“War Over Hollywood Sign Pits Wealthy Residents Against Urinating Tourists”

GPS hasn’t just altered the lives of LA residents living on formerly quiet streets near the freewaysnow, neighbors of the famous Hollywood sign have convinced Google and Garmin to remove their street off their maps due to an influx of visitors.

Everyone involved agrees that the situation has become a powder keg. “Neighbors have been yelling,” says Tamer Riad of Rockin’ Hollywood Tours. Homeowner Heather Hamza, whose husband, Karim, runs a diving company servicing film productions, claims she’s experienced “aggressive” tourists “cursing and spitting at me.” She adds that, after the recent holiday period, “There is rising, palpable tension between the residents and visitors. Everybody is infuriated. I shudder to think if any of these people coming up here have weapons in their cars. One of these days someone will get shot — it is that bad.“…

A sign originally erected to advertise a neighborhood to the world has become that neighborhood’s deepest frustration, and affluent residents have been fighting back. Although several thousand houses lie in Beachwood Canyon and neighborhoods adjoining the nearby Lake Hollywood Reservoir, most of the clamor comes from a few dozen activists in the area. They have lassoed various government and commercial entities into doing their bidding. They’ve persuaded Google, Garmin and other tech giants to literally take their exclusive neighborhood, where the average home costs $1.5 million, off the map for people searching for the sign. They’ve pushed City Hall to enact strict new parking regulations and to go after tour-bus operators. They’re fighting for the closure of a trailhead gate to Griffith Park and the removal of one popular viewing spot. And they’re not done.

Some residents say that a key element in winning the hearts and minds of city officials is a 30-minute advocacy film that, according to its producer, former actress and onetime Hollywoodland Homeowners Association president Sarajane Schwartz, required “thousands of hours” of collective labor and the expertise of “professional editors who live in the neighborhood and donated their time.” The wry narrative includes an overlaying of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring as doofusy tourists ride Segways, light up in hazardous areas and take nude pictures or pose with liquor bottles. THR was offered a rare screening of the closely guarded documentary: “We thought it would attract more people [if posted online] because it would just tell people where to go,” says Schwartz. “And we didn’t want it to end up on The Tonight Show — you know, making fun of us.”…

“There’s this privatization of public spaces in L.A., where people who are affluent expect to be insulated from the public,” says urban design professor Jenny Price, a visiting lecturer at Princeton and veteran of the Southern California coastal-access wars (she created the popular Our Malibu Beaches app, to David Geffen’s chagrin). “But the scandal here isn’t the wealthy homeowners. It’s the city’s complicity. Not just in getting permitted parking but in intentionally disseminating misinformation about a park they own. That’s the scandal.”

A fascinating story that raises important questions for cities: who gets to control access to public spaces? The sign is on public land (Griffith Park), streets are for the public, and yet wealthier residents want to control access and even knowledge disseminated on maps.

The article suggests the city needs a coherent plan:

Absent amid all the long-shot concepts are coherent, actionable steps to oversee access and shape tourism around a landmark. The city never has moved forward with clear plans to build a visitor center, properly control parking, manage trail access, strictly enforce rules (about smoking and alcohol, for instance) and inform visitors how to interact with the sign in a way that is satisfying and sensitive to residents. Imagine this type of chaos at the Statue of Liberty or Mount Rushmore (both are managed by the National Park Service).

Sounds like there is work to do to divert visitors, particularly if the city wants to respond to the wealthier residents while also keeping areas near the sign public (a visitor center just means people won’t really need to get that close).

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