The “Santa Monica Is Not Safe” sign has been a local irritant for both businesses trying to lure shoppers back to the 3rd Street Promenade and city officials insulted and flustered by its presence. The recent approval of an armed security contractor to replace some of the unarmed ambassadors employed by Downtown Santa Monica Inc. has not mollified John Alle, the owner of the building and man who placed the sign.
Last week, Alle replaced the Santa Monica Is Not Safe sign with a newer, more inflammatory one stating, “Santa Methica Is Not Safe.” The banner below reads, “Our City Manager supports the Needle and Meth Pipe Distribution Program in Our Parks. and Public Spaces.” The banner is completed with a black and white picture of City Manager David White and his name on the left side.
A casual observer of Santa Monica and regional politics might be confused by this sign and believe that the City of Santa Monica sponsors a program to provide safe needles and other drug paraphernalia to users who are experiencing homelessness to slow the spread of disease. However, not only does the city not have such a program, it has repeatedly asked Los Angeles County to end the portion of the “free needle” program it operates in Santa Monica.
On September 13, 2022 Councilmembers Phil Brock** and Lana Negrete sponsored a motion at the city council meeting that passed 6-0 (then Councilmember Kristi McCowan was not present) to “to transmit the attached letter requesting that the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors support and assist the City of Santa Monica in relocating the Harm Reduction Syringe Services Program from its parks and open spaces to a service rich environment that aligns with the City’s Four Pillar Strategy to address homelessness.”
Regardless of how one feels about free needle and pipe programs, it’s hard to argue in good faith that the city, or city manager, ” supports the Needle and Meth Pipe Distribution Program in Our Parks. and Public Spaces.”
Which is not to say that there aren’t people willing to defend the program. County Supervisor Lindsey Horvath, who represents Santa Monica, was just elected to chair the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA). LAHSA oversees the needle exchange program that takes place in Santa Monica and Horvath defends the public health value of the program and that the program allows LAHSA to build relationships with people suffering from addiction that may lead to a path to recovery.
And while the September 2022 vote at the City Council was unanimous, a similar vote today would likely be split. Caroline Torosis and Jesse Zwick were elected less than two months after the vote and are seen as “more progressive” on issues relating to homelessness. Zwick declined to comment for this article, but Torosis offered a strong defense of needle/pipe exchange programs and condemnation for Alle’s stunts.
“I am troubled that stakeholders in our community continue to dehumanize people experiencing homelessness and the disease of addiction,” Torosis wrote to Next. “Over 30 years of research shows that needle exchange programs are safe, effective and cost-saving tools to protect communities by preventing infectious disease outbreaks and facilitating the safe disposal of syringes.”
But yet it is White, not Torosis, who is targeted by Alle’s sign. As City Manager, it is White’s job to implement the policy directives of the City Council and no Councilmember has accused White of not following the Council’s direction to urge the county to end its exchange programs.
But Alle has not been one to allow facts to get in the way of his personal crusades. After blaming the city and Downtown Santa Monica Inc for refusing to close elevators in local parking garages in the evening that were used as temporary shelter by people experiencing homelessness; Alle launched a public campaign against DTSM Inc. The usual target of his public attacks was DTSM Inc CEO Kathleen Rawson and her staff. He also sued the organization claiming it caused rats in the dinosaur topiaries. Rawson eventually resigned from her position. Also, it is a violation of the American with Disabilities Act to shut down elevators in a public building while it is still open.
But while Alle may be giving voice to a segment of the population, and drawing attention to his community group, the Santa Monica Coalition; his campaign is also drawing negative attention to Santa Monica as the city continues to recover from the pandemic.
“I am disheartened that while the City is making unprecedented progress toward full economic recovery, individuals are choosing to detract from the hard work of our business community and city team by displaying false and misleading information in the heart of our tourism district,” concludes Torosis.
** – The entire City Council was contacted for comment on this piece. Only Torosis and Brock returned our email, with Brock begging off as he was traveling in Europe when we reached out to him.