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Santa Monica Slow-Growth Group Shifts Focus to Crime

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By Niki Cervantes
Staff Writer

March 2, 2018 -- It wasn’t long ago that one of Santa Monica’s most aggressive grassroots organizations was best known for challenging the City’s powers that be over the amount of new development it allowed.

But check in with the Facebook page for these days, and a change is evident:

Concern about crime and violence is starting to dominate posts there, pushing aside -- for now, at least -- the anger over new building that gave rise to 2016’s Measure LV, which sought public votes for most development taller than two stories.

Armen Melkonians, who founded in in 2014, said the increasing focus on crime is a natural evolution for the organization as concern about the rise in violent crime intensifies in the community.

Santa Monica does not have much of a history of major crime, although its rate of property crime is fairly high.

“It’s out of control now,” Melkonians said. “The City Council and (City Manager) Rick Cole are supposed to be protecting us, and they aren’t doing it. As far as I’m concerned, they should all be fired. It’s our lives at stake.”

Melkonians predicted that crime, and whether the City is tackling it as it should, will be the defining issue of the November election.

If so, it would mark a major change for the city since the 2016 election, when the ongoing battle over development and Measure LV dominated debate. All four of the incumbents in the City Council races sailed to victory.

LV lost by about 10 percent of the vote, heavily outspent by an anti-LV alliance of developers and nearly all of the city’s civic leaders and established political players, including the incumbents ("More Than $1.2 Million Spent to Defeat Santa Monica’s LUVE Measure," February 6, 2017).

Melkonians, who co-authored LV, came in 5th place out a field of 10 City Council candidates on the ballot.

In November, Council Members Kevin McKeown and Pam O’Connor, both in office for 20 and 24 years respectively are up for re-election. McKeown is seeking another term, but O’Connor has not announced her intentions.

Also running is Council Member Sue Himmelrich, who is seeking a second four-year term.

Santa Monica police note that the city's population more than doubles during the day and that the beach city's popularity as a tourist destination, large and rising homeless ranks and increasingly congested streets pose special challenges ("Audit Report Finds High Santa Monica Police Cost, Low Clearance Rate," January 23, 2018).

“We try to deliver as much as we can. But we have a draw you don’t see in, say, Culver City," Lt. Saul Rodriguez, the police department spokesman, told the Lookout in January.

“We have a dynamic city that presents challenges," he said. "We are trying to think ahead. But a lot we can’t control.”

Residocracy posters often express the sense that neither the City Council nor City Manager Rick Cole are listening to their fears about crime, Melkonians said.

It is the same sentiment, he said, often voiced at about development.

But a series of violent crimes has hit home, intensifying the spotlight on crime.

They include two home invasions in the North of Montana neighborhood last spring and the murder of an elderly man in his 34th Street apartment, discovered on New Year’s Day ("Suspects Charged in Two Brutal Home Invasion Robberies in Santa Monica," May 31, 2017) and ("LA Man Charged with Murder of Santa Monica Senior," February 28, 2018).

In another home invasion last month the assailant stabbed a sleeping woman inside her apartment near Downtown ("Woman Stabbed Multiple Times During Home Invasion in Santa Monica," February 23, 2018).

While charges have been filed in all four cases, residents' fears were stoked this week by a manhunt for a suspect in the robbery of a Montana Avenue jewelry store ("Suspect Remains at Large after Robbing Montana Avenue Jewelry Store," March 1, 2018).

Residents north of Montana went to (and other online sites) to warn one another that the suspect had fled into their neighborhood ("Neighbors Take to Online Sites as Manhunt for Suspect in Santa Monica Robbery Unfolds," March 2, 2018).

Badly shaken, they posted alerts and updates tweeted from police and eyewitness accounts of the suspect running through backyards and jumping fences as police conducted a manhunt.

Until now, there has been talk in the slow-growth community, including from Melkonians, about putting measures on the November ballot to stop major hotel-mixed used projects proposed for downtown ("Santa Monica Slow-Growth Leader Vows Referendums on Major Downtown Projects," September 26, 2017).

But Melkonians said Residocracy was never meant to be a single-issue group, although development was its initial focus.

“I wanted it to be about all community issues,” he said. “It was my ear to the community -- something the City Council should have been doing.”


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