Skid Row in downtown Los Angeles is one of its most shameful spots. Thousands of homeless roam the streets in this scary 50 square block section of the city. But finally, Los Angeles city officials are tackling this problem. A delegation of Los Angeles leaders, including representatives from downtown Los Angeles’ business, law enforcement, and political organizations, travelled to New York’s Times Square on a "fact-finding mission."
New York famously cleaned up Times Square in the 1990s. More than $1 billion has been poured into the area for shelters, housing and cleanup. Times Square saw a 68% decrease in crime between 1992 and 2005. Once a cluster of sex shows and run-down buildings, it is now a bustling city center and tourist destination.
Can Skid Row learn from Times Square? This 30-member delegation wanted to find out.
Of course, there are huge differences in these two areas. New York’s Times Square has been world-famous for a hundred-odd years and is located in the middle of the city. Skid Row is in an grungy dangerous part of town that Angelenos wouldn’t travel to for any reason, even if Pamela Anderson announced she was going to strip naked there on Friday night.
Some wondered if the trip was really necessary at all. After all, isn’t the man who "cleaned up" Times Square, former NYPD head William J. Bratton, now the Chief of Police of the LAPD? Why not just take him out for lunch here in LA and ask him? Why travel 3000 miles and spend our city’s dollars?
But City Council members were adamant that this trip was necessary in order to learn what New Yorkers do right — and to find solutions to Los Angeles’ homeless problem.
I feel honored here at Citizen of the Month to be able to sit down with several members of the delegation, to discuss their trip — and what it could mean for Los Angeles.
Councilman Ed Cheatem (D) said,
"My assignment was to see as many Broadway shows around Times Square as possible. I was especially impressed by the enthusiastic crowd at "Spamalot." If Los Angeles was able to build several Broadway-sized theaters on Skid Row, imagine how that would help clean up the area?"
Asst. Police Commissioner Manuel Dinero disagreed.
"I saw "Spamalot" and wasn’t impressed. The biggest problem facing Skid Row in Los Angeles is the lack of fine eating establishments, like they have here on Times Square. I chose to eat dinner 3-4 times at Becco on West 45th Street. To taste Lidia Bastianich’s Antipasto Misto, an assortment of marinated and grilled vegetables with assorted seafood, was a real eye-opener. If we were to open an establishment like this in skid row, I would think our problem would be solved. Most homeless people cannot afford to eat in a restaurant like this, so they would just move away to a place like Riverside or Oxnard."
Not everything for the delegation revolved around education and "fact-finding." After all, they were in the "city that never sleeps."
State Senator Igor Misleadi said,
"I’m sure the taxpayers understand that part of our mission in New York was to behave like a typical upscale tourist, in order to learn ways to improve our Skid Row as a tourist destination."
It was State Senator Misleadi himself who chose the fashionable W Hotel, Times Square, as their home base.
"We definitely need one of these on Skid Row!" said downtown LA real estate developer Will Steel.
While most of the group went out "clubbing" during their second night in New York, Los Angeles Administrative Officer David Embezzlo and former Council Supervisor Mario Fraude, remained in the hotel, continuing with their work. As part of their research, they asked two high-priced hookers to come to their rooms. They were eager to learn what differentiates upscale New York hookers from the prostitutes on Los Angeles’ Skid Row. Knowing that finding streetwalkers is impossible in visitor-friendly Times Square, they chose instead to deal with an escort service that operated from the Upper East Side.
Supervisor Fraude spoke about his findings:
"The fact that these women had to travel to Times Square did nothing to hamper their abilities to perform their services. I was very impressed. The obvious difference between these upscale New York hookers and their Skid Row counterparts is that these New Yorkers were much more attractive. I also felt less fear of catching some disease. Although their prices were a tad high for a typical county supervisor’s salary, I would say that a New York hooker puts a great deal more effort into her blowjob than the typical prostitute on Skid Row."
Administrative Officer Embezzlo agreed.
"I really learned a lot during this "fact-finding mission" to New York. I’m hoping we gain as many insights during our upcoming "research" trip to Paris."