The city of Los Angeles did not break the law when it locked a gate at a popular entrance to a trailhead leading to the Hollywood Sign in Griffith Park, a judge ruled Thursday in striking down a legal challenge from several community groups hoping to reopen the Beachwood Drive gate.
The city closed the gate to the popular Hollyridge Trail on April 18 last year in an effort to settle a lawsuit filed by Sunset Ranch Hollywood Stables on Beachwood Drive, which provides horseback rides in Griffith Park. There are other access points to the trail, but the community groups said it was the most popular and easiest one available to hikers.
Sunset Ranch had long had a legal agreement allowing people to come and go through a 20-foot-wide strip of land near the gate. But in their lawsuit, the ranch owners complained that the city began funneling hikers onto its “exclusive easement road” by advertising that pedestrians could safely access the area using a new gate, which was interfering with its business.
After the closure, the groups Friends of Griffith Park, the Griffith J. Griffith Charitable Trust and the Los Feliz Oaks Homeowners Association filed a motion in Los Angeles Superior Court claiming the move went against local and state laws while violating the city’s own charter because decisions on access to Griffith Park must be made through a public hearing process via the Recreation and Parks Commission.
In a statement issued when it filed the motion, the groups allefed the city made an “improper backroom deal” when the gate was permanently closed, “giving control over a gate (paid for at taxpayer expense) and a trailhead (which belongs to the public) to a private party, forever.”
But Judge James Chalfant ruled the city was within its rights to close the gate without a public hearing because the commission does not have to rule on every detail of the Recreation and Parks Department’s efforts to manage Griffith Park.
“It was both shocking and disturbing to hear the city argue in court today that, in their view, the general manager of the Recreation and Parks Department has the right to close every public access point to Griffith Park at his/her discretion without any public notice or public input,” Friends of Griffith Park said in a statement.
Los Angeles City Councilman David Ryu, who represents the Griffith Park area, said he hoped a recent study of Griffith Park issues by Dixon Resources Unlimited could provide some solutions to the gate problem.
The study, which the city is now analyzing for ways to improve safety and traffic in Griffith Park, states that because “the city still maintains rights to the easement road north of the Beachwood Gate, an electric shuttle could be used to transport visitors through the gate to the Hollyridge Trail. This shuttle route would allow the city to transport visitors to the Hollyridge Trail without requiring any roadway or trail reconfigurations.”
In a statement to City News Service, Ryu said, “The more time we spend on costly litigation is less time we are spending on finding solutions that work for everyone.”
“While some choose to litigate, I have worked closely with the Mayor’s Office, the Department of Recreation and Parks, Dixon Resources Unlimited and various community groups to identify those solutions,” he said. “As we speak, city officials are studying the 29 strategies proposed by Dixon Resources Unlimited to improve park access, neighborhood safety, and keep Griffith Park a beloved natural landmark for years to come. I look forward to working with the city and the community to turn these strategies into long-term solutions for our park.”