Santa Monica Residents Reach Breaking Point
Santa Monica Residents Reach Breaking Point

By Rudy Blalock

Santa Monica, an iconic California beach town destination attracting millions of visitors yearly, is facing a crisis, according to locals, with rising homeless and crime interfering with people’s safety, threatening the survival of businesses, and tarnishing the city’s reputation.

One passerby at Pacific Palisades Park, which stretches down the city’s coastline and crosses in front of the Santa Monica Pier, told The Epoch Times that as an elderly woman, she’s constantly on the lookout for what she called crazed homeless people during her daily walks through the park.

A man from nearby Beverly Hills, who was painting with watercolors, told The Epoch Times he often enjoyed spending time in the area for his hobby, but since homelessness has risen, he no longer comes as frequently.

Homelessness has all but taken over the city, according to some.

The trend has dramatically changed the city, especially in the last decade or so, according to one local employee.

America Davila, a long-time employee at Bruno’s Italian Restaurant, located near the Santa Monica Pier, said she recently saw a homeless man, unprovoked, take a stick and break the windows of a car, whose driver was simply trying to park.

“He was just hitting random cars,” she told The Epoch Times.

Ms. Davila said homelessness has risen since the pandemic, but first became noticeable when the metro was connected to Los Angeles. That was in 2016.

She said she misses the old Santa Monica.

“It was more calm, warm, and safe. Very Pacific, very friendly. I really liked that, I miss that time,” she said.

According to the city’s 2023 homeless count, there were 926 homeless people in Santa Monica in May, an increase of 15 percent from the year prior.

Based on the city’s size, Santa Monica has more homelessness per square mile than Los Angeles—which recorded over 46,000 homeless in 2023—averaging about 110 per square mile, compared to the city of Los Angeles’s 99.

Serious crimes in the city such as assault, robbery, and burglary also rose by 5 percent in the first eight months of 2023 over the same time period in 2022. Less serious crimes mainly involving property and misdemeanors increased by 10 percent over 2022.

Growing concerns over public safety have led some local business owners and commercial retail tenants to declare the city unsafe, forming an alliance to address the issue.

“Our Santa Monica members have reached a breaking point as they face a barrage of crime and homelessness issues,” said Jot Condie, California Restaurant Association President and CEO in a recent announcement announcing the coalition of its members, those in the hotel industry, and other leaders in the community. “The safety of their guests and team members is at risk every day that the city doesn’t do more to turn things around.”

The group, called Hospitality Santa Monica, says they are seeking to reverse what they say are failed city policies.

The new coalition joins the Santa Monica Coalition, a group of over 5,000 retail tenants and property owners formed last year to raise awareness of such issues.

A homeless individual sleeps on the beach in Santa Monica, Calif., on Dec. 8, 2023. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)
A homeless man in Santa Monica, Calif., on June 2, 2023. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

Because of the city’s uptick in crime, some local businesses have taken on additional security measures, adding to their already high operational costs.

“Due to the lack of action in ensuring safe and clean streets, we’ve had to allocate additional labor to secure the hotel perimeter. This is essential for the protection of both our team members and guests,” Diego Ruiz de Perras, the general manager of Hotel Oceana, located on Ocean Avenue overlooking the Pacific, said in the November announcement.

Homeless people sleeping in an alley behind the hotel must be regularly cleared out, and this creates a safety concern for guests, he said.

Some local restaurant owners, such as the CEO of Global Dining Inc.—which operates restaurants including 1212 Santa Monica on the Third Street Promenade, an outdoor shopping and dining area—said the movement aims to “affect positive change through better policies” and hopes to lower costs to business owners to help them thrive.

“We aren’t standing by because we believe in Santa Monica,” said CEO Lucian Tudor, in the announcement.

A manager at Gyu-Kaku Japanese BBQ, located on Arizona Avenue, told The Epoch Times that it’s become common to see homeless people sleeping on street corners or roaming the streets on drugs.

One time, he said, a woman entered the restaurant and helped herself to the kitchen before he had to guide her out.

“A random person off the street has walked in the restaurant, walked past the host desk, walked in the kitchen and just started cooking. My whole staff just got out of the way because there’s knives and things in there,” said Blake Gordon, one of the restaurant’s managers.

Beachgoers in Santa Monica, Calif., on Dec. 8, 2023. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)
A homeless man looks for food in a trash can in Santa Monica, Calif., on Dec. 8, 2023. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

County-Funded Syringe Exchange Program

Both coalitions have asked city leaders to address public safety, with some putting blame on a Los Angeles County-operated program that contracts with a local health clinic and regularly distributes syringes in and near the city’s parks.

“It’s the only open-air needle distribution in the country. And interestingly, Governor Newsom voted against this same issue,” saying he felt it brings unintended consequences, said John Alle, co-founder of the Santa Monica Coalition, in an episode of EpochTV’s “California Insider” earlier this year.

During the same interview, he said locals are feeling the effects of the city’s soft stance on homelessness and limited police authority, with drug use in plain sight and panhandlers sleeping near popular attractions in the city.

“Residents are seeing it for themselves, homeless in the alleys. They’re seeing dumpster fires, individuals defecating, shooting up heroin [and] crystal meth. Our city workers are being attacked, stabbed. Safety’s an issue, we hear all the time,” he said.

Several stabbings this year have received national headlines.

In March, a city worker was stabbed at Palisades Park—which runs adjacent to the beach— after attempting to wake a sleeping homeless man, according to local media reports.

In June, a homeless man accused of grabbing a woman’s breasts stabbed a man who attempted to intervene. And in July, a homeless man was arrested for the alleged murder of another homeless man on the Santa Monica Boardwalk.

Community leaders have also been victims.

Mr. Alle was attacked in September while filming a homeless man sleeping on the ground in Santa Monica, leaving his jaw broken in two places and eventually undergoing brain surgery due to his injuries. Santa Monica City Councilman Phil Brock also got into a scuffle with a homeless man in July after asking him to pick up his trash.

Mr. Alle told The Epoch Times members of his coalition are thrilled to see restaurants and others in the hospitality industry in the area joining them.

“We are so pleased many of our downtown restaurants are finally stepping up to help us restore safety on the streets in Santa Monica,” he said.

The county’s health department works with the Venice Family Clinic, a community health center with several locations in the Los Angeles area, to distribute medical supplies, including needles, at three Santa Monica parks.

City officials sent a letter to the Los Angeles Board of Supervisors in September 2022 asking for the program to be halted in and near parks, noting 70 percent of its residents are renters and rely on parks for open space. They said they felt the program doesn’t align with the city’s goal of providing safe access to “healthy open spaces.”

The city asked for the program to be moved, preferably inside a nearby county-owned facility that offers substance abuse and mental health services, but they were denied.

Few residents knew about the program, according to Mr. Alle, and the Santa Monica City Council.

A Venice Family Clinic van is seen in a park in Santa Monica, California. The organization operates the needle distribution program in the city. (Courtesy of John Alle)
A homeless man in Santa Monica, Calif., on June 2, 2023. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

“There was never any discussion. We never really talked about it in city council meetings. It’s never been agendized, so it was kind of a shocker for me to just hear that that was going on,” City Councilman Oscar de la Torre told The Epoch Times in an interview last June.

According to the county’s health department, the clinic distributes approximately 100 syringes to 30 to 40 people each month, while disposing of dirty needles.

It also refers those interested in substance use treatment services and refers individuals for free HIV or hepatitis C testing.

“The Santa Monica services continue to serve vulnerable people in need of support and services,” a spokesperson told The Epoch Times in a recent email.

But since March, more than 16,000 Santa Monica residents have, at the urging of a petition by Mr. Alle’s organization, sent letters to the city asking for the needle distribution program once again to be moved indoors and that it be conducted under medical supervision.

And last summer, over a dozen Santa Monica residents pleaded for the city’s help during a city council meeting, citing concerns over an increase in crime and homelessness.

Some said they have become fearful to walk the streets.

Residents, Business Owners Ask City Council for Help

John Farzam, co-owner of the Shore Hotel—located on Pacific Coast Highway near the Santa Monica Pier—told councilors during a June council meeting that hotel owners are losing reservations because of the city’s growing homelessness problem.

“I’m here … to plead for your help in addressing what’s become an untenable situation of homelessness, crime, harassment, and filthy conditions on Ocean Avenue and Palisades Park,” he said during the meeting.

He read a note from a guest who recently said they wouldn’t be returning because of such issues.

“This city has handed itself over to homelessness. Businesses like yours should have taken a stand a long time ago. Your hotel and any other hotel here is no longer safe for families,” he read.

Mr. Farzam gained the attention of former Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva, who posted a short clip of the comment on social media and called out the city for not addressing the issue.

“How Santa Monica, California is destroying their community: By following the lead of the City of Los Angeles and the County of Los Angeles—a really bad idea,” Villanueva wrote in a post on Twitter, now X, which has been viewed over 30,000 times.

One homeowner said his wife and dog were spit on by a homeless man during a walk last summer. He told the council to stop focusing on issues like banning plastic straws or increasing bike lanes until public safety is addressed.

A homeless individual in Santa Monica., Calif., on Nov. 27, 2023. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Time)
A homeless man in Santa Monica, Calif., on Dec. 8, 2023. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

“The Promenade, the Library, they’ve turned into absolute hell holes. … Stop coddling homeless vagrants and the mentally ill. It’s not fair to people who pay taxes,” he said.

A mother of three teenagers said during the meeting the city is preventing her children’s growth and independence, since, she said, they feel they can’t safely walk the streets anymore.

While taking her sons to school, a homeless woman near the intersection of Fourth Street and Olympic Boulevard started “pounding on my car violently,” she said, and then the woman started taking off her clothes.

Later that day her son saw “two homeless people defecating,” she said.

“You are stifling the development of the children of this city. … The idea of going to the public library is not even something we entertain anymore,” she said.

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