Main: The Spread on Main Street. Charles Andrews

MAIN STREET NEEDS REAL SOLUTIONS

Poor Main Street, for all its changes and growth and decline over the three and a half decades I’ve lived nearby, is in pretty bad shape now. But that was the case for a while, even before COVID lockdowns.

I love Main Street. It used to be a great place to stroll, to window shop or people watch, on a balmy beach day. Not too many years ago it was a cornucopia of diverse storefronts, from artists collectives to electric bikes, stationary to shoe repair, to shops whose merchandise you couldn’t describe, you just had to take friends there, and watch them get lost in delight like children. Great restaurants, small specialized eateries, more caffeine dispensers per block than just about anywhere. Many with charming outdoor seating areas, hidden out back or sometimes out front.

I don’t want to see anyone lose their business, that they have put so much time, money and heart into. Too many that I really liked and patronized on Main Street now sport empty insides and for lease signs on their forlorn windows. It’s sad, and disheartening. Something needs to be done, but what?

NOT THAT

The Main Street Closure, a four-weekend once-a-month “pilot program” ballyhooed to try to revitalize Main Street businesses, is a transparent sham. For what reason, we don’t know yet. It seems to be aimed to mostly benefit restaurants and bars, but that may not be the ultimate explanation either. The first one July 24-25, from what I could see and from what people told me, especially Main Street business owners and neighborhood residents, barely benefited those bars and restaurants, if at all, and sure did no favors for all the other businesses on Main Street, several of which reported less business than they should have, all factors considered.

A sham? I’ve got eyes and ears and a logical brain, and that’s all it takes. If it’s not a sham and a scam it’s such a failed effort that should be a scandal too. All this work, and $70,000 of our tax money from City Council, and when I visited last weekend it seemed busier than during the “Closure,” with more street energy. Well, there are three more weekends, this was just the wobbly start, let’s see how it goes.

Yeah, tight, just kidding. We don’t need three more weekends to prove this is not addressing the advertised intent, in any meaningful way. So why was it pushed so hard?

WHO PUSHED?

OPA, the Ocean Park neighborhood association that does not act like any other of our six neighborhood associations, and some think they should have long ago just come clean and merged with the Main Street Business Improvement Association.

Certainly Main Street is a major, valued element of Ocean Park, and of Santa Monica. We all want to see a healthy Main Street. But there are people and organizations who will take advantage of any desperate situation for their own agenda and greed, and when I see a situation that doesn’t make sense, that isn’t explained by the story being put out, cynical me starts to suspect something fishy.

If you are trying to revitalize all the businesses on Main Street, why did you take away almost all the street parking? (And BTW, how much meter revenue lost to the city does that add up to?) A few food and beverage businesses like Jameson’s and Chinois on Main may be destinations, but most of those other shop owners depend on strolling foot traffic, people who didn’t know those shops were there but peeked in the window and wandered in, perchance to buy. When you limit nearby parking — and no, the lots you cite will not substitute, people don’t want to walk four or five blocks to get to the place where they want to wander four or five blocks — you kill a lot of the foot traffic that is the lifeblood of those businesses.

NOT TO MENTION

That the “Closure” closed off three private lots with 70 spaces. 70. Not only does that really cut back on potential customers for most Main Street businesses, is it legal to seize someone’s property like that, even for a weekend? Wouldn’t permission and compensation be required?

Maybe not. I don’t see anyone in our city government worried about that issue when it comes to restaurant and bar tables and chairs on our sidewalks. (They didn’t have any problem giving that public property away to scooter and bike companies, either.) Aren’t those sidewalks public property? Didn’t you and I pay for them? For our use? What kind of fiscal management is that? If you are going to give public property to private for-profit companies, at least get something for it.

Our former Mayor Kevin McKeown as much as admitted it was a violation, a few months ago in an OPA zoom meeting, when he brushed aside, with great disdain, the suggestion that the city should enforce the law against Jameson’s, who has had their table settings on our public sidewalks for months now. (More important than the giveaway is the logjam it created there: you couldn’t walk down the sidewalk after you got to Jameson’s without being six inches on either side of an infectious gauntlet of their diners and drinkers, unmasked during the raging height of COVID infections.

McKeown’s response to this suggestion from a naive citizen? “Well, you see, you have to actually catch someone breaking an ordinance before you can do anything.” Which you could have done any day for the last year or so by simply sending a code enforcement officer over there any evening between 5:30 and midnight. Other City Council members also heard this complaint come up multiple times at those OPA zooms, but there’s Jameson’s, still at it, worse than ever. They certainly seem to get special treatment from our City government, to the detriment of nearby businesses and to residents, and I wonder why.

I received a plaintive email from an Ocean Park resident a couple of weeks ago, a lifelong resident of SM, in her 80s, who reported that she has always enjoyed taking part of her daily walk, with her walker, along Main Street, but now, with the scooters, bikes and other sidewalk obstructions, she is afraid to go there.

Just who is the Ocean Park Association working for? Not her.

Charles Andrews has lived in Santa Monica for 34 years and wouldn’t live anywhere else in the world. Really. Send love and/or rebuke to him at therealmrmusic@gmail.com