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City Council Turns a Blind Eye on Crime and Homelessness

By Jon Neeter

Two years ago, I wrote on these pages that Santa Monica was at a breaking point when it came to crime and safety ("OPINION -- Will The City Council Get Serious About Crime?" November 5, 2018).

Now, after months of watching our City Council drag its feet on these same concerns, I can see what we faced in 2018 was only the beginning.

I’ve been a resident and owner of the Santa Monica Tennis Center on Wilshire Boulevard for over a decade. In that time, I’ve seen a rise in crime and homelessness drive people away from our public spaces.

Take Reed Park, where incidents of violence and public indecency mean parents no longer felt safe letting their kids take tennis lessons on the public courts.

The coronavirus pandemic has only exacerbated these safety concerns. On top of massive business closures and a devastating drop in tourism, our city faced terrible looting and vandalism this year.

There were reports of at least nine different fires and hundreds of businesses were ransacked, leaving glass and garbage all over our streets. 400 people were arrested for crimes including burglary and assault with a deadly weapon.

Former top Santa Monica Police Department officials described the police response as “unprepared” and “understaffed” ("PART I -- Santa Monica Police Could Have Prevented Looting Spree, Former Top Officials Say," June 10, 2020).

I was forced to board up my own business, with no idea of when things might get better. Months later, it still seems like there’s no end in sight.

Just this weekend, a stabbing took place on the Pier leaving three people wounded. Last month, an armed bank robbery took place in broad daylight. Several other attempted robberies and subsequent manhunts have occurred since the summer.

We’re told crime is down, but the statistics don't reflect the everyday experience lived by Santa Monica residents. It’s no wonder a recent poll of residents found that more than half feel less safe than they did just two years ago ("Poll Shows Lack of Support for Council Incumbents, But Most Voters Undecided," October 2, 2020).

That’s saying a lot, considering in 2018, data from the Federal Bureau of Investigation found crime rates in Santa Monica were 131 percent higher than the national average. Another 40 percent said the City Council’s performance on homelessness was “poor,” according to the poll.

This year alone, there’s been five public suicides committed in Santa Monica, mostly by someone that was homeless ("Man Commits Suicide at Santa Monica Place," September 16, 2020).

In January 2020, it was reported that our city had over 900 homeless individuals. But this isn’t the norm for beach cities in our area. In 2019, Manhattan Beach reported just 19 homeless individuals. Hermosa Beach reported just 25 people that same year.

If you ask our current Councilmembers how things are going, they paint a very different picture. In a recent candidate questionnaire sent by The Lookout, all four Councilmembers running for reelection said they felt safe in our city. They also agreed on the fact that the City was doing a good job addressing homelessness.

Clearly, there's a disconnect; where the Council sees progress, residents see officials that are too busy passing deals with special interests to focus on the mounting issues of crime and homelessness.

But if we want our city to recover successfully from the pandemic, safety must be our number one priority. We can’t afford leaders who are willing to turn a blind eye to residents' concerns.

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