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How a Small Group of Neighborhood Activists Have Taken the Hollywood Sign Hostage

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The publicly-owned Hollywood Sign is Los Angeles's most high-profile landmark and a symbol of the city, but somehow a small group of private homeowners is holding it hostage. How did that happen? In the past few years, "a few dozen activists," with the help of city officials, have banished tour buses from the Beachwood Canyon neighborhood, convinced mapping companies like Garmin and Google to mislabel the sign on maps, and, just this month, gotten the upper part of Beachwood Drive (directly below the sign) turned into a permit parking zone; while they were waiting for the zone to go into effect, city officials helpfully kept the public Hollyridge trailhead closed for nine months to keep visitors away (meanwhile, a gate was installed to keep cars out at all times and hikers out after dark). Gary Baum at The Hollywood Reporter has a fantastic overview today of the battle that reveals how a handful of homeowners have taken control of access to the Hollywood Sign.

Part of the problem is that no one takes full responsibility for the Hollywood Sign. The sign itself and the land it's on are owned by the city; the Hollywood Sign Trust, which is largely controlled by the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, maintains the sign, while the chamber itself controls its trademark rights (and benefits from their licensing, which is handled by a private firm). The LA Department of Recreation and Parks, the LA Department of Transportation, and the LADWP are all involved with sign access in various ways too. The division's already been done; all the group in Beachwood have had to do is conquer.

And this is not the average NIMBY force. The residents are led by "a veteran corporate PR strategist" named Tony Fisch, who's guided their arguments to focus more on safety issues than the noise/crowd/trash complaints that dominated the early days of the fight. (The LAFD says access for their responders isn't really a problem in the neighborhood and a Battalion chief who works in Beachwood says the residents cause at least part of their own trouble: "[T]hey often use their garages for storage and park on the streets. I don't know that the tourist issue is actually a main factor.")

Resident Sarajane Schwartz, a former actress and president of the Hollywoodland Homeowners Association (the original seed from which the anti-tourist movement grew), has also produced what sounds like a ridiculous 30-minute propaganda film that residents say is "a key element in winning the hearts and minds of city officials." Lucky THR got "a rare screening of the closely guarded documentary": "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." The film isn't available online because, by Schwartz's own admission, it's embarrassing: "we didn't want it to end up on The Tonight Showyou know, making fun of us."

Next up for the Beachwood troublemakers: lobbying for permanent closure of the freshly-reopened Hollyridge trailhead and the razing of an overlook at the edge of Lake Hollywood Park. They also seem to be rooting for a fire- or traffic-related liability lawsuit, "threatening to strongly support" anything that comes up. And they're throwing their weight around in the race to replace outgoing City Councilmember Tom LaBonge (who's been remarkably sympathetic and helpful to their cause, although you wouldn't know it from the way they talk about him). One candidate is happy to pander: "I don't care how draconian or how drastic, I will consider every measure."

Meanwhile, it seems like Beachwood Canyon is still a pretty damn attractive place to live. About a third of the 450 houses closest to the sign have sold in the past five years, many in just the last year.
· War Over Hollywood Sign Pits Wealthy Residents Against Urinating Tourists: "One of These Days Someone Will Get Shot" [THR]
· Why Has the Hollywood Sign Trail Been Closed For Five Months? [Curbed LA]
· Hollywood Sign Viewing Spot Wars [Curbed LA]