On the southern edge of town, Sunset Park, once a place of simple little homes for teachers and McDonnell Douglas workers, now is attracting more and more celebrities. Hayden, after his divorce from Jane Fonda, was among the new buyers in a friendly looking area of $300,000-to-$800,000 bungalows and stuccoes. Across Lincoln is Ocean Park, much of it still bedraggled from its bohemian days. Some people now call it Add-On Heaven, a place where young professionals with a nice stake from their first movie production or first successful ad campaign decide to make a down payment on a first house, to which they add a vaulted ceiling and a hot tub.
For the Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday May 14, 1991 Home Edition Part A Page 3 Column 1 Metro Desk 1 inches; 26 words Type of Material: Correction
Hardware store--The April 28 issue of the Los Angeles Times Magazine incorrectly reported that the Busy Bee hardware store in Santa Monica had been razed. The store is open for business.
Donna Deitch, director of the 1986 film, "Desert Hearts," has built a seven-foot-high fence around her old home here but says it's "more to keep me in than to keep anything out." Her theory about Santa Monica is that it is the farthest west the rich can move from the barrios and the ghettos. "Beverly Hills is just too accessible," she says, "so the crowd running from the poverty and the ugliness is running farther."
Yet, Santa Monica has its own poverty and its own troubles; 600 of its 9,000 public school children are believed to be active gang members. With hundreds of homeless residents bedding down at night on the sidewalks from Palisades Park to the alleys behind Main Street, the city has one of the highest per-capita homeless populations in California. Local officials say they serve about 4,500 homeless people a year, the second-largest number in the metropolitan area, after Skid Row downtown. Pollster Maullin says most residents strongly favor providing more city homeless shelters, with 75% saying the city is doing only a fair or a poor job of addressing the problem. Angry residents want city leaders to enforce codes against sleeping in the parks, and they want more police assigned to areas where the homeless congregate.
The increasingly common encounters between homeless people and their better-off neighbors have taken an almost surrealistic turn. The other day, at the upscale Fred Segal clothing store, a homeless man bought a $170 leather photo album--influenced, like the Joneses perhaps, by the sea of consumption in which he is barely treading water. Vivian Rothstein, executive director of Santa Monica's leading homeless-assistance service organization, the Ocean Park Community Center, sees the incident as a quintessential act in a city where complex relationships link the poor and the well-to-do.
"The owner is a friend of mine, a supporter of homeless programs; she knew he really didn't have (much) money, and maybe this wasn't the best way to spend it, but she wanted to respect him and let him buy what he wished. . . . So here she helped raise money for us, and she sees some of our clients in her own store. She made a profit off the sale from him, and here's this complicated relationship that goes on in this community, and we're all around to talk about it, which is very interesting."
Many of the private homeless programs are housed in city-donated buildings, like the Daybreak Day Center near the pier. On a warm day, two schizophrenic women sit on one of the day center's sofas, rocking silently, side to side. They look like middle-aged executive secretaries, with softly curled hair and button-fronted dresses. At night they bed down around the Sears store with a few others.
Every Monday morning, an outreach team from the Ocean Park Community Center visits the city jail to help arrestees identified by the City Attorney as needing "social assistance"--another term for the homeless. Most have been arrested for crimes such as urinating in public. The city has gained such a reputation for handling its homeless with a heart that the Culver City police are routinely blamed by Santa Monica officials for dropping homeless persons in Santa Monica.
Rothstein, Rebecca Marder and some other residents believe that the homeless are, in a strange sense, guardian angels who protect Santa Monicans from narcissism. "In some ways, the homeless crisis is keeping us in touch with our humanity," says Rothstein, whose programs draw 400 local volunteers. "I feel like what we do is help to maintain a moral tenor in this community, and that in some ways the services that we provide are as much a benefit to our volunteers as they are to the homeless."
SOMEONE ONCE SAID THAT A society in trouble should look to its artists to predict the future and help it avert destruction. In Santa Monica, artists, writers and educators are having as profound an effect on shaping the city today as the politicians and developers. Urged on by people like City Councilman-turned-Municipal Judge David Finkel, the city in the 1980s adopted an unusual land-use law that allows artists to take root in live-in studios almost anywhere they want to. Finkel's wife, city Arts Commissioner Bruria Finkel, a painter and sculptor, says Santa Monica is fast becoming the world center of the contemporary-arts movement.