I was happy to read this piece (https://smdp.com/2023/09/11/santa-monica-set-to-establish-itself-on-the-worlds-sporting-stage) about our city’s preparations for the Olympics, World Cup, and (possibly) Rugby. While the logistical plans are daunting, the benefits are obvious. This is a chance to revitalize our brand that has been destroyed by tolerating transient addicts and the mentally ill homeless, riots, and the hollowing out of our crown jewel promenade. While I hope it doesn’t take us five years, we will all need to work hard to restore the sparkle and shine to our downtown, preparing it for the world stage, which will have economic and PR benefits for years to come.
It’s key that we start now to completely revitalize downtown so residents and tourists have plenty of restaurants, bars, activities and shopping opportunities in clean, safe and walkable streets by 2028. You’ve made some good decisions toward that end, (and it’s key to avoid some bad ones). Here are some random thoughts:
- Speeding up the restaurant and liquor licensing process for restaurants and bars was a . I was speaking to the owners of the new PickleBall court opening on the promenade and they said it was a breeze. We need to develop a reputation as a city that is easy to work with to start new businesses.
- Voting in private security to take up the slack and leaving more time for police to chase serious crime was a , and could be grow going forward. The “low-level” crimes that are committed by addicts to support their dug habit should be assiduously prosecuted. Sure, it’s now a revolving door, but we can make Santa Monica very uncomfortable for addicts by arresting them for doing hard drugs in public, running warrants, confiscating their drugs, etc.
- We should aim for Vision Zero in terms of the homeless, addicts, and the mentally ill on our streets. And I’m not talking about shunting them out of our city during the Olympics, which is a reprehensible clean-up sweep of an endemic problem. I’m talking about bearing down on it as a solvable issue within our city limits in time for the Olympics in 5 years. We might not get there, but that should be the vision, one that you are reminded of every time you leave Santa Monica and don’t encounter what residents deal with every day (we’re all the frog in boiling water!). I personally experience a form of cognitive dissonance when I go somewhere that doesn’t have a lurching, unstable human coming at me on the sidewalk. Like: “Oh, this is what’s normal!”
- A key component in succeeding in Vision Zero will be bringing our police force up to 280, which is what we need to address our growing city. They need to go after the embedded drug dealers and dry up the supply, which will make Santa Monica less desirable for transient drug tourists. Turn us into a hard target for criminals.
- Another component will be a close audit of what the city is getting for the enormous amount of money we are spending. It’s a failure. Time to rethink it from the ground up, including dismantling and outsourcing expensive programs that don’t work. We need to take a page from Malibu because, like them, we have a tourism industry to revive and protect.
- This means avoiding the mistake of putting “supportive housing” anywhere near downtown. Embedding 50 units on fourth street with “wraparound” services is such a bad idea it sounds like an Onion headline. For those of you who doubt it, I’m happy to introduce you to Brian, a local wrecking ball shouting racial expletives when he gets drunk, who was given an apartment in Step-up-on-second. Believe me, Brian still regularly visits areas in and adjacent to downtown, terrifying everybody he encounters. Let’s not shoot ourselves in the foot as we try to reboot.
- Commercials, longer PR videos packs, and advertising about Santa Monica, should be created and aired during the Olympics. Some of this will be done organically through the Olympic committee, but there’s lots we can do. Our PR and tourism budgets should be increased to start changing the perceptions of the International tourists that have abandoned us.
- Restore the Civic Center to be used for events that will draw musicians back to the city. Commerce follows art and I’m sure this small venue could be used to create way more ancillary revenue than it will cost to restore. I know we’re broke due the pedophile payouts, but we won’t always be, and selling our treasures now, to be replaced by another stack and pack, is short-sighted and foolish.
- The massive dog event on Main Street this past weekend was awesome. Everything is better with dogs! Events like this should continue to be courted. Santa Monica should be connoted with fun and not crime. With joy and not despair. It has to become a place where people can come and forget their problems, whether they are rich international tourists, or a family of immigrants coming out to use the beach and take their kids to the pier.
- Stop our building spree and take time for the already massive amounts in the pipeline to play out. You have an opportunity to do this by pausing the 507 unit building proposed that you are discussing tomorrow. Take a breath, and take a look at a map of what the city will look like once everything green-lit has been built.
If you want a vision of what we want to become, simply look back to what we were 10 years ago, and how we were viewed by residents and international and regional tourists. I’m not looking back in nostalgia, for change is inevitable. I’m looking back to remember something I’ve written about before, which is Vibe, something both tangible and intangible. We must protect our city’s vibe and personality so that we don’t become generic, so that we stay one of the special places in people’s memories when they visit . This affects development, architecture (please be beautiful, we will be living with you forever), activities, safety, cleanliness, events—everything about Santa Monica.
Work together (I know it’s tough), and simply focus on the ills and opportunities for our residents and visitors. Stop trying to solve regional, national issues, or culture war issues. Solve what is right in front of you as the council of Santa Monica, nothing more, nothing less. Let’s not waste an opportunity to get back on the list if the 10 most appealing beach communities in the world (where we once were). The lead up to the Olympics gives us all a fresh chance. Let’s seize it!
Arthur Jeon, Santa Monica