Silver Lake residents and police seek the key to solve alleyway problem

A gated Silver Lake alley that runs behind a Sunset Boulevard minimall has been blamed for creating a safe haven for criminal activity, from prostitution to drug use, and a hang out for the homeless. On Friday, a pile of debris in the alley, which runs between Benton Way and Coronado Streetcaught fire, the latest sign of trouble, according to officials with the Coronado Elsinore Neighborhood Watch .   The solution, according to neighborhood watch, police and city council officials, is to unlock those alley gates, making it easier to patrol and clean the narrow lane.   “I would like to just go in and cut the locks off–I can’t get in either,” said Senior Lead Officer Al Polehonki with the Northeast Division.

But, thanks to city policy and procedures, it’s going to take more than bolt cutters to reopen those gates.

Firefighter at scene of last Friday’s alley blaze. Photo courtesy Coronado Elsinore Watch

The western edge of the alley is sealed off with towering steel gates, apparently in an effort deter crime.   Neither Polehonki or the officials with Council District 13 know when the gates were installed, with a council district spokeswoman saying the gates were already in place by the time Councilman Eric Garcetti was elected to office in 2001.  However, after some research,  city staff found out that the gates went up after residents petitioned for their installation.  Under city policy, it will take another petition to reopen the alley, said Council District 13 spokesman Diego de la Garza.

“We are looking to find a way to open up the alley during the petition process but we don’t know if it’s possible yet,” said De La Garza. “We still have to do a bit more research.”  Still to be determined is how far from the alley the petition needs to be  circulated and how many signatures need to be gathered.

Meanwhile,  the alley continues to generate concern for nearby residents and police. The eastern gate of the alley is often covered with vines and piles of trash, furniture and other debris, making it difficult for officers to see what’s going on while on patrol, said Polehonki, who said officers have made recent narcotics-related arrests in the alley.  The gated alley also complicates the job of cleaning up furniture and trash.

An official with the Coronado Elsinore Neighborhood Watch said it’s not even clear who has padlock keys to reopen the gates.

“Given that, our community no longer has a key to the locks and because there are no accessible locks, the alley is by default considered private property and LAPD cannot legally patrol the alley,” said the neighborhood watch volunteer. “Without patrol in the alley, this has resulted in it being a private haven for a drug use and prostitution encampment.”

If closing the alley was once considered the solution to combating crime, that idea no longer works, according to police. ” I think there is more liability in leaving it the way it is now,” Polehonki said.


  1. Alberto de Silver Lake

    I work at Akbar on the corner of Sunset blvd and Fountain ave. Akbar just celebrated our 16 year anniversary. I have been working there for 16 years. Homeless people have come and gone but there are the same faces that have been around for many years. They are the career homeless, not people that have been effected by the economy that hang out in front and around Tangs Donuts and at McDonalds panhandling money to buy their cheap booze at the liquor store in the strip mall that Tangs is in and then hang out all night long harassing people as they walk by. Encampments are all over and around that corner, in alley ways and behind dark buildings and under the Myra st bridge. Akbar has spoken to the police department on many occasions regarding these encampments. In Akbar’s opinion a partial solution would be to get the liquor store to stop selling booze to the homeless and to stop McDonalds from letting the homeless use their restrooms. As private business owners you have the right to refuse service to anyone. We at Akbar feel that the businesses and neighbors on and around the corner of Sunset and Fountain should get together and talk to the owners of Tangs, McDonalds and the liquor store to try and stop the homeless issues. Come into Akbar anytime to talk about what we should do as businesses to try and battle this issue.
    Thank you.

    • Coronado Elsinore Resident

      @ Alberto de Silver Lake – thank you for your comment. Let’s be clear this is not about “the homeless” this is about criminals and drug dealers using the homeless as a cover to deal drugs in plain sight and commit crime. The smash and grab car break-ins have been on the rise as well as burglaries and assaults – which are all the direct result to allows convicted criminals to make the rules camping out on our streets.

      This is truly insane. I’m about to get very active in city politics to find out who’s job it is to deal with this. Law abiding, tax paying, renters and home owners are having the property and safety put at risk. The city knows the liability here.

      • Alberto de Silver Lake

        @Coronado Elsinore Resident. I feel this IS about the homeless and gang violence and crime in general. It all goes hand in hand. We at the Akbar building have
        dealt with the homeless breaking into our upstairs offices. We have found them wandering around up there looking for stuff to take. We have dealt with car break ins by gangs in our parking lot. We deal with prostitutes turning tricks in our parking lot. Years ago one of the “Homeless Leaders” had an encampment right in front of Tangs which he ran his prostitution business from. It took a few years to clear him out of there and now the strip mall has a restraining order on him. Like I said previously I’ve seen these career homeless doing their crimes for years. I know it just not the homeless, Gangs do their crimes in the shadows and the homeless do it out in the open. The battle is all of the above. We at Akbar are trying out best to battle this every day.

        • Local Neighborhood Watch Member

          @Alberto We sympathize greatly with your issue! You are in a difficult location at Akbar near Tangs, as your area is marginalized and not under the oversight of The Silver Lake Neighborhood Council. Our understanding is that your area between Sunset Junction and Fountain/Hyperion is actually a zone that is overseen by Los Feliz Greater Griffith Park Neighborhood Council. We have heard that your little area there has been “disowned” by that governing body (this is local lore on the subject). If you haven’t already tried it, perhaps contacting the Los Feliz neighborhood council may be helpful. Los Feliz seems to have been quite effective in cleaning up their area and if indeed it’s true that your zone is the step-child that belongs to them, then it’s high time they jump on helping you out and extending the luxuries of Hillhurst success down your way! Good luck! Here they are: http://www.ggpnc.org/go/ There appears to be a public safety meeting in Feb., hopefully they can help you!

  2. Coronado Elsinore Resident

    We’ve been told the (previously convicted and recently released from prison) drug dealers setting the alley on fire and putting the property and lives of residents in the neighborhood at risk can not be moved because of their right to squat in the alley.

    When the drug dealing criminals have more rights than the tax paying residents who are registered voters somethings wrong. I’m looking for who in city hall and city politics wants my vote as a resident and home owner to do the right thing by cleaning up this mess.

    • It’s not just in SL or EP where there are encampments, they are all over the east side. I live downtown and one has sprung up in the last few months at 4th and Hill next to the metro stop. Tons of drugs and drinking, trash, lots of tents. It’s a mix of what look like normal homeless, occupy types, and definitely sketchier looking people. I want the city to take a broad approach to these encampments. I’ve lived in several other large cities and have no idea why they allow this here.

  3. I am not one to disparage the homeless or those who, for one reason or another, are forced to live on the streets. However, this particular encampment seems to go far beyond the usual homeless dwelling. Prostitutes have now become an all too common sight near this block. There have been sightings of heroin sale and usage there. There has also recently been spike in burglaries to neighboring homes & garages and some stolen items have been recovered at this encampment. Now it seems that this alleyway may have attracted the attention of an arsonist.

    For more than a year, the residents who live near this alleyway have been asking the police to patrol the area and asking the city to remove the encampment, and the furniture that has been set up there. The police tell us they cannot drive down the alleyway because these gates are locked so their hands are tied. And in an ironic twist, after the recent fire in the alleyway, sanitation workers were forbidden to remove much of the remaining debris there because one of the junkies who sleeps in the alleyway (and who is suspected by residents of being the burglar) claimed that it was his property. So the sanitation workers left his “dwelling” intact.

  4. I have to say, this does seem to call for … someone taking the situation into their own hands. Cut the locks.

    Why does LA have such insanely cumbersome bureaucracy (under the faux guise of citizen participation) that once these gates have been locked, they can never be unlocked? Truly nuts. I am all for treating the homeless with respect and not casually removing their belongings, but considering a public alley as default private property that therefore cannot be patrolled by the LAPD is also nuts.

    • I agree! I’m not for vigilantism in general but this just seems insane. No one knows who has the keys, Its a haven for crime and there was a dangerous fire wtf!?! Just cut the locks.

  5. for anyone dealing with an encampment, contact People Assisting the Homeless outreach team:

    good luck

  6. this doesn’t impact me (I live in EP), but in the 3rd paragraph La Garza says they need a petition to open the gate (and then goes on about the investigation into how many signatures they would need). seems like the neighbors could help them out and start getting signatures immediately (instead of waiting for someone else to do it). just a thought.

  7. Its a shame that the alley has turned into this. I grew up on Elsinore Street and played in that very alley for years. There was always the one or two homeless people back there but there was never any real problems till the fence got put up. Of course people pentitioned for it not realizing you could still get in. I think it needs to come down have the alley cleaned up and the asphalt redone. The fact no one has a key so how is the fire department supposed to get back there if there is a real fire at a home where people are in danger. Stop dragging ass and just cut the locks and clean it up. Maybe the neighborhood watch should just handle it.

    • local Neighborhood Watch member

      Great point, Frank! I witnessed the fire the other day. The LAFD had to go through a resident’s yard and cut down that property owner’s personal chain link fence to access the alley where the encampment was on fire. The LAFD did not/could not use the alley gates. Being law-abiding citizens we have been trying to address this legally– with conscience and concern for all residents. Most of our members have families and cannot risk their own individual well being, or have a brush with crime by vandalizing a lock. Also, one of the alley dwellers has a gun– meth addicts with guns– bad combination! As much as we wanna go guns-a-blazing (ourselves) and cut the locks, we are sincerely trying to work matters out as a group, as a “democracy” and with as much personal safety as we can. It’s a very challenging situation!

      • I thought the fire department was supposed to have keys or access to all these kinds of locked passageways. In a more serious emergency, it seems very dangerous that they don’t.

        • I stood in the alley, the morning following the fire, with a representative from City Council’s Office, LAPD and Bureau of Sanitation. I observed them having a very confusing conversation that went something like this:

          “Does your department have a key?”
          “We don’t have a key.”
          “We might have the key.”
          “Who has the key?”
          “We’ll check if there’s a key.”

          They had already checked on this–this is a needle in a haystack (that’s a personal opinion). The final hypothesis was that two local citizens (unknown) were given the key many, many years ago. The City seems to have lost track of the key, AND when the previous incarnation of a Neighborhood Watch disbanded, the history of the key was lost. Through The City, residents and local history, a group of us are working to address the key issue and get clarification…

          THE KEY ISSUE:
          Who has the key? And if they have it, why won’t they come out and help with this serious problem?

          However, there is an even larger problem. As far as fire and sanitation goes, having the key would be great. As far as the criminal, drug-user encampment is concerned, the key cannot help us. As it’s private property, LAPD needs the gate *officially* opened (a bolt cutter would work for this). Without the gates official opening they cannot take action to address the criminal activity going on (which is extensive based on homeowner witness). Given that the alley is currently private property, would the police have to get a warrant? I was told that The City would need to give an eviction notice to the encampment. But again, our group has been told that the alley is technically not The City’s, or LAPD’s problem, at least while the gates are locked. Both agencies have been making some efforts to help us, despite the “it’s not our problem” position.

          Long-term residents on the street claim that there was quite a bit of contention about the gate initially going in. Many people disagreed, however a few residents on the alley felt safer to have it closed off and pushed for it. Though some long-term residents state that there was no real safety issue at the time of gate installation, it was somehow deemed necessary. As far as I know, there is only here-say and unclear historical record on this aspect of the problem.

          I might have understood some anxiety about having one’s home open to an alleyway (as these homes all have short see-through chain link fences behind them) however, in hindsight, it was a TRULY UNFORTUNATE choice! It is unfortunate for residents (especially on alley) as it put the onus of responsibility for the alley’s care and upkeep on the citizens adjacent to the alley. Thirty years later, the original owners have moved, or become too elderly to manage and the safety and upkeep of a once useful alley has been totally lost. There was little foresight regarding the potential residential change and aging citizens responsible for its upkeep in the original gate planning.

          As of the latest report. Property owners have sustained many thousands of dollars in damages from criminals in the encampment and from the fire.

        • Local Neighborhood Watch Member

          I have to make a correction. There are some inaccuracies in comments here about the details of the fire and location of the encampment. It remains correct that LAFD does not have key. A fire was assumed to be started by alley drug-user in the encampment and he is identified as “armed.” The encampment itself is accessible to residents. Homeowners alongside the alley can clean the alley of the encampment trash and other debris. A further clarification is that the alley itself is being used for dug use, however the formal encampment is accessible outside the gate. The issue is that The City and The BOS have been unable to clean out encampment because they cannot evict persons in the encampment. Drug users go behind the gate, into the alley, to use drugs, however homeowners along the alley can take responsibility to clean out the drug-user’s trash. The Neighborhood Watch has been unable to take decisive action, as a formal city group, to clean trash or cut gate bolt, because of the same policies effecting the city– we cannot move trash if someone is there with it identifying it as theirs. If the trash is cleared, the gate is opened, the police can patrol, and it will deter the illicit activity.

  8. Hollywood Resident

    Has anyone thought of contacting the owner of the property that encompasses the alley? As private business property owners in crime-ridden downtown Las Vegas, my family never allowed situations like this to fester. If it’s by default private property then there are fines the property owner should be paying for not maintaining their property. Contact the owner. Your council district representative can get that info for you.

  9. I used to live on Elsinore and the ally that intersect the gated one from the mid 90’s to mid 2000’s. I remember there was some problems with that alley back then. I also remember a neighbor and myself on multiple occasions pulling sofas out of there and having the city pick them up. The more comfortable you make it for them the longer they stay. Another time some of the neighbors off the alley on my side had said they were crapping out side her garage and sleeping back there. Took a truck and loaded up all of their stuff and put it in a dumpster a couple of miles away. I could hear them yelling about how their stuff was gone but they moved on. The recycling center bring right there doesn’t help. It sounds like the area has gotten much worse. And its crazy expensive to live over there. Go figure. i do Remember Polhonki being really great to work with over there.

  10. I’ve lived about a block from this alley for eight years. I have noticed prostitutes on numerous occasions and my neighbors have experienced drug-fueled middle-of-the-night brawls as well as criminals hiding in their front yard to avoid being arrested. Our little corner of Silver Lake is a residential, economically diverse neighborhood populated by hard-working people who deserve peace, quiet and safety. I have sympathy for the homeless, prostitutes and drug-addicted folks who seem to be at the crux of this issue, but regardless, what they are doing is illegal and they should be encouraged to take advantage of the numerous non-profits rather than disturbing the peace in our neighborhood. The police should be given access to this alley to enforce the law and I’d be happy to sign a petition.

    P.S. — It’s not just that alley — the Olive Motel is also a hotbed of chaos with lots of middle-of-the night seemingly drug-fueled altercations. I don’t know what can be done but it’s frustrating — I was once awoken to a screaming match over $5, another time a prostitute and his John were hitting each other in the parking lot at 3 a.m.

  11. “’We are looking to find a way to open up the alley during the petition process but we don’t know if it’s possible yet,’ said De La Garza. ‘We still have to do a bit more research.’ Still to be determined is how far from the alley the petition needs to be circulated and how many signatures need to be gathered.”

    Los Angeles: a city bureaucracy so dysfunctional it can’t tell you what its own rules, policies and procedures are — much less how to follow them.

  12. Just take the gates down already.

    I live in the Highland/Sunset area. I have actually gotten used to the noise people make coming through here unless it’s constant or excessive. People are on the move, many are homeless in this economy. Times are very hard.

    However, there are different types of homeless people, those who respect the area and the people around it and those who will trash it and make it smelly and gross. We don’t mind when the first type camps in the carport (our neighbors do, though) but when the second type comes through and makes a mess, it’s depressing and disgusting.
    Life in the city….
    This was on the LA Police Protective League’s daily email links, so maybe it will get some attention.

  13. Seems like this is obviously a problem to be dealt with. As for the homeless victimization, I disagree. Homelessness is the result of a lack of understanding of those who, for one reason or another, end up on the streets. I have the privilege of working with the homeless and have learned how hard it is to survive.

  14. Coronado Elsinore Neighborhood Watch

    We’d like to thank The Eastsider and all the community advocates who commented here. We’d also like to thank the city for their ongoing assistance in helping us. We have made the first step in recovery and the alley has been cleared of trash. You can see pictures of it here:


    We now look forward to the gate removal.

  15. los feliz resident

    Has anyone determined if this alley is in fact a piece of city property or part of another lot or parcel? It seems crazy if it is considered property of a commercial lot that the owners of that lot aren’t held responsible for it’s safety and planning compliance just like homeowners are held feet-to-the-fire for everything that happens on their lots.

  16. honestly, if I lived there I would just take the gates down myself. Its a simple matter of getting some bolt cutters and a cutting torch. These can both be purchased relatively cheaply at harbor freight.

    Its clear that no one is going to stop you or complain. With two people it can be done very, very quickly.

    If you’re concerned about being stopped, then just buy an orange vest and some other “official” looking uniform and head over there with a cargo van. The entire thing, gates included could be disassembled in minutes.

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