LA parties head for the Hollywood Hills as mayor vows crackdown

LOS ANGELES (AFP) – With Los Angeles establishments closed, party promoters have turned to mansions in the Hollywood Hills to throw lavish, raucous and sometimes deadly gatherings that have enraged neighbours 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 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 neighbourhood 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.”

The mansion Palazzo Beverly Hills, where a large party was held in defiance of coronavirus-related health order and ended in a fatal shooting on August 3, is seen on Mulholland drive in Los Angeles, California. PHOTO: AFP

Under strict Los Angeles licensing laws that see nightlife close at 2am, revellers 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 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 USD10,000 a night for a Hollywood Hills mansion, and sell tickets and promote the party,’” he told AFP.

“It’s exactly the same thing. Except now my party has an unobstructed view of Los Angeles, a beautiful swimming pool.”

Organisers often charge entrance fees and run cash drink stand for the events organised 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 per cent outdoor venue”.

According to Hollywood United Neighbourhood 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.

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 such 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 USD50,000 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.

The property managers told AFP they had “absolutely no prior knowledge of this large mansion party”.