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Groups mount legal battle over L.A.'s closure of the gate to the Hollywood sign

A group of homeowners and Griffith Park preservationists have filed court papers to reverse the city of Los Angeles’ decision to block an access point to one of the most direct hiking trails to the famous Hollywood sign.

The dispute centers on the decision by city officials to close the Beachwood Drive gate on April 18, which cut off an access point to the popular Hollyridge Trail. The city cited a court order issued in February in an ongoing battle with Sunset Ranch Hollywood Stables, a privately owned horseback-riding facility in Griffith Park.

The suit filed Monday in Los Angeles County Superior Court by the Friends of Griffith Park, Los Feliz Oaks Homeowners Assn. and the Griffith J. Griffith Charitable Trust said that closing the Beachwood Drive gate altogether, save for those driving to and from the ranch, blocked entry to public parkland and amounted to an illegal gift of government property to a private group.

In court papers, the groups question why the city did not consider other routes that would keep pedestrian access without interfering with the horseback-riding facility.

“A basic right of Angelenos is access to its public parks,” Clare Darden, a trustee for the Griffith J. Griffith Charitable Trust, said in a statement.

“Any access threatened by special-interest groups to Griffith Park land is a violation of Colonel Griffith’s declaration that the park be free and open to all.”

The three groups are trying to intervene in a lawsuit originally filed against the city by Sunset Ranch, which complained that hordes of hikers and tourists had obstructed the ranch’s business.

For decades, the ranch has had a right-of-way agreement, or easement, that allows its staff and customers to come and go on a strip of city property.

But ranch owners claimed that the city directed hikers onto its “exclusive easement road” by advertising that people could access the area using a new gate.

Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Elizabeth R. Feffer ruled in February that hikers could not be barred from using the road — dismissing the notion that it was exclusive to the ranch.

But the judge found that city guards had blocked access to the stables’ customers and that the thousands of pedestrians marching through to reach the Hollyridge Trail had interfered with the ranch’s use of the easement.

The judge ordered the city to provide access to the Hollyridge Trail as close as possible to either the start of the Sunset Ranch easement — near the gate at Beachwood Drive — or a trailhead that was closed in 2001.

After the judge’s order, the city and Sunset Ranch filed court papers in March stating that the Beachwood Canyon gate would be permanently closed. Access to the Hollyridge Trail would still be provided at Canyon Drive.

In the court papers filed Monday, the three groups decried the “draconian solution” of shutting down the Beachwood Drive gate and said it amounted to a gift of city-owned lands to a private party — with no benefit to the public.

The groups said that other access points such as Canyon Drive would be burdened by the increase in cars and hikers. And the groups claimed the city was deceptive in describing the Canyon Drive access point as 1,500 feet east of Beachwood Drive, when the actual path is more circuitous.

“This lawsuit involves humans and not birds,” the groups say in court papers. “For a human to walk or drive from the Beachwood gate to the terminus of Canyon Drive is a distance of approximately 2 ½ miles.”

Estevan Montemayor, a spokesman for Councilman David Ryu, whose district includes Griffith Park, issued a terse statement saying that “the city of Los Angeles lost in court.” He said it was unclear if the city could have complied with the judge’s order without closing the Beachwood Drive gate.

Rob Wilcox, a spokesman for the city attorney, said his office had not received a copy of the suit and declined further comment.

Times staff writer Emily Alpert-Reyes contributed to this report.

matt.hamilton@latimes.com

Twitter: @MattHjourno

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