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Police evict squatters in shuttered Channel 13 studios on La Brea

May 13, 2009 |  7:12 am

Los Angeles police have discovered that the shuttered Channel 13 studios on La Brea Avenue in Hollywood has become a haven for homeless squatters.

Officers found squalid conditions inside the landmark building, including discarded hypodermic needles, piles of trash, makeshift bedding in office cubicles and human filth on the floors and walls.

"I was disgusted. There was literally a hill of trash, 3 feet high and 20 feet wide in the middle of the main office," said Arthur Gallegos, the LAPD's senior lead officer for the area. "They had water and electricity. The offices were like hotel rooms, including a television and a clothing dresser. They put pornography up on the wall."

Police moved in and evicted more than a dozen squatters. But Peter Nichols, Founder of the Melrose Action Neighborhood Watch, said that it represents a larger problem for the area, especially in the deteriorating economy.

"Police have discovered encampments on roofs of businesses, in crawl spaces under homes, in the yards of foreclosed or unoccupied homes or apartments and behind garages on homeowners' properties," Nichols said. "It should be noted that in almost all these cases, it hasn't been people seeking shelter, it's people doing drugs, illegal sex acts or hiding stolen contraband."

The problem is exacerbated by the very nature of the Melrose Avenue-La Brea Avenue area, which like Venice or Hollywood Boulevard, attracts tens of thousands visitors and tourists annually, making it easy to blend into the environment and less likely to be spotted if you don't belong.

"Unless you're carrying a Playstation down the street," Nichols said, "People probably aren't going to ask questions."

Gallegos said that in many of his contacts with area homeless a high percentage have warrants or previous arrests. Several of the transients who had occupied the old KCOP building had previous arrest and prison records.

Gallegos said that police believe they have evicted all the squatters, and property managers have since pruned back trees, installed barbed wire on top of perimeter fencing, stepped up patrols by private security and painted over graffiti.

LAPD crime statistics through April show that violent crime in the Wilshire area, which includes Melrose Avenue, is down 7% and property crime is up by about the same percentage compared with the same period last year.

Police and residents say vacancies of residential and commercial properties as a result of the economic downturn is proving to be an increasingly tempting target for transients.

Transients already are drawn to the area by services that include free food, medical care and a needle exchange.

"There is no reason for them to leave," Gallegos said.

Don Winet, the owner of the Village Idiot Tavern on Melrose said he had a man homesteading on the roof of his business who had tapped into the electrical grid to power his toaster. But he also thinks that claims about transients and crime are overstated and that most of the homeless are simply down on their luck.

"I've been here 30 years and I haven't seen a change," Winet said, adding that fears have more to do with appearance than reality.

-- Andrew Blankstein