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Arts and Entertainment

Videos: Business Owners Weigh In On Controversy Surrounding Hollywood Sign Access

The Hollywood Sign (Photo by Photo_tnmartin3 via the LAist Featured Photos pool on Flickr)
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Filmmaker Andrew Davis of The Millennial Project has been exploring the controversy surrounding access to the Hollywood sign for some time now. He began with a video on how difficult it was for a member of the public to actually hike up to the sign, followed by three interviews with Beachwood Canyon residents and their concerns. Now, Davis is back with a trio of videos offering an alternative perspective: the business owners of Beachwood Village.Each video features a different business owner in the area: Patti Peck of Beachwood Cafe, Jeffrey Meyer of Hollywoodland Antiques, and Gregory Paul Williams, who owns the commercial building at Beldon and Beachwood drives. These three entrepreneurs are opposed to residents-only parking permits, which they say hurt their businesses without solving anything. However, they are empathetic to Beachwood Canyon residents, who complain of traffic and safety hazards, and want a long-term solution.

Davis tells LAist that he has interviewed 19 people in total for the series, and continues to publish the interviews in "different sets of stakeholder issues."

"I will be publishing a third set with the rarely talked about pro-access residents of Beachwood Canyon," he said. "I also intend to publish a fourth set with pro-access public space advocates. From there, if the videos are still getting views and interest still exists, I may publish a few more miscellaneous interviews, like a tour of Beachwood Canyon with LAPD and a sit-down with the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, which holds partial ownership over the sign."

If you've been following along, a core group of Beachwood Canyon residents have long been putting up a fuss as well as actual barriers when it comes to public access to the area surrounding the sign. The sign is located within a public park, but tourists have been going through their residential neighborhoods in droves in an attempt to get closer to it. They argue this has created hellish conditions, with an onslaught of tourists who leave trash, knock on their doors and ask to use their restrooms, and create safety hazards by potentially blocking narrow streets to emergency vehicles. Residents have tried to block GPS information and they've successfully argued for resident-only parking. One resident even suggested to Davis that the city move the sign.

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Patti Peck, a self-described hippie, has owned the Beachwood Cafe for about four years. She says her cafe has become a de facto visitors' center, with plenty of tourists asking to use the restroom and inquiring about how to get to the sign. Though that hasn't been much of a financial boon for her as these tourists generally aren't spending money at her restaurant, she's not on board with some residents' demand for permit parking. Those residents, however, she says are affluent, litigious, time-rich and relentless, and have lots of sway with City Council.

"[Permit parking] will effectively strangle our business. So, we can't afford to have that and why should we? These are public streets, this is a public park and our tax dollars pay for these streets. But we've had run-ins with their…influence on City Council, and City Council is determined to do something to fix the squeaky wheel and to put a band-aid on it."

Peck says she would prefer a long-term solution, not a temporary fix. Her solution: A visitors' center where residents leave their car, buy a pass for the park, get shuttled in, and have access to trash cans, merchandise and restrooms.

"The city should have had this in place a couple of decades ago. They're leaving all kinds of money on the table by not capitalizing on the enormous amount of tourism that's happening and there's nowhere for these people to go," she said.

Jeffrey Meyer has owned Hollywoodland Antiques since 1996. He also lives in Beachwood Canyon. He said he's watched the influx as tourism as well as booming property values, which has removed the "bohemian" types and replaced them with wealthy people who perhaps seek exclusivity. Though the tourists don't tend to spend a lot of money at his store and sometimes take much of the available parking for customers, he doesn't think that permit parking is the answer either. He notes that business owners and employees will have issues parking near their work if permit parking occurs. Plus, he says it won't solve anything: people will still walk and drive the streets in an attempt to reach the sign, even if they can't park there. Like Peck, he seeks more infrastructure for tourists, and suggests that the city could use parking fees to pay for it.

Interestingly, Meyer also expressed frustration that, in his opinion, Councilman David Ryu is kowtowing to wealthy residents and ignoring the needs of business owners. Meanwhile, Tony Fisch, one of the residents previously interviewed by Davis, had claimed that Ryu had been ignoring his calls. The residents supported Ryu to replace former Councilman Tom LaBonge, who is often blamed by residents for conditions surrounding the sign.

Mayer said he's also caught wind of some residents who have decided to boycott his business because he isn't in favor of parking permit expansion.

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Gregory Williams, whose family has done business in the neighborhood since the 1920s, echoes their sentiments. He agrees that conditions for residents have been rough, and blames former Councilman Tom LaBonge for an increase of tourism without the infrastructure to support it. However, he's also been unhappy with what he says is a lack of communication from Ryu's office. Williams thinks the best solution is to have tourists enter through the back end, known as Travel Town. He says there are no residents there, with plenty of space for a parking structure. He also suggests that a quota could be maintained for tourists wishing to access Hollywoodland (that's the neighborhood's original name) to walk its historic streets, similar to visitor limits maintained at certain national parks.

For reference, the green dot is Beachwood Village.
"I think the business owners really succeed in articulating how a small group of residents in Beachwood Canyon have built up considerable influence at City Hall. I also think the business owners—especially Jeff—catalogue in painstaking detail how Councilmember Ryu marginalized the businesses in favor of working with this small group of residents. For me, these interviews call a lot into question about how city politics works and how city council offices (like David Ryu's office) can mislead constituents when they think it is in their best interest," Davis says.

Davis says all three business owners are experiencing difficult, with Peck losing 20 percent of her business, Meyers contemplating closing on weekends, and Williams considering turning his commercial building into townhouses.

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