How much did the city pay for the gate near the Hollywood sign?

Readers guess the amount the city paid to install a gate on a trail near the Hollywood sign

So how much did it cost the city of Los Angeles to install a gate at the entrance to the trail under the Hollywood sign?

As promised on Sunday, when I wandered into the middle of a long-running Beachwood Canyon battle pitting homeowners against city officials, hikers and tourists, I've found the answer. But hold on a second while I backtrack.

For those who missed Part One, residents of the hilly, leafy community bordering Griffith Park have been under siege since Internet directions and mobile apps began directing half the world up narrow, winding Beachwood Drive for fantastic views of the Hollywood sign.

At times, it could be like rush hour on the 405, with hordes of visitors creating traffic and safety problems. And it's not hard to sympathize with residents who have suffered such annoyances, with hooligans occasionally using their streets and properties as outhouses on the road to the circus.

City officials offered a reasonable strategy, if you ask me — though there's no good reason for its having taken so long to implement.

First, a gate has been installed at the top of Beachwood Drive to block vehicle access to Hollyridge Trail, a dirt hiking path that loops along a ridge offering a couple of nice angles before circling up and behind the sign.

Second, the neighborhood is being turned into a preferred parking district on weekends and holidays, restricting outsiders and reserving parking for permitted residents.

Third, the Recreation and Parks Department is developing a plan to divert sign-seekers to other observation points that offer ample parking, bathrooms and better, safer access in and out.

But Sarajane Schwartz, former president of the Hollywoodland Homeowners Assn., was one of several residents who doesn't care one bit for this deal and didn't like what I wrote about it.

"None of this is a NIMBY issue in the least," but instead it's a public safety issue, insisted Schwartz, who has lived on Beachwood Drive for 35 years.

Schwartz suggested that it's insane to allow continued visitor access in a residential area that can't accommodate it. Traffic blocks emergency vehicles, she said, and instead of being concerned about the cost of the gate, I should focus on the millions in settlements the city will have to pay when the invading masses cause accidents or start fires on the trail.

"I think they should close it," said Schwartz, who told me flat out that there is no middle ground on the subject as far as she's concerned. She added that she thinks the city "illegally" provided access to Hollyridge Trail, never subjecting it to proper review.

I feel her pain, and yes, the city needs to do a much better job of managing the nuisance for Beachwood Canyon residents, just as it needs to develop more sensible access points and figure out how to direct visitors to them.

But no, I'm sorry. The trail shouldn't be closed.

Hundreds of thousands of Los Angeles residents have no yards, and the city has precious little parkland. Access to public spaces, including beaches and wilderness areas, shouldn't be restricted to those who can afford to live near them.

Hollyridge is a public trail in a public park and not everyone who uses it is a tourist looking for a selfie with the Hollywood sign in the background. Local taxpayers — including me on occasion — use that trail, too, simply because it's a pastoral island amid a congested metropolis.

But as reader Jeffrey Briggs notes, the legitimate public safety concerns in Beachwood Canyon make it imperative that the city get more creative on this subject.

"The city should build a lookout tower south of Franklin near Hollywood Blvd," he said in an email. "This would be convenient for Hollywood visitors, especially those in tour buses (and keep those buses out of Beachwood Canyon)."

I doubt that would keep people from trying to get to the sign. But I've always preferred to see it from afar, where it seems more magical than it does when you get close enough to realize it's a corrugated metal facade.

A reader named D. Paul Yeuell of Malibu seems to agree.

"Hollywood," wrote the self-described writer, environmental activist and dog owner, "is something off in the distance to which we look for distraction and even inspiration. You get too close, it's a shabby old billboard in the chaparral."

Before we get too poetic, though, let's get back to the business at hand. In March, the city said it would take five weeks to install a gate to control access to Hollyridge Trail. Five weeks turned into nine months, with some redesigns along the way, and I asked readers to guess what the gate wound up costing — not including the $50,000 tab the city has had to pay for private security at the gate project.

Estimates ranged from $17,406.29 (Scott Guy) to $900,000 (Jeffrey Briggs).

Kevin Regan of the Recreation and Parks Department says the original cost of the customized vehicle and pedestrian gate project, with all the necessary sidewalk, asphalt, retaining wall and other items, was $110,000. Changes, which included an electric connection to the private horse stables nearby, so drivers could be allowed in remotely, added $53,000 for a total cost of $163,000.

Additional road improvements at the site cost another $50,000, for a project total of $213,000.

So I've decided to buy a picnic lunch and go hiking on Hollyridge Trail with both the guesser closest to $163,000 (just the gate) and the guesser closest to $213,000 (the whole project, minus guard costs).

Carol Hahn, a Malibu resident who works in communications at the Getty Conservation Institute, guessed $162,000.

Get your boots on, Carol.

When I emailed the second lucky guesser ($225,000) to ask what he does for a living and where he lives, he wrote back:

"I am a writer and I live across the street from you."

Oh, I hadn't looked at his name. But it's Phil Stark, of Silver Lake, who worked on "That '70s Show" and wrote the movie "Dude, Where's My Car?"

Carol, Phil and I will try not to disturb residents of Beachwood Canyon as we make our way through the $163,000 gate on our way up to that glorious, shabby old billboard in the chaparral.

steve.lopez@latimes.com

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times
51°