Private property and business owners who are frustrated with the City’s response to homelessness and crime, have floated the idea of hiring the Sheriff’s Department to act as supplemental security in the Promenade area.
L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva toured Downtown on July 6 with a group of these owners offering suggestions on actions they could take to address issues around crime, homelessness, and trash.
According to property owner John Alle, one of these suggestions was to hire Sheriff’s deputies to patrol select areas of Downtown and augment the security efforts of the Santa Monica Police Department.
Alle, who is suing the City over maintenance of the Promenade, has been complaining for months about the number of unhoused individuals who camp in the elevators, stairways, and cars within Downtown parking lots.
“We’ve gone about 14 to 20 months of lawlessness in the garages at night, and even during the day, people living in their cars, openly having sex on the top levels of the garage,” said Alle. “The front door to the Promenade looks just terrible and that’s what people have to enter, and they’re not going to enter it. That’s why I think, in part, the Promenade is suffering right now.”
Alle believes that the state of the garages and recent crime incidents involving unhoused individuals are inhibiting the economic recovery of Promenade businesses.
“The two elevators in Garage 5 closest to the Promenade and many stairwells are scattered with puddles of human urine and mushy turds, or persons blocking these areas asleep, high or in need of their meds,” said Alle in a recent email to City officials.
City officials were not informed of Villanueva’s visit in advance and said they were surprised to learn about his tour.
“From what I understand, this was at the request of a realtor who is suing our City for conditions in our downtown, particularly in our parking garages, arising during the pandemic,” said Mayor Sue Himmelrich, speaking on behalf of the City and SMPD. “The Sheriff did not tell the City he was coming. He did not invite me, as Mayor of the City, nor our City Manager or any representative of our police department, on his tour, nor did he inform us of its purpose, its observations, or its conclusions.”
Alle said that he and his fellow Downtown stakeholders, many of whom are part of the Santa Monica Bayside Owners Association, are interested in having Downtown Santa Monica Inc., replace their unarmed Downtown Ambassadors with contracted Sheriff’s deputies.
“We would want to work with the City and get them behind us, but if the City is not going to work with us, we’re going to do it on our own,” said Alle, adding that his group of stakeholders would be willing to pay for the deputies themselves.
The legalities of private individuals hiring sheriff deputies or of the deputies intervening in Santa Monica in general is unclear.
Villanueva recently asserted the Sheriff’s authority to operate inside a municipality when he threatened to have deputies patrol and make arrests in Venice in response to the Boardwalk’s homeless crisis.
His Homeless Outreach and Service Team has been operating on the Boardwalk connecting unhoused individuals to services for the past month. However, they have yet to take any enforcement measures or make any arrests of unhoused individuals.
Himmelrich said the City of Santa Monica is aware of the issues with homelessness in the Downtown parking lots. In a recent Council meeting council members announced that addressing homelessness was the City’s number one priority.
One of the key parts of the City’s longstanding efforts to address homelessness is building more permanent supportive housing. There is a project underway to demolish Downtown Parking Structure 3 and convert it into affordable and supportive housing although that effort is also opposed by some Downtown stakeholders.
Himmelrich said that the City has decades of experience collaborating with surrounding partner agencies to address homelessness.
“I would love to show Sheriff Villanueva how we in Santa Monica have continued to collaborate to do so,” said Himmelrich. “If Sheriff Villanueva would like to take a real tour of Santa Monica with me, my fellow council members, our city manager, and our police chief, to see how Santa Monica is emerging with pride and compassion from the pandemic, I welcome him.”