Parking Limits Raise Red Flags

Times Staff Writer

Forget the panoramic view. These days, the most prized asset in parts of the Hollywood Hills and other canyon communities may well be a parking spot.

A newly enacted city ordinance bans parking on scores of narrow, winding hillside roads whenever the Los Angeles Fire Department issues a “red flag” fire warning. Now some residents are burned up.

The law is designed to make it easier for firetrucks to navigate streets that are often lined with parked cars. But with up to 10 red flag days a year, usually during the Santa Ana winds of autumn, residents wonder where they are going to park.

The city’s Transportation Department has erected 2,500 signs in hillside neighborhoods warning that vehicles parked on the streets on red flag days will be towed. It plans to install a total of 5,200 signs by the end of January.

The rules cover hundreds of blocks from Eagle Rock to the Westside. Curbside parking is prohibited on streets less than 28 feet wide, while parking will be restricted to one side on streets 29 to 36 feet wide.


In the steep, brush-covered hills near Lake Hollywood, resident Jim Maxwell is one of the lucky ones. He has a carport.

But many others who live on the narrow curving roads north of the Hollywood Freeway are not so fortunate. With neither garages nor carports attached to their homes, some fear they would have to walk blocks -- if not miles -- to get to and from their cars.

“Across the street is a classic example of the problem,” Maxwell said recently, pointing to a large two-story house near his in the Hollywood Dell neighborhood. “There are five cars at that house and there’s no room for any of them. They have to park on the street. I’m sure they don’t want to park them somewhere else overnight.”

Residents point out that aside from rambling estates in places like Bel-Air and Los Feliz, many homes in hillside neighborhoods are built on small lots where usable land is at a premium. If homes have garages, they are relatively small and can’t always accommodate more than one car -- and that’s if the owners haven’t converted them into living space.

Maxwell’s friend Bruce Adams acknowledged that it could be difficult for firetrucks to maneuver around his neighborhood with parked cars lining the streets. But he pointed out that a fire could occur even without a red flag warning, and residents wouldn’t have time to move their cars.

“I don’t know how they’re going to work that out,” Adams said. “You’re still going to have chaos.”

The red flag ordinance was adopted by the Los Angeles City Council earlier this month, with little fanfare, at the request of the Fire Department.

Councilman Jack Weiss, who helped draft the ordinance after consulting with hillside homeowners groups, said the new rules are crucial to better protecting hillside homes and residents during major brush fires.

Weiss and other supporters cited the 1991 fire that destroyed hundreds of homes in the densely populated hills above Oakland. In some cases, firetrucks couldn’t get to structures and residents couldn’t escape their burning houses because the narrow mountain roads were blocked by parked cars, he said.

“There are only half a dozen red flag days in a given year, maybe 10 at the most,” Weiss said. “It’s an unusual occurrence, and the reality is, on those days when you wake up and it’s dry and windy, most people know it’s a high fire-risk day.”

A red flag warning is issued on days when the humidity level is 15% or lower and winds are blowing at least 25 mph, signifying heightened fire danger for dry, brush-covered hillsides, said Battalion Chief Lou Roupoli of the Los Angeles Fire Department.

“A wind-driven fire is almost impossible to stop. I know it’s going to be an inconvenience for a lot of people, thinking ‘Where am I going to park? I got two cars,’ ” Roupoli said. “But we’re doing this to save their homes and to help them evacuate their neighborhood. They don’t want to be stuck because there’s a car blocking the street.”

Some hillside homeowners groups have expressed support for the city’s parking ban, saying it’s important to give firefighters the help they need to battle brush fires.

These backers doubt the rules will cause much inconvenience and would serve to make their neighborhoods safer.

In Laurel Canyon, 12-year resident Michael Maher said neighbors might have to rely on one another for news of red flag warnings so they know when to move their cars off the street to avoid getting towed.

“I think people will pull together when their homes and lives are at stake,” said Maher, who lives off narrow Stanley Hills Drive.

He parks his car in a garage but said many of his neighbors park curbside.

“It’s super-narrow and tough getting by there,” Maher said. “It can be very dangerous for people to pass.”

Brentwood resident Laurie Gottlieb, however, said it’s unfair to tow people’s cars whenever there is a red flag warning -- especially when some residents simply might not know that an alert as been issued.

“How can you post a sign based on the potential that there might be a fire somewhere in 10 years on a specific street?” Gottlieb said.

But supporters note that local TV and radio stations already broadcast red flag warnings, so residents will know when they have to move their cars. The city’s website will also begin to note the warnings.

Pat Griffith, president of the Arroyo Seco Neighborhood Council, said residents of her Mount Washington neighborhood were caught off guard by the new signs that began appearing on residential streets a few weeks ago.

“They’re furious,” Griffith said. “All they know is they woke up one morning and here’s this no-parking sign in front of their house. We’re not eager to have our house burn up and we’re not eager to thwart the Fire Department, but at the same time they need to think it through. No one can do that overnight.”

One of Los Angeles’ older neighborhoods, Mount Washington is laced with very narrow streets. Griffith said she worried about a couple of her neighbors who are disabled and regularly park on the street outside their house.

She estimated the closest other street parking would be two miles away.

“Mass transportation in this neighborhood is nonexistent,” she said.

But, she said, there may also be a bright side to the new ordinance.

“Maybe it’ll force some people to clean out their garages so they can park in them,” she said.