DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES - As the Historic Core welcomes more residents and visitors, and as attempts at beautifying and enlivening Broadway progress, one particular intersection continues to vex area stakeholders and the police: the corner of Fifth Street and Broadway.
The sidewalk in front of the partially blacked-out windows of Rite Aid, at 500 S. Broadway, has long attracted dealers illegally hawking Oxycontin and other prescription pills. Would-be sellers congregate near the entrance and brazenly offer the goods to passersby, including a representative from 14th District City Councilman José Huizar’s office who was walking to the Metro, said Sean Lewis, a senior lead officer with the Los Angeles Police Department.
“They don’t care. They just want to sell pills,” Lewis said. “All we can do is stay highly visible.”
According to Historic Downtown Los Angeles Business Improvement District documents, safety patrols responded to 198 calls for service at the intersection between January and June of this year. In addition to drug sales, there were complaints about vagrancy, panhandling, public drinking and assaults.
The escalating problem prompted Huizar in April to write a letter to the city Zoning Administrator asking whether the sale of alcohol at the Rite Aid is appropriate. Although the store’s conditional use permit from 2006 allowed such sales, Huizar pointed out that alcohol can be a contributing factor to crime.
Huizar spokesman Rick Coca said the Downtown community deserves a store that will be a good neighbor and contribute to the community.
“As it stands, the store has turned a blind eye to its contributions to problems that are so obvious to everybody else,” Coca said last week. “Frankly, at this point, Rite Aid needs to step up and be part of the solution. They have said that they want to, but that remains to be seen. If not, we are prepared to take the measures necessary to ensure the city is not allowing problems to continue at that site unchecked.”
The selling of prescription pills in front of the store is not the only problem. The store’s conditional use permit from 2006 dictated operating hours of 8 a.m.-10 p.m. The store had been staying open later than that, according to numerous Historic Core representatives.
A sign posted in the Rite Aid’s window this summer stated that “sales of alcoholic beverages at this premise [sic] are prohibited after 10 p.m. effective July 6, 2014.”
In an email to Los Angeles Downtown News, Rite Aid spokeswoman Ashley Flower said the store has taken steps to resolve issues and is now in compliance with all requirements. She would not comment about the closing time and alcohol sales.
“Rite Aid has and will continue to actively collaborate with local authorities and community officials to improve the conditions outside of our store at 500 South Broadway,” wrote Flower.
She added that the store has added security measures, but declined to discuss them.
This is not the first time that drug sales at the intersection have riled area leaders. In January 2012, Downtown News wrote about how illegal pill sales there had prompted undercover LAPD operations, leading to 25 arrests.
Although stakeholders said the situation improved when the LAPD directed more officers to the corner, problems persist today, in part because of a later re-allocation of police to other areas.
In an effort to curb loitering at the intersection, and as part of Huizar’s Bringing Back Broadway initiative, the city in the spring relocated a bus stop from in front of Rite Aid to the northeast corner, closer to a Walgreens. The move has helped, said Blair Besten, executive director of the Historic Downtown Los Angeles BID.
“We do not seem to have loitering of dealers in front of the Walgreens, just people waiting for the bus, and so far that store has been an excellent community partner,” she said.
LAPD Capt. John McMahon said police are working with Rite Aid management to address the problems, and that store security have been asked to enforce a no trespassing policy and to ask loiterers to leave. Central Division still deploys extra officers to the location from time to time, but not on a daily basis, he said.
Lewis said the sales are not a “Rite Aid problem,” but rather a “narcotics problem.” People come Downtown with the intent to buy drugs in Skid Row. They walk east on Fifth Street, and dealers know this, he said.
Greg Martin, vice president of Downtown Management, which owns the Jewelry Trades Building where Rite Aid is housed, defends the drugstore. Martin has worked Downtown since 1997 and remembers narcotics sales plaguing that corner long before Rite Aid opened in 2007.
“To link this activity to Rite Aid, I don’t think is fair,” he said. “It’s illogical. A dress shop used to be there. Did dresses cause drug use?”
© Los Angeles Downtown News 2014