'The older folks . . . keep to themselves and try to stay away from the dope peddlers.'
--Resident John Davidson, 78
Peering from behind the mesh screen and iron bars that guard his den window, Warren Jason noticed a familiar figure across the street one hazy morning last week. Tall, slack-jawed and emaciated, with a pony tail protruding from his oversized baseball cap, the man simply stood there, hands thrust deep into the front pockets of faded denim jeans.
Jason recognized the man as one of his neighbors from the community of ramshackle bungalows and apartment buildings that surround DeLongpre Park on the east side of Hollywood.
Jason also recognized the man as a marijuana dealer.
"Get off the corner!" Jason screamed from the safety of his house. The man stared back silently for a moment, then shrugged and walked away.
"He's out there every day in broad daylight," Jason muttered, turning away from the window. "Him and all his dope-selling buddies. This neighborhood is just a marijuana supermarket."
The market is open long hours every day. The dealers rise early, taking to the street corners east of Highland Avenue and south of Sunset Boulevard by midmorning. Some come on foot and stay all day. Others roar through on motorcycles and in battered old cars, making a few sales before moving on. Twelve hours later, approaching midnight, the dealers are still going strong, whistling shrilly to each other outside Warren Jason's window, yelling out their prices whenever car-borne customers slow down to eye their foil-wrapped wares.
There are numerous other street corners in Hollywood known for their open-air narcotics traffic. But few have been as congested in recent years as the DeLongpre, where marijuana dealers rush out into the streets to hawk their merchandise, sometimes fighting each other to make a single sale.
And unlike most of Hollywood's other drug bazaars, the DeLongpre area may have a real chance to change. Despite its narcotics activity and a growing transient population, DeLongpre has been identified by the city's Community Redevelopment Agency as the last island of homeownership amid the densely packed tenant population of central Hollywood. City planners even talk of using tightened zoning and carefully applied government funding to shore up the area's dwindling number of single-family bungalows.
For now, though, the streets of DeLongpre belong to the marijuana dealers. Occasionally, their fiefdom is invaded by police sweeps, such as the highly publicized operation mounted May 3, when police suddenly set up wooden barricades and cordoned off a four-square-block area known among neighbors as "Drug Alley."
On the first night of the operation, dozens of policemen stood guard by the barricades, brandishing night sticks. Squinting in the glare of television cameras, they stopped and questioned anyone who entered. Suspected dealers were frisked and detained; at least 45 have been arrested since the blockade began.
But seven weeks later, the police guards are long gone. The barricades have been reduced to splinters, crushed and tossed aside by oncoming cars. And the marijuana dealers are returning.
Once again, nightly traffic jams build on the four streets that converge at "Drug Alley"--DeLongpre Avenue, McCadden Place, Leland Way and Las Palmas Avenue. Once again, teen-agers greet motorists with cries of "Dime bag! Dime bag!"
Once again, Warren Jason is screaming at his neighbors.
A black-bearded psychotherapist who maintains an office in his Las Palmas Avenue bungalow, Jason is precisely the sort of young, affluent homeowner city planners want to see flock into the DeLongpre area. But after spending seven years feuding with marijuana dealers and futilely pleading with police to take lasting action, Jason's patience has worn thin.
He has watched dealers hide bags of marijuana in his shrubbery. He has been kept up late at night, listening to them plot outside his window. He has heard one neighbor's tale of standing up to a dealer, only to end up stabbed in the back with a screwdriver.
"If I got the right kind of offer, I'd move out in a minute," he said. "I could probably live anywhere I wanted on the Westside, except maybe Beverly Hills. If someone offered a decent price, I'd take it. But who would be fool enough to want to buy my house?"
Vance Otis, a real estate broker who owns several houses in the DeLongpre area and has an office at DeLongpre and Highland Avenue, said that the continuing presence of marijuana dealers has frozen the area's housing market. "These homes just aren't salable," he said. "I'm obligated to tell potential customers about the situation here."
Warren Jason can contemplate moving out. But most of DeLongpre's other homeowners are either too old or too poor to uproot themselves. Like John and Flossie Davidson, who have lived in their McCadden Place bungalow for 38 years, most DeLongpre-area homeowners are anchored to their homes.
"The majority of the people who live around here are older folks like us," said John Davidson, 78, a retired garage mechanic. "Their kids move out, they're living on a pension, they can't afford a house anywhere else. So they keep to themselves and try to stay away from the dope peddlers."
Staying away is not easily accomplished. The dealers often congregate right outside the Davidson's house, gathering in front of the couple's white picket fence to wait for customers. One recent night, a tenant who lives in a neighboring house also owned by the Davidsons confronted one of the dealers.
"The dealer told Ron (the tenant) he would put sugar in his gas tank and flatten his tires," Davidson said. "Ron took his license number and called the cops, but it didn't do any good."
The narcotics agents who work in the Los Angeles Police Department's Hollywood Division say they are as disturbed as DeLongpre's homeowners about the marijuana epidemic on their streets.
Both police and neighbors trace the marijuana sales to several large apartment houses in the DeLongpre area, where increasing numbers of illegal immigrants from Mexico and Central American countries have moved in over the past five years.
According to police, most of the drug sales are made in the vicinity of the Aloha, an 80-unit apartment house on DeLongpre Avenue that borders on "Drug Alley." In the past two years, the building has been the scene of several large-scale raids by police and federal immigration agents.
"You had a group of illegals there who had dope sources in Mexico," said Detective Larry Broadhurst, who works in the Hollywood Division's narcotics section. "They'd walk out of their rooms and take the stuff down on the streets. When we showed up, they'd disappear back into the apartment house."
The former manager of the building, who declined to give his name, agreed with the police assessment, but claimed that in the past year, police raids and evictions by the building's owner have lessened the Aloha's role in marijuana sales. "The police broke down 21 doors in there," he said. "There may be one or two dealers still there, but I think we weeded out most of them."
But the marijuana trade still flourishes on the streets around the building. Detective Richard Ginelli, who heads the division's narcotics section, said the difficulty with policing the DeLongpre area stems from the fact that the possession of small amounts of marijuana only constitutes a misdemeanor.
"The people who buy it don't get anything worse than a ticket," he said. "And the only way we can get a felony charge on a street dealer is to arrest them while they're carrying at least five or more "bindles" ($10 packets). And even if we get a conviction, a stiff jail sentence is pretty unlikely."
And getting a felony charge can be a difficult task when dealers often hide most of their supplies in bushes and empty mailboxes. Police say the dealers often carry just enough marijuana in their pockets to ensure that they get no more than a misdemeanor charge if they are arrested.
Last week, police met with Hollywood community leaders to discuss the area's narcotic situation. Bill Welsh, president of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, said one suggestion broached at the meeting was "sitting down with some city judges and convincing them to take a harder line when they get marijuana cases before them."
Welsh and other Hollywood leaders expressed concern about the DeLongpre area's continuing troubles, noting its importance as a potential base for homeowners. Richard Bruckner, a senior city planner with the Community Redevelopment Agency who heads the agency's Hollywood revitalization plan effort, said that the area around DeLongpre--stretching from LaBrea Avenue to Wilcox Avenue below Sunset Boulevard--has a higher homeownership rate than the rest of the central Hollywood area that will be covered by the redevelopment plan.
According to Bruckner, 16% of the housing units in the area surrounding DeLongpre are owned by their occupants, compared to 6% in the entire redevelopment plan area. "That's not a majority of homeownership, but it's certainly more of a stable base than anywhere else in the (Hollywood) flats," Bruckner said.
Recently, the agency's advisory Project Area Committee recommended that zoning density in the DeLongpre area be lowered from its current density of 80 units an acre to 24 units an acre. "That would at least make sure that there wouldn't be any more large apartment buildings started there," Bruckner said. "And it would be a start in preserving homeownership."
Although planners have yet to look into specific plans for preserving and increasing homeownership in the DeLongpre area, Bruckner said that low-interest loans to new homeowners and similar loans to aid homeowners in renovating their houses might be among the possibilities.
Another possibility, Bruckner said, could be a redesigning of DeLongpre Park, a one-square-block public park at DeLongpre and Cherokee avenues. Homeowners and renters who live in apartment and houses near the park say that it has become a hangout for derelicts and marijuana dealers.
"It's a pit," said Bart Bartkowiak, an apartment house manager who battles with drug dealers and winos nearly every day. Bartkowiak toured the park one day last week, pointing out its transient regulars.
"There's Bob the Slob," he said, motioning toward one derelict sleeping on the grass. "Some of the people around here would love to put him in a trunk and dump him in the San Pedro harbor."
At a nearby picnic table, three derelicts huddled together, trying to help a fourth survive a shivering bout of delirium tremens. Bartkowiak watched, unconcerned. "What else is new?" he asked.
The next day, Bartkowiak greeted the morning by walking out of his apartment house and stumbling upon two marijuana dealers preparing their day's stash in the apartment's carport.
"It never ends," he grumbled later. "You think you've seen the worst, but it just keeps on getting even worse."