United City Council Pushes Back at Santa Monica Coalition’s Mis-Information Banner

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In a rare show of solidarity, the Santa Monica City Council voted unanimously at its Tuesday, June 25 meeting to direct city staff to prepare a formal resolution to express its disapproval of banners on an unrented storefront on the 3rd Street Promenade. The Council charged that the banners spread misinformation about city policy and lies about the city manager.

In two short sentences, the most recent version of the offending sign manages to spread several falsehoods and insult various groups at the same time.

“Santa Methica Is Not Safe. SM City Manager supports Free Needle and Meth Pipe Distribution Program in our Parks and Public Spaces. Sponsored by The Santa Monica Gay and Sober,” the sign reads.

As has been stated ad nauseam, Santa Monica City Manager David White, who is pictured on the sign, does not have a stated position on the Los Angeles County Harm Reduction Program. While the sign implies that the city is running a “free needle and meth pipe distribution program,” the program is actually administered by an L.A. County contractor. The county’s harm reduction program includes a needle and pipe exchange program for one hour a week at Reed Park.

And of course, there is no such thing as “The Santa Monica Gay and Sober.” The national organization Gay and Sober has disavowed any involvement in placing the sign and according to Councilmember Caroline Torosis sent a cease-and-desist letter to John Alle, the owner of the building and co-founder of the Santa Monica Coalition.

Earlier in the evening, members and supporters of the Santa Monica Coalition, the organization that placed the various signs on the Promenade property, demonstrated the need to push back against misinformation. 

A handful of confused speakers and over one hundred letters (according to Alle, the letters linked to the City Council agenda were less than 30 at the time of publication) submitted before the meeting lashed out against White, a non-existent city program to distribute pipes, and a perceived lack of focus on public safety…despite the city council voting for a budget last night that defunds basic infrastructure improvements to add new police officers not originally included in the budget.

Speakers also blasted the city council for “forcing Alle to remove the banner,” suggesting it would be a violation of the 1st Amendment right to free speech. Even a basic reading of the proposal passed by the council would show that there is no language forcing Alle or the coalition to do anything. However, action alerts sent out by the Santa Monica Coalition and their ally Tricia Crane of Northeast Neighbors had spread the word that the Council would be infringing on Alle’s rights and urged people to speak out.

“I wish people read the entire motion,” lamented vice-mayor Lana Negrete at the start of her statement in support of the motion.

While the highlight of most city council meetings is the back-and-forth between the elected officials, John Alle took to the podium for four minutes to defend himself and spread unsubstantiated attacks against the council and city manager.

“There is no malice in the messaging on my building,” Alle himself testified. “It’s true and it’s factual.”

Alle produced a folder of documents allegedly showing emails between White and county officials “colluding” to continue the program. Alle has shared letters received through public information records and shared them online, but those letters show no such thing. 

Alle also showed pictures of Mayor Phil Brock and Negrete meeting with members of the Venice Family Clinic in Santa Monica parks claiming that Brock and Negrete were present while needles and pipes were being distributed. This is not only untrue, Alle’s efforts to photograph and disrupt the meetings between Brock and Negrete may have scuttled efforts for the city to work with L.A. County to move the program.

“When people walk by the sign, they are utterly confused,” Negrete continued. 

Negrete, who strongly opposes the one-hour-a-week needle and pipe exchange program, pushed back against the lies against White but also argued that the sign makes it harder for her, and others opposed to the program, to work with the county to end or change the program.

“The point is, we want to have something done and you don’t do it by having one hand out for something you want and with your middle finger up on the other,” she explained.

Other Councilmembers expressed dismay at the sign and support for the motion. Councilmember Gleam Davis echoed the testimony of business owners, the Chamber of Commerce, and Downtown Santa Monica Inc. before taking a moment to back Councilmember White. Councilmember Christine Parra called the sign and defense of it “bad faith.” City Manager David White also read a statement defending his record and pointing out that it is the City Council, not city manager, who makes policy.

“Do us all a favor and take down the banner that says ‘Santa Methica is not Safe,’” concluded Brock moments before the vote.

While the final vote was unanimous, councilmember Oscar de la Torre paused, noting that it was a “tough vote” for him. However, the motion passed 7-0.

Damien Newton
Damien Newton
Damien is the executive director of the Southern California Streets Initiative which publishes Santa Monica Next, Streetsblog Los Angeles, Streetsblog San Francisco, Streetsblog California and Longbeachize.

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