L.A. threatens to shut off utilities at homes that host big parties during pandemic

The mayor's announcement comes after a deadly shooting that prompted the banning of parties during the coronavirus pandemic.

Los Angeles officials are cracking down on house parties after a woman was fatally shot Tuesday at a large gathering at a mansion.

The county's Department of Public Health said in a statement that it "has issued a legally binding health officer order" that bans gatherings, including parties, during the coronavirus pandemic. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti followed up Wednesday by authorizing the city's Department of Water and Power to shut down utilities at locations that have hosted big gatherings.

"These large parties are unsafe and can cost Angelenos their lives," Garcetti said at a news conference.

The county order is to "protect the health and lives of county residents," the health department said. Violation or failure to comply could result in a fine, jail time or both.

"We urge every resident in Los Angeles County to follow the health officer order and avoid organizing and attending gatherings that include people outside their own household," the health department said.

"The highest risk settings are large in-person gatherings where it is difficult for individuals to remain spaced at least 6 feet apart and where face coverings are not worn. The consequences of these large parties ripple throughout our entire community because the virus can quickly and easily spread," the department continued.

The announcements follow a deadly shooting at a mansion party around 1 a.m. Tuesday on Los Angeles' Mulholland Drive. A 35-year-old woman was killed; two men and two women who were wounded are expected to survive, police said.

As of Wednesday afternoon, no arrests had been made.

Los Angeles police Lt. Chris Ramirez said Tuesday that the shooting was being treated as "gang-related."

Social gatherings are prohibited under California's stay-at-home order. Before the shooting in the Beverly Crest neighborhood, police had received calls about a party taking place near the shooting scene around 6:30 p.m. Monday.

Police officials told NBC Los Angeles that officers helped with traffic and parking control but did not enforce the county's health order prohibiting large gatherings during the pandemic. An NBC Los Angeles helicopter captured video of a long line of cars going up to the home's driveway, as well as a party bus dropping off partygoers.

In late March, Los Angeles police in riot gear broke up a celebration of a 1-year-old's birthday in South Los Angeles after receiving reports of a disturbance. At the time, department spokesman Josh Rubenstein called its enforcement in such situations "consistent."

Law enforcement agencies in California, including Los Angeles police, have generally opted for "education" over action against people not keeping social distance or those who refuse to wear masks in public.

Ramirez confirmed that officers were called to the home for a report of a public disturbance.

"It was a private party. It was indoors. How do you enforce the fact it's a private party? And If the city attorney wants to, we can always file additional complaints," he said.

Garcetti's authorization to cut off water and power at party locations fell short of ordering police to shut down big gatherings they come across.

"This enforcement is not focused on small and ordinary gatherings in people's homes," he said.

The directive, which has a 48-hour window for utilities to be turned off, is aimed at locations that repeatedly violate the prohibition on large gatherings, he said.

Organizers could be gone by then: Garcetti acknowledged that such events often take place at homes offered up as short-term rentals.

"These large house parties have essentially become nightclubs in the hills," he said.