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Calling for a sense of urgency to protect Hollywood

By Kerry Morrison

January 2, 2018

What does it mean to feel safe?

As the head of the Hollywood BID, I feel a deep sense of responsibility to people who come to Los Angeles to visit Hollywood and the Walk of Fame.  But as we end 2017, I feel the city has allowed a sense of lawlessness to settle in, at the expense of the safety of those who honor us with a visit.   Just peruse Trip Advisor.  Our designation as a world-class tourist destination is not only at risk, it is tarnished.  Would you want to visit Hollywood after reading this review posted just before Christmas  by Francesca from the United Kingdom?

Seedy, filthy and full of druggies.

I was totally disillusioned after my visit. We visited on a Sunday afternoon the boulevard had a certain aroma of weed and urine . Homeless people abounded. The streets were filthy, the inlaid stars on the pavement were cracked or dirty . The shops were tacky selling cheap tourist tat.
There was an atmosphere of unease as beggars , CD merchants and people dressed in 3rd rate fancy dress with bad body odor tried to con you out of your dollars. A good survival tactic give no-one eye contact just walk purposely forward.

A very intimidating atmosphere definitely not glamorous. We saw druggies shooting up on the blvd. Why aren’t the police out in force in this area?

We walked to the Chinese Theatre and felt stoned with all the “smoke” around us. A seedy place even on a Sunday afternoon. I wouldn’t return.

Think of any city in the world that you visit on a vacation.  You expect to be safe, to feel safe.  You may have a child in a stroller, or your grandmother on your arm.  You are not familiar with the language or the currency or the customs, but you hope that the city values your arrival and will protect you.  This is not the case in Los Angeles, where people are drawn to Hollywood only to be potentially victimized and/or shocked by what they witness here.

Vendors set up their tables on the Walk of Fame, next to the scramble crosswalk at Hollywood & Highland on 12/30/17. (Photo by Cory Dacy)

This is not a jab at the LAPD, who, in my opinion, is doing a valiant job keeping order as their enforcement toolkit is slowly dismantled by the Los Angeles City Council.  They have been committed to daily footbeats since Labor Day weekend, and for that we are grateful.  Sad to say, this state of affairs is a byproduct of policies aimed at “opening up liberties” for people to camp out or conduct business on the public right of way with no comprehension as to how that actually compromises the freedom to enjoy and feel safe in the public right of way.

My office is smack dab in the middle of Hollywood Boulevard, and I will invite any member of the city council to come to the boulevard and walk it with me to see how far things have deteriorated.

The hands-off  approach to tackling sidewalk behaviors is exacerbated by the homelessness crisis and the increased evidence of people with severe mental illness left to fend for themselves on our streets. We are fully committed to participating in all the strategies in place to reduce our homeless population.  However, when all these issues are combined on the sidewalks, we have a perfect storm that compromises the sense of well-being and safety of pedestrians.  And without pedestrians on the sidewalk, businesses will suffer.

For this reason, to protect our pedestrians, our businesses, and our reputation,  I will be making a case for a moratorium on all sidewalk and curbside activities until we can restore public safety in Hollywood.

Here are just five indicators of the dangers of how our current policies (or lack thereof) are compromising public safety:

Operator attempting to quench fire on busy day after Christmas.

  • The day after Christmas, at a curbside that has been a chronic source of complaints about food trucks that camp out all day long (for the price of one parking ticket – cheap rent day after day), a fire erupted when the truck operator attempted to fill a generator with gasoline adjacent to hundreds of people walking down the sidewalk.   So that one does not consider that this is a one-off, these trucks have been showing up daily for the past year to park in front of businesses, with unsafe propane canisters strewn on the ground, cooking smells wafting into businesses, and debris left on the street which has fostered a never-before-experienced rodent problem.

Damage to a food truck, parked on Hollywood Boulevard, from its own exploding generator.

  • Because the city council has been fiddling with a sidewalk vending ordinance for two years now, the rules of what activity is allowed and not allowed is confusing to all, and opportunists  have taken advantage of the vacuum. The stars on the Walk of Fame are often obscured by vendors who set up with impunity. The  Hollywood and Highland cross walk is, by DOT’s standards, one of the busiest in all of Los Angeles.  Yet, there are vendors lined up right to the edge of the crosswalk.

Let’s all hope visitors haven’t travelled half-way across the globe to see the stars on the Walk of Fame. (11-18-17)

  • In their effort to reduce penalties associated with non-permitted vending earlier this year, the only enforcement tool provided by the LA City Council to LAPD or Street Services enforcement is an “Administrative Code Enforcement” citation which carries no teeth. On one Twitter feed I posted this fall, there were over 30 vendors lined up side by side along the busy sidewalk in front of the Chinese and Dolby theaters.
  • The five bus lines that stop at the SE corner of Hollywood and Highland (212,217,222,312,780) transport, in total across those lines, over 6.9M passengers a month, according to the METRO website.  Hollywood Boulevard supports a busy public transportation hub, since we are along a subway route.  One would expect that when you attempt to step up onto a bus, or exit, your ability to enter and exit the bus would be protected.   That is not the case in Hollywood.  If you are elderly, or disabled in any way, we wish you well, because as you exit the bus, you may have to deal with a range of obstacles as shown in the photos.

Five bus lines are serviced by this bus stop at SE corner of Hollywood and Highland. Good luck navigating your way on or off.

  • Perhaps because of substance use, or untreated mental illness, or both, we have a consistent problem with someone(s) setting fires to our trash cans on Hollywood Boulevard.
  • The general state of chaos that exists is fueled also by the continued presence of CD vendors hawking their music, tour bus hawkers stalking unsuspecting tourists, and of course, the ubiquitous characters shaking down tourists for tips.

Put all these elements together, and the policies of the city of Los Angeles have contributed to an unwelcoming tourist destination. I saw the disappointment in the faces of thousands who came to Hollywood over the holiday, whether for vacation or to attend the Rose Bowl. We need the entire city council to take ownership and protect Hollywood.  And until a plan is put in place to regulate behaviors in the interest of public safety, we would respectfully ask that an interim control ordinance be adopted to restore order to the neighborhood. Let’s not wait for someone to get hit by a bus because they had to navigate around sidewalk vendors, or for someone to be burned by a propane tank left in the curb, or chased into traffic by an aggressive dog living in a sidewalk encampment. In the interests of protecting people who come from all over the world to walk the famous sidewalks, let’s move into 2018 with a sense of urgency and stop kicking this can down the road.

Top photo: Sidewalk vendors completely obscure the Walk of Fame on 12/30/17. (Photo by Cory Dacy)

Kerry Morrison is executive director of the Hollywood Property Owners Alliance.  She serves on the United Way/LA Area Chamber Home For Good Task Force and blogs at @KerryHMorrison

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