DTSM Seeks PR Agency
February 24, 2022
By Alyssa Erdley, Observer Staff Writer
2/15/22: At their meeting tomorrow, the Audit and Finance Committee for Downtown Santa Monica, Inc. will discuss hiring a "communication firm to handle board communication and crisis management." DTSM is the quasi-governmental agency that assesses business owners in the downtown and Third Street Promenade area fees that are supposed to be used to promote "economic stability, growth and community life within this unique neighborhood."
Six of DTSM's 13 board members are appointed by the city council. Six are directly elected by property owners within the district, and the last board member is the City Manager or his/her designee. In other words, the majority of board members are appointed, not elected.
DTSM has been under fire for years now regarding the deteriorating conditions downtown and in the associated parking garages. An expensive "Downtown Ambassador" program has done little to stem the growing vagrant population that uses the downtown as its bedroom and bathroom. Prostitutes are now seen strolling downtown alleys, right under the DTSM office. Downtown businesses suffer repeated robberies and vandalism and have trouble keeping employees, who are fearful of coming or staying at work. In the summer of 2021 the issue was accentuated by a deranged vagrant who attempted to rape a woman and then ran over her boyfriend repeatedly with the man's own car.
No real action was taken to make the area safer after the attempted rape/carjacking incident and another such dramatic event is clearly anticipated, given DTSM's search for a PR firm to handle "crises."
In addition, a Fair Political Practices complaint has been filed against two DTSM Board Members. Tara Barauskas, the executive director of Community Housing Corp, was lobbying for her company to build the proposed affordable housing on the site of what is now Parking Structure 3, a clear conflict of interest. Board Member Johannes Van Tilburg, principal architect at Van Tilburg, Banvard & Soderbergh, AIA, wants his firm to design the project. Barauskas resigned from DTSM shortly after the complaint was filed.
Property owner John Alle, whose business and property fall within the DTSM purview, claims the agency wants to spend stakeholder money to cover up the anger of the stakeholders in the way the downtown is being run. "I am not aware of any other City's Board or Commission that hires an outside public relations or "crisis management" team. Our own City Council uses no such firm," Alle wrote in a letter to DTSM's board yesterday. "Stakeholder money should be used to improve the viability of Third Street Promenade-not to try to bury wrongdoings and management issues created by DTSM, itself."