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.”

News
Russell Brand was in typically combative form during his promotional interview with Newsnight's Evan Davis
peopleReports that Brand could stand for Mayor on an 'anti-politics' ticket
News
The clocks go forward an hour at 1am on Sunday 30 March
news
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor finds himself in a forest version of London in Doctor Who episode 'In the Forest of the Night'
TVReview: Is the Doctor ever going stop frowning? Apparently not.
News
Voluminous silk drawers were worn by Queen Victoria
newsThe silk underwear is part of a growing trade in celebrity smalls
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Sport
footballMatch report: Real fight back to ruin Argentinian's debut
News
Candidates with surnames that start with an A have an electoral advantage
newsVoters are biased towards names with letters near start of alphabet
Arts and Entertainment
Isis with Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonneville)
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Jay James
TVReview: Performances were stale and cheesier than a chunk of Blue Stilton left out for a month
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

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for spe...

Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent***

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***Solutions Architect*** - Brighton - £40k - Permanent

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?