Owners of two local businesses are speaking out about vandalism, homelessness, and the condition of sidewalks in West Hollywood’s Boystown gay nightlife district.
Larry Block, owner of the Block Party, a gay-oriented clothing store, has taken to social media to protest a series of incidents including the smashing of the window on the front of his store at 8853 Santa Monica Blvd. And Jonathan Diersing of Rounderbum, the clothing store on the northeast corner of Santa Monica Boulevard and San Vicente, has raised similar concerns.
In a recent email to the West Hollywood Chamber of Commerce that was shared with WEHOville, Diersing said he would not be renewing his membership in the chamber because he didn’t believe it was pushing the City of West Hollywood and law enforcement enough to deal with the issues.
“Main reason being is after the past few years I have brought up the issues the city has with homeless, public defecation, people visiting the city urinating, vomiting, doing drugs and finding dangerous drug needles in the back of my store,” Diersing said in his Feb. 21 email to the Chamber’s Tracy Paaso.
“What put me over the edge, was this Saturday night when I took potential investors who flew here from Miami to meet me. We went to dinner, and I was walking them over to my store around 11 p.m. to show them it. When we approached, there were people throwing up at my front door, and it was all noodles! It was absolutely disgusting and smelled so bad we all almost threw up. I had to yell at the guy who was throwing up and told him to leave. He did not and yelled back at me as if I was the bad guy.”
“My only female employee was harassed by a drunk guy the other night, and we have had several incidences where homeless people harass us too. Even to the point where they have come in the store with a screwdriver and threatened to KILL us.”
Block, who has announced that he will be a candidate in the Nov. 3 election for two City Council seats, posted on Facebook about the Feb. 14 smashing of his store window by a homeless woman. The incident occurred around 2 a.m. and the woman was arrested by Sheriff’s deputies, who monitored the scene until Block arrived at 6 a.m.
Until the window glass was replaced, Block posted a large sign on the plywood that covered it. “Crime is rising and too many homeless on our streets. The young can’t afford to move in and the old have no place to go,” read the sign. “Mad as hell and not going to take it anymore.”
Diersing said he wants the City of West Hollywood to step up security in the Boystown area and force bar owners to pay to keep it clean
“Since the bars are the ones who are getting these people drunk and making all the $, they should be the ones to pay to beautify the city or more …. weekly pressure washing to sanitize sidewalks, alley ways, and any other area where their customers abuse (such as the outside of my store).”
Diersing also said he wanted Sheriff’s deputies and the city’s Block by Block security patrols to monitor Santa Monica Boulevard more closely and fine those who are causing problems. “They should also find out the bar they were at that got them so drunk and fine that bar too.:
“Regarding (the) homeless issue … if Beverly Hills can push them homeless out, so can we. No excuse.”
West Hollywood’s nightlife scene, especially in the Boystown area, with its high concentration of bars, is an obvious factor in the issues Diersing raised. A study by the L.A. County Department of Public Health based on data from 2013 found that West Hollywood led every city and community in Los Angeles County in the number of alcohol outlets per 10,000 residents — something several scientific studies have associated with violent crime, car crashes, emergency room visits, hospitalization and death. The study reported that alcohol was served at 51.1 locations (bars and restaurants) per 10,000 West Hollywood residents.
The issue of homelessness is a major one across Great Los Angeles and California. Several years ago the City of West Hollywood began a homeless initiative to address the issue. It launched a homeless outreach operation at the West Hollywood Library, linking community members in need to appropriate social services. And the West Hollywood Sheriff’s Station, working with the Sheriff’s Department’s Homeless, Outreach, Pro-Active, Engagement (HOPE) team, has interacted regularly with homeless people to encourage them to take advantage of addiction and mental health services and housing options.
Asked about the complaints by Block and Diesing, Lt. William Moulder of the West Hollywood Sheriff’s Station said records show that deputies responded to eight calls from Block Party about issues with homeless people over the past year. He said there were six calls from Rounderbum.
“If residents or businesses are having reoccurring problems, we encourage them to contact the station, and they can speak with me or Sergeant Jon Klaus,” Moulder said in an email to WEHOville.
“We manage the COPPS (Community Oriented Policing and Problem Solving) team, which handles quality of life issues during the day and the Entertainment Policing Team (EPT team) which handles evening issues. These teams can conduct directed patrols at a location, or an area, to address on-going issues.
“We also alert our patrol deputies to increase patrols at locations or areas that are experiencing issues.”
“The City of West Hollywood also contracts a dedicated full-time Mental Evaluation Team (MET Team),” Moulder noted. “The team consists of one deputy sheriff, who has specialized mental health training, and one clinician from the Department of Mental Health. As you know, there are people in the city who are experiencing homelessness who also have mental health issues. The MET team has been very effective helping this population and resolving incidents peacefully.
“There are also additional patrols such as foot patrols on the east and west side of town, park deputies, and other supplement patrols.”
Genevieve Morrill, CEO of the Chamber of Commerce, noted that the homelessness issue is a regional one and said the city and the Chamber are working on it.
“We applaud the massive efforts the city and county are making on an issue,” Morrill said in an email to WEHOville. “The problem goes well beyond our borders, or even the county, but City of West Hollywood is the first to expend resources and dive in to tackle this enormous challenge. We are so proud of our business community stepping up and being a small part of the solution.”
“The Chamber Homeless Committee has been active from clothing drives to employing homeless seniors and youth in the Los Angeles LGBT Center’s Culinary Arts intern program. This relationship has already resulted in seven employment partnerships with local West Hollywood businesses. WHCC was one of the first organizations to become a community partner with the ‘Everyone In’ program. ”
Paaso, the Chamber of Commerce’s membership director, suggested to Diesing that he join a Chamber of Commerce committee of city business owners, whose members include Block, David Dickerson of Kitchen 24, and Alexander Bazley of West Hollywood Gateway, among others, that meets monthly to address the homelessness issue. She also noted that there had been a discussion in the past of forming a business improvement district for Boystown, which would have had local businesses contribute to a fund to promote and protect the area.
David Zanaroff, the owner of Z Pizza, was a leader in an unsuccessful 2013 effort to get a majority of the Boystown businesses to sign up for a BID. To pay for the BID, businesses would be assessed an annual fee determined by the type of business, occupancy, square footage, gross receipts and alcohol sales.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been updated with a statement from Genevieve Morrill, CEO of the West Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, about its efforts to address the homeless issue.