The Santa Monica City Council did not approve the recommended action by Santa Monica Chief of Police James Butts, Jr. to issue an emergency order allowing the placement of security cameras on the Santa Monica Pier in response to homeland security concerns.
Instead, on Tuesday, June 27th, the council directed that the Landmarks Commission should first review the way the cameras would be installed on the landmark Santa Monica Pier Carousel Building at its meeting Monday, July 10th, and report back to City Council Tuesday, July 11th, when the issue will be reconsidered by the council.
The Santa Monica Pier is a historic landmark and any modification to a landmark requires approval from the Landmarks Commission. However, the Santa Monica Police Department (SMPD) believes the project is of “emergent nature” and to prevent delays in receiving approval from the Landmarks Commission, they requested that the council issue an emergency order.
Santa Monica police Deputy Chief Phil Sanchez spoke to the council about the emergency request.
“It is a viable threat,” Sanchez said of homeland security concerns on the pier. “This is about community safety. I would only ask you to reflect on current times.”
Sanchez said he or Butts could paint “a very vivid picture” in a closed session about the installation of the cameras.
After a long discussion, the council was split on the issue.
“If something happened [on the pier], I would have to live with it,” said Councilman Herb Katz, who was in support of the action.
Mayor Robert Holbrook also supported the action. “I just think we need to trust the [police] chief — he says there’s a serious concern we need to address.”
“When we’re not prepared, that is the time we become complacent,” said Councilwoman Pam O’Connor. “And I don’t think it’s going to pass and that makes me very sad.”
The cameras would be fixed — not rotating, Sanchez said.
“The cameras will be highly visible to the public, but painted to match buildings that they are installed on in order to make equipment blend in as much as possible,” said Eric Uller, the city’s lead public safety systems analyst.
Councilman Ken Genser supports the cameras, but not emergency approval of their installation.
“It is reasonably prudent to wait,” Genser said. “I don’t think an emergency condition exists.” He didn’t see a “rationale to simply bypass the procedures.”
Councilman Kevin McKeown didn’t support the emergency motion either.
“I can’t support the emergency part of this,” McKeown said. “We really should in this case follow the process. We have a public process for a reason.
“On July 11th [after the Landmarks Commission reviews the security camera installation], we will have all the information.”
This issue was first brought to light on July 22nd last year, when the Santa Monica Police Department received a phone call from a citizen who had taken still photographs of three persons described as Middle Eastern videotaping the pier and surrounding areas in a suspicious manner, according to city officials.
Investigation of the incident revealed that the same individuals were also seen making “suspicious videos” in two other areas.
Since that time, the police department has taken additional steps to try to increase police visibility at various locations.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security was consulted and performed a site assessment, and security enhancements were recommended for the pier, including the installation of security cameras, Uller said.
On February 14th this year, the council approved the purchase and implementation of the Public Video Security System, which included cameras on the pier.
Security cameras have already been installed on the Third Street Promenade.
The issue will be reconsidered by the council on Tuesday, July 11th after the Landmarks Commission has reviewed the matter.