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Brock Calls for Get-Tough Approach to Promenade's Homeless Problem

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By Jorge Casuso

May 2, 2022 -- Councilmember Phil Brock on Sunday called for replacing Downtown "safety" ambassadors with security guards and providing round-the-clock police patrols to clean up the Promenade.

The call for action -- which includes placing the Promenade under the control of a public-private partnership -- came in a letter responding to Downtown activist landlord John Alle written "out of frustration." and copied to top Downtown and City officials.

For two years, Alle has been chronicling Downtown's growing crime and homeless problem in daily emails accompanied by photographs he sends to government officials, Downtown stakeholders and the local media.

"I'm tired of hearing from John Alle, but I'm more tired that we're not doing what we should be doing," Brock told The Lookout.

"We've failed for a long time," he said. "We've had this conversation for years in the City, and the solutions have become more distant."

In his letter Brock echoed the warnings of landlords and business owners who fear the area is reverting to the commercial wasteland the City transformed into a world-renowned walk street more than three decades ago.

They complain that City and Downtown officials have failed to veer from the status-quo as public parking structures turn into nighttime shelters for the homeless and half the Promenade's storefronts are shuttered.

"To be clear, we are in crisis in our treasured downtown," Brock wrote in his letter. "Studying the issue, discussing the problems, and ultimately choosing inaction over problem solving is a failed plan.

"It’s been time to act for a long time. The inaction has led to stagnation and to further decline," Brock wrote. "The one thing we can no longer be, is passive."

Brock's letter -- which echoes recommendations made by Alle and other Downtown property owners -- calls for "a dissolution" of the current Downtown Santa Monica, Inc. (DTSM) board.

Too many Board members are out of touch and "unable to sufficiently tackle these urgent issues," he said. They need to be replaced with Downtown property and business owners who "have skin in the game."

Brock, who says he talks to stakeholders downtown "almost daily," would like to see the Promenade removed from the public streets index, making it easier to enforce tresspassing laws.

"We can close it overnight for cleaning, for safety, and to control the seemingly uncontrollable problems in downtown," he wrote.

The actions outlined in Brock's letter focus on cracking down on those who violate existing laws, which he says has been a successful approach to clearing the Pier of illegal vendors.

They include replacing the safety ambassador team with "a high quality, armed, private security force and (placing) both armed and unarmed details of the SMPD" in the Downtown.

Brock's plan also calls for boosting the City's $5 million homeless outreach teams ("Santa Monica Spends Some $5 Million a Year in Homeless Outreach, Report Says," January 20, 2022).

"Having homeless outreach and security coverage on a 18 hour a day coverage plan is insufficient when the problems of our downtown are 24 hour a day issues," Brock wrote.

Brock's proposals would signal a marked shift in how the City handles Santa Monica's longstanding homeless problem and hearkens back to a similar approach taken in 1994 ("It's Deja Vu for Santa Monica's Homeless Policies," April 25, 2022).

That's when the Council, bolstered by two new members elected to tackle homelessness and crime, scrapped the permissive policies that had turned City parks into campgrounds.

In a groundbreaking vote forced by the threat of a voter referendum, the Council approved a 100-person shelter that paved the way for cracking down on those who slept in the parks.

Brock headed a "Change" slate with Councilmembers Oscar de la Torre and Christine Parra in November 2020 that also focused on tackling crime and homelessness, and he believes he has let down his constituents.

"I've been trying to get along," Brock told The Lookout. "That's not working. I want the City to take notice. This discussion must occur on a rapid basis."

If recent meetings are any indication, support for a new wave of crackdowns is growing. Brock noted that some 80 people showed up at a Santa Monica home to discuss crime and homelessness with police last month.

And more than 200 showed up for a community meeting at the Santa Monica Bay Women's Club with LA County Sheriff Alex Villanueva, where picture like those emailed by Alle were posted on the walls.

"As much as many feel that John Alle is now the city’s 'Chicken Little,' his pictures don’t lie," Brock concluded. "Everything that he has said is rooted in deep frustration and bitter truth.

"Let’s solve these problems. They are not intractable."

Editor's note: A previous version of this article stated that Brock's proposals include privatizing the Promenade. They include removing the Promenade from the public streets index and placing the street under the control of a public/private partnership.

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