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Crackdown on Homeless Demanded : Rights: Residents want to tighten restrictions on panhandling and park use. They tell the City Council that Santa Monica's quality of life is at stake.

March 24, 1994|NANCY HILL-HOLTZMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Dozens of besieged Santa Monica residents bombarded the City Council this week with a litany of complaints about homeless-related problems, demanding a crackdown on what they said were intolerable conditions.

"I feel like I'm living in Sarajevo," said David Brown, one of many residents who spoke at a council meeting Tuesday. "I'm living (under) siege."

The residents turned out to support a plan by council members Asha Greenberg and Robert T. Holbrook to tighten restrictions on the homeless and track the progress of those who use the city's extensive social service network.

"There is a public safety crisis in our city," Greenberg said.

Greenberg and Holbrook's proposal calls for measures that would prohibit panhandling after 7 p.m., require confiscation of stolen shopping carts and ban scavenging through trash bins. In addition, the council members want to repeal a section of the law closing parks from midnight to 5 a.m. that exempts those who are asleep.

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After four hours of discussion and a public hearing, action was postponed until a special meeting, scheduled for Tuesday.

A large contingent of speakers at the hearing consisted of parents from Roosevelt grade school, where a homeless woman recently defecated and urinated on the front lawn in full view of students. A vagrant also wandered into the school's first-grade bathroom recently.

"It was frightening," said Matthew Goldenberg, 10, who saw the woman. Roosevelt parent Clare Osowsky, called the woman "menacing," and "a symbol of a city decaying."

Many speakers said they blamed the council for being more mindful of the rights of the homeless than the safety and comfort of the city's other residents. There were also suggestions that an initiative campaign might be launched if the council fails to address residents' concerns.

"By God, you're failing in your duty," Brown said. "You're insulting every working man and woman in this city."

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He complained of shopping carts rattling down his alley throughout the night and having to clean up human waste. Others spoke of "Skid Row" conditions in the parks, aggressive panhandling and being driven out of the library by the stench of body odor.

"It's insane to let the least fortunate members of society . . . dictate your lifestyle," Adriana Shaw told council members.

Shaw said the actions of homeless people determined what time she got up, where she shopped and whether she could exercise in the park.

A lengthy effort by Councilman Ken Genser to point out that the city already is taking many of the steps proposed by Greenberg and Holbrook drew derisive laughter from the audience.

"I'm not suggesting we're doing them well or that the problems are solved," Genser hastily replied. "On paper we are dealing with the problem. It's a different matter on the street."

That admission didn't stop the speakers from questioning the council majority's grasp of the city's homeless problem. "What city are you talking about?" said resident Suzanne Brewer. "The city you're describing is not the city I'm living in."

A similar effort to urge residents to call police about their problems with the homeless did not go over well either. "All this discussion about calling the police is a sham because they're not allowed to do their job," said resident Ruth Ebner, who was one of five finalists for the city attorney's job given in December to Marsha Jones Moutrie.

Santa Monica Police Chief James T. Butts said one-third of all calls to police concern homeless issues.

Unlike other council debates on the subject over the years, advocates for the homeless were in short supply Tuesday night, but those who spoke pleaded for tolerance.

"People have to eat," said activist Ron Taylor, a formerly homeless man. "People have to have a place to sleep."

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