LA parties head for the Hollywood Hills as mayor vows crackdown
LOS ANGELES-Agence France-Presse
With Los Angeles nightclubs closed, party promoters have turned to mansions in the Hollywood Hills to throw lavish, raucous and sometimes deadly gatherings that have enraged neighbors and local officials.
Starting this weekend, Mayor Eric Garcetti has granted emergency powers to utility workers to cut electricity and water at sprawling homes dotted around the famous Hollywood sign that have "essentially become nightclubs" during the coronavirus pandemic.
"The consequences of these large parties ripple far beyond just those parties - they repeat throughout our entire community, because the virus can quickly and easily spread," he warned.
But infection is not the only fatal risk. Last Monday, beneath roaring TV news helicopters, police arrived at a mansion off the famous Mulholland Drive packed with young partygoers.
In the ensuing chaos, gunshots rang out and one person was killed.
"When I say party houses, I'm not talking about your neighborhood barbecue or your family gatherings," said Councilmember David Ryu, who is working on legislation to target offenders.
"I'm talking... literally parties that cost a million dollars to host, with caged lions and tigers and baby giraffes on red carpet," he told AFP. "It's an extravaganza."
Under strict Los Angeles licensing laws that see nightlife close at 2 am, revelers have long headed for parties in "the Hills" after last call.
While the pandemic lockdown initially caused a lull in the house party scene, the past few weeks have seen gatherings soar.
Most are run not by the homeowners but by nightclub promoters who now rent mansions for the night, said LAPD Hollywood Captain Steve Lurie.
"The same promoters have figured out 'Well wait a second, I can jump on Airbnb, spend $10,000 a night for a Hollywood Hills mansion, and sell tickets and promote the party just like if it was a nightclub,'" he told AFP.
"It's exactly the same thing. Except now my nightclub has an unobstructed view of Los Angeles, a beautiful swimming pool."
Organizers often charge entrance fees and run cash bars for the events organized by secret mailing lists and word-of-mouth.
One invitation sent for an "underground" Prohibition era-themed party last weekend promised a "private, multi-level, 100% outdoor venue."
According to Hollywood United Neighborhood Council president and resident George Skarpelos, pre-pandemic there were 10 to 15 parties each weekend night but "now there's like 50."
"You think to yourself, 'Look, I understand that you guys feel cooped up and you want to hang out and have a good time.' We all do, right?" said Skarpelos.
"But I feel that there's a lot of people who kind of throw caution to the wind."
The lawlessness of an underground house party scene increases the danger of things going wrong.
"Noise is my last concern, believe it or not," said Ryu. "We've had major fires three years in a row... you have people on the balconies smoking. Where do you think those cigarette butts go?"
With cars illegally parked several vehicles deep on winding roads, emergency officials are often unable to reach the homes.
In some cases the homeowners may not even be aware of the parties, and most include clauses in rental contracts forbidding events.
But Skarpelos believes there is often "a wink and a nod" to such rental agreements.
"They're like, 'Ok, maybe I'll rent it out to this shady guy who says he'll give me $50,000 cash,'" he said.
While the house involved in the deadly shooting is advertised as a retreat for feng shui and environmentalism, its social media accounts carry videos of Brazilian dancers and scantily clad waitresses serving champagne.
The property managers told AFP they had "absolutely no prior knowledge of this large mansion party."
With fines up to $8,000 simply absorbed by promoters as the cost of doing business, new legislation Ryu hopes to pass within three to six months would stiffen penalties for homeowners, including occupancy bans.
Nonetheless, Hills house parties have survived crackdowns in the past - and the city's rich and powerful appear determined to play by their own rules.
"It's more pronounced in the Hills because you get the amazing view... whether it's the Hollywood sign, or you can see downtown LA," admitted Ryu.
"It's majestic, it's beautiful up there... I mean, it's LA!"