STOP!! - courtesy photo

DON’T GET TOO EXCITED

I’m not about to reveal to you here how we fix it all – because I have come to understand that there are deeply entrenched political roadblocks, so unnecessary and frustrating, to undo the mistakes of the past and make this again the city we all once loved – nor can I even give a complete list of all that needs to be fixed. This is a column, not a 10-pound tome. But we all have our own personal lists and priorities, and they can change from day to day. Moment to moment.

It’s just predawn as I write this, when the barely audible but calming, abiding white noise of the endless surf begins to mix seamlessly with the soft whoosh of a few cars growing into rush hour traffic. This tranquility is broken, punctuated by the shrieks of a tortured soul, somewhere blocks away, but now firmly on the edge of the consciousness of hundreds nearby.     

That unseen herald, that voice howling from a sidewalk or alley or small park, tells us at least two things: there is a person overwhelmed by their own demons who is literally crying out for help (or at least recognition that they exist), and so many of us must suffer the consequences of their plight. 

It can be much worse than loss of tranquility. How many stories have we heard of people innocently walking by who were confronted by such a mentally damaged person, felt threatened, or were even physically attacked. Those attacks have included shoves or punches that resulted in injury, or even life-threatening knife assaults. Someone was recently stabbed on our beach, at 4:30 a.m. shouldn’t any of us be free to stroll the beach without fear of assault? Or maybe, the beaches should be closed from midnight to dawn. They are in some communities. 

The person responsible for the knife attack was arrested, as they should have been, and it seemed to be out-of-towners with a dispute amongst themselves, not street people with mental issues. But all this adds to our fear of even taking a stroll in our town. How many of you carry pepper spray?

There are so many layers to our problem. Dealing with the armed and dangerous, and probably not mentally ill, is different than that guy screaming on Main Street. But he may have a knife, and wouldn’t the result be the same? How do we handle the folks who are a public nuisance, who need help, not a short stint in jail and then out again, no better off? Whose anti-social actions greatly degrade the quality of life for those of us who live here? Sadly, we now handle them all about the same.

“DEFUND THE POLICE”

Became the unfortunate tag line for those who have come to realize that we can go a long ways toward solving a lot of our problems, including police murder of innocent victims, by sending the right, properly trained experts to handle so many situations that now are met by armed police officers, not trained much to de-escalate situations that don’t have to become dangerous or even deadly.

City Council member Phil Brock told me that some progress is being made, that our local Salvation Army has a trained street team, with a case worker, ready to go out on such calls, but they need funding, and he hopes to get that from private sources. Brock also said L.A. County Department of Mental Health has funded a van with trained professionals on board for 24/7 response to mental health emergencies, and we have made space for them in old Fire Station One, but there are still some bureaucratic hurdles to overcome.

Here in Santa Monica, when you start asking, why can’t this be done? – it becomes an endless loop of reasons, excuses and finger-pointing. It’s the City Attorney, the District Attorney, the police chief, City Council, staff, the school board.. No money, no personnel, no time. And yet – other small cities, all around us, do a much better job at so many of these things, and so much faster. Santa Monica is known as the city where everything takes three times longer, twice as expensive, and the laws are not enforced. Such a reputation exacerbates our problems.

THE TIME FOR PATIENCE

And measured attempts at solutions are past, I feel. While there’s a lot a City Council can’t do, that’s also where the buck stops. They need to get creative, with a sense of urgency. We need to start demanding change that keeps our precious city from sliding into a garbage pit, because that’s where we’re headed. We elected a slate that said they would work for residents, not outside interests, and they have, but they are lacking. I know there is a tremendous learning curve to managing this city, and that those opposing such efforts are expert in their tactics, but I also think taking the gloves off and taking some chances is needed. We just came (mostly) through a terrible pandemic that should have taught us some lessons about the way we were doing things here, but we have mostly gone back to normal. And that normal was no good.

Those on the City Council who are the old guard, or aligned with them, need to go. We need seven Council members who will be working for us full steam, no compromise, no time to waste. What is Manhattan Beach doing right that we aren’t? Beverly Hills? Let’s steal from the best to make Santa Monica the best, again.

We pride ourselves on being a “progressive city.” We’re not. That’s baloney. A progressive city wouldn’t be building thousands of market rate units to get a pitiful handful of “affordable” homes. That’s no solution (except to the pocketbooks of developers, and the politicians they keep getting elected) and never was. You don’t solve the problems of the unsheltered by building a few half a million dollar tiny homes without offering the needed support services. You don’t address crime without hiring more officers and completely reassessing how they are assigned. You don’t improve our schools by overspending on hundreds of millions of dollars of new buildings, but not making sure we have the very best teachers, well taken care of.

Yes, solutions are difficult, but possible, but time is running out.

Charles Andrews has lived in Santa Monica for 33 years and wouldn’t live anywhere else in the world. Really. Send love and/or rebuke to him at  therealmrmusic@gmail.com