Gary Friedman/Los Angeles Times / MCT
Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2013 | 2 a.m.
To understand how ugly the battle over the Hollywood sign has become, just look at the fliers that have been popping up recently in the hillside neighborhoods below the landmark.
In a call to arms, the fliers warn of the tourists who swarm in “like locusts from all across the world” and suggest the city establish “armed checkpoints.”
The anonymous author then makes a radical proposal: Dismantle the Hollywood sign.
It’s a joke, of course. But for both residents and city officials, it’s evidence that the long-running debate about sightseer traffic around the Hollywood sign is reaching a tipping point.
Those who live in the upscale hillside homes of Beachwood Canyon and Hollywoodland have long grumbled about tourists making the pilgrimage up the hill hoping for that perfect shot. But in recent years, they say, the flow of visitors has grown intolerable.
The once-sleepy Hollywood tour bus business has become increasingly competitive. Just a few years ago, there were only a few operators offering Hollywood sign viewing tours. Now, there are more than 40 tour companies running buses and vans in and out of the canyon.
Then, there are the technological advances.
Many tourists now use GPS devices on their cars and phones to map out the best views. And the directions send them not just down the main roads but into narrow residential canyons. Tourist websites also offer tips on prime locations.
One even directed visitors to Deronda Drive, where “residents will have lemonade stands set up, offering the perfect thirst quencher after an exhilarating hike to the sign. They’re wonderful folks!”
Residents say they are bothered by the traffic but are most concerned about safety issues because the curving hillside roads were not designed for so many cars and pedestrians.
“We live in the middle of an area that is very attractive to people all over the globe,” said Fran Reichenbach, president of the Beachwood Canyon Neighborhood Association. “We knew that when we moved here, but in the last few years it’s really gotten out of hand.”
In an effort to deal with the crowds over the summer, the city tested the use of road checkpoints where tourists were warned of parking restrictions in the area and directed to a vista point above the Hollywood Reservoir where they could see the fabled sign.
It’s the latest of several tactics the city has tried, with decidedly mixed results.
In 2011, the city began weighing tour buses as they entered Hollywoodland to strictly enforce the 6,000-pound vehicle limit on the small streets.
Residents have even taken matters into their own hands, posting signs in the neighborhood stating “Warning — Tourist-Free Zone — All Tourists Leave the Area” and “Tourists Go Away.”
At a forum two years ago, residents offered a number of ideas for easing the traffic, including erecting gates across some streets and even building an aerial tram connecting the nearby Travel Town Museum in Griffith Park to a ridge next to the Hollywood sign. Neither of those ideas went far.
Now, residents are demanding that the city keep roads clear for emergency vehicles and that park rangers beef up patrols along the hiking trails leading up to the sign. Another suggestion involves new permit parking restrictions to prevent tourists from stopping on residential streets. Residents say many of the canyon roads dead-end, and there have been accidents as tourists try to turn around.
“It’s hard for us to manage our daily lives now,” Reichenbach said.
Beachwood Canyon and Hollywoodland residents have been at odds in the past over how best to deal with the increased traffic. They clashed two years ago when Hollywoodland installed signs directing visitors away from one neighborhood and into the other. But they are now working together, their leaders say.
Los Angeles Councilman Tom LaBonge, who represents the area, believes the problems would be lessened if the tour companies would park at the Griffith Observatory to view the sign.
“I absolutely do support people visiting here from around the world,” LaBonge said. “But the impact on the neighborhood has been great.”
Amid the debate, it was a summer of discontent below the Hollywood sign.
The fliers, the work of a group calling itself Beachwood Homeowners Against Tourism Infestation, was meant to be a spoof on the Hollywood sign debate, which has grown so intense that some residents have put up large “LaBonge continues to endanger lives in our canyon” posters in front of their homes.
“Some people are not getting the joke. They don’t get the satire. They’re just too myopic to see through themselves,” said the flier’s author, a Hollywood producer/writer who declined to identify himself out of fear of reprisals.
LaBonge said he gets the joke, although he described the fliers as “offensive and unfortunate.”
Alex Chavez, president of the Hollywoodland Homeowners Association, labeled the handbills “a waste of somebody’s time. They’re making fun of a serious issue.”
Chavez also disapproved of the homeowner signs that criticize LaBonge.
“He’s set up a working group to bring different groups together to draft possible solutions, he said. “He’s doing his best. He’s doing his job.
“We don’t condemn tourism. We appreciate the tourism industry. We enjoy this beautiful part of the city and feel that everybody should. But it’s a safety issue that we’re trying to solve.”