessness crisis all the more severe,” City Spokeswoman Constance Farrell in a statement that mentioned SMPD officials conduct early morning checks in the public parking garages and a scheduled City Council meeting on February 23 that will include a study session on homelessness.
“As we look to that Council session, City staff appreciate community members and property owners drawing attention to areas of concern, so that we can enhance efforts to address those concerns,” Farrell added.
Alle said he has alerted leaders to no avail.
After speaking to several members of SMPD’s Homeless Outreach unit while he was out taking pictures of the situation one day, they indicated there are many restrictions on how they interact with the homeless and they can only react if all of the elevators and dumpster rooms are locked at night, Alle said. “And I’ve asked Kathleen and (Interim City Manager Lane Dilg) to walk the Promenade with me… but they don’t want to. I said, ‘You know, you’ve got tremendous power. You closed Palisades Park back in the summer; you’ve closed the pier on the weekends; you have a mandate for facial coverings — surely you can close the elevators overnight.’ Because that’ll go a long way to eliminating the problem.”
Officials said they are limited in their ability to have direct contact with Alle due to his ongoing lawsuit. However, DTSM Inc., has also advocated many times over the years to close the elevators and bin rooms and replace trash bins with locked compactors, Rawson said, but no action has been taken.
“We’ll take on as much as we can but that stops short of enforcement. We don’t have an enforcement capacity at all; that’s not how we’re set up… The police have enforcement capabilities but their capabilities are substantially diminished in COVID,” Rawson said, noting how minor infractions no longer warrant an arrest because jails are not holding anybody — and shelters are at capacity so there’s little alternative for those without housing to go.
“I will contend that we are doing absolutely everything that we can to make sure that we are addressing problem areas quickly and doing everything within our capacity,” Rawson said.
However, Santa Monica owns the parking structures and manages the parking garages. And since it is a public space, the enforcement of law falls on the Santa Monica Police Department, which said people sleeping in the elevators is not a new phenomenon but COVID has worsened the crisis.
“The problem of the homeless sleeping in the elevators is typically a cyclical problem,” Lt. Rudy Flores said. “During the winter season and during cold weather, they move over from the beach, and they start to sleep in the elevators. I think there was talk about potentially closing them off but, unfortunately, the city cannot because residents and merchants have to be able to use the elevators during late night hours. And it touches on ADA rights so the elevators have to stay open.”
Alle feels it’s pointless to steam-clean the rails and streets because what’s left behind by the individuals in the tents is worse.
“How can we as owners and brokers attract good tenants and entice shoppers and walkers who see and smell these conditions as they come to the Promenade and other events, including the Farmers Market?” Alle asked. “This is such a basic day-to-day management issue that has gotten way out of hand. I can send you worse pictures of people having sex in the elevators, and in the parking lot. I sent those (Wednesday) and there was no response.”
This article has been corrected to reflect John Alle’s proper name.