On a recent postcard-perfect day, James Foutch is selling tours of movie stars’ homes from a prime location on Hollywood Boulevard’s Walk of Fame, just as he has for more than a decade.
But his customary spot on the gray terrazzo sidewalk, studded with pink stars, is about to change.
In a crackdown aimed at managing the mobs of people visiting the wildly popular venue, Foutch and other sightseeing bus operators are being forced to the sidelines.
Starting on Sunday, sales of bus tours from the Walk of Fame will no longer be permitted. Under a change approved by the Los Angeles City Council last month, tour businesses must sell tickets from shops or kiosks on private property.
It is a sign that for all that city leaders have achieved in giving a dramatic face-lift to a strip once lined with tramps and trinket shops, Hollywood Boulevard still needs a few nips and tucks.
Foutch, who works for Starline Tours, one of the oldest and biggest companies trading on Hollywood’s glamorous movie history, says he’s happy with the city’s action. When he started selling tickets 13 years ago, Hollywood Boulevard wasn’t as crowded and there were just a few tour competitors.
Now business is booming: Double-decker buses and open-air vans line Hollywood Boulevard near its intersection with Highland Avenue, loaded with tourists eager to see stars’ mansions, celebrity hot spots and local landmarks.
“It seems every day someone puts a sticker on a bus and says they’re the new No. 1 bus tour,” Foutch said. “It’s become a free-for-all. Everyone is doing whatever they want and nobody’s policing what happens.”
The restriction is a first salvo by Councilman Mitch O’Farrell, Hollywood’s new representative, to get a better handle on ticket sellers, CD vendors and the occasional unstable performers and transients who populate the revitalized tourist destination.
It’s a safety issue, O’Farrell said. In June, a woman was stabbed to death after she took a picture of several transients and refused their demand to pay $1, police said. Dustin James Kinnear is being held on murder charges in the incident.
In April, a masked Spider-Man robbed a Starline Tours employee of $6,000 in cash and credit card receipts. The robber fled and hasn’t been found.
Then there are the everyday tensions over behavior and territory that break out between the costumed characters, CD sellers and tour vendors plying the boulevard. Foutch says he recently saw two CD sellers working together to rob a tourist.
When he stopped them, Foutch said, one of the CD sellers threw a large plastic cup filled with soda at his head. Foutch went to court last week and won a restraining order against the man.
Violence isn’t O’Farrell’s only concern. Hollywood Boulevard’s attractions are a magnet for tourists; 41.4 million of them visited Los Angeles last year. If visitors leave with a bad impression, it can hurt the city’s $16.5-billion tourism industry, he said.
The portion of the Walk of Fame between Highland Avenue and North Orange Drive, location of the TCL Chinese Theatre and the Hollywood & Highland shopping complex, has a goal of becoming a destination on a par with New York City’s Times Square. The city should take action to foster that ambition, O’Farrell said.
“There’s no brand like Hollywood,” he said. Since the June stabbing death of 23-year-old Christine Calderon, the Los Angles Police Department has added about 60 additional officers to area patrols. O’Farrell said he would like to bolster that with foot patrols and police on horseback.
He has also worked with the city attorney’s office and the LAPD to expand so-called stay-away orders to cover the entire Historic Hollywood District. Kinnear, the transient accused of stabbing Calderon, had previous run-ins with police and had been ordered to stay 500 feet away from the corner of Hollywood and Vine, so he simply moved a few blocks west to Hollywood and Highland, O’Farrell said.
“We want our visitors to feel safe,” he said. “We want them to have a quality experience so they can stay longer and help our local economy.”
On Monday, O’Farrell and city Bureau of Street Services officials will hand out letters notifying ticket sellers of the new rules. After that, those found violating the law will be cited and ordered to move, he said.
Additional changes being considered include designating two or three tour bus depots, where tourists can board and leave the buses, and cracking down on tour buses that illegally park in red zones. When the boulevard gets crowded, foot traffic sometimes spills into the streets, creating a safety hazard.
“Buses are going by as sometimes hundreds of people are walking in the street,” O’Farrell said. “That’s a real problem and we’ve got to solve it.”
Those changes are still being debated by community figures that include neighborhood council members, Chamber of Commerce representatives and ticket vendors, he said.
Harder to regulate are the dozens of costumed performers who pose for tourists’ photographs and ask for tips. Some of the characters have become aggressive, O’Farrell said. But when the city attempted to crack down on performers in 2010, a group sued and eventually won a settlement on 1st Amendment grounds.
The city has faced similar challenges attempting to regulate vendors on the Venice boardwalk. In Hollywood outside the TCL Chinese Theatre, several of the costumed performers made it clear that they were prepared to push back.
“The second that they arrest people who don’t have criminal allegations against them, the city is going to be hit with a huge lawsuit,” said Amy, who was dressed as a sexy policewoman in hot pants, mirrored sunglasses and fishnet stockings.
Amy, who performs as Officer Hollywood, spoke on the condition that her full name not be published because, she said, her parents don’t know about her side work. She said the city should focus on weeding out the “bad” characters, not people like her, a screenwriter who supplements her income playing a role.
O’Farrell said he’s not looking to ban characters or performers. But the “culture of disrespect” on Hollywood Boulevard has to change.
“If Spider-Man can just have that customer service attitude … then that’s what we want,” he said.