Dear Ms. Rosenthal:
I’ve been actively following the public conversation concerning Step Up On Second’s property purchase on Pearl Street across from SMC. The property would be a residence for seven young adults under treatment for their mental disabilities and one Step Up staff member.
It’s both enlightening and frightening to see, hear and read the fears expressed by my Sunset Park neighbors. As the Chair of the Santa Monica Disabilities Commission and a disability attorney, I am dismayed by many who are so vocal and emotional in opposing the project, who primarily cite a supposed danger to passerby school children. As a father and fellow Sunset Park resident, I certainly understand the fear, as nobody wants a neighbor who is perceived as dangerous. However, on a truly important social issue such as this – whether we as a community publicly oppose the right of another to reside here with us – I truly hope the community’s cooler heads prevail.
Having attended the recent contentious Friends of Sunset Park meeting, and reviewed Step Up’s materials regarding the Daniel’s Place project, I have seen no reliable evidence that those living on the property will be dangerous to anyone, particularly neighborhood children. In fact, our local school officials reportedly met with Step Up and to my knowledge do not oppose the project. The studies cited by the project’s opponents report that people with schizophrenia (one form of mental illness of potential Daniel’s Place residents) are marginally more likely to be violent than the general population. There are no hard numbers presented, nor any control factors discussed. As a result, this is very scary stuff to any prospective neighbor who reads it.
To the Daniel’s Place opponents, Step Up responds that the residents would be carefully screened, under medical and psychological treatment, would be supervised on a 24-hour basis by trained staff and would only be permitted to live there while working or in school. And while I’m sure there are plenty of articles and studies that could support either side of this debate, let me focus on just one that may help. From the abstract of a study published by American Behavioral Scientist in 2003:
A study of newspapers [in 1999] revealed that dangerousness is the most common theme of stories about mental illnesses. In contrast, stories of recovery or accomplishment were found to be rare. The ratio of negative to positive stories involving mental illness decreased between 1989 and 1999, but negative stories continued to far outnumber positive ones. (http://abs.sagepub.com/cgi/ content/abstract/46/12/1594)
To those who are frightened by the prospect of people with a mental illness living close by, please examine your initial reaction and ask what exactly is driving it. Is it based on reliable data that’s applicable to Step Up’s prospective residents, or is it based on the news stories, movies and television that we all grew up with and that has conditioned us to fear those with mental illness? As I think back to all the horror movies I’ve ever seen, I still sometimes have a visceral reaction to people with severe disfigurements or to those who approach me who are clearly mentally ill. It’s fear that hits me and I often react accordingly. It’s how I’ve been conditioned to react, and it’s never based on any actual threat of imminent harm.
Personally, I believe that Step Up is doing nothing less than helping to resolve Santa Monica’s infamous homeless problem. If there’s any danger posed by the Daniel’s Place residents, it would in all likelihood be danger to themselves, and that is hardly grounds for us as a community to tell them they can’t live in our neighborhood. Though we can’t guarantee that violence won’t ever happen, we also can’t guarantee that our kids will never be hit by a motorist on a cell phone failing to see a stop sign. Now that’s truly scary.
Christopher H. Knauf
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Can you help me understand why Herb Katz, Pam O’Connor & Co. are pushing for more condo development here in SM? Have they defended this position in speeches? From the polls I’ve seen, it’s pretty clear the residents of the city DO NOT want more multistory development and yet…Is McKeown the ONLY councilmember representing our interests on this?”
Have you covered this issue recently? If not, could you?
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With respect to the recent article in the Santa Monica Mirror regarding my tenure as mayor in Santa Monica, I wish to thank you for your effort to correctly characterize my own record. However, the article seriously mischaracterizes the record of SMRR and other SMRR-supported City Councilmembers who served with me at the time and since.
Specifically, the article says, “While other Councilmembers, including his SMRR colleagues, often voted for office projects, Zane voted his conscience rather than always siding with the SMRR viewpoint.”
This is correct with respect to my votes, but not correct with respect to SMRR or other SMRR councilmembers. In fact, SMRR has never supported any office or commercial development and most SMRR councilmembers have been quite tough on development.
Most development approved in the city over the past two and a half decades was approved during periods when SMRR did not have a majority on the council – primarily the period from 1984-88. During that time the one-million-square-foot Watergarden and Arboretum office park projects and several hotels were approved. In fact, during those four years, over 4 million square feet of development was approved.
Non-SMRR councilmembers, including current councilmember Herb Katz, and one SMRR councilmember, voted for both the Watergarden and Arboretum and all four million square feet.
I voted against both Watergarden and Arboretum and for about 1/4 of the total proposed. David Finkel, the other SMRR-supported councilmember at the time, also opposed Watergarden and Arboretum, and supported less than 1/20 of the total.
Subsequent SMRR councilmembers, especially current councilmembers Ken Genser and Kevin McKeown, have been notoriously tough on development. Perhaps that explains why the development community has always supported our opponents at election time.
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I am a member of the Housing Committee of Step up on Second and have been involved for the past three years in Daniel’s Place, Step Up’s affiliate for young adults suffering from mental illness. I write in response to the letters of Julia Nissley, Trent Thiston and Phil Harnage published in your September 21-27 issue and to other speeches made by opponents of Step Up’s project to operate a transitional housing facility on Pearl Street in Santa Monica for young adults in treatment for mental illness.
The stated ground for opposing the Step Up project is the bizarre proposition that having young adults recovering from mental illness living in a house that children walk back and forth in front of somehow creates an increased safety risk for those children. Since this argument is always put forth as relating to children, and not adolescents or adults, I can only assume that the argument is really a code word for an unspoken belief that mentally ill people are likely to be pedophiles – a belief so unfounded in reality that even the opponents of Step Up’s project cannot bring themselves to say it out loud. Moreover, the uncontested fact is that there is no evidence that mentally ill people in treatment are any more inclined toward violence than the population at large.
Most of the opposition to Step Up’s project appears to come from an incredibly mean-spirited group of people who vehemently heap abuse on the young people of Daniel’s Place. In point of fact, young adults recovering from mental illness must devote all of their resources to coping with an illness which they did not choose, instead of going to college, or finding work, or getting married, or having children or otherwise moving forward with “normal” lives. Step Up’s project on Pearl Street is an important opportunity to help Daniel’s Place members reclaim their life and their independence. These brave young people deserve our support and encouragement, not the hysterical, unfounded condemnation heaped on them by opponents of Step Up’s Pearl Street project.