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City Council Orders Study Session on Park Safety
By Jorge Casuso
November 15, 2018 -- The City Council on Tuesday took steps to address resident fears that Santa Monica's Parks are increasingly being taken over by the homeless.
Careful to separate the issues of crime and homelessness, the Council voted to hold a study session on public satiety in the parks early next year.
The Council also directed staff to work more closely with the Recreation & Parks Commission, which brought the issue to the Council, saying it had reached a "crisis point."
During the meeting, residents and Parks Commissioners complained of syringes found by Little Leaguers in the dugouts, homeless men urinating in front of children and people using the parks as a "de facto shelter" where they live and sleep.
"For the first time ever I have heard people say they are afraid to go to the parks," said Maryanne LaGuardia, whose family has lived in Santa Monica since 1965.
"We've created a situation where people are afraid to go to them and don't use them. We've made it worse."
Rich Hill, the safety officer for Santa Monica Little League, which plays at Memorial Park, said two children have found syringes in the dugout and one of them used one to poke his arm.
In a letter to the Council, the Commission asked the City to enforce existing park closure laws and camping laws in the parks and on the beach.
It also asked the Council to explore implementing beach closure hours, add cameras and lighting to the parks and beach and boost daily patrols there.
The Commission, wrote Chair John C. Smith, "finds that the safety situation in the parks and at the beach has reached a crisis point and that further action cannot be delayed."
City officials outlined the measures they have already implemented and explained the challenges of undertaking some of the recommendations.
"You don't arrest people or cite them for sleeping in the park," said City Manager Rick Cole, "but you can enforce laws against clear anti-social behavior."
The City, Cole said, has already stepped up enforcement.
Uniformed patrol officers are routinely patrolling "more impacted" parks on a daily basis, public safety personnel are checking in more often and the Police Department's HELP team is deploying officers to the affected parks.
"We have made significant changes and we are continuing to work on improving the situation," Cole said, adding that "we have open minds and we are willing to try new things."
The City already is exploring placing cameras in several parks, including Tongva Park across from City Hall, said Karen Ginsberg, who heads Community and Cultural Services for the City.
All parties agreed that a key to making the parks safe is to use them, not stay away out of fear.
"Putting a police officer in every park is not the most effective thing," said Council member Gleam Davis. "There's no one magic solution.
"We need to continue to use those parks," Davis said. "Being in those spaces will be the most effective way" to deter crime.
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