It’s Sunset for Beachwood Canyon Access to Griffith Park

PROTEST—About 60 people gathered April 15 to protest in advance of the city’s April 18th closure of a gate at the end of Beachwood Canyon Drive—per a court order—which had become a favorite access point to Griffith Park and the iconic Hollywood Sign. Some say they will continue to pressure the city to come up with another solution. Photo: Michael Aushenker.

PROTEST—About 60 people gathered April 15 to protest in advance of the city’s April 18th closure of a gate at the end of Beachwood Canyon Drive—per a court order—which had become a favorite access point to Griffith Park and the iconic Hollywood Sign. Some say they will continue to pressure the city to come up with another solution. Photo: Alexander von Wechmar.

CORRECTION: We provided an incorrect photo attribution in our story to Michael Aushenker. In fact, the photo was taken by Alexander von Wechman. We regret the error.

BEACHWOOD CANYON—For most Americans, April 18th signified Tax Day. For some the date proved extra-painful as access to a popular hiking area with excellent views of the iconic Hollywood Sign closed to the public at sundown.

Days earlier, some members of four local homeowners associations from The Oaks, Lake Hollywood, Beachwood Canyon and Los Feliz rallied at the top of Beachwood Canyon Drive to protest a court-ordered city of Los Angeles decision to close the Beachwood entry point to Griffith Park as a result of a lawsuit against the city filed by nearby Sunset Ranch, which had claimed the crush of tourists at the site was interfering with their business.

At an April 15th gathering, about 60 people—led by Oaks Homeowners Assoc. President Linda Othenin-Girard, longtime Beachwood Canyon resident Tony Castanares and Friends of Griffith Park President Gerry Hans—waved signs and voiced their grievances about the city’s decision, the result of a lawsuit between Sunset Ranch—a horse-riding stable located near the Beachwood Trailhead, which controls access to the gateway—and the city.

The rally proved successful in attracting local media attention, as vans from such news outlets as KTLA and KCBS dotted Beachwood Canyon Drive.

“We’re not calling this a protest, we are calling this an information event,” said longtime area resident Robert Young, who is also a board member and immediate past-president of the Oaks Homeowners Assoc.

The locals gathered, they said, to send a message to the city and to their district representative, Los Angeles City Councilmember David Ryu, that this situation must not become permanent.

“We oppose any trail closures to the park,” said Chris Laib, chair of the Los Feliz Improvement Assoc.’s parks committee. “It was a condition of the Griffith gift that the park be available to all Angelenos.”

Laib alluded to the original intent of Griffith J. Griffith, who donated most of the land for Griffith Park to the city in 1896. One of Griffith’s caveats for the donation was that the park was to always remain free and accessible by all.

Pro-access activists say that the Beachwood entry point is crucial.

“The closure of this gate denies [about] 200 to 300 households in Beachwood pedestrian access to the park. And Beachwood is the historic and closest access to Griffith Park for all the dense population south, including Hollywood,” Laib said.

Now those interested in getting close to the Hollywood Sign must drive about 2 1/2 miles to the Canyon Drive entrance of Griffith Park, or farther away to those at Vermont Canyon, Lake Hollywood and the Griffith Observatory.

“Kicking the can further east,” as Laib. “That is not problem-solving. It’s just creating new gridlock for other neighborhoods.”

Not everyone, however, was sorry to see Beachwood’s access point—an overpopulated site, which sees an estimated 15,000 monthly visitors—shutter.

“There are a lot of uninformed opinions being expressed, protests and petitions, but at the end of the day, the judge’s opinion is the only one that really counted in this matter,” said Jack Conrad, a Beachwood homeowner since 1974.

A contingent of local homeowners feel this closure has been a long time coming as cars and foot-traffic along Beachwood Canyon Drive has become untenable since the advent of smartphones and GPS.

Sarajane Schwartz, currently involved in a separate lawsuit with the city over the same issue, said she praises the city’s decision.

“This was a win for everybody,” she said. “It’s outrageous that someone had to sue the city to get it shut. It’s like having a pool without a lifeguard.”

For Schwartz, who has lived near the top of Beachwood Canyon Drive over four decades and has served as president of her homeowners association, the whole issue has “taken over my life in a very negative way,” she said.

She and others say the Beachwood area was never intended to support such an influx of visitors.

“This has become dangerous. It makes no sense,” said Schwartz. “The big question is how no one has been killed yet when you have little kids running in the street [unattended]. Even at night. Little kids are in the streets in the dark.”

Recently, councilmember Ryu extended the contract for a consultant to further study and make recommendations on the issue.

“My office will continue to move forward on long-term strategies to create better experiences for tourists and safeguard the negatively impacted communities around the Hollywood Sign,” Ryu said in a statement.

Meanwhile, some Beachwood homeowners are savoring sudden solitude and calm.

“For the first time in years, I’ve opened up my balcony,” Schwartz said.

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