This Editorial has been updated since its original publication, and now contains an epilogue following a conversation with the subject in question, Councilmember Phil Brock.
Well, it’s official. The big, gregarious, ego that is Phil Brock is showing a militant side. The man that has managed to charm, perhaps even hypnotize, thousands of Santa Monicans into seeing him as their civic Messiah has finally crossed the line enough that someone has to say something.
Despite a huge and historic affordability crisis in housing, with thousands of Santa Monicans struggling to make rent, the man famous for saying “Santa Monica doesn’t have a housing crisis” has now decided we need a Ron Desantis-style private military to placate the conservative landlords who own properties in Downtown Santa Monica. They want a full clear-out (and keep out) of the homeless population. On May 2nd, as reported by Jorge Casuso in the Santa Monica Lookout, Brock called for a private security force and for the dissolution of the Board of Directors of Downtown Santa Monica Inc. (DTSM), which he would replace solely with downtown commercial property owners.
There is no debate that Downtown Santa Monica is, well, down. Certainly retail is flailing with the lagging repercussions of the COVID crisis. Visitors wary of their security on transit may not be crowding the Expo as they were pre-pandemic. And yes, we are well aware of a crisis among the unhoused and their congregation downtown. But let’s look at what’s really going on here.
Brock – on behalf of rich property owners – has called for a privately-run army, beholden only to them, to clear out Downtown Santa Monica of all unhoused persons and for 24-hour security patrols. It would be one thing if Brock was calling for a greater mobilization of the Santa Monica Police Department. But he only lightly mentions their collaborative involvement. What kind of fascist crap is this, Phil? The idea that a sitting city councilmember in the city of Santa Monica would suggest such measures should render most people nauseous. Was the Supreme Court leak this week not enough for you, Phil? Do we need to go full authoritarian regime to keep your commercial landlord donors happy?
We all know Phil has built his following on a sort of anti-everything, fear-based “populism with a smile.” So one has to assume that his call for extreme action is meant to mobilize more than just downtown property owners, but is also a wink and a nod to his cranky homeowner base that’s eager to declare Santa Monica a giant gated community.
Brock, who says he talks to stakeholders downtown “almost daily,” also would like to see the Promenade removed from the public streets index, making it easier to enforce trespassing laws. Well, who’s loitering versus who’s just sitting on a bench for a while, Phil? Will your security force bully “trespassers” based on the way they look?
And let’s ask ourselves – if we aren’t taking an approach that offers these people services, where do they go? Many of Downtown Santa Monica’s challenges need to be addressed by more unarmed social services specialists on the ground on a daily basis, not a private army bullying them off to the beach or Main Street.
And isn’t it convenient that Brock has called for the dissolution of the DTSM Board of Directors and called for it to be replaced by, as reported by Casuso, “Downtown property and business owners who ‘have skin in the game.’” Don’t look now, folks, but this is a naked power grab to rid the current Board of any publicly-appointed members, particularly those that were perhaps appointed by a Santa Monicans for Renters Rights City (SMRR) Council Majority, which Brock loathes. SMC College Board Trustees Barry Snell and Rob Rader, transportation and sustainability expert Juan Matute, and Deputy City Manager Anuj Gupta, among others, would all be removed from the DTSM Board in favor of commercial landlord’s cronies who will happily succumb to any policy of cruelty.
What’s more, Brock isn’t putting this private army side-by-side with Downtown Santa Monica’s popular and friendly Hospitality Ambassadors. He wants the courteous and helpful Ambassadors gone; Removed to make room for the security forces.
Come budget time, the Santa Monica City Council needs to address the persistent unhoused population on our streets, and ways we can direct the appropriate services their way. There already exist some good ideas on how to do this. And perhaps it’s time to bring back more SMPD officers on bike patrol. Let’s listen and budget generously and accordingly, as inflation is only going to make things more challenging downtown. But lunging the way of Phil Brock’s machismo is just an exercise in reactionary bullshit. Let’s not get sucked in.
Disclaimer: Westside Voice Publisher Todd Flora served on the Board of the Bayside District Corporation – which later became Downtown Santa Monica Inc. – from 2007-2012. He served during the creation of the Ambassador program.
Epilogue: Phil Brock reached out to publisher Todd Flora and they spoke on Saturday morning. Phil asked that it be made clear that the email he had written that stirred the controversy may have been written in haste, and that he was just frustrated and eager to begin a conversation about more being done to “return the charm” to Downtown Santa Monica and 3rd Street Promenade.
Brock told Flora the following as part of their conversation:
- He isn’t sure if it’s Santa Monica P.D. or past city managers who were responsible, but he feels somebody has abdicated too much responsibility to keeping the Downtown safe, friendly, and free of what he calls the increasing, “Oh, my God!” moments experienced by visitors
- He claims he “doesn’t give a damn” who governs DTSM, but feels the current board has been stretched too thin by what’s being asked of them, and is ill-equipped and unfairly burdened with having to carry the load for the safety, security, and cleanliness over such a larger area (stretching as far as Lincoln Blvd.) when the city should shoulder the responsibility to do so
- He points to many other jurisdictions that have left the public streets index and remained for the most part public, thinking that perhaps 3rd Street could be closed at least between 3:00 a.m. – 6:00 a.m. for security and cleaning as a private space
- He feels our current Ambassadors need to be better trained with the skills to address security concerns in the moment, but also feels they need more backup from trained security personnel who he says in other jurisdictions have proven they can “be there in two minutes.”
- He wants our parking garages better patrolled, and to be “clean, beautiful, and sparkly.”
Westside Voice would like to take Brock at his word, but do not budge in our belief that dramatic, reactionary responses would be counterproductive and fail to make visitors feel more welcome and actually more safe. We also caution against our city leaders caving to the wealthy, conservative downtown property owners who want complete control of downtown governance. We agree that the assaults and what we would call the incidents of “masturbatory malfeasance,” among other reported problems, be dealt with. But we caution the public not to be quick or overly desperate to accept a massive buildup of private security responsible to the very few.
We also caution the public not to accept any change to the Downtown Santa Monica Inc., Board of Directors that completely removes Board seats for members of the public. We, too, have a lot at stake as residents and downtown visitors ourselves. We must have voices on that Board.
We like what we heard this past Thursday from city staff and law enforcement during a press conference regarding the city’s homeless count results. They reported that police and fire are stepping up coordinated services and having greater success, working with the city’s Community Services Department, in confronting crime and providing emergency health and mental care services — and housing services — to more of the unhoused population, including those facing mental health and addiction issues. We would like to see more of this publicly administered response funded in the next city budget.