With Los Angeles nightclubs closed, party promoters have turned to mansions in the Hollywood Hills to throw lavish, raucous and sometimes deadly gatherings that have enraged neighbours and local officials.
Starting this weekend, Mayor Eric Garcetti has granted emergency powers to utility workers to cut electricity and water at sprawling homes dotted around the famous Hollywood sign that have "essentially become nightclubs" during the coronavirus pandemic.
"The consequences of these large parties ripple far beyond just those parties – they repeat throughout our entire community, because the virus can quickly and easily spread," he warned.
But infection is not the only fatal risk. Last Monday, beneath roaring news helicopters, police arrived at a mansion off the famous Mulholland Drive packed with young partygoers.
In the ensuing chaos, gunshots rang out and one person was killed.
"When I say party houses, I'm not talking about your neighbourhood barbecue or your family gatherings," said council member David Ryu, who is working on legislation to target offenders.
"I'm talking... literally parties that cost US$1 million to host, with caged lions and tigers and baby giraffes on red carpet," he said. "It's an extravaganza."
Under Los Angeles licensing laws that see nightlife close at 2am, revellers have long headed for parties in "the Hills" after last call. While the pandemic lockdown initially caused a lull in the house party scene, the past few weeks have seen gatherings soar.
Most are run not by the homeowners but by nightclub promoters who now rent mansions for the night, said LAPD Hollywood Captain Steve Lurie.
"The same promoters have figured out 'Well wait a second, I can jump on Airbnb, spend US$10,000 a night for a Hollywood Hills mansion, and sell tickets and promote the party just like if it was a nightclub,'" he said.
"It's exactly the same thing. Except now my nightclub has an unobstructed view of Los Angeles, a beautiful swimming pool."
Organisers often charge entrance fees and run cash bars for the events organized by secret mailing lists and word-of-mouth.
According to Hollywood United Neighborhood Council president and resident George Skarpelos, pre-pandemic there were 10 to 15 parties each weekend night but "now there's like 50."
"You think to yourself, 'Look, I understand that you guys feel cooped up and you want to hang out and have a good time.' We all do, right?" said Skarpelos. "But I feel that there's a lot of people who kind of throw caution to the wind."
LA battles lockdown-busting Hollywood parties
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