It seems that our community divide is beginning to mirror that of our national government’s chasm. On one side, residents feel that our quaint little town is being destroyed (we were never that quaint) by the big business cabal, that of developers, city council members and city staff. On the other side there is a recent Mayor’s pictorial representation of residents as farmers with pitchforks in their hands ready to burn city hall and repel the developer invaders. Crime, homelessness, overcrowding and overdevelopment plague our town. The latest symbol of our communal woes is the arrival of the e-scooter, descending on our city like a swarm of locusts intent upon eating up our neighborhoods. As Rodney King famously asked, “can’t we all just get along?”
We have previously identified the city’s problems. I recently disputed the current Mayor and Mayor Pro-Tempore’s assertions of community success in this column. SMa.r.t. has raised issues of inadequate city planning for the past 4 1/2 years. We have talked about the impacts of global warming on our shoreline, the need for enhancing our system of public transportation, revamping the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium, and ensuring the well-being of our residents by adding more open space to our densely populated city. SMart has a distinct vision for our common home, and that includes proper planning and human-scaled buildings in our city. Not sky-blocking monstrosities.
It’s all quite simple. Our city’s calling card is its natural beauty, the vast, sandy beaches, the ocean breeze and our proximity to the Santa Monica Mountains. Its identity has never derived from its edifices. Therein lies the rub. Our natural beauty is the star of Santa Monica. Do we need towering buildings to secure our civic identity?
If we pride ourselves as a compassionate, liberal community, then can we justify one homeless human per one hundred residents? And, if we have always thought of ourselves as a safe community, how do we combat the new image of Santa Monica as a crime-ridden pot of gold on the edge of the Pacific?
We all see images and hear stories about crime in our neighborhoods, parks that are inhospitable and behavior that is unacceptable. There are constant disruptions by unruly humans in our movie theaters; our supermarkets have “incidents” each day, hypodermic needles are found on our beaches and in our parks, and residents of formerly peaceful neighborhoods live in fear of violent crime erupting on their streets. Sirens seem to have become our strange cry for help. In some mid-city neighborhoods, those sirens sing their plaintive verse every 10-15 minutes. The increase in crime is a crisis, and it must be reversed. We must have a frank discussion about homelessness and our obligations to our less fortunate humans as a community. Statistics show that Santa Monica supports 37 percent more homeless humans each night, a total of 905, more than El Segundo (14), Hermosa Beach (23), Malibu (155), Manhattan Beach (40), Redondo Beach (154) and Torrance (187) COMBINED! We must balance compassion and common sense. It is high time that we unite as a community to discuss and then act promptly to heal these two diseases. “InSANE-A-Monica” must not become our city’s logo.
We won’t arrive at any answers by vilifying each other, just more recriminations and name-calling. You may not get the balance you want on our city council, but there are ways to make your voices heard. Be persistent. Speak your mind AND be a great listener. More likely than not, you’ll find some common ground. Solutions exist for almost every malady that exists in Santa Monica; we must be innovative, use common sense, and find ways to talk to each other, rather than at each other. The ballot box, referendum process, and initiatives are there as well. Yes, it means residents cannot be complacent, and our “pitchforks” can’t gather rust. However, depression about results unattained doesn’t mean “stand down,” it says that you must talk more, organize better, solidify your positions and present them more effectively. Find more ways to be an active participant in the discussions that are a necessity in our city. All of this takes work. Your volunteer labor is essential to help make your city a better place for you, your children, your grandchildren and your grandchildren’s children. We are never pushing for change just for ourselves. We are optimists, who expect our city to prosper and that our work, whether planting a tree or stopping the rise of the next twelve-story building in Santa Monica, will be a result that future generations will admire.
Join a non-profit, be active in a committee of your neighborhood association, apply to be a volunteer member of a city commission or board, and devote part of your waking hours to making Santa Monica a better town. Talk to your opponents and stop the name-calling. All of us want a safe city. All of us want an effective means to limit the scourge of homelessness in our city, all of us want to be able to walk, bike, auto, bus, and e-scooter through Santa Monica safely.
Our city administration cannot just offer platitudes to assuage the fears of residents – they must work actively with residents on innovative solutions to our community’s issues. We cannot sit back and await bureaucratically assembled platforms that don’t work, which waste our community’s time and money, while we lose our sense of safety. We should expect more from our city’s leaders. Let’s begin real conversations about development, infrastructure, security, transportation, and our sense of place now, with both sides working together to effect substantial and positive change in our town. The old ways aren’t working. Compromise isn’t bad. We all need to get out of our own way. It’s time for all stakeholders in our community to talk to each other seriously to resolve our conflicts and map solutions for our future. Let’s take the dollar signs out of this discussion and begin.
By Phil Brock for SMa.r.t. (Santa Monica Architects for a Responsible Tomorrow)
Thane Roberts AIA, Architect, Robert H. Taylor AIA, Ron Goldman FAIA, Architect, Dan Jansenson, Architect, Building and Fire-Life Safety Commission, Samuel Tolkin Architect, Mario Fonda-Bonardi, AIA, Planning Commissioner, Phil Brock, Santa Monica Arts Commission. For previous articles see www.santamonicaarch.wordpress.com/writings