Griffith Park groups press on with legal battle over access to Hollywood sign trail

Local groups opposed to the closure of a popular gateway into Griffith Park revived their legal fight Tuesday, filing a new lawsuit against the city of Los Angeles.

Earlier this year, the city stopped allowing pedestrians through the Beachwood Drive gate, which was a busy route for hikers and tourists trying to snap photos of the Hollywood sign.

The decision came in the aftermath of a lawsuit by Sunset Ranch Hollywood Stables, which had complained that the city was funneling thousands of hikers onto an access road leading to its horseback riding facility, blocking its business and putting pedestrians in danger.

Closing the gate was welcomed by some Beachwood Canyon homeowners who had complained about traffic, fire hazards and other risks from the crush of tourists hiking up Beachwood Drive to the Hollyridge Trail.

But it quickly drew fire from other Angelenos — including some Beachwood Canyon residents — who argued that it was improperly curbing public access to a public park.

The Friends of Griffith Park, the Los Feliz Oaks Homeowners Assn. and the Griffith J. Griffith Charitable Trust sought to intervene in the case, saying that L.A. had other ways to adhere to a court order and protect Sunset Ranch without blocking access at Beachwood Drive.

In June, they were dealt a setback when Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Elizabeth Feffer rejected their attempt to jump into the Sunset Ranch case, saying it would cause logistical problems. But Feffer pointed out that the Griffith Park groups could file a separate lawsuit.

The new suit accuses the city of violating city and state laws when it reached a settlement deal with Sunset Ranch Hollywood Stables.

The “outright unlawful” settlement undermined public access, burdened other neighborhoods with added traffic and noise without proper review, and amounted to an illegal gift to a private company, the groups contend in the suit.

“It makes it much harder for people in that neighborhood to access the park, and it was done without any kind of public process. That’s not how we do things,” said attorney and former state Assemblyman Mike Gatto, who is representing the groups. “To say we're going to close off this major access point to the park ... that flies in the face of what Griffith Park is supposed to be.”

Rob Wilcox, a spokesman for City Atty. Mike Feuer, said he had not seen the new complaint against the city as of midday Tuesday.

At a June hearing, Deputy City Atty. Michael Kaplan said that the city had closed the gate to prevent deadly accidents between hikers and vehicles on the winding road to Sunset Ranch and added that there were other ways to access Griffith Park and the Hollyridge Trail.

emily.alpert@latimes.com

Twitter: @LATimesEmily

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