@THE GUSS REPORT-This weekend’s deadly inferno in an Oakland warehouse that was used as, but not permitted as, a living space and concert venue is a warning shot for Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, the LA City Council and especially its first-term District 4 representative David Ryu. The message it delivers to them is this: if you ignore repeated community warnings about dangerous conditions, someone, perhaps many people, may die on your watch. (As of Monday afternoon, the Oakland death toll stands at 36 and is expected to go higher.)
In the communities surrounding LA’s world famous Hollywood sign, a major tourist attraction, members of its surrounding homeowners’ associations are furious with Ryu for what they say are broken campaign promises, and his becoming unreachable, regarding the ever worsening, dangerous conditions created by City Hall giving riskier and illegal access to the sign through extremely narrow and winding hillside streets.
Locals primarily blame the conditions on two things. One is Ryu’s predecessor, Tom Labonge, the seemingly attention deficit challenged, termed-out City Hall lifer who ignored common sense. Locals say California’s environmental CEQA rules were ignored by Labonge in 2011 when he illegally used his own office staff to clear a perilous cliffside vista for tourists to view the sign, rather than going through city departments that have engineers, public safety and park experts. The other cause, they say, is technology like Google Maps, Yelp and ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft that allow tourists to share with one another closer, riskier access points to the sign.
In the Spring 2015 primary for Labonge’s City Council seat, Ryu defeated outsider activists, as well as crusty City Hall heir-apparents, to face off against Labonge’s Chief of Staff, Carolyn Ramsay. In doing so, he sought and received help from Tony Fisch, a Hollywood Hills consultant and 12 other activists who met with Ryu to discuss well-documented dangers ranging from huge brushfires believed to be caused by tourists’ cigarettes, tourists driving off cliffs, and tourists seeking selfies -- sometimes with children in strollers – inches away from 200-foot plunges.
According to Fisch, “Thirteen of us activists sat with (Ryu) in my living room at the beginning of the runoff. He said he’d assure our public safety and we were specific about the Vista. After the election he asked us for residential consensus to close the Vista along with other safeguards. (We) hand-delivered 75% of residential signatures to him in his office. He said he would get back to us with a timeline, but we never heard from him again.” But now that Ryu is nearing the half-way point of his first term, Fisch says of Ryu, “He is a corrupt liar.”
At Friday’s City Council meeting, when asked to comment on the subject, Ryu declined to answer “due to a lengthy Council meeting today.” But the meeting had only an eight-item agenda, much of which was ceremonial, and took only half as much time as Wednesday’s marathon four-hour meeting. He referred me instead to his Communications Director who talked about their conducting 50+ meetings about the subject, but could not provide any specific plans for dealing with the problems or meeting with Fisch and his activist neighbors again.
On Saturday morning, I ventured high into Beachwood Canyon to speak with locals and to see first-hand what was going on.
What I saw was nothing short of a cavalcade of chaos. I met Guy, a local house restorer who has lived in the area for four years. He estimated that, at the top of his extremely narrow road, which ends in a cul-de-sac, there are upward of 1200 to 1500 daily vehicle “turnarounds.”
I witnessed tourist vehicles and Uber and Lyft drivers parking their cars in (and in front of) driveways and in the middle of the street. This is not only a back-breaking nuisance for residents, but a tremendous danger should first responders need to access the gated, dirt access road at the top of the street in the event of another brushfire. Sometimes, the ride share drivers drop off their fares and drive away, only to come back minutes later, doubling the traffic nuisance.
Local parking enforcement officials expressed frustration that they have to patrol a large area, but that when they respond to calls for illegal driveway and street blocking, the tourists and ride share drivers jump back in their cars and drive away.
Residents, it should be noted, welcome hikers and cyclists enjoying the scenery, although they say the city has done nothing to enforce limited hours of access to those trails, leading to drug and alcohol consumption, used condom disposal on their streets and late night bike riders.
Bad as the conditions I witnessed were, this pales in comparison to something else I discovered…..coming soon.
(Daniel Guss, MBA, is a contributor to CityWatchLA, KFI AM-640 and Huffington Post. Follow him on Twitter @TheGussReport. His opinions are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of CityWatch.)