Monday, September 23, 2019
Court of Appeal:
By a MetNews Staff Writer
Pedestrians are seen on trail beneath the Hollywood sign. The Court of Appeal has affirmed a Los Angeles Superior Court determination that the general manager of the Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks had the power to order that a gate be reprogrammed to permit egress but not ingress.
The Court of Appeal for this district has spurned a challenge to a Los Angeles Superior Court decision denying a writ sought to force the City of Los Angeles to reopen a gate to pedestrians who want to enter Griffith Park and hike the Hollyridge Trail, which leads to the Hollywood Sign.
Other, but less convenient, means of accessing that trail remain.
Thursday’s opinion, by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Ann I. Jones, sitting on assignment to Div. Three, affirms a judgment by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge James C. Chalfant. On March 22, 2018, he denied a writ petition filed by the Friends of Griffith Park, Griffith J. Griffith Charitable Trust, and Los Feliz Oaks Homeowners Association challenging a decision by city Recreation and Parks General Manager Michael A. Shull to rig the gate so that pedestrians can use it to exit, but not enter, the park.
Shull acted in response to the outcome of an unrelated lawsuit against the city by Sunset Ranch Hollywood Stables Inc. Its predecessor in 1940 purchased a two-acre parcel in Griffith Park; it has a one-mile appurtenant easement to North Beachwood Drive, a public street.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Elizabeth R. Feffer on Feb. 3, 2017, held that the high volume of pedestrian traffic entering the trail through the Beachwood Gate, opened in January 2015, interfered with Sunset Ranch’s easement. About 15,000 hikers a month traversed the easement.
She enjoined the city from continuing that interference, charged it with exercising its discretion in coming up with a solution, and subsequently approved Shull’s plan to block ingress from Beachwood. On April 18, 2017 the change was effectuated.
Community groups were incensed and lawsuits were instituted. The Los Angeles Times on May 3, 2017, said in an editorial:
“Imagine the outcry if the city of Paris closed the roads leading to the Eiffel Tower or if San Francisco blocked pedestrians from walking the crooked Lombard Street. Likewise, public-access advocates are rightfully upset that, to resolve a lawsuit, the city of Los Angeles has permanently closed the gate at the top of Beachwood Drive that provides the easiest way to get to the Hollywood sign in Griffith Park.”
General Manager’s Authority
The writ petition upon which Chalfant acted, and which was dealt with in Thursday’s opinion, was filed July 18, 2017. Former Assembly member Mike Gatto and his co-counsel, Mitchell M. Tsai, contended that Shull lacked the power to make the call that he did, asserting that “when the city has so much as changed the hours a park entrance is open, it has required the public vote of the Recreation and Park Commission.”
Chalfant disagreed, ruling that “the General Manager’s decision falls within the day-to-day operation of the Park and is not a strategic decision that may be made only by the Board.”
Jones, in her opinion affirming Chalfant’s decision, recited that Chalfant “resolved the controverted factual issue as to whether the reprogramming of the gate by the general manager was an operational decision,” with him finding that it was such a decision, and concluding “that such a decision was within the purview of the general manager and did not require board approval.”
She said his “factual findings are supported by substantial evidence in the record” and despite the plaintiffs’ invitation “to relitigate these factual contentions on appeal, we decline.”
Trail Remains Open
“Although the public’s ability to use the Beachwood Gate as a route into the Hollyridge Trail has been restricted, the Hollyridge Trail remains open for the public and can be reached by the public through different trailheads and other trails. Pedestrians continue to walk both north and south on the Hollyridge Trail (and the other public parts of Griffith Park to which it connects) and use the Beachwood Gate to exit Griffith Park. In fact, pedestrian traffic on the access road leaving Griffith Park through the Beachwood Gate remains so substantial that Sunset Ranch brought a motion for contempt seeking to close the Beachwood Gate to both ingress and egress.”
Sunset Ranch had protested that those seeking to enter through the gate could do so by such means as scooting in when others existed, and sought have the gate boarded up. The blocking of exiting was denied, however, after the city pointed out that this could impede evacuation in the event of an emergency, such as a fire.
Jones declined to address arguments raised for the first time on appeal.
The case is Friends of Griffith Park v. City of Los Angeles, B290637.
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