Judge deals set­back to push for Hol­ly­wood sign ac­cess

Los Angeles Times - - CALIFORNIA - EMILY ALPERT REYES emily.alpert@la­times.com Twit­ter: @LATimesEmily

Lo­cal groups that want Los Angeles to re­open a pop­u­lar ac­cess point to a Hol­ly­wood sign trail were dealt a set­back in court Tues­day.

A Los Angeles Su­pe­rior Court judge re­jected their at­tempt to in­ter­vene in a court bat­tle that led the city to close the Beach­wood Drive gate to hik­ers this year.

How­ever, Judge El­iz­a­beth Fef­fer said the groups could still have their day in court — by fil­ing a sep­a­rate law­suit on the “se­ri­ous is­sues” they had raised.

“It’s a mi­nor set­back,” said at­tor­ney Mitchell Tsai, whose clients have yet to de­cide their next steps.

Ear­lier this year, the city said it had stopped al­low­ing hik­ers through the Beach­wood Drive gate to re­solve a le­gal dis­pute with Sun­set Ranch Hol­ly­wood Sta­bles, which com­plained that the city had been fun­nel­ing thou­sands of hik­ers onto an ac­cess road lead­ing to its horse­back-rid­ing fa­cil­ity in Grif­fith Park.

The ranch also raised con­cerns about safety, warn­ing that it was dan­ger­ous for pedes­tri­ans to share the wind­ing road with trucks and horse trail­ers headed to the fa­cil­ity.

The Beach­wood Drive gate had been one of the most pop­u­lar ac­cess points for hik­ers and tourists try­ing to catch a glimpse of the fa­mous sign. The de­ci­sion was wel­comed by some nearby home­own­ers who had com­plained about traf­fic con­ges­tion, fire haz­ards and other safety risks from crowds of tourists hik­ing up the Beach­wood Canyon street.

But oth­ers — in­clud­ing some Beach­wood Canyon res­i­dents — protested the city de­ci­sion. The Friends of Grif­fith Park, the Los Feliz Oaks Home­own­ers Assn. and the Grif­fith J. Grif­fith Char­i­ta­ble Trust chal­lenged the move in court, say­ing that L.A. had other ways to ad­here to a court or­der and pro­tect Sun­set Ranch with­out block­ing ac­cess at Beach­wood Drive.

The Grif­fith Park groups pointed out that Fef­fer had not or­dered the city to close the Beach­wood gate to hik­ers. In­stead, the judge told L.A. to stop pre­vent­ing Sun­set Ranch em­ploy­ees and cus­tomers from ac­cess­ing the fa­cil­ity — and to pro­vide pub­lic ac­cess for pedes­tri­ans as close as pos­si­ble to ei­ther the Beach­wood gate or an ear­lier ac­cess point.

The lo­cal groups ar­gued that turn­ing hik­ers away from the Beach­wood Drive gate had un­der­mined pub­lic ac­cess to Grif­fith Park, put other neigh­bor­hoods at risk from redi­rected traf­fic and amounted to an il­le­gal gift of pub­lic land to a pri­vate com­pany, call­ing it an “im­proper back­room deal.”

“The city isn’t al­lowed to close pub­lic ac­cess to a pub­lic park un­der the guise of a pri­vate set­tle­ment, with­out any pub­lic process,” Tsai said.

How­ever, at the Tues­day hear­ing, Deputy City Atty. Michael Ka­plan ar­gued that hik­ers and tourists still had other ways to ac­cess Grif­fith Park, in­clud­ing the Hol­lyridge Trail that is prized for its views of the Hol­ly­wood sign. Clos­ing the gate to hik­ers, Ka­plan added, was not only meant to pro­tect Sun­set Ranch but to pre­vent a po­ten­tially fa­tal ac­ci­dent on the ac­cess road.

Both the city and Sun­set Ranch ar­gued against al­low­ing the Grif­fith Park groups to in­ter­vene.

Fef­fer ul­ti­mately turned down the re­quest to jump into the case, say­ing it would present a “lo­gis­ti­cal night­mare” for the court as it pro­ceeded to trial on a dif­fer­ent set of is­sues in the same case.

She pointed out that some of the le­gal is­sues raised by the Grif­fith Park groups — in­clud­ing whether the city had vi­o­lated the Cal­i­for­nia En­vi­ron­men­tal Qual­ity Act — would have to be han­dled by a dif­fer­ent court any­way.

“This was the cor­rect de­ci­sion,” said at­tor­ney Michael An­gel, who is rep­re­sent­ing Sun­set Ranch, af­ter the Tues­day hear­ing. The groups “did not es­tab­lish what was re­quired of them in or­der to in­ter­vene.”

Mem­bers of the Hol­ly­wood­land Home­own­ers Assn. also at­tended the Tues­day hear­ing but did not im­me­di­ately com­ment on the de­ci­sion. They did, how­ever, hand out a writ­ten state­ment say­ing they were pleased with the de­ci­sion to close the Beach­wood gate.

“It is our hope that the city of Los Angeles will take this op­por­tu­nity to de­velop ap­pro­pri­ate ar­eas and in­fra­struc­ture, out of all res­i­den­tial ar­eas, for chan­nel­ing vis­i­tors to the Hol­ly­wood sign,” the group said in its state­ment.

Myung J. Chun Los Angeles Times

AN AT­TEMPT by lo­cal groups to in­ter­vene in a le­gal dis­pute that led Los Angeles to close the Beach­wood Drive trail gate to the pub­lic was re­jected in court.

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