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

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“All the economic indicators are flashing red—jobs are leaving, businesses are leaving,” says the head of one homeowners association.

Dozens of residents and business and homeowners gathered at a town hall with Los Angeles City Councilman Hugo Soto-Martinez March 16 to voice concerns about crime, economic decline, and homelessness they say are laying waste to the iconic heart of Hollywood.

Mr. Soto-Martinez represents the 13th District, which encompasses most of Hollywood, including its Walk of Fame.

The event, hosted by a homeowner-funded nonprofit called 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 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.”

Mr. Bescher 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.

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“It’s kind of embarrassing, really,” Mr. Henricks 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 support “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 the issue than many constituents say they would like, including declining to enforce Municipal Code 41.18, which prohibits public camping near sensitive areas like elementary schools. At the meeting, he argued 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 only clearing encampments 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 to win city council seats in recent years. All three have taken a similar position on enforcing public camping bans.

Many active in online forums like NextDoor, regularly complain 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 last year their “clean team” spent 1,386 hours cleaning up debris around encampment sites and collected 138 tons of trash “on this work alone.”

Hollywood Partnership President Kathleen Rawson interviews Los Angeles City Councilman Hugo Soto-Martinez at a town hall 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 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 remarked, “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 around 500 homeowners in three HOAs, including the one at The Broadway Hollywood, all near the Hollywood and Vine intersection, 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,” Mr. Bescher said. He also pointed to the shuttered Walgreens flagship store in the area and a business that’s been in The Broadway Hollywood building for a decade that’s about to fold.

Hollywood was once a destination for people to go shopping, said Mr. Henricks, the President of the Hollywood Heights Association. “It was beautiful shoe stores and dress stores and florists. And there isn’t anything here for us residents, really.”

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.

But when Mr. Soto-Martinez suggested 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 organized retail theft that has skyrocketed in Los Angeles in recent years.

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

“Hold those folks accountable,” he said, “but let’s not lose sight of the ‘why.’”

In fact, he admitted, “I actually agree that we’ve gotten a little too far.”

During the meeting, he 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,” Mr. Soto-Martinez said.

Some business owners during the two-hour meeting described long response times when they call the police, and suspects invariably gone before they 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 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.”

Mr. Warner told The Epoch Times he has learned from some exit interviews that the No. 1 reason employees leave is because they don’t feel safe. He said he’s tried calling the police and said, once, an officer at the station suggested he lock his business doors and only let in people he knows.

“How do you run a business like that?” Mr. Warner said.

Asked if he might support some kind of mandatory treatment for those on the street with mental health or addiction disorders, a kind of carrot-and-stick, Mr. Soto-Martinez said that was a concern for only a “very small” percentage of the unsheltered homeless population, and deferred again to 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.

Men walk past a homeless encampment in Los Angeles on March 4, 2024. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)
Men walk 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, or use them as a precondition for housing or a reason for eviction.

But Mr. Warner, who said he was diagnosed with a mental illness because of his addiction, insisted having consequences was what made the difference in his journey to recovery. Today, he said, 40 percent of his staff comes from the recovery community.

“It’s one of the things I love, being able to give back to the community,” he 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,” he said.

Mr. Soto-Martinez appeared sympathetic and interested in the model.

Pressed on 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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