Court is in a Real Pickle 

Photo by Slobodan Dimitrov

"If there’s anything you can do to help us . . ." Supervising Judge Harold Shabo sent out this plaintive SOS last week from the aging, decrepit mental-health court, a former mustard-and-pickle factory known as "The Pickle." And pickled Shabo and his staff most assuredly were. Air conditioning at the courthouse on San Fernando Road, northwest of downtown, had been down for the entire week, and iffy for most of the summer; part of the building was unbearably hot, the other part arctic. The hot and cold spots shifted daily, so you never knew where you would be. Discomfort aside, the big problem was that many of the court’s clientele — mentally disordered sex offenders, conservatees, electroshock candidates, involuntary commitments — were on psychotropic drugs with pronounced side effects in heat. Possible consequences include death by stroke or heart attack, Shabo said. "It’s the neuroleptic drugs, Haldol, I believe," Shabo told OffBeat. "Six years ago, there were several deaths in a state hospital of people in restraints, and they died because of the heat." At the very least, the situation sounded volatile; OffBeat thought about how cranky we are in the heat, and shuddered at the thought of being mentally disoriented or disabled, hauled into court and left to fry.

Shabo said the underlying problem, a Freon leak, had been discovered six months ago, but the county waited until the middle of summer to fix it. When the repair crew finally arrived, it declared that the air-conditioning console was riddled with asbestos, despite the fact that Shabo had been assured repeatedly that his courthouse was asbestos-free. The men refused to work until the asbestos was removed. Shabo finally had to close his courthouse and decamp downtown to get some action. "Just ridiculous," he pronounced.

By week’s end, the A/C was back on. Wow, we thought, a Kafkaesque delay, to be sure, but an oversight, right?

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Well . . . no. When asked how long the air conditioning had been acting up, Shabo answered, "It’s been a problem for the nine years I’ve been there . . . This is all part of the county directing resources away from mental health. The air conditioning is just the icing on the cake. The court administrator is giving it priority now only because I asked whether the courthouse shouldn’t be shut down."

County officials acknowledged that budget problems have forced local courts onto a deferred maintenance schedule, but denied that mental health was being ignored. "Nobody sits around and says, ‘Let’s fix Beverly Hills and not the mental-health court,’" said Julie Wheeler, program specialist at the county’s Chief Administrative Office. "We fix whatever needs to be fixed whenever it needs fixing."

The same day that the Pickle’s A/C went on the blink, however, county Supervisor Zev Yaroslavksy announced that $450,000 in air-conditioning and lighting improvements had been completed — at the Beverly Hills Municipal Court.



TV restaurant critic Elmer Dills was looking for a room with a view for a Valentine’s Day feature, when a cameraman suggested 360° restaurant and lounge, a penthouse dining room with a panoramic vista of Hollywood. Charmed by owner Rusty Updegraff’s bid to bring glamour back to the storied corner of Sunset and Vine, Dills slapped the restaurant on the air. So it was only natural that Updegraff would have his publicist follow up by asking Dills for a review. But it was not to be.

"Dills told her, ‘I sent some friends there, and they told me it was very gay,’" Updegraff recalls. "She paused and said, ‘Is that a problem?’ He said, ‘No, no, no, I just thought it was strange it was all gay.’ He never came in, and that was a year ago."

For the record, 360 hosts a gay-oriented Tuesday dinner-dance called Beige (after a club event the same night in Manhattan), but on other nights draws a heavily heterosexual crowd, including couples out for a romantic evening and raucous birthday celebrations. ("I joke it’s the adult Chuck E. Cheese," Updegraff says.) He insists that Madonna and Brooke Shields have been by. A floor-to-ceiling window in the ladies’ loo has inspired its own mile-high club; the pair that christened it was straight, Updegraff says.

The restaurant’s new American cuisine — seafood, vegetarian dishes and "comfort food" — is that gay? The cherrywood walls and maple floors — gay or straight? Some restaurants in West Hollywood and Silver Lake market themselves as gay, but 360 isn’t one of them. "I joke I got the gays — the gays I don’t need. I’d rather market to everybody," Updegraff says. "Occasionally people ask if it’s a gay restaurant, and I say no, but we get gays; we also get blacks, Jews and Mexicans. I don’t know who you don’t like."

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