NEIGHBORHOOD POLITICS--Last night, Friends of Griffith Park (FoGP), together with the Griffith J. Griffith Charitable Trust, and the Los Feliz Oaks Homeowners Association filed an appellate response in a continued effort challenging the City of Los Angeles’ 2017 decision to close the Beachwood Gate to the Hollyridge Trail in Griffith Park. Today’s response challenged several half-truths and inaccuracies that the City Attorney has continued to claim in its appeals brief filed in November 2018.
Perhaps most shocking is that despite the Court’s decision on March 22nd of this year stating no fewer than six times that the City closed the gate, the City Attorney now argues that it has not closed the gate. The City Attorney wants the Court to believe that the petitioners, a coalition of nonprofits, have expended this much energy fighting a closed park access gate that is, in fact, open. Yet the facts in this matter are undisputed. The plain language of the March 22nd ruling shows that the judge did accept that the gate was closed and that this reversed generations of access -- both of which the City Attorney argues are false in its brief.
Furthermore FoGP remains deeply concerned that, in the City’s view, the staff of the Department of Recreation and Parks has the right to close every public access point to Griffith Park at his/her discretion without any public notice or public input.
The Griffith J. Griffith Charitable Trust (Griffith Park Trust) is equally concerned that the City’s position in this case chips away at the basic right of Angelenos to access not just Griffith Park, but all the City’s public parks. The Trust continues to assert that any denial of access to Griffith Park land is a violation of Colonel Griffith’s declaration that the park be free and open to all.
The Los Angeles City Charter and Municipal Code specifically require public park closure decisions be made by the Board of Recreation and Park Commissioners only after a publicly noticed meeting with an opportunity for public comment. Such a meeting never happened prior to the closure of the Beachwood Canyon gate. The decision to close access was made by Recreation and Parks staff -- even though the Municipal Code clearly states staff can only make such decisions in limited, specific emergency conditions, such as a fire.
For as long as anyone can remember, people have accessed Griffith Park's Hollyridge Trail through its Beachwood Canyon entrance. The popular trail affords one of the easiest access points and best views of the world famous Los Angeles landmark, the Hollywood Sign. But starting in 2014, Sunset Ranch stables, which owns a right-of-way easement over the same stretch of land began complaining. In response, the City of Los Angeles Recreation and Park Commissioners, after a properly noticed public hearing, voted to replace the old metal bar at the Beachwood entrance with a fancy electrical gate, using over $250,000 in taxpayer money to do so. The City boasted that the new gate (which featured separate entrances to keep cars and people apart) “will be of benefit to park visitors and residents of the surrounding community.” Unsatisfied, the stable later sued the City, alleging hikers were interfering with its easement.
A court found that Sunset Ranch does not have an exclusive right to the access road that leads to the trailhead, but that the City had interfered with it by channeling pedestrians to the wrong areas and by the City's security guards turning away certain motorists who were paying customers of the stable. The court ordered the City to stop turning away the stable's motorist customers and to steer pedestrians differently.
Instead the City decided to close the gate at Beachwood Canyon completely, giving control over a gate (paid for at taxpayer expense) and a trailhead (belonging to the public) to a private party, forever.
Then, in January 2018 Councilmember David Ryu released the Comprehensive Strategies Report to find solutions to excessive traffic in and around the Hollywood Sign. One of the strategies – the Alternate Access Plan -- proposed moving the pedestrian gate at Beachwood Canyon to the right of the vehicular gate, thereby eliminating safety concerns raised by Sunset Stables. This new Access option could be implemented relatively quickly and safely, and would restore public access to the Hollyridge Trail in Griffith Park. However, a report issued by the City’s Chief Legislative Analyst (CLA) in June 2018 declared the plan was not feasible. In September of this year, Ryu’s office explained the permanent gate closure: “The City lost a lawsuit, finding that the pedestrian access through the gate on Beachwood interfered with Sunset Stables’ business. Pedestrian access at that location has closed to comply with the judge’s decision.”
However, the City did not lose the lawsuit: the Court found that Sunset Ranch does not have an exclusive right to the access road that leads to the trailhead. The court order read:
"The City of Los Angeles is . . . ordered to provide public pedestrian access to the Hollyridge Trail, at a location as closest [sic.] to the start of the subject easement (i.e., the location of the Beachwood gate . . .) or at the pre-2001 access point (from Hollyridge Drive), as is practicable.” This was a win for the City.
The City did not have to choose closing access to Griffith Park near the Hollyridge Trail over other options. Moreover, many of the claims made in the CLA report regarding the lack of feasibility of the Alternate Access Plan were inaccurate. For one, the plan would be implemented entirely on park land and would not require purchase of privately-owned adjacent land, as was argued by the CLA. The CLA also claimed this plan would require environmental clearances. But such a claim is also true of many other strategies which the City Council voted to move to the next step of feasibility study -- including an elaborate aerial tram. Compared to the Alternate Access Plan, which could quickly restore public pedestrian access to the Hollyridge Trail, an aerial tram is unquestionably one of the most expensive and environmentally impactful proposals. Such a complicated project would also likely take many years to move forward.
Nearby resident associations – Los Feliz Improvement Association, The Oaks Homeowners Association, Beachwood Canyon Neighborhood Association, and Lake Hollywood Homeowners Association – representing thousands of households in adjacent communities -- have all expressed their desire for the gate to be re-opened to pedestrian access and their support for the Alternate Access Plan.
Chris Laib, Past President of the Los Feliz Improvement Association (LFIA),which represents approximately 5,000 households in the area, said, “Continued closure of the Beachwood Gate denies walking and hiking access to a large group of adjacent residents, contrary to the spirit evoked in the Griffith gift to the city. As stated in the LFIA's letter dated 8/18/17 to the City, an easy solution of an adjacent pedestrian gate, should be implemented, and Hollyridge Trail access restored to Beachwood residents.”
“What we’re hearing from residents is that they miss the right to enter the park at the end of Beachwood Canyon,” said Fran Reichenbach, Founder and Board Member of the Beachwood Canyon Neighborhood Association (BCNA). “Our association, which represents 4,500 households in this area, supports the Alternate Access Plan,” she noted.
Robert Young, Past President of the Oaks Homeowners Association added, “In unilaterally deciding to close the Beachwood Gate, the City has acted with complete disregard for the interests of the tens of thousands of residents of Los Angeles and visitors to the City who, until the closure, regularly accessed Griffith Park through the gate. The Alternate Access Plan would easily restore pedestrian access to the Park at the end of Beachwood Drive and would utilize only public-owned land.” More than 800 households in the surrounding community are represented by the Oaks Homeowners Association.
The Alternate Access Plan also garnered the support of the Hollywood United Neighborhood Council (HUNC), which represents residents in an area that stretches from Cahuenga to Western, and from Hollywood Boulevard to the Hollywood sign. A motion was passed by HUNC’s leadership last year stipulating that “HUNC supports the expedited construction of an alternate public pedestrian access trailhead located at the top of Beachwood Drive as described in today’s presentation.”
Marian Dodge, President of Friends of Griffith Park, summarizing the situation said, “We are fighting for the restoration of access to Griffith Park at the Beachwood gate. We are deeply concerned that this sets a terrible precedent for closing other access points not just to Griffith Park, but to other public parks throughout the City. We did not seek out this lawsuit and we wish that the City had followed its own rules regarding the proper procedures and public input required prior to deciding to prohibit public access to Griffith Park at the Beachwood Canyon gate. We, along with many of the resident associations in the Beachwood Canyon area, believe that the City should re-visit the Alternate Access Plan immediately as a viable, efficient and timely solution to restoring safe public pedestrian access to Griffith Park at Beachwood Canyon.”
About Friends of Griffith Park:
Friends of Griffith Park (FoGP) is a California non-profit 501(c) (3) dedicated to preserving and protecting Griffith Park’s natural habitat, biodiversity, and historic features, for current and future generations. FoGP is committed to ensuring that Griffith Park, a public park and Los Angeles’ largest Historic-Cultural Monument, remain open, natural, and free to all citizens of Los Angeles.
About the Griffith Park Trust:
The Griffith J. Griffith Charitable Trust (Griffith Park Trust), has roots dating back a century. The trust makes consistent efforts to protect the basic premise underlying Colonel Griffith’s gift of Griffith Park to the City, and supports ongoing activities in the park. Public access to the park is a part of its core mission. The Griffith Park Trust famously objected when the City attempted to institute a fee for driving automobiles into the park. Today, it is supporting a much more basic issue: the right of pedestrians to access one of the park’s trailheads, which gives hikers access to the park’s entire network of trails. The Griffith Park Trust has reversionary rights to Griffith Park if the City violates the terms of the original grant.
- More information and documentation is available at:
(Rachel Schwartz is contact for Friends of Griffith Park.)