Hollywood Residents Say Unchecked Crime, Homelessness Are Gutting the Iconic Strip

Hollywood Residents Say Unchecked Crime, Homelessness Are Gutting the Iconic Strip

Dozens of area residents, business owners, and homeowners gathered at a town hall event to voice concerns about crime, economic decline, and homelessness in the Hollywood area of Los Angeles on March 16, 2024. (Courtesy of The Hollywood Partnership)

Beige Luciano-Adams

Beige Luciano-Adams

3/20/2024

Updated: 3/26/2024

LOS ANGELES—Dozens of area residents, business owners, and homeowners gathered at a town hall event with Los Angeles City Councilman Hugo Soto-Martinez on March 16 to voice concerns about crime, economic decline, and homelessness that they say are laying waste to the iconic heart of Hollywood.
Mr. Soto-Martinez represents the 13th District, which encompasses most of the Hollywood neighborhood, including its Walk of Fame.
The event—hosted by a homeowner-funded nonprofit called The Hollywood Partnership, which provides cleaning and other public space enhancements to the Hollywood Entertainment District—remained civil but heated as attendees pushed Mr. Soto-Martinez to do more to address a situation that they say is spiraling out of control.
“All the economic indicators are flashing red—jobs are leaving, businesses are leaving because of a lack of safety,” said Eric Bescher, president of the homeowners association at The Broadway Hollywood, a 96-unit loft residential building located at Hollywood and Vine. “Our residents are scared. I don’t want to walk outside at night. People don’t want to walk their dogs.”
He pointed to a spate of anchor retail closures, as well as lost tax revenue, property value, jobs, and livability as a direct result of unchecked crime, security issues, and homeless encampments.
Todd Henricks, president of the Hollywood Heights Association, said Hollywood has ceased to be a “shining example” of a tourist destination.
“It’s kind of embarrassing, really,” he said. “The other day I was driving down Vine, and there was a man defecating on the side of the building, right on Vine. Right outside Trader Joe’s. And it’s like, how do you prevent that from happening, and what happens to these people that are doing that?”
Asked about previous statements that he does not enforce “crimes of poverty,” Mr. Soto-Martinez said, “I want to differentiate. If crime is happening—vandalism, theft—people should report that. And I’m in favor of holding people accountable for their actions.”
But, he said, often people conflate such crime with homelessness.
“Those are two different things for me,” Mr. Soto-Martinez said. “Crime should be handled in its own way and the issue of homelessness in its own way.”
And yet, those in attendance continued to point to the intertangled nature of crime, homelessness, addiction, and mental health crises—and what they said was a lack of enforcement, accountability, and security.
Selma Park received an Inside Safe cleanup operation in 2023. (Courtesy of The Hollywood Partnership)

Selma Park received an Inside Safe cleanup operation in 2023. (Courtesy of The Hollywood Partnership)

Mr. Soto-Martinez, a former labor organizer who took office in 2022, has employed a less aggressive approach to these issues than many constituents say they want, including his declining to enforce Municipal Code 41.18, which prohibits public camping near sensitive areas such as elementary schools. At the meeting, he argued that street sweeps without housing won’t solve the issue.
“I agree with the goal of keeping those areas safe, clean, and [trying] to not have encampments there. I don’t agree with the approach,” Mr. Soto-Martinez said, adding that his office has accomplished the same goal without using 41.18 or “Care+,” the city’s sanitation sweeps, by clearing encampments only when there is a housing or shelter offer attached.
Along with Nithya Raman and Eunisses Hernandez, Mr. Soto-Martinez is one of three candidates backed by the Los Angeles chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America who have won city council seats in recent years. All three have taken a similar position on enforcing public camping bans.
Many people active in online forums such as NextDoor regularly complain that Hollywood encampments typically return hours after a Care+ operation. Some have organized to install planters, fences, or other deterrents at cleared encampments at their own expense, decrying what they see as the city’s failure to do its job.
Hollywood Partnership representatives said their “clean team” spent 1,386 hours cleaning up debris around encampment sites and collected 138 tons of trash “on this work alone” in 2023.
Hollywood Partnership President Kathleen Rawson interviews Los Angeles City Councilman Hugo Soto-Martinez at a town hall event in Hollywood on March 16, 2024. (Beige Luciano-Adams/The Epoch Times)

Hollywood Partnership President Kathleen Rawson interviews Los Angeles City Councilman Hugo Soto-Martinez at a town hall event in Hollywood on March 16, 2024. (Beige Luciano-Adams/The Epoch Times)

According to Mr. Soto-Martinez’s office, the city has only 400 interim shelter beds for more than 3,000 people living on the streets in the 13th District.
“Regarding all the Band-Aids for homelessness and crime,” an attendee said, “could we not build shelter, could we not build a place to get them off the streets?”
The councilman pointed to a lack of available space and said his team is diligently trying to find places in his district where the city might put safe camping sites, RV parking lots, tiny homes, or other interim solutions.
“Literally, that is the only thing that is stopping us from getting folks off of the street,” Mr. Soto-Martinez said.
Speaking to The Epoch Times after the event, Mr. Bescher, who said he spoke for about 500 homeowners in three HOAs near the Hollywood and Vine intersection, including the one at The Broadway Hollywood, was exasperated.
“Starbucks shut down—I mean, Starbucks!—doesn’t have the backbone to stay in our neighborhood because they cannot handle the safety issue for their own customers, their own staff,” he said.
Mr. Bescher also pointed to the shuttered Walgreens flagship store in the area and a business that has been in The Broadway Hollywood building for a decade that’s about to fold.
Hollywood was once a destination for people to go shopping, Mr. Henricks said.
“It was beautiful shoe stores and dress stores and florists. And there isn’t anything here for us residents, really,” he said.
Earlier in the meeting, Mr. Soto-Martinez said, “Hollywood doesn’t have a neighborhood character.” He pointed to Santa Monica as possible inspiration, but an attendee suggested Old Town Pasadena would be a better model.
However, when Mr. Soto-Martinez suggested that investment could similarly transform Hollywood, a woman in the audience remarked quietly to her neighbors, “The Pasadena Police Department is more aggressive.”
The councilman said he wasn’t opposed to enforcing laws, but that we should also “see the nuances of someone who is living on the street, stealing a toothpaste,” and distinguish that from the organized retail theft that has skyrocketed in Los Angeles in recent years.
The El Centro Avenue and Hollywood Boulevard intersection received an Inside Safe cleanup operation in 2023. (Courtesy of The Hollywood Partnership)

The El Centro Avenue and Hollywood Boulevard intersection received an Inside Safe cleanup operation in 2023. (Courtesy of The Hollywood Partnership)

“Hold those folks accountable,” Mr. Soto-Martinez said, “but let’s not lose sight of the ‘why.’”
In fact, he said, “I actually agree that we’ve gotten a little too far.”
During the meeting, Mr. Soto-Martinez recalled being a “troubled youth,” a dropout on probation as a juvenile.
“And there was enough of a stick to say, ‘Hey, you know what? You keep doing this, you’ll end up worse.’ It was more carrot, but a little stick, too,” he said.
Some business owners during the two-hour meeting described long response times when they call the police, and suspects invariably gone before police arrive.
To that, Mr. Soto-Martinez suggested training employees to not call 911, and instead opt for the city’s “underutilized” Crisis and Incident Response through Community-Led Engagement (CIRCLE) team, which deploys mental health workers and those “with lived experience” to address nonviolent calls related to homelessness.
Todd Warner, who owns Tailwaggers, a chain of pet stores, including one in Hollywood, told the councilman that his employees have been attacked, both walking to work and inside the store.
“What we constantly see here is there’s not enough accountability,” Mr. Warner said. “I’m also a recovering crystal meth addict, I’ve been in recovery for over 10 years, and I know if there wasn’t some accountability I would still be out there.”
He told The Epoch Times that he has learned from some exit interviews that the No. 1 reason that employees leave is because they don’t feel safe. Mr. Warner said he has tried calling the police and said, once, an officer at the station suggested that he lock his business doors and only let in people he knows.
“How do you run a business like that?” he asked.
Asked if he might support some kind of mandatory treatment for those on the street with mental health or addiction disorders, Mr. Soto-Martinez said that was a concern for only a “very small” percentage of the unsheltered homeless population, and deferred again to blaming a lack of housing.
“If we’re talking about the issue of getting folks off the street, that is one issue. The issue of mental health and sobriety is another. I don’t think you can deal with those issues unless that person is housed,” he said.
A man walks past a homeless encampment in Los Angeles on March 4, 2024. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

A man walks past a homeless encampment in Los Angeles on March 4, 2024. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

Since being codified into California law in 2016, government-funded shelter and housing—including Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass’s Inside Safe program—cannot mandate sobriety or mental health treatment, nor use them as a precondition for housing, nor as a reason for eviction.
But Mr. Warner, who said he was diagnosed with a mental illness because of his addiction, insisted that having consequences was what made the difference in his journey to recovery. Today, he said, four out of 10 of his staff members come from the recovery community.
“It’s one of the things I love, being able to give back to the community,” Mr. Warner said. “I want to get people in a safe workplace that are having addiction issues, because I think giving them something to do is one of the No. 1 things, giving people a reason not to use.”
But, he said, they have to be held accountable.
“If they’re going to show up to the workplace high, you need to let them leave, because they’re going to trigger other people,” Mr. Warner said.
Mr. Soto-Martinez appeared sympathetic and interested in the model.
Pressed as to whether he would support mandatory treatment or consequence-based approaches, the councilman deferred to doctors and the county to hash out implementation of evolving state mental health law reforms.
“We’re going to let the experts tell us what they think is best,” he said.
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Beige Luciano-Adams

Beige Luciano-Adams

Author

Beige Luciano-Adams is an investigative reporter covering Los Angeles and statewide issues in California. She has covered politics, arts, culture, and social issues for a variety of outlets, including LA Weekly and MediaNews Group publications. Reach her at beige.luciano@epochtimesca.com and follow her on X: https://twitter.com/LucianoBeige

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