Crackdown Credited for Mulholland Calm

Times Staff Writer

It was 2:30 a.m. and Joe Edmiston, leader of a state parks task force to crack down on vandalism and rowdyism on Mulholland Drive, seemed satisfied.

"They got the message tonight," he said.

"All of 'em."

Edmiston's message to youths was to stay away, after dark, from several scenic overlooks bordering Mulholland. It went out Friday night to teen-agers parked along the road in the form of $28 citations. By law, the overlooks are closed from sunset to sunrise.

The Mulholland Overlook Task Force is an arm of the Santa Monica Conservancy, a state agency that acquires land in the Santa Monica Mountains for parks and open space.

Edmiston, executive director of the conservancy, and his men showed no mercy, despite protests that "no parking" signs were not visible.

In a tour of the viewpoints--which overlook Fryman Canyon, Universal City and the Hollywood Bowl--the six-member task force issued at least 30 citations, he said.

"This weekend we're hitting everybody," said Sky Atchison, a state park ranger. "This is what you would call maximum enforcement, because we want the word out that this place is off-limits."

'Limited Police Status'

The task force obtained authority last month from the Los Angeles city transportation department to issue citations, Edmiston said. Under state law, the conservancy's park rangers have "limited peace officer status" allowing them to carry guns and enforce regulations on state park land--which is where the overlooks are located.

The conservancy volunteered to patrol the winding highway because the Los Angeles Police Department is stretched too thin to respond to nuisance calls and to protect the overlooks from illegal parkers, party-goers, vandals and graffiti painters.

The conservancy also hired a private security company to enforce parking regulations. The private security company's guards are authorized to carry handguns.

The crackdown came in response to complaints by homeowners who live along Mulholland Drive about loud music, smashing of bottles and illegal campfires in the overlooks at night. The patrol Friday night found all the overlooks strewn with bottles and defaced with graffiti. Concrete waste containers had been pushed down the slopes.

It costs about $3,000 quarterly to restore each overlook, said Edmiston.

John Diaz, a spokesman for the conservancy, said most damage has been caused by gangs which stake out particular overlooks as their turf.

"We've brought in an expert," he said "and each overlook had been marked by the insignia of one gang," he said. According to Diaz, gang activity and the residents' grievances threaten to forestall the construction of six additional scenic viewpoints along Mulholland Drive.

The rangers, graduates of law enforcement training courses, are armed during their rounds, although "carrying guns is not normal procedure," Edmiston said.

"But with the allegations of gang activities, it was needed to ensure officer safety."

The youths lingering along the road in the early hours of Saturday morning were dressed in ordinary garb as distinguished from gang-style clothing. Many of them appeared to be on dates. While Edmiston confiscated a marijuana cigarette and some open beer cans during the course of the evening, he found no blaring radios and caught no delinquents armed with cans of spray paint.

"Our car's not stolen. We don't have any drugs," protested Shawn Lakes, 19, of North Hollywood. "We just came here to kick back and enjoy the view."

Couple Go Popeyed

One embracing couple, parked on the shoulder of the road, went popeyed when they were suddenly encircled by a caravan of six patrol vehicles with spotlights beaming into their car.

"Kids need a place to relax. Not everybody likes to go to parties," said Linda Gutierrez, 18, of Los Angeles. "And how can you beat this place?"

Said Edmiston: "The tragedy of this thing is that these parks could remain open if not for the bad elements."

None of the youths resisted when ticketed and ordered to leave, but some protested that they were being harassed by being asked whether they belonged to gangs.

"You have absolutely no right to imply that," one boy answered bitterly. "And we have a right to stay here."

Responded Edmiston as he gazed through a window of the youth's beat-up vehicle:

"Frankly, we don't want you to stay. . . . What's in the briefcase?"

Many youths expressed outrage at the tickets, arguing that "No Parking" signs were not adequately posted.

"Where's the sign, man?" asked Vince Arma, 18, of North Hollywood, who was parked near the Hollywood Bowl overlook. "I don't see any sign."

No "No Parking" signs were visible at Fryman and parts of the Universal City overlooks.

Says Signs Are Stolen

Edmiston had little sympathy for such an appeal, insisting that youths steal the signs.

"Every time we post them, they're torn down," he said. "We spend a lot of money to put up signs as soon as possible, but we enforce in between as well. . . . We've got folks here who see a sign, tear it down and say, 'Oh, boy. Now we can park here.' "

The Mulholland Task Force will continue surveillance next weekend. After that, checks of the area will be random, Diaz said.

If vandalism, disorderly conduct and illegal parking persist, officials said, punishments will grow tougher.

Said Atchison: "When we get to the point where we write $200 tickets, it's going to become painful."

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