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SUN VALLEY — Businesses along Lankershim Boulevard managed to weather the recession, but another, more insidious problem threatens the stretch of family-owned auto body shops, granite cutters and plumbing stores. Prostitution is on the rise along this commercial corridor, testing the patience of store owners and their customers. At Sun Valley Equipment Rentals, Cindy Sower had to remove the emergency eye wash fountain outside her store after prostitutes repeatedly used it for bathing.
And at Pet Corner, Norma Gonzalez recently walked outside to find a prostitute fondling herself in front of her door. Gonzalez rushed inside, worried her year-old son would witness the act. Longtime customers step over condoms on the sidewalk and are propositioned as they enter storefronts, owners said. The six-block radius around Lankershim Boulevard and San Fernando Road is one of the most heavily trafficked spots for prostitution in the San Fernando Valley, according to police.
Groups of prostitutes are driven in vans from other parts of the city, and start working as early as 6 a. At night, neighbors see as many as 15 or 16 women standing on one block. The LAPD patrols the area and makes frequent arrests but has been unable to significantly reduce the problem. No one can say why this stretch of the Valley is so popular with sex workers, but many people point to the flow of vehicles and numerous side streets that make it easy for the women to climb in cars.
There were arrests for prostitution last year in the area, according to LAPD statistics, down slightly from the year before. Prostitutes arrested in the area quickly return, she said, brazenly violating their probation. Business owners are left to fend for themselves.
Sower takes photos of the women — wearing skimpy outfits and standing on corners or leaning into cars — and has created a poster with the images. Handing out the posters at Sun Valley Beautiful and the Chamber of Commerce meetings, she lobbies for more streetlights and police crackdowns. Other business owners said they ask the women to move away from their front windows and turn down requests to charge their cellphones or use the bathroom.