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.”

Voices
voicesGood for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, writes Grace Dent
Sport
The Pipes and Drums of The Scottish Regiments perform during the Opening Ceremony for the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games at Celtic Park on July 23, 2014 in Glasgow, Scotland.
Commonwealth GamesThe actor encouraged the one billion viewers of the event to donate to the children's charity
Sport
Karen Dunbar performs
Entertainers showcase local wit, talent and irrepressible spirit
Sport
Members of the Scotland deleagtion walk past during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Commonwealth Games at Celtic Park in Glasgow on July 23, 2014.
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
The Tour de France peloton rides over a bridge on the Grinton Moor, Yorkshire, earlier this month
film
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
News
Very tasty: Vladimir Putin dining alone, perhaps sensibly
news
Life and Style
Listen here: Apple EarPods offer an alternative
techAre custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?
Arts and Entertainment
Top guns: Cole advised the makers of Second World War film Fury, starring Brad Pitt
filmLt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a uniform
News
The University of California study monitored the reaction of 36 dogs
sciencePets' range of emotions revealed
News
Snoop Dogg pictured at The Hollywood Reporter Nominees' Night in February, 2013
people... says Snoop Dogg
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
News
Joining forces: young British men feature in an Isis video in which they urge Islamists in the West to join them in Iraq and Syria
newsWill the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?
Arts and Entertainment
The nomination of 'The Wake' by Paul Kingsnorth has caused a stir
books
News
i100
Life and Style
food + drinkZebra meat is exotic and lean - but does it taste good?
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

BI Manager - £50,000

£49000 - £55000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client is...

BI Project Manager - £48,000 - £54,000 - Midlands

£48000 - £54000 per annum + Benefits package: Progressive Recruitment: My clie...

VB.Net Developer

£35000 - £45000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: If you're pa...

SAP Business Consultant (SD, MM and FICO), £55,000, Wakefield

£45000 - £55000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP Business...

Day In a Page

Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

Take a good look while you can

How climate change could wipe out this seal
Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

Farewell, my lovely

Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
The 10 best pedicure products

Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

Commonwealth Games 2014

Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

Jack Pitt-Brooke

Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism
How Terry Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

How Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

Over a hundred rugby league players have contacted clinic to deal with mental challenges of game