Declining Business Climate in Downtown Santa Monica
By Jennifer Rush, Blue Plate Restaurant Group
To all that do business, live, work, and manage our City of Santa Monica,
This week a group of us went to visit ten local hotel concierges to try and drum up business for our restaurants, as it has been painfully slow in Santa Monica. I have spoken to many colleagues in the Santa Monica hospitality business, and they have also confirmed very slow business. The gray weather does not help, but I wanted you all to know that several of the hotels commented that they are no longer seeing foreign tourists as they are being advised to stay away from Santa Monica specifically due to the increase in homelessness, unsafe streets, and beaches that are populated by homeless.
Social media has only exacerbated this, showing images of people on the streets defecating in front of strollers, mentally ill people spitting on food at restaurants, and wandering the streets screaming at people. I wish I could say these were not the norm, and it is just propaganda, but working on Ocean Avenue every day and night is a daily reality that is sad and terrible for business and tourism.
This morning I dealt with a screamer yelling profanities at my staff, and the pics attached were taken in just one block. Additionally, we have had to spend 100k a year to hire a private security guard at Blue Plate Taco as our staff can no longer deal with the daily interactions and disruptions of this problem. They are not trained for this and also expressed on many occasions that they would work elsewhere where these problems and challenges do not exist on a daily basis.
We find people sleeping on our patios and human feces left for us to pick up, and we regularly call ambassadors and police to help us drive people away so our guests do not have their dining experience ruined. A few weeks ago, we had a mentally ill paranoid man with tattoos all over his face blocking the entrance for over half an over, keeping guests from leaving or entering. He was scary and freaked everyone out. I called the police, who said they would come as soon as they could, at which point I reached out to Ramon Batista, who immediately responded by sending officers over. They were unable to take him away but finally were able to move him away from the entrance.
We are in the trenches every day downtown on Ocean Avenue, speaking with locals, tourists, and people who work in the area, all of whom are diners and guests. It is really sad how many people comment on the state of Santa Monica, and the difficult part is that it is deeply affecting businesses. Tourists do not want to come back; they ask how this has happened and why the streets are ridden with so many homeless and mentally ill people when they are paying sometimes over $500 for a room per night. I personally have had people approach me on my walk from Blue Plate Taco to BP Oysterette, yelling, and saying they were going to kill me. My boyfriend went to Pilates last week on 2nd Street, parked in one of the public lots, and was charged by a man with a spear gun yelling at him. He ran away and fortunately was able to find police nearby, but he will no longer use public lots, where I have seen some very scary things going on. How has this become part of our daily lives?
I have lived and had businesses in the area for 30 years, both on Ocean Avenue and Montana Avenue, and run our local Block party, so I am very familiar with the community. Things are very dire. Locals and tourists are not wanting to come to downtown SM due to the appalling conditions we see on a daily basis, and it is hugely affecting our businesses.
We keep a security log and, at least three times a week, have issues with mentally ill/homeless people disrupting our business. We call the police, and they come when available, but there is little they can do.
How can we survive as businesses, small and large, when the City is constantly charging us more for outdoor dining, and parklets, rents continue to rise, the minimum wage is at an all-time high, and we are all required to provide PTO, health and other costly benefits, yet business is the worst it has been in years. The problem persists and grows, and we are now in a position where our P and L’s show loss month after month which is not sustainable. From what people have told me, there is an abundance of mentally ill and homeless people in the Santa Monica area due to the incoming train and because there are resources available in the way of food and meals that are not in neighboring cities.
I understand that it is important to take care of people, but what are you going to do to help businesses and residents? Visitors and locals will not return to a place like Downtown Santa Monica when they can go elsewhere. The businesses that pay taxes and bring people to Santa Monica are suffering. We used to have the SM Civic Auditorium, which brought people to visit, and that is no longer open. The bowling alley, the Promenade, Cirque Du Soleil, and many of the attractions that brought people from all around the world are now closed or ghost towns.
I see that there is a City Council meeting on the 13th at 6 P.M. Is this specifically to address these problems, or will there be other agendas that evening? In the last few City Council meeting I have attended, I ended up staying until 11 pm, and the issues I was there to discuss (parklet expenses and homelessness) had still not been addressed, and I had to leave to relieve a babysitter. It was a waste of my time, so wondering what the plan is for this meeting. Perhaps the Council/City Managers should conduct a designated 911 meeting with local businesses at an hour we can actually attend to better understand our struggles before we all start moving or closing. We all are demanding an explanation of what mandatory changes are being made to improve the current dire situation so businesses can once again thrive in a safe community.
We know how to run restaurants and be hospitable. However, we cannot do this with dwindling customer counts. The general consensus seems to be that very few people in the city care want to make necessary changes to help improve the problem, or they believe that this is the way things should be, as we are helping people by feeding them.
If it is the case that certain people do not care or are unwilling to make changes to make our streets safer and more business-friendly, why would they be in a political position?
Perhaps some people who are against changing the current situation are out of touch with reality as they are making decisions from behind a desk rather than seeing the daily realities of running a business amongst this chaos. We invite you to come and spend the day with us working outside, seeing the daily challenges we are having interacting with people on the street who are scaring locals, tourists, and staff away from Downtown Santa Monica. In speaking to many of my colleagues who own restaurants in other parts of Los Angeles, they are not having the same problems. I am only sharing this as I have heard many rumblings of business owners fed up and wanting to leave Santa Monica for safer communities. As I said, this is no longer a random occurrence; it is every day in Downtown Santa Monica.