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Hollywood sign neighbors to tourists: Make legal U-turn, go away

Tourists who want to experience the real Hollywood might want to make a stop at a Fountain Avenue community room on Tuesday.

That’s where Hollywood residents and Los Angeles leaders will debate how best to deal with hordes of sightseers who daily clog the narrow hillside streets beneath the Hollywood sign.

Residents and officials agree that GPS devices, websites and a proliferation of tour bus and van operators have opened the 87-year-old neighborhood to growing numbers of visitors who want to get as close as possible to the iconic sign.

That’s prompted some in the area to post their own signs. “Warning — Tourist-Free Zone — All Tourists Leave the Area,” orders one. “Tourists Go Away,” states another.

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Earlier this year one group of residents living in the area originally known as Hollywoodland erected signs that directed tourists to go to a small park at the intersection of Canyon Lake Drive and Mulholland Highway to take their pictures.

Those signs mysteriously disappeared — with some in the neighborhood blaming members of a rival homeowners organization for taking them.

The dispute over designating the park as a scenic viewpoint flared anew Sept. 1, when staff members of Hollywood-area City Councilman Tom LaBonge showed up at the park with shovels.

The half-dozen aides, interns and field deputies of the councilman removed brush and spread three truckloads of gravel at the park to create a spot for tourists to take pictures of the Hollywood sign.

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The project quickly attracted the attention of those who worry that the neighborhood is being overrun by sightseers.

Sarajane Schwartz, president of the Hollywoodland Homeowners Assn., said she went to the site to protest the city staffers’ work. She said Dave Ahern, LaBonge’s chief of field operations, objected when she pulled out a camera.

“He said I didn’t have permission to publish his picture. He tried to block me from taking pictures of the others,” said Schwartz, who emailed an account of the encounter to members of her group.

“I was threatened and intimidated physically.... They did not want the public to know what they were caught doing,” she said later.

Ahern disputed Schwartz’s description of the encounter. “I did not intimidate her. I gave her my name and phone number and explained we were doing a beautification project,” he said.

Schwartz said she and others worry that improvements to the roadside “will act as a huge magnet for even more tourists.”

But some in the area say the Hollywood sign — originally erected to advertise the Hollywoodland subdivision — is destined to draw tourists no matter what.

The rival Beachwood Canyon Neighborhood Assn. praised LaBonge’s staff for its work.

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“Public Service Comes to Hollywoodland,” headlined an email sent out by that group.

“Thanks to the office of Councilmember Tom LaBonge for spending another full day in the hot sun clearing the debris and overgrowth from our only park. The area is getting nicer and more open, which means that those who have found their own way into Hollywoodland and want to take a photo of the Hollywood sign don’t have to stand in the street.”

According to Beachwood Canyon group leader Fran Reichenbach, tourists easily find their way through the neighborhood’s curvy streets thanks to the Internet and navigation tools that give turn-by-turn driving directions to the sign.

An Internet search of the “best place to view the Hollywood sign” lists Canyon Lake Drive next to the park as the top spot.

Another website, which Reichenbach said is operated by “a group of renegade Hollywoodland residents who have refused to identify themselves,” invites visitors to travel to Deronda Drive, a narrow cul-de-sac beneath the sign.

From there, tourists are told, they can legally hike to Mt. Lee, where the Hollywood sign stands. It is fenced off, and authorities use motion detectors and video cameras to watch for people trying to climb it.

“Can I get to the Hollywood sign? Yes you can,” it states. “You are about to learn what all the locals do not want you to know. For years, the trail that leads to the Hollywood sign has only been known to those who live here. We believe it is time to open this area to everyone.”

Adds the website: “Often-times the Deronda Drive residents will have lemonade stands set up, offering the perfect thirst quencher after an exhilarating hike to the sign. They’re wonderful folks!”

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Others have attempted to promote the Griffith Observatory and the Hollywood & Highland shopping center as sign viewing sites. But tourists want to get as close as they can.

LaBonge said his staff was remedying a potential fire problem by removing brush and spreading decomposed granite at the Canyon Lake Drive roadside.

“A lot of tourists smoke — we picked up 100 cigarette butts up there. Our office was working with recreation and parks, which is short-staffed. We want to maintain that spot for fire-safety reasons,” he said.

LaBonge said he and City Council President Eric Garcetti, who also represents portions of Hollywood, have planned Tuesday’s meeting. It starts at 4 p.m. in a municipal community room at 6501 Fountain Ave.

“I wish tourists wouldn’t drive up there. But GPS has put people from around the world at the doorstep of people who live up there,” acknowledged LaBonge. “Technology has ramped the issue up.”

bob.pool@latimes.com


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