Winemaker’s development plans near Hollywood sign produce sour grapes


Maybe Kenneth York should invite his neighbors over and pop open a few $200 bottles of his Cabernet Sauvignon to chill them out.

Homeowners who live near the Hollywood sign are livid over York’s plan to build a two-story, 8,000-square-foot mansion, a 1,300-square-foot guest house, a pool, a tennis court and “wine caves” next to the sprawling vineyard he planted years ago above their homes.

Residents complain that York — a Glendora ophthalmologist who planted six acres of grapes in 2001 —intends to build a third-of-a-mile-long road up a steep section of Mt. Lee and bulldoze a series of terraces, work that will cause years of dust and noise.


Before he begins construction, however, York needs waivers from the city for the massive amount of grading he needs to do and construction of the roadway and numerous retaining walls.

Though the winery is not widely known, Hollywood Classic Vineyard bills itself as boutique label and a throwback to the era when Los Angeles was a steady wine producer. There is no tasting room and visitors are not permitted to tour the vineyard, but the company’s website boasts that the yields from harvests produce superior wines.

But to some who live beneath the Hollywood sign, the winemaker has failed the taste test when it comes to being a good neighbor.

Workers tending the grapes work Sundays, storage bins are parked along the street, and during harvest season, a noisy refrigerator truck sits outside York’s home, they complain.

York did not respond to calls seeking comment about his construction plans or vineyard operation, but his attorney, Ellia Thompson, said neighbors and city officials have known about the plans for years. And his consultants have stressed to the city that the grading will create ample fill dirt for the roadway and for terraced building pads.

Neighbors are unconvinced.

“The new roadway and estate will permanently change the character of the area and destroy previously undeveloped land in the Hollywood Hills,” resident Sabine D'Herbecourt wrote to a Los Angeles zoning appeals hearing officer in November.

David Benz, who has lived in the Hollywood Hills for 30 years, said he hired a private geological expert to examine York’s grading plan. “The proposed site development plan is not a good fit for the site,” consultant Gary Masterman concluded.

Two homes beneath the vineyard were damaged by runoff from the vineyard in February 2008, according to those in the neighborhood.

“There was heavy rain and he had his sprinklers on. It flooded my pool and my sunken living room,” said homeowner Karina Golumbic.

Neighbor Richard Pierce said that York has even blocked a hiking trail to Mt. Lee with a cinder-block wall. He said he fears the proposed construction will destroy the habitat that is the home of P22, Griffith Park’s famed puma.

Gerry Hans, president of Friends of Griffith Park, said the 34 acres York owns next to the vineyard should remain undeveloped.

“We consider this area one of the most important, pristine ecological jewels in Griffith Park, not only because it is untouched but also because it is remote to most human impact,” Hans said.

Sheila Irani, who heads the 130-home Lake Hollywood Homeowners Assn., said the vineyard has already created “a scar that you can see from downtown” on the side of Mt. Lee.

But York’s wine website points out that his vineyard’s south-slope location is nestled at an ideal grape-growing elevation of about 1,200 feet where temperatures are moderated by evening fog and a “strong marine influence from transverse mountain range and Catalina eddy.”

It touts the vineyard’s “pruning for radical low yields” and its “sustainable farming” and “deficit irrigation” techniques that result in wine that sells for $200 per bottle.

Los Angeles City Councilman Tom LaBonge, who represents the neighborhoods beneath the Hollywood sign, said he is opposed to York’s development plans.

“It would totally change the character of the Hollywood hillside forever,” said LaBonge, who pointed out that $12.5 million in public money and private donations was spent in 2010 to prevent development of Mt. Lee’s Cahuenga Peak, which is directly above the vineyard.

The 138-acre peak, once owned by Howard Hughes, was being eyed by a Chicago investment group as the potential site for five luxury homes when the Trust for Public Land began the fundraising campaign to save it.