More than 60 people turned out Thursday night for a meeting at the Plummer Park Community Center to discuss with public safety officers and City Hall staffers their concerns about crime
The meeting was organized by the Eastside Neighborhood Watch group and focused on concerns about homelessne in the area and drug use in Plummer Park.
“I’m determined that we’re not going to lose our neighborhood to this epidemic,” said Tod Hallman, who heads the Neighborhood Watch group. Hallman noted that he wasn’t criticizing people for being homeless, but for being “bad actors” who harassed or frightened area residents.
In addition to Plummer Park, residents voiced concerns about disturbing behavior by people in buildings near them, one of which Hallman described as a “homeless Airbnb.” Another resident complained about loud partying from an apartment near his home on Greenacre Avenue – something that he said he has complained about to the Sheriff’s Station and the city’s Code Enforcement Division for months. Residents also asked what the city could do to push developers to more quickly demolish empty buildings that they plan to eventually replace so that homeless people don’t live in them.
Lt. William Moulder of the West Hollywood Sheriff’s Station said he hopes that an increased presence of public safety officers will dissuade some people from engaging in illegal drug use or indecent behavior in the park. Some of that behavior has occurred around a single-use restroom where a wall outside has become a gathering place for homeless people and apparent drug users. Helen Collins, the city’s facilities and field services manager, said the city is looking into ways to remove the wall and develop an interim solution to the bathroom issue while it explores a longer-term solution.
In addition to an increased public safety presence in Plummer Park, Moulder said the station is planning some undercover operations. He noted that the station has a Homeless Outreach Services Team a Mental Evaluation Team that includes a specially trained deputy and a mental health clinician that work to get homeless people into care. Corri Planck, who heads the City Hall division that includes homeless services, noted that that can be a difficult task, given that it can take from 20 to 150 individual encounters with a homeless person to convince him or her to accept help.
Kristin Cook, West Hollywood’s Public Safety director, said the city is considering the installation of public safety cameras in the park. She also said the city is considering using space at 7362 Santa Monica Blvd., directly across from Plummer Park and now used by the Block by Block Security Ambassador bicycle team, as an Eastside branch of the Sheriff’s station. That will go before the City Council for discussion in September, she said.
As to the “homeless Airbnb,” Lt. Moulder said that deputies had investigated complaints about suspicious behavior at that building on Poinsettia Drive and arrested two people there, one on charges that included violating parole. While they have been released from prison pending trial, Moulder says they appear to have moved away.
Moulder also noted the limitations that state and federal law and various court rulings place on what law enforcement officers can do to deal with homelessness and apparent crimes involving homeless people. A person cannot be arrested for being homeless, he noted. And, responding to complaints from the man on Greenacre Avenue about loud partying by his neighbors, Moulder and Sgt. Jon Klaus said they have suggested the man seek a restraining order against the neighbors, noting that they can’t arrest them based on a complaint.
Other speakers explained other complications in dealing with issues raised by some residents. Danny Rivas, who heads the city’s Code Compliance Division, spoke to concerns about buildings being left empty for a long period of time before the owner proceeds with plans to demolish them and begin construction of a new building. Sometimes such building have become places where homeless people gather. Rivas noted that a developer has 180 days from the date he obtains a building permit to begin construction on a project and can seek an extension. That gives the owner of the building a substantial amount of time before it must be demolished. City Councilmember Lindsey Horvath, who joined Councilmember Lauren Meister in attending the community meeting, noted that some property owners don’t want to immediately demolish a vacant building because of the negative impact that might have on the value of the property, which they could sell rather than proceeding with a new development. Rivas said the city is looking into options for addressing that issue.
Rivas and Moulder also noted how important it is for a building owner to obtain a “letter of agency,” which is a document that allows a law enforcement office to enter a building to investigate an issue without going through the complex process of obtaining a search warrant, which typically requires more substantial evidence of wrong doing. Klaus said that if there is a letter of agency, deputies can warn a homeless person to leave the property. If he or she if found there a second time, that person can be arrested.
The meeting wrapped up with a visit from representatives of Lowell Café, the cannabis café that will be opening on the northwest corner of La Brea Avenue at Lexington and will provide security services in the area surrounding the café.