L.A. Moves to Preserve Mulholland Drive Views

Times Staff Writer

For 55 miles, from the Hollywood Freeway to the sea, Mulholland Drive snakes along the crest of the Santa Monica Mountains. And for 22 of those miles, Mulholland is a most unusual city street: a two-lane ridge-top road in the middle of the nation’s second-largest metropolis, offering a spectacular combination of rural and urban vistas.

Hordes of new arrivals to Los Angeles eventually take rides along the portion of Mulholland within the city limits. When they do, they catch distant glimpses--smog permitting--of a storied landscape, from the Hollywood sign to the skyscrapers of downtown to the grid of long, straight streets stretching through the San Fernando Valley, and, on the western end, the waters of the Encino Hills Reservoir, rocky cliffs and the waves of the Pacific.

Now, after 14 years of study, the Los Angeles city Planning Department is preparing to unveil a proposed ordinance intended to preserve the views for which the road is famous. The complex set of regulations, which city officials say will be circulated among homeowner groups next month, is designed to keep and even enhance the decidedly rustic feel of Mulholland, from Hollywood west to the city limits--and some aspects are expected to be controversial.


Strict Limits Proposed

The ordinance would impose strict limits on development, covering details from the amount of earth to be moved to the degree of visibility of buildings from the road to the color of walls and the material of fences.

Some small structures, such as garages and sheds, would have to be demolished. A bikeway would be added along the road, and the number of hiking trails would be increased to attract more visitors.

Public informational meetings on the proposal will probably be scheduled for January, said Daniel Scott, the Planning Department’s project manager for the ordinance, dubbed the Mulholland Scenic Parkway Specific Plan. Adoption of an ordinance is about a year away, Scott said.

In past years, city traffic engineers have talked of straightening Mulholland’s curves, developers have hoped to make greater use of the choice building sites and residents have complained that they want to keep racers of cars, painters of graffiti and strewers of trash away from their road.

Curves Would Be Retained

Under the department’s proposal, Mulholland would remain two lanes, except for 100 yards where there are four lanes between Benedict Canyon Drive and Beverly Glen Boulevard. The road’s curves would be retained to keep speeds low, and night lighting would be reduced in intensity for a more natural effect.

To remove obstructions to the view, all tennis courts, swimming pools, garages, tool sheds, walls and fences would have to be removed within 10 years if they are in the road’s right-of-way. The Planning Department is conducting a survey to see how many structures have encroached on the roadway property, Scott said. The structures were allowed under revocable permits, he said.


Any new buildings--or any home being rebuilt after damage from fire or other natural disaster--would have to be painted in earth or rock tones, such as adobe. Fences would have to be made of wood or rock.

Any landscaping visible from the road would have to come from a list of approved plantings natural to the area. Palm and cypress trees, for example, would not be permitted.

The proposal’s “major thrust is to preserve that which makes the parkway so beautiful, and that is the views,” said Emily Gabel, a senior city planner responsible for much of the proposal. “Your eye should be drawn out there. The view is the highest priority.”

“What we want to do is keep out anything that has people on the road saying, ‘Wow, look at that,’ instead of looking at the view,” said Richard Reiss, chairman of a citizens’ advisory committee appointed by the City Council to help draft the ordinance proposal.

The city attorney’s office is reviewing the proposal.

Reiss and other members of the advisory committee say they are pleased with the Planning Department’s efforts. They hope that the City Council will agree that a detailed ordinance with clear limits is necessary to protect one of the city’s most magnificent assets.

The earliest conception of the road was as a scenic parkway. In 1913, William Mulholland, chief engineer of the city Water Department, proposed a special road for pleasure driving along the mountain ridge, from Cahuenga Pass west. Work began in the 1920s, and the road’s opening in 1924 was celebrated with a citywide festival.


In the late 1960s, legislation was introduced in the Assembly to appropriate money to build a freeway along Mulholland, but the bill never passed.

In 1971, the council designated Mulholland as a city scenic parkway and created the advisory committee.

The new ordinance would replace three vague paragraphs governing the road that were added to the zoning law in 1974. Those paragraphs said that the road’s natural look should be maintained and that grading and cross streets should be limited.

Supporters of the latest proposal say the paragraphs have not prevented the kind of leveling and grading that has flattened hilltops and left long scars in mountainsides.

Although Scott and Reiss are supposed to be informed about all Mulholland-area projects so they can attempt to keep out what they consider to be inappropriate development, “things have been leaking through,” Reiss said.

He cited as an example two tennis courts with night lights under construction. They would not be permitted under the proposed ordinance.


Those Mulholland residents who like their night tennis--and others who have plans for their lots that would conflict with the strict requirements--probably will present the greatest opposition to the ordinance, Reiss and others said.

Richard M. Close, president of the Sherman Oaks Homeowners Assn., said he generally supports limiting development to preserve the rustic nature of Mulholland Drive. However, Close, said, “The city has to weigh the rights of the people who live up there with those of the general public. We don’t want the drive to be turned into a tourist attraction. It’s not parkland. It is residential.”

Close said he would oppose any parts of the proposal that might regulate the color of new houses or require the removal of structures that could be seen from the street.

Other residents, who may sympathize with the development rules, are likely to object to making their neighborhood into even more of a tourist attraction.

“I’m sure there are residents who feel that way, but when the positives provide such an overwhelming opportunity, we have to accept some of the negatives,” said Jerry Daniel, an advisory committee member who lives along Mulholland.

“It’s not our private preserve. It’s for the whole city.”

Daniel said he is sure that opposition will surface and that the ordinance will change as it wends its way through city commissions to the council.