Celebrities follow Justin Bieber to home of Bling Ring

There was a time when teenagers had to leave Calabasas to burgle celebrities’ houses. Now the stars have moved in. So everyone’s happy, right?

Los Angeles

Taped to the side of Nelson Miguel’s smartphone accessory stall at The Commons, an upscale outdoor mall in the Los Angeles suburb of Calabasas, is a collage of celebrity snaps.

There’s a picture of Nelson with Kylie Jenner, and another with her sister, Kendall. One of Nelson with Willow Smith, and one with her brother, Jaden. There’s Nelson with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, and with former Playboy model Kendra Wilkinson. And finally, there’s the money shot: Nelson with Justin Bieber.

Nelson, 32, has spent four years working as a vendor on the stall, which sits on the pavement just outside the Jenner sisters’ favourite branch of Starbucks. He says he sees celebrities doing their shopping about once a day, and is on first-name terms with at least one of the paparazzi who regularly prowl the Commons car-park in search of prey.

“There are always photographers hanging around, waiting to take pictures,” he says. “The Jenner girls come here maybe twice a week. They’re cool. Some of the store employees here call the paparazzi when they see somebody famous, because they know they’ll get money for the tip.”

Calabasas, a bland but wealthy ‘burb of about 23,000 people in the San Fernando Valley, 30 miles north-west of LA, is fast joining Beverly Hills and Malibu among the ranks of neighbourhoods whose names resonate around the world. It’s where Jessica Simpson shot her first reality show, Newlyweds. It’s where the Kardashians shoot Keeping Up with the Kardashians. It’s where Wilkinson shoots Kendra on Top. It is the 90210 of the reality-TV celebrity.

The town is home, too, to some more traditional stars, such as Jennifer Lopez, Britney Spears, Will Smith and Richie Sambora, as well as several members of Michael Jackson’s family, and dozens of noted entertainment executives. The Commons is their de facto town square, catering to every celebrity need, from gourmet cupcakes to designer yoga-wear. A cosmetic dermatology practice is conveniently located just across the street, in case the locals want some last-minute laser hair-removal, or emergency botox. They can set their watches by the Commons clock tower, which is said to boast the world’s biggest Rolex timepiece.

It’s generally agreed that the paparazzi began paying attention to Calabasas in 2007, when Britney Spears broke up with her husband, Kevin Federline. Not long after that, she shaved her head at Esther’s Hair Salon in nearby Tarzana, acquired two tattoos, and attacked a photographer’s SUV with an umbrella. The tabloid throng descended on Spears and her neighbours, and have never left.

The neighbourhood gained further notoriety in late 2009, when a group of local teenagers were arrested for burgling and vandalising several celebrities’ homes. In a little under a year, they had managed to steal belongings worth more than $3m from the Hollywood Hills homes of their victims, including Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan. The story of the so-called “Bling Ring” has now been made into a film, directed by Sofia Coppola and starring Emma Watson, which hit UK cinemas this weekend.

The teenagers were led by Calabasas resident Rachel Lee, who was reportedly obsessed with the celebrity lifestyle and its material accoutrements. Lee was released from prison in March, having served a year and four months for burglary. Her fellow “Bling Ring” burglar and school friend Alexis Neiers was signed up for her own reality TV show, Pretty Wild, before she was convicted for stealing from Orlando Bloom’s home. The teenagers’ crimes were fuelled and facilitated by gossip websites, which reported exactly where celebrities’ homes are – and helpfully indicated when they were likely to be at home.

Now, Calabasas is increasingly where such websites, and the paparazzi that feed them, find their subjects. Lurk among the mall’s carefully tended flowerbeds on any given day and you might run into Jenner-Kardashian patriarch Bruce Jenner picking up groceries at Ralph’s supermarket, or his step-daughter Kourtney buying nappies at Babies R Us. You could come across Stevie Wonder tucking into tagliatelle at Toscanova, or Jaden Smith scarfing spring rolls at Pick Up Stix. If you’re really lucky, you might even spot Bieber roaring into the car-park in his white Ferrari 458 Italia.

“It’s a very nice community,” Nelson says. “And the rich people who live round here don’t care that much about celebrity, they’re not interested. So the celebrities come here to feel normal.”

Unlike more recognised celebrity neighbourhoods, Calabasas is far from the tourist trail, with few, if any, of the star-spotting bus tours that proliferate around Hollywood. It may have the highest house prices in the Valley, but as local estate agent Shelly Slovin explains, “You can get a lot more bang for your buck here than in Beverly Hills or Malibu. Many people move to Calabasas because the school district, Las Virgenes, is terrific. If you have children, that’s a very big draw.”

Close to half the homes in Calabasas are in gated communities, and its famous residents typically live away from prying eyes in one of two such enclaves in the rural canyons ringed by the Santa Monica Mountains: The Oaks and Hidden Hills. The Oaks is home to Kourtney Kardashian and the Jackson children, among others. In March 2012, Bieber bought a $6.5m house in a cluster of 50 properties called The Estates at The Oaks, cosseted behind yet another set of gates, which can only be opened with a car-mounted transponder.

The rest of the Jenner-Kardashian clan lives in Hidden Hills, which lies just across the 101 freeway from Calabasas. Ozzy Osbourne recently sold his house there – to Jessica Simpson. It’s an older community than The Oaks, with large housing plots and space for horses. “It’s a rural, 1950s place,” Slovin says. “But of course now there are gigantic mansions there.”

Not all celebrities in the area have endeared themselves to the locals. In May last year,  Bieber allegedly attacked a paparazzo in the Commons’ car-park after taking his then-girlfriend, Selena Gomez, to see Men in Black 3. A recent report in the Los Angeles Times suggested the teenage megastar’s antics have disrupted the mellow atmosphere of The Oaks, where he reportedly drives his notorious Ferrari at indecent speeds, races motorbikes with his friends and hosts wild parties late into the night. When another resident confronted him about his behaviour, Bieber is alleged to have spat at the man and threatened to kill him.

None of which bodes at all well for the town’s brand image. Calabasas councilwoman and former mayor Mary Sue Maurer told the Times: “The pop-culture celebrities have not helped this city’s reputation… The coverage is of young misbehaving celebrities, and it’s a culture that certainly doesn’t represent our city.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Life and Style
A still from a scene cut from The Interview showing North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's death.
tech
Voices
'That's the legal bit done. Now on to the ceremony!'
voicesThe fight for marriage equality isn't over yet, says Siobhan Fenton
Life and Style
Approaching sale shopping in a smart way means that you’ll get the most out of your money
life + styleSales shopping tips and tricks from the experts
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Front End Web Developer

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Back End Web Developer

£30000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

The Jenrick Group: Electrical Maintenance Engineer

£36500 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: Electrical Maintenan...

The Jenrick Group: Multi Skilled Maintenance Engineer

£30000 - £40000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: Multi Skill...

Day In a Page

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'