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Downtown Santa Monica Programs Mark End of First Year  

By Lookout Staff

September 8, 2010 -- In their first year walking the Promenade or cruising through neighboring streets and alleys, Downtown’s 25 Ambassadors have logged in 170,471 transactions or 467 a day – from escorting visitors back to their cars to advising teens they can’t rollerblade on the Promenade.

By far the largest number -- 123, 994 -- were classified as “Hospitality” transactions, which includes everything from helping pedestrians find Downtown businesses to informing the public on Big Blue Bus routes.

Ambassadors also engaged in 32,231 transactions that improve the “Quality of Life” by helping educate Downtown visitors they are violating the City code or referring illegal activity to the proper authorities. In addition, they took care of or referred 7,367 requests for maintenance.

Since June 2009, the enhanced crews have power-washed 7,150,528 square feet Downtown. Of that, they cleaned 1.86 million square feet monthly on the Promenade, which is power washed from property line to property line.

Crews also power-washed 952,560 square feet in the alleys every month and 548,934 square feet cleaned every other month. The expanded area cleaned includes Ocean Avenue and the Colorado Avenue alleys.

“The numbers are just staggering,” said Andrew Thomas, director of operations for the Bayside District. “Both the ambassador program and the enhanced maintenance program have been very successful.”

Top City officials agree. “The Ambassador program has enriched the visitor experience and helps us welcome people from all over the world to Downtown, the heart of the City,” said City Manager Ron Gould. “The Downtown Maintenance program also has been a real success and adds an additional level of focused cleaning and customer service to the Bayside District.”

The impact of the $1.2 million Ambassador and $1.2 million Enhanced Maintenance programs launched in June 2009 is evident by strolling the Downtown streets or scouring the extensive database compiled from the Ambassadors’ input.

“I see them everyday. I see them cruising down the alley,” said Lauri Arneson, who works for the Santa Monica College Emeritus campus Downtown. "When we get graffiti, it gets taken care of right away.

“It's definitely cleaner,” Arneson said. “When I see them, we wave at each other. They've pretty much become my family."

Eddie Enriquez, who manages Wilshire house, a 72-unit senior building just north of the Promenade, said he’s glad to see that “I have someone around. I see the Ambassadors go around the block and watch everything.”

In fact, the Ambassadors, many say, go the extra mile to help. “When it rains, the corridor can get slippery,” said Elizabeth Flynn, the property manager for the building at 1312-1320 Third Street. “The Ambassadors will come and take out our mats and put them out. I think it's been great.”

After helping out a business or a visitor, or addressing a problem, the Ambassadors log in key information on an Apple iPod Touch. They input the nature of the transaction that has just taken place, the nationality or hometown of the visitor or, if a business is involved, the name, address and zone where it is located. The information also is logged by zone, month and time of day (morning, afternoon, evening or night).

As soon as the information is logged in, the appropriate party will be notified if a problem needs to be addressed -- say graffiti removed or a transient sleeping in a doorway. If the transaction was with a visitor seeking a shop or bus stop, it also will be logged and catalogued in the master database.

Among the 123,994 “Hospitality” transactions recorded during the first year, 52,418 transactions directed pedestrians seeking specific businesses. Another 8,070 transactions directed pedestrians to the newly renovated public restrooms in Parking Structure 4, which are also monitored by the Ambassador Program. While 4,371 transactions reflect "Business Contacts," where Ambassadors enter private businesses to inquire if any assistance or information is needed, and 1,012 transactions were escorts throughout Downtown.

When it comes to “Quality of Life” issues, among the 32,231 transactions, 17, 548 were interactions with those illegally smoking and 12,092 interactions with those who were rollerblading, skateboarding, skating or bicycling against City code.

“Our Ambassadors do not, and cannot, enforce City code,” Thomas said. “Their job is to advise and educate the public.”

Ambassadors also are helping address issues that arise with the transients who hang around Downtown. In the first year, 62 transactions have involved aggressive panhandling and 630 transactions involved those sleeping in doorways or on the street.

“Aggressive panhandling has gone down significantly,” Thomas said. “We’re down to about 60 (transactions) a month, down from about 100 in January.”

Before the Ambassadors came on board, Flynn had to hire nighttime security to keep the transients from hanging out in the public corridor that connects the Promenade to the Public Parking structure in the 2nd Street alley.

“They would hang out in the stairwell,” said Flynn, who works for Walter N. Marks Inc. “It felt like it was getting out of control. The police got involved, but it just didn't make it any better.”

Now the Ambassadors routinely patrol the corridor, ask loiterers to leave and even clean up after them. "One homeless person threw up in the stairwell, and someone came and cleaned it up," Flynn said.

The best part -- the building no longer needs to hire security guards. "We don't like having security guards," Flynn said. "It's not an image we like to have. I think all in all, there's a much nicer feel."

In addition to helping visitors and trouble-shooting problems, the Ambassadors helped take care of 7,367 maintenance issues by either handling the problem themselves or referring it to Bayside staff, the City or Chrysalis, a local agency that helps homeless and economically disadvantaged individuals find employment. Bayside has contracted with Chrysalis to provide services in Downtown as part of Bayside's homeless outreach program.

Ambassadors helped take care of 11,152 instances of debris, helped remove 1,349 stickers and helped take care of 836 instances of graffiti. In addition Chrysalis—which deploys two-person crews, two shifts a day—took care of 150 maintenance issues.

If Ambassadors or Chrysalis workers can’t take care of a problem, such as a stain that needs heavy duty cleaning, they will refer it to City cleaning crews, or Bayside's pressure washing vendor, which provides regular deep-cleaning services in the parking structures and the Promenade and surrounding streets and alleys.

In addition to cleaning the streets, three shifts of workers are on the job all hours of the day to maintain the eight public parking structures, including the stairwells, which had long been the source of complaints. The bathrooms are regularly cleaned using a sophisticated pressure shooter that sprays water and then vacuums up the liquid.

Each parking structure is given a thorough top-to-bottom cleaning once a year and detailed cleanings every ten or eleven weeks to “address hotspots and common areas,” Thomas said. The lobby, stairwells and elevator landings are cleaned once a month.

“We provide daily maintenance in the parking structures, with the exception of the structure trash-bin rooms that are maintained by the City,” Thomas said. “Our challenge in the structures is that because we park so many vehicles we have a considerable amount of carbon build up. It's a constant fight to remove it."

The cleaning crews have made a “tremendous, noticeable difference,” said Enriquez from Wilshire House. "Before (the program started) the alleys were smelly and dirty. There was trash people left overnight. It was ugly. It stunk.

"Now they clean on a regular basis two or three times a day,” Enriquez said. “I see them in the morning, I see them in the afternoon, sometimes at night.

“They even wipe the parking meters," Enriquez added. "Now that's clean."


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