Santa Monica Is No Longer Safe: Commercial Property Owner

Santa Monica Is No Longer Safe: Commercial Property Owner
Rudy BlalockSiyamak Khorrami

Rudy Blalock & Siyamak Khorrami

7/27/2023

Updated: 12/30/2023

Santa Monica is a small city with a big name and a growing problem.
According to the 2020 U.S. census, the beachside tourist destination has a little over 90,000 residents squeezed into a tad over 8 square miles. Last year, more than 5 million tourists visited from all over the world, according to Santa Monica Travel and Tourism, which promotes the city as a travel destination.
But with homelessness and crime on the rise, some say that may change, as businesses are leaving and tourists aren’t visiting.
A banner covers part of the display in front of a popular shopping area of Santa Monica, Calif., on Jan. 19, 2023. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

A banner covers part of the display in front of a popular shopping area of Santa Monica, Calif., on Jan. 19, 2023. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

With public safety a growing issue, a resident who manages more than 700,000 square feet of commercial space in Los Angeles County says his Santa Monica properties are becoming harder to lease.
“I saw that Santa Monica was underperforming,“ Santa Monica resident and real estate asset manager John Alle told EpochTV’s ”California Insider“ in a recent episode. ”Usually, that’s a sign that something’s going wrong with the social economic fabric of the city,”
Mr. Alle also is co-founder of the Santa Monica Coalition, a group of more than 5,000 Santa Monica commercial tenants, residents, and property owners who have been vocal about their increasing concerns regarding public safety.
The coalition hung a banner in December 2022 on Mr. Alle’s then-temporarily vacant storefront on Third Street Promenade—an outdoor dining and shopping area—that reads: “Santa Monica is not safe—crime, depravity, outdoor mental asylum.”
The storefront was vacated again in February, when the most recent tenant asked for their money back in less than a week because of safety concerns and homeless urinating on the property’s windows during the day, Mr. Alle said.
Once vacated, he said, break-ins were occurring often, so he boarded it up.
“My windows were being smashed every 60 days,” he said.
Los Angeles city workers clear trash areas near Santa Monica, Calif., on June 8, 2021. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

Los Angeles city workers clear trash areas near Santa Monica, Calif., on June 8, 2021. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

Locals are feeling the effects of Santa Monica’s soft stance on homelessness and limited police authority, with drug use in plain sight and panhandlers sleeping near all the popular attractions in the city, he said.
“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.
The 2023 homeless count held in January recorded 926 people in Santa Monica experiencing homelessness. That’s just over 2 percent of Los Angeles’s current homeless population of 46,000.
However, based on the city’s size, Santa Monica has more homelessness per square mile—averaging about 110, compared to the city of Los Angeles’s 99.
A county-funded and operated needle distribution program may be partly fueling the increase, according to Mr. Alle, which he said has been operating quietly since 2019 inside city parks.
The program was also available in a 7-Eleven parking lot and on the promenade, but was halted at those locations after complaints by residents and business owners.
“It’s the only open-air needle distribution in the country. And interestingly, Governor Newsom voted against this [same issue],“ Mr. Alle said during the episode. ”He did not want [such] publicly funded for quote-unquote unintended consequences.”
In Aug. 2022, Gov. Gavin Newsom vetoed Senate Bill 57 which would have allowed so-called safe injection sites—where drug users could openly use drugs with social workers on standby to treat overdoses—and other harm-reduction programs to open and receive state funds in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Oakland.
A homeless man in Santa Monica, Calif., on June 2, 2023. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

A homeless man in Santa Monica, Calif., on June 2, 2023. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

In Santa Monica, the “overdose prevention program”—which is overseen by the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health’s Division of Substance Abuse Prevention and Control—currently distributes syringes, first aid kits, opioid overdose reversal medication, and hygiene kits every Friday at three city parks, a spokesperson for the department said in an email to The Epoch Times last month.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, nearly 72 percent of Santa Monica residents live in apartments, which Mr. Alle mentioned as a key reason why the parks are so important in the recent “California Insider” episode.
“We want it out of the parks. The parks belong to the people ... those are backyards for the residents,” Mr. Alle said of the program.
The coalition’s banner was revised in May to include a QR code, asking residents to sign a petition to move the needle distribution program out of the city’s parks. Since it was initiated in March, more than 13,000 signatories have requested city officials to “force” the county to move the program indoors.
“Nobody’s being prosecuted for the open use of drugs, on our sidewalks and in our parks. I could take you into any park now or show you videos and there'd be someone lighting up right now or doing a drug deal,” he said.
Santa Monica city council members claim they did not know about the program until Mr. Alle began pressing the issue last year during council meetings.
“There was never any discussion. We never really talked about it in City Council meetings,“ City Councilman Oscar de la Torre told The Epoch Times in an interview last month. ”It’s never been agendized, so it was kind of a shocker for me to just hear that that was going on.”
According to Mr. Alle, about half of the properties on the promenade are now vacant, as the growing homeless issue has made it difficult for business owners in the once-thriving shopping area to find employees, forcing some to shut down.
The recently closed Wetzels Pretzels of Santa Monica, Calif., on June 2, 2023. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

The recently closed Wetzels Pretzels of Santa Monica, Calif., on June 2, 2023. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

He said after talking with some property owners on the promenade, he learned some businesses are shoplifted as often as every hour. But crime statistics aren’t rising since thieves escape before police arrive and now most businesses don’t even call authorities, he said.
Some hotel owners say they are experiencing a decline in business because of the issue.
“The general managers tell us that their reservations for three to five days made in advance are being cut short and canceled once the tourists come, because they don’t feel safe,” Mr. Alle said.
John Farzam, co-owner of the Shore Hotel—located on Pacific Coast Highway near the Santa Monica Pier—told officials at a June 13 City Council meeting that hotel owners’ losses are stacking up because of the city’s growing homelessness problem.
“I’m here this evening on behalf of several large hotel operators in Santa Monica 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.
Mr. Alle said for things to change, it needs to begin with leadership from the City Council.
“Everyone’s feeling it. It’s a matter of will from the city. The city leaders need to address this with more police. They need to take away from some of the [city’s] other funding,” he said.
City funds have gone towards the hiring of unarmed public safety ambassadors that patrol on bikes, Segways, and on foot, but without being armed they’re not well equipped to handle threats, he added.
Business owners also have plans to hire private security, he said, but they will also be unarmed.
“I can’t tell you how many guns I’ve seen with homeless, and knives. But if the guards can’t carry even mace for their own protection, and the city employees can’t, they’re in danger,” he said.
A family uses a playground near a homeless man in Santa Monica, Calif., on June 2, 2023. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

A family uses a playground near a homeless man in Santa Monica, Calif., on June 2, 2023. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

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Rudy Blalock

Rudy Blalock

Author

Rudy Blalock is a Southern California-based daily news reporter for The Epoch Times. Originally from Michigan, he moved to California in 2017, and the sunshine and ocean have kept him here since. In his free time, he may be found underwater scuba diving, on top of a mountain hiking or snowboarding—or at home meditating, which helps fuel his active lifestyle.

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Siyamak Khorrami

Siyamak Khorrami

Author

Siyamak Khorrami has been the general manager and chief editor of the Southern California edition of The Epoch Times since 2017. He is also the host of the “California Insider” show, which showcases leaders and professionals across the state with inside information about trending topics and critical issues in California.

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