Hollywood Lawyer Fights City Hall's Attempts to Gate off V.I.P. Neighborhoods in the Hills
Should the posh dead-end streets throughout the Hollywood Hills -- which offer the best views in Los Angeles, and allow access to some of the city's coolest hiking trails -- be gated off to protect homeowners from tourists and riff-raff?
In three different instances (a number that Hollywood attorney Richard MacNaughton fears will grow, unless a legal precedent is set), L.A. City Councilman Tom LaBonge has moved to erect temporary 18-month gates in the Hills, on the basis that "serious and continual criminal activity" was threatening his rich constituents who live there.
But what millionaires in the Hills consider to be "serious and continual" crime...
... might be interpreted by your average basin dweller as good-old-fashioned white person problems.
The city erected a gate on La Punta Drive in 2002 because non-residents were hiking up it to drink in the insane views at the top, leading to the occasional car break-in or guardrail graffiti. But now that the gate's there, real-estate agents can describe the La Punta neighborhood as "quiet and peaceful," gushing about how...
"... resident redtail hawks ride wind currents outside the living room window. Beautiful hikes at the Hollywood Reservoir just down the street. Plenty of parking on the property and the street is exclusive and gated."
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(Which are precisely the same reasons that said basin dwellers loved to walk down La Punta for a breather from the grungy, crime-ridden streets of central Hollywood below. Now those are some dead-end streets that know something about "serious and continual criminal activity.")
Most recently, in September 2011, another such gate was approved at Solar Drive. Up to that point, Solar had served as the No. 1 entry point to super-popular hiking spot Runyon Canyon, otherwise known as "Hollywood's StairMaster."
But thanks to an abandoned pink mansion on the end of the street (pictured below, far right) that turned into a wild party house, so infamous it was eventually featured on Law & Order: Los Angeles, the area became -- according to the L.A. Times -- "overrun by squatters and ravers," who left behind nasty party residue like "used condoms, beer bottles and drug paraphernalia."
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McNaughton is perturbed that instead of forcing the mansion owner to de-blight the property, the city resorted to cordoning off a beautiful, useful and very public Los Angeles roadway.
These "temporary" gates, says McNaughton, have the potential to become permanent. The La Punta gate has now been in place for over a decade, thanks to the L.A. City Council, who re-approves it very 18 months by arguing that the lack of "serious and continual" crime on La Punta since the gate went up is the reverse-proof needed to justify its existence.
This same method, says MacNaughton, could easily be used on the Solar gate or any other gate the City Council may approve in the future.
Although it was never built, Councilman LaBonge likewise offered a gate to angry Deronda Avenue residents in 2010, as a way to block tourists from an up-close look at the Hollywood sign. He wrote in his motion:
The Hollywood Sign, an international icon, draws a tremendous amount of tourists and vehicles up to the Hollywood Hills communities. Due to the high frequency and volume of visitors at a limited number of scenic vantage points, residents daily (and nightly) face security issues that include loitering, littering, drinking, and smoking in the high fire hazard severity brush zone.
But McNaughton tells the Weekly that after scouring years of LAPD records, he can't find any proof that any of these streets had a real crime problem. (More just an annoying peace-and-quiet problem that was disrupting their beauty sleep, or spa days, or whatever else those housewives do up in the Hills.)
So the local attorney and activist is suing City Hall to halt these repeated gate renewals, as well as any new construction. His argument hinges on the California Vehicle Code, which states that...
"... local authorities may not place gates or other selective devices on any street which deny or restrict the access of certain members of the public to the street, while permitting other unrestricted access to the street."
A final ruling was supposed to be issued today, but L.A. County Superior Court Judge Gregory Alarcon instead asked for further written testimony from both sides, according to Gerald Sato with the L.A. City Attorney's Office. The issue will be revisited on October 23.
However, Deputy City Attorney Sato is quite confident the city will win: "[The judge] seemed pretty definite that he didn't want to issue an injunction to the city regarding any of three locations," he says.
Fran Reichenbach, former editor of the Beachwood Voice and current president of Beachwood Canyon Neighborhood Association, says that -- although she sympathizes with neighbors who have a tourist problem -- "there has to be another way to resolve issues that come up ... than saying no one gets to go on the street."
Wasn't it Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa himself who traveled to Mexico to preach "bridges not borders"? Then again, that was before he erected a six-foot wall around the mayoral mansion to keep the riff-raff out.
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