Two years ago I was invited for lunch in Manhattan Beach with a movie producer who had optioned one of my screenplays. It was a wonderfully sunny day and the restaurant, The Kettle, was also wonderful as we discussed movies, politics and baseball, though not necessarily in that order.
Streams of mostly young people, walked by on their way to the beach or to local shops. Manhattan Beach felt like the perfect quaint beach town. But I was also sad because I used to live in a quaint beach town, Santa Monica. The people walking by weren’t worried they might get stabbed by a mentally ill homeless person or have their car’s catalytic converter stolen.
At the end of that wonderful afternoon, just as I re-entered Santa Monica’s border on my way home it was if it were a perfectly timed cue in a dystopian movie. Cutting in front of me was a 20-something man hurriedly riding his bike as he deftly guided another bike by firmly holding the seat, all the while glancing nervously over his shoulder. Trust me, the dude had just stolen that second bike.
In the past five years I’ve had three bikes ripped off, the last in broad daylight in front of UCLA-Santa Monica Hospital on 15th As I sadly examined what was left of the lock, I saw a cop approaching so I flagged him down. He listened patiently to my tale of woe but then jokingly suggested I walk to Reed Park where thieves openly reassemble stolen bikes to see if maybe I could buy it back. I wasn’t in the mood to laugh. (Which I hope I haven’t done to you as you read this.)
Actually I’m writing this subject because of “mad as hell” emails in recent months from readers and posts on Nextdoor. Santa Monica is turning into a paradise lost combination of “Clockwork Orange,” “Zombie Apocalypse” and “Network.”
In 1974 I moved to Santa Monica. Downtown the businesses included a porn movie house and pawn shops. And on Main Street in Ocean Park where I live the stores’ doorways often had “winos” sleeping if off. As the street gentrified suddenly we noticed “bag ladies,” tragically homeless women pushing shopping carts seemingly filled with their worldly belongings. It wasn’t unusual to see homeless men in volatile arguments with ghosts from their past. But, as opposed to now, they were rarely violent.
However, in 1981, President Reagan emptied the psychiatric hospitals into “community” clinics. It saved beaucoup dollars and restored freedom to poor souls held against their will. Unfortunately most of the deinstitutionalized were severely mentally ill with schizophrenia. That brings me to what’s going on these days, which sends chills up my spine. (And might explain any typos.)
Let’s start with the Metro, or as some call it, “The Crime Train.” Like a horror movie, every night, at midnight the Metro makes its last stop dropping off poor souls who will add to our “unhoused” population which already is up 15% from last year. Meanwhile, the Promenade is 35% vacant while foreign tourism is almost non-existent. The message has spread world wide, as a recent sign outside an empty storefront read, “Santa Monica is NOT safe!”
Catalytic converter thefts are not abating as the “shields” placed underneath them have proved a minor inconvenience to crooks. If you notice city lights being dark it’s likely thieves have stolen the copper wiring to sell on the black market. While crime is up 14%, shoplifters are not being prosecuted unless over $953 worth of goods are stolen. And illegal drug usage seems at an all-time high (no pun intended) with potentially deadly meth, fentanyl and horse tranquilizer known as “tranq” which literally “eats” human skin. Sad is an understatement.
This is so grim if there was a comedy commission they might yank my “Laughing Matters” banner. But thankfully, dear reader, there are some bright spots. In the last 24 months the city has hired 45 new police officers and the City Council is working with L.A. County, and the Metro, determined to turn things around. Last week Council Member Phil Brock went to seven new business openings. “I was born here and I will die here” he said, to which I joked, “But not before the council turns things around, right?”
This brings me to the City Council meeting Tuesday, the 13th. I’m hoping that the 100+ people who have sent me “mad as hell” emails and posted on “Next Door” will show up at 5:30 p.m. It’s only an hour and could be powerful for the Council to hear our concerns and expectations.
To satisfy my “quaint beach town” jonesin’ I’ll continue to visit Manhattan Beach. I just hope my producer friend keeps picking up the check.
Tuesday, June 13, the City Council will hold a meeting open to the public to speak at 5:30 p.m. The City Hall is located at 1685 Main St.
Jack is at: email@example.com.