Monday, September 14, 2009
CityWatchLA - Hollywood & Western - "No-Man's Land"
CityWatch, Sept 15, 2009
Vol 7 Issue 74
The Metro’s Red Line stations are all unique, each one decorated with public art that reflects the character and personality of the surrounding community. At Hollywood & Western, the Metro selected overflowing trashcans, human waste and a homeless encampment, all in tribute to the “No-Man’s Land” status of the area that finds the LAPD and the LASD treating the Metro station like a jurisdictional hot potato.
This past Saturday evening, arriving at the Metro Station a little after midnight, we discovered five of the six escalators inoperative. Proponents of the "Broken Windows" theory would suggest that this "indicator" communicates a complete lack of oversight.
Walking to the third staircase, we came across a little old lady, halfway up, standing still, unable finish the journey to street level. As my wife assisted the reluctant pedestrian, I went to notify the authorities only to find that the emergency intercom was out of order.
At street level, the LAPD was out in force, driving up and down the Boulevard in vehicular insulation, never slowing down or so much as glancing at the Metro Station or the homeless encampment that sits below City Council President Eric Garcetti's 4th floor office in the Mayer Building. Of course, this is not their beat.
Years ago the Metro awarded the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department a lucrative contract to provide law enforcement services for all Metro property. A subsequent Memorandum Of Understanding between the LAPD and the LASD clarified the jurisdictional details and the lines were drawn. All Metro property is the responsibility of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department.
None of this really matters to the person on the street who wants help, only to find themselves lost in the "No-Man's Land" of the Metro Red Line Station.
I called the LASD Watch Commander at Metro Rail HQ to let him know of the five inoperative escalators, the broken emergency intercom, the stench of urine and feces, the overflowing trash cans, and the homeless encampment, pointing out that they all indicate a significant failure on the part of the LASD.
Sgt. Bedogne explained that staffing was thin on Saturday nights and that their focus was fare evasion. I pointed out this seems to be in sharp contrast with the Metro’s position as articulated by CEO Art Leahy who has indicated that public safety and customer service are his priorities for the Metro.
It took 28 minutes for the LASD to arrive at Hollywood & Western, four cars with five Deputies. They descended into the station, returned to street level, chatted with the two armed Metro Officers who joined them, hung out some more, and then they all left. Net result of the visit, 22 minutes of scratching, spitting and huddling together on the mean streets of Hollywood and Western.
At no time did any of them simply walk the perimeter of the street level property. Sgt. Bedogne explained "The LASD only handles the Metro Station itself, not the surrounding property." In fact, we discovered that night, the Sheriff's surveillance cameras don't even cover the third level of stairs.
Meanwhile, Sgt. Lawrence, the LAPD's Watch Commander informed me that the Metro Station including the homeless encampment is the responsibility of the Sheriff's Department. Neither Watch Commander seemed alarmed in the disconnect between the two departments and both referred me to supervisors who were not available.
This neighborhood has been in the news quite a bit lately. The LA Weekly has run a couple of great articles on the issues of homelessness and emancipated youth in Hollywood and in both articles the Hollywood & Western Metro Station is featured as the de facto drop in center for the under challenged and homeless youth of the area.
Most recently, the CIM Group was taken to task for their blighted properties located to the north, trashed, abandoned and filled with squatters. Garcetti deferred to Councilman LaBonge (they split the intersection, Garcetti to the south, LaBonge to the north)
As Garcetti and LaBonge engaged in the jurisdictional hot potato dance, the City Attorney and Building & Safety got involved and at the prodding of local activists, the properties were razed and the area was cleared of blight.
LaBonge, who has never passed on the opportunity to engage in an end-zone victory dance, gathered community leaders in the parking lot of the Rite-Aid to claim credit for cleaning up the neighborhood, missing the fact that destroying a squat doesn’t provide housing for the squatters, it merely drives them across the street into Garcetti’s district. Perhaps that was his strategy. It would be consistent with the behavior of others.
The LAPD purportedly has professionals that handle homeless issues but according to Sgt. Lawrence, the Watch Commander on duty Saturday night, they are available during traditional office hours.
The LASD also has professionals to handle homeless issues but according to Sgt. Bedogne, the Watch Commander on duty Saturday night, they are also available during traditional office hours.
Somehow the collective oversight of City Council President Garcetti, Councilmember LaBonge, the CRA, the Metro, the LAPD, the LASD, Building & Safety, the City Attorney’s office and anyone else charged with addressing the homeless issue in Hollywood completely missed the fact that when you destroy homeless camps, you don’t reduce homelessness.
The Sheriff’s Department is not without a plan for addressing homelessness. Ride the Metro Rail to either end of the line and you'll see Sheriff's Deputies whose only job is to make the homeless exit the rail cars, stand sleepily on the station for a few minutes with their abundant possessions, teeter and totter and then reenter to resume sleeping on the journey to the other end of the line.
The LAPD has a similar strategy for the vehicles and motorhomes parked on residential streets, occupied by folks who simply move their vehicular campsite from one side of the street to the other to accommodate street cleaning, necessary to address the trail of trash and human waste left behind. The Senior Lead Officers typically use the 72 hour chalk to keep them moving in circles, ignoring LA Muni Code 85.02 which prohibits people from inhabiting parked vehicles on public streets.
In either case, the strategy seems to be based on the belief that if the homeless are annoyed enough, they will simple grow weary of the inconvenience of homelessness, snap out of their stupor, resolve to prosper, buy a home in the Valley, and leave Hollywood behind.
I’ve lived in Hollywood for a dozen years. I believe in Hollywood and I proudly refer to it as “the center of the universe,” a claim I make with utmost sincerity based on its history, its industry significance, its creative community, and its potential.
For three years my wife and I have hosted “Bike to Work” events at the Hollywood & Western Metro Station. We have organized rides that use the Metro Station as the meeting place. Hollywood & Western is where we meet friends, where we shop, it’s often the beginning and end of our journeys and it is, in many ways, the center of the universe. It’s the heart of our neighborhood.
The Hollywood and Western Red Line station is the tip of an iceberg that can’t be neglected or ignored any longer.
It is imperative that the many departments that have responsibility for some aspect of development, public safety, homeless services, law enforcement and simple quality of life issues in Hollywood to come together, put down the jurisdictional drama and to simply work together to make Los Angeles a Great City.
(Stephen Box stands vigil on the City of Angels and writes for CityWatch. He can be reached at Stephen@ThirdEyeCreative.net) ◘