Gate Closure Remains Conundrum

The famous Hollywood Sign on November 28, 2007 on Mount Lee in Los Angeles. The sign was originally created in 1923 as a real estate advertisement and has become a recognised landmark now protected by the Hollywood Sign Trust. Now, some residents in the area surrounding the sign say tourism has overrun their neighborhood.

After a Los Angeles Superior Judge ruled June 13th against reopening a popular gate at the end of Beachwood Canyon Drive leading to the Hollywood Sign, at least one group is holding open options to file a lawsuit on the matter, another group has proposed an alternative site for the gate and homeowners

In the most recent ruling, Judge Elizabeth Feffer rejected the request of Friends of Griffith Park, the Oaks Homeowners Assoc. and the Griffith J. Griffith Charitable Trust to reopen the gate, but indicated in her ruling, those entities could file a separate lawsuit on the matter on related issues.

“The Beachwood closure is a scary precedent it not reversed,” said Gerry Hans, a vice president with Friends of Griffith Park, a non-profit group that advocates for the park.

According to Hans, his non-profit group will continue to work to have the gate re-opened.

“Friends of Griffith Park will likely pursue the matter further, especially since Judge Feffer repeatedly referred to our ‘causes of actions’ as serious issues. She nearly encouraged that we have our ‘day in court,’ but not hers, where it might jeopardize the scheduled counter-claim against Sunset [Ranch Hollywood] Stables,” Hans said.

The city closed the gate in April as part of a settlement with Sunset Ranch Stables who claimed hikers and pedestrians using the gate to access Griffith Park and the Hollywood Sign—estimated at 1,000 a day, at times—had hurt their business. The city and the stables share an easement at the gate.

The same judge agreed with the stables and ordered the city to close the gate but provide public access to the park “as close as possible” to the Beachwood gate.

The recent court rulings have divided the community.

While some have been fighting for the public’s right to the access point, another contingent of Beachwood homeowners maintain the influx of visitors on their residential streets prior to the closure created havoc, including traffic, parking, noise trespassing headaches and safety concerns.

 

Other groups are similarly trying to find solutions.

The Hollywood United Neighborhood Council (HUNC) voted June 19 to endorse the creation of a new path on city-owned property just right of the closed trailhead and a second party, the Griffith Park Advisory Board, has enlisted local civil engineer Mike Kaczynski, according to Curbed L.A., to design the alternative trailhead, according to Curbed L.A, which may involve the installation of a modular staircase.

“He’s a stakeholder who came to our volunteer advisory meeting to help. That’s what it takes, it takes neighbors,” HUNC President Susan Swan said of Kacynski.

According to Swan, Kacynski is currently working with Los Angeles City Councilmember David Ryu’s office on a survey of the location, which could take months.

“As soon as the data gets back, we’re here to help hold hearings,” Swan said.

Meanwhile in May, residents of nearby Bronson Canyon launched a petition to protest what they feel has been a hasty re-direction of Beachwood’s problems to their proverbial doorstep.

In a May 15th letter to Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, a group of 55 Bronson Canyon residents outlined the repercussions of directing “thousands of tourists” to Bronson Park at the end of Canyon Drive—a city imposed move they collectively described as “utterly careless and unwise.”

“They have just kicked the exact same problems over by a canyon,” said petition signer Kendra Richards, a 14-year Canyon Drive resident. “It’s not a solution, it’s just a way to remove the problem from one area and dump it someplace else.”

Since the traffic relocated to Canyon Drive, Richards said she has noticed people sleeping in their cars and “cars being broken into and a rise of crime.” She said she’s “not sure if this is incidental or due to the increase of people passing through.”

According to the petition, Canyon Drive residents have seen significant upticks in traffic since Beachwood’s closure.

“Bronson Park and its attendant parking lots have already been crowded to capacity during peak hours,” the letter read.

Other issues outlined by the petition include the lack of sidewalks and public restrooms in Bronson Park, where Canyon Drive narrows into a one-way route. Channeling hundreds of cars through this road, flanked by two playgrounds, poses a public safety threat, residents said.

Petition-signer and Griffith Charitable Trust family attorney Mike Gatto, the former California Assemblymember, supports re-opening public access to the trailheads.

“It is both illegal and immoral to give away public property. Griffith Park and its trailheads belong to the people of our city and the gate at the Beachwood entrance was paid for by our tax dollars,” said Gatto, who describes the city’s recent decisions as a “sad sequence of events [representing] a complete failure of what good government should be.

Gatto additionally expressed his frustration with what he believes is the city’s lack of transparency with the public.

“Instead of working to solve the problems of all of our neighborhoods near Griffith Park, the city chose to enter a backroom deal with a private party to close off access to a cherished public trailhead. Instead of being honest with an engaged and caring electorate, the city has piled up lie after lie,” he said.

According to Gatto, the city should have done more to restore quiet to the Hollywood Sign-adjacent neighborhoods by providing signs, and sidewalk and traffic controls.

“Instead, the city has acted like a street hustler working a shell game, shifting the problems from one neighborhood to another, until no one is happy and just about everyone feels cheated,” Gatto said.

When Ryu implemented 2016 parking restrictions on Beachwood in response to visitors flooding the predominantly residential street, commercial businesses at Beachwood Village suffered substantial drops in foot traffic and business, according to several propreitors.

Daniel Pipski, who has lived near Canyon Drive for 11 years, said he recognizes the difficulty of balancing the needs of residents and visitors at Canyon Drive and suggests mimicking the approach the city took with upper Beachwood Canyon Drive by creating a permit parking zone on Canyon Drive and its side streets.

“That would help, and as we have no businesses in our canyon, there wouldn’t be a negative impact as the permit parking has had to the businesses in Beachwood,” Pipski said.

Other solutions suggested in the petition include creating a dedicated walkway along Beachwood Canyon Drive to the Hollyridge Trailhead and extending an existing DASH bus line up Beachwood Drive — ideas which many Beachwood homeowners oppose.

Additionally, Garcetti recently poised the concept of a gondola to the Hollywood Sign in a highly publicized media interview.

The petition also questions the legality of the Beachwood gate closure and claims the city rushed to block Beachwood access without first informing the community or HUNC.

“We were never consulted. The city doesn’t tell us anything,” said HUNC’s Swan.

Accoring to Swan, HUNC members learned of Beachwood’s impending closure

via word-of-mouth and the internet.

“The court did not direct or request the city to indefinitely close and block the Beachwood gate to all public access. That was the city’s choice,” the letter said.

But according to Ryu spokesman Estevan Montemayor, Hollywood Sign access is not necessarily specific to Beachwood’s gateway, thus, the Canyon Drive move.

“The judge ordered that the access point needed to be. . . as close to the Beachwood gate as practicable and. . . not interfere with the Sunset Ranch’s easement,” Montemayor said.

Any new Beachwood access point needs to undergo studies and environmental assessments, according to Montemayor.

Beyond Beachwood, Ryu—having approved funding for an expanded access and mobility study of impacted neighborhoods near Griffith Park’s western border—is currently seeking a better long-term solution with hopes of establishing a Hollywood Sign viewing destination that would not disturb area residents, Montemayor said.

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