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PART I: City Council Candidates on Crime and Why They Are Running

 

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October 11, 2018 -- The Lookout asked City Council candidates to answer a series of questions that address the most pressing issues facing Santa Monica -- from crime and development to homelessness and pay at City Hall. Here is the first installment with their answers.

1. Why are you running?

Scott Bellomo SCOTT BELLOMO
I am not a politician. I am a single parent who has lived here for 30 years, raising my son as best I can. I am a resident who is so sad (and angry) for what Santa Monica has become at the hands of this City Council and the City Manager.

I hope to be at least one voice on the Council who works with the new Police Chief and her officers to empower them to make arrests to address the rampant criminal activity that happens every day in Santa Monica.

I hope to be at least one voice on the Council who says "NO" to the outrageous development that has occurred and continues to occur. I hope that I (and maybe other non-incumbents) can be the start of an eventual majority that takes back the City Council from the money interests. I am running to be a Resident Advocate.

 

Sue Himmelrich SUE HIMMELRICH
I became involved in Santa Monica politics and was appointed to the Planning Commission in large part because I discovered that the Village Trailer Park developer was counting parking spaces as affordable housing with staff acquiescence.

I ran for City Council to ensure that the City’s historic commitment to affordable housing was not being subverted by neglect or ineptitude and because I was troubled by the absence of government controls such as an audit committee, the lack of lobbyist regulation, and staff’s resistance to requests for information or alternatives.

I will continue to seek improvements in the City’s transparency, such as checkbook-level detail in City finances and more resident involvement in policy discussions. Most of all, I want to see Santa Monica remain an economically diverse, progressive, and livable city with great schools, great services, and compassion for vulnerable people and families, rather than a playground for the 1 percent.

 

Kevin McKeown KEVIN MCKEOWN

I’m running to continue creating affordable housing, protecting renters, particularly working families, supporting local workers, fighting overdevelopment and gentrification, and shaping a sustainable city with multi-modal mobility, water self-sufficiency, and 100 percent renewably-sourced power.

Yes, that’s an ambitious list of “things to do” after twenty years, but I haven’t lost my passion for making Santa Monica a safe, inclusive, and sustainable city.

I’ve made progress on all the goals listed above, but there is much yet to be done. This February, as Santa Monica’s Director on the Board of the Clean Power Alliance, I’ll be bringing the option for 100 percent renewably sourced electricity to every Santa Monica household and business or institutional customer.

One task that never ends is protecting renters from harassment and even eviction. Economic pressures have increased on our remaining affordable housing, and I am committed to protecting our neighborhoods from gentrification, condomania, and further commercial intrusion.

 

Greg Morena GREG MORENA

I have always believed that if you want to change something, you must be part of the change. As a post millennial, who has lived in Santa Monica since I was 5, I love my city, but some things must change. Many of my generation feel we aren’t understood by City Hall. Many longtime residents feel disenfranchised and want to feel like their voices really do matter.

I am running to bring new, energized and engaged leadership to City Hall -- so our city can remain diverse, equitable, sustainable and transparent. I believe my skills and experiences as a financial consultant, small business owner, parent and bridge-building civic leader can help our city face find holistic, forward-thinking solutions to our challenges -- of rising crime and homelessness, of sustainability, of affordable housing and of neighborhood preservation.

 

Geoffrey Neri

GEOFFREY NERI

I am running because I am not willing to idly stand by as our city rapidly succumbs to rampant crime, homelessness, gross overdevelopment, unbearable gridlock and general lawlessness. I am an attorney by profession and both as an attorney and candidate for office my number one priority is law and order.

Our parks should be playgrounds for our children, not campgrounds for transients. Our current leadership has utterly failed in the most important obligation of any governing body, which is to ensure a safe, orderly and clean environment for the citizens it governs.

Our leaders have not been adequately responsive to the residents of Santa Monica, who are crying out for relief, and they are beholden to a number of powerful special interest groups that have had a decades-long stranglehold on power in our city. The stranglehold needs to be broken and the time is ripe for change!

Pam O'Connor

PAM O'CONNOR

I want the best for the people of Santa Monica. I am dedicated to our community’s future and I will continue to use my skills and experience to advocate for the well-being of all community members.

I come from a family with a strong history of public service -- my father was a decorated Chicago police officer. I bring this commitment to public service to City Hall. As a civic leader and as a working woman, I know how to build our community’s resilience so that we can grapple with emerging challenges and invest in making our community an even better place.

 

Ashley Powell ASHLEY POWELL
It’s time for new leadership in Santa Monica. Santa Monica is facing increased problems providing affordable housing, protecting jobs, addressing the negative and positive side effects of the Sharing Economy, increased traffic, and environmental degradation. Cities like Santa Monica now face economic and lifestyle disruptions from brand new technology companies that they’ve never before confronted.

Outmoded and outdated solutions will not help us solve these problems. I have a fresh vision and a new perspective to address these issues I was extremely privileged to have been born and raised in Santa Monica. As a result, I recognize the importance of what Santa Monica truly represents.

Santa Monica is one of the most beautiful and vibrant cities in the world. But as a community, we are more than that. Here, we embrace the values of social justice, economic fairness, environmental protection, tolerance for others, and equality regardless of race, gender, or sexual orientation. I wish to protect these values while serving my community.

 



2. According to police and FBI statistics, violent crime in Santa Monica rose almost 50 percent in 2017. To what do you attribute the increase? What should the Council do to address the issue?

SCOTT BELLOMO
There are many factors that I believe have contributed to the rise in crime in our city in recent years:

* The early release of prisoners under the Governor's criminal justice reforms;

* The Expo train, which is literally a free ride for criminals and transients from all over to come to and stay in Santa Monica; and, most importantly,

* The current City Council and City Manager actively inviting vagrants to our city while simultaneously tying the hands of law enforcement, preventing them from enforcing vagrancy laws and other criminal statutes that significantly impact the quality of life of residents.

City Council should empower the Police Chief to arrest and refer for prosecution all the criminals hiding within the homeless population in Santa Monica. We must let it be known that our city will no longer be a safe haven for criminals.

SUE HIMMELRICH
First, I want to congratulate the Santa Monica Police Department for acting quickly on September 24 to apprehend an alleged serial killer. We should be proud to have a talented police force that responds quickly to real emergencies and spend too little time giving them credit for their heroism.

I believe that, as councilmembers, public safety in the broadest sense is our #1 responsibility, so the continued increase in crime is simply unacceptable. I have spoken at great length with our police chiefs, old and new, and our city manager; we have authorized funding for additional sworn and unsworn police officers; and I have stressed the need for a police presence on the streets in the areas where the violence is concentrated. 

Prevention of crime obviously must be our priority. We need to improve community awareness of how we can avoid becoming victims and improve police response to violent incidents. We also need to acknowledge the difference between harm to people and loss of property.

But I also believe that it is imperative that we as council members acknowledge the truth of unpleasant conditions, such as rising crime and growing homelessness, inform ourselves about solutions that were effective in other cities, and implement those solutions.

KEVIN MCKEOWN
The reason for the increase matters less than our strong and timely Council response, which has already put new cops on the beat.

Council’s role is to set policy and allocate resources. Until now, we have held some budgeted positions open in sensitivity to resident concerns about the pay and other costs of our police force.

The recent crime increase warrants more officers on our streets. We’ve sworn in four new officers recently, with six more next week. Our new police chief, Cynthia Renaud, has advised us that she’ll assign the expanded force to increase daily neighborhood patrols and street presence.

In endorsing my re-election this year, our public safety employees themselves say I have consistently voted as a Councilmember to provide resources “to ensure that Santa Monica residents continue to receive the high quality of public safety services they have come to expect.” I shall continue to do so.

GREG MORENA
Changes in state and county policing procedure have resulted in a higher volume of crime, and a smaller capacity to address it. Changes in the criminal justice system also contribute to this: When people are released from jail with only $25 to their name and no support system, crime (especially theft) is invariably going to rise.

Still, it’s a basic right to feel safe at home and on the street, and it's the Council’s first priority to ensure that our police are fully staffed and have the resources they need. The city has increased funding to address our shortage of police, and as that process rolls out, it will reduce crime. I believe neighbors and the police must work closer together to make us safer.

GEOFFREY NERI

Violent crime has increased because our city’s leaders have not been vigilant and are not properly allocating enough of our city’s immense financial and human resources to crime prevention and deterrence.  

Money is being wasted and squandered on public projects, such as the $2.3 million dollar restroom being built at Clover Park, that must be subordinated to the interests of public safety and law enforcement.  Our city council needs to ensure that our police force is fully staffed and funded (it is not) and implement measures that some of our neighboring communities have adopted. 

Specifically, we need to contract with private security firms, as the City of West Hollywood has done, who can create and maintain a constant security presence at a fraction of the cost of public law enforcement. In most cases, I believe we can deter and prevent crime simply by having more “eyes and ears,” rather than “guns and badges,” on our streets, in our parks and other public areas.

PAM O"CONNOR
There are many reasons why crime spikes periodically. Some attribute today’s region-wide increase to Proposition 47/AB 109 which reduced some penalties and changed responsibility for incarceration and paroles to counties. But perhaps poverty is a major contributor.

While unemployment is low, many higher paid jobs lost during the Great Recession were replaced by low-paying service jobs. Increasing the minimum wage helps some, but stagnating wages offset a pay raise. Lack of affordable housing and escalating costs lead to overcrowding and homelessness.

The Council needs to support a wide variety of policy initiatives including supporting production of affordable housing and providing supportive services to families in need.

Also funds need to be available to hire police—and to pay their pensions. The City needs to ensure a stable fiscal foundation to support these personnel. Also the Council needs to provide safety personnel with the tools and technology to do their job.

ASHLEY POWELL
Answer: I am actually unsure of the reasons for this increase. It could be related with increasing homeless populations (though I want to be careful in blaming a vulnerable population without having research in front of me).

I believe that we are in a dark period with the Trump administration. The air in Santa Monica seems thicker and the sirens are going off nonstop when I drive around especially towards downtown Santa Monica.

As to reversing this crime rate trend, I would like to increase the number of officers we have on the street each day by hiring additional officers. I also think we should bring back volunteer officers as my softball coach growing up was a weekend SMPD volunteer officer.

With an expanded police department we can implement more foot patrols and bike patrols. I also will push for building police substations within our Expo Line stations (and hopefully future rail line developments).

We should also conduct surveys of our public areas (especially walking and biking paths) to see if they are adequately lit and patrolled at night as well as landscaped properly to ensure that there are not hiding places for potential criminals.

 


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