A group of business owners led by City Councilwoman Gloria Molina has proposed erecting a series of locked gates along a dozen stretches of alleyway in the latest effort to rid the MacArthur Park area of up to 1,000 crack addicts and prostitutes.
The first gate could go up in a few weeks behind Botica del Pueblo pharmacy near the crime-plagued corner of Alvarado and 7th streets.
"There are other gated alleys in the city, but nothing on the scale we are talking about," said Veronica Gutierrez, an aide to Molina, whose district includes the park. "About half the alleys within a three-block radius of the park would have gates and only the property owners, the Fire Department and the police would have the keys."
The plan, which some believe would save the city money otherwise spent on policing and cleaning the alleys, was hatched after a massive law enforcement crackdown earlier this year drove the drug addicts out of the 30-acre park and into the alleyways.
"We need to keep up the pressure and this is an example of businesses and residents doing just that," Molina said. "We all have to look beyond our front doors to turn this area around."
The proposal would have to be approved by a number of city agencies including the City Council, the Department of Public Works, and Los Angeles Police and Fire departments, as well as property owners on both sides of an alley.
Property owners along three alleyways already have agreed to install the gates.
However, many questions remain unanswered about the plan to lock up the alleys.
For example, it is not clear how many hours during the day they would remain locked, or who would pay for them.
And no one can say whether the gates would do anything more than push the addicts into the bustling streets of the commercial area surrounding the park.
"The idea that the only recourse we have is to make life so uncomfortable for them that they move some place else is disappointing," said Tom Coyle, a spokesman for a group of business owners and residents called the Westlake Task Force. "But we are talking about hard core drug addicts here."
"Where they will go after the gates go up should be answered by local, state and federal officials," added Maurice Hernandez, manager of the pharmacy.
"Maybe we can pay for their bus fare and shoot them out to Beverly Hills and UCLA," he quipped. "Then maybe a solution would come about."
Indeed, a dozen crack smokers in a trash-strewn alley around the corner from his store did not seem too worried about the gates.
"I think gates are a great idea," said one woman, after inhaling deeply from a small glass pipe. "I can climb just fine."
"All they'll do is push us into the streets," muttered her male companion.
But one homeless man living in a nearby alley sympathized with the business owners.
"Our reality and their reality are two different things," he mused. "I think gates are a good idea, even though I don't know where the hell I'm going to go."
Meanwhile, Gutierrez believes that persuading dozens of hotel and shop owners in the area to agree to the plan will involve a "lot of footwork."
"So far, the plan has met with a lot of support," Gutierrez said. "If a property owner requires a particular alley for public access, of course, we can't put a gate up there."
Norm Langer, owner of the landmark Langer's Restaurant, however, feared that the gates would "hinder police from doing their sweeps in the alleys."
Beyond that, he said, "There are fire escapes and emergency exits back there--what are you going to do, trap people in the alleys?"
Los Angeles Fire Department Battalion Chief Michael Ambarian said gates would have to be approved "on a case-by-case basis."
"If an alley is gated at a street entrance, that doesn't create a problem," Ambarian said. "Our main concern is that people can get out of buildings to a safe area."
Gutierrez said a group of representatives from Molina's office expects to present the plan to police officials later this week.