Civic leaders in Hollywood are trying once again to organize a business crime-watch group on Hollywood Boulevard to help merchants fight the crime, dirt, graffiti and general decay that has plagued the area and to mobilize the shopkeepers into a potent political force.
Although several previous attempts to organize the merchants into a cohesive group have failed, leaders of the campaign say they think they have a shot at success this time, partly because the seediness of the famous boulevard has gotten to the point where it is hurting business.
After several months of quiet preparation, representatives of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce and aides to Councilman Michael Woo have scheduled an organizational meeting of the Boulevard Area Business Crime Watch Group for next week.
They have sent out 1,300 invitations to businesses in the target area--Hollywood Boulevard from Gower Street to La Brea Avenue, including a block north and south of the boulevard. The meeting is scheduled for April 26 at 8 a.m., at the Musicians Institute, 1655 McCadden Place.
Also taking part in the planning are officials in the city Community Redevelopment Agency, the police, several merchants and representatives of the nonprofit group Hollywood Economic Revitalization Effort (HERE).
Chamber of Commerce President Larry Kaplan said the initial goal of the group would be not just to fight crime, but to look for ways to counter the perception that Hollywood Boulevard has become a dangerous place.
"There is a perception that crime is bad and that there is a lack of safety, which leads to the deterioration of the community," said Chamber of Commerce President Larry Kaplan. "People don't want to shop there or hang out there."
Kaplan noted that visitors coming to Hollywood in search of glitz and glamour are often appalled by the graffiti, dirt and constant presence of transients and other undesirables that make the area look more dangerous than it is.
A central part of the campaign, Kaplan said, will be to lobby for more police in the area.
Police and government officials are like everyone else, he said. "They respond better to organized pressure than a lone voice in the wilderness."
So far, more than a dozen shop owners have signed on.
One of them, George Townson, chairman of Frederick's of Hollywood, said merchants will join the program because their businesses have suffered.
"We'd like Hollywood to get away from the seedy look it has had--with the graffiti and the transient population, it has become an eyesore," said Townson.
Frederick's Hollywood store, the flagship of its 160-outlet intimate apparel chain, just underwent a $300,000 face lifting. The building has been defaced several times since by vandals, but Townson said he plans to stay.
"We feel Hollywood has a lot of potential, and we want the boulevard to represent a better Hollywood than we have right now," said Townson. "I think we all want that."
Nathan Barr, operations director of the Musicians Institute, said he volunteered to have the first meeting at his shop because he thinks the boulevard is in a downward slide.
"I hope that by us getting together, we can get a process going to solve some of these problems," he said.
LAPD Capt. Rick Batson, the Hollywood division commander, agreed that more police patrols are needed in the area, but resources are limited. "They will get it eventually, but they will have to be patient," he said.
In the meantime, Batson said, cooperation among the merchants in watching for crime and reporting it to police will help.
Councilman Woo hailed the organization of the crime fighting group as "an urgently needed step" for the boulevard's merchants.
Adding to the difficulty of organizing the group, he noted, is the extraordinary diversity of the merchants. They come from Iran, Israel, India, China, Japan, Korea and Mexico, to name just a few countries, and many of them speak little English. The dizzying variety of businesses and rapid turnover also can make it hard to get some merchants to pull their weight.
Such problems are not new. Pompea Smith, project director of HERE, said civic leaders have tried many times to organize Hollywood businesses and address their problems.
"Groups have formed and dissolved, but we have never been able to get the groups to congeal," said Smith, whose group uses funds from the city's Community Development Department to improve Hollywood's commercial corridor.
Smith characterized the new proposal as being "a valiant effort and a good effort. It might take longer than we think to get our goals accomplished, but it is a step in the right direction."
Smith, Kaplan and others say they will follow the lead of some neighborhood crime watch groups in the area, who at first tackled crime and then evolved into multifaceted community groups.
"The seeds are there for something to happen," said Kaplan. "Let's face it--Hollywood Boulevard is the single most visible and famous aspect of Hollywood; millions of people from around the world come to see it every year. It's incumbent on us to make it better."