Friday, September 11, 2009

CityWatchLA - Hollywood Gives up on Tourism, Embraces its Truck Stop Future

CityWatch, Sept 11, 2009
Vol 7 Issue 73

Hollywood Boulevard is one of the most famous streets in the world and to many people, it's known as the Walk of Fame. But those days are gone as the leadership of Los Angeles gives up on tourism and embraces trucking as the future of Los Angeles. As a sign of that commitment, Hollywood Boulevard is being reinvented as the Truck Stop to the Stars!

Tourists come from around the world to walk the Boulevard, starting at LA Brea Gateway and passing the Roosevelt Hotel, Grauman's Chinese Theatre, the Kodak Theater, Ripley's, Madame Tussauds, the El Capitan, the Egyptian, the Pig 'n Whistle, Musso & Frank's, Boardner's...phew! We haven't even hit Vine Street! Keep going and there's the Pantages Theater, the Music Box Theatre, a great view of the Hollywood sign and an equally good view of the Griffith Observatory. It's as if Hollywood Boulevard is the center of the Entertainment Industry universe.

Along the walk, there are abundant cafes, restaurants, shops and opportunities to enjoy the local flavor which varies dramatically from one block to the next, featuring a community so diverse that over 100 languages are spoken within the densely populated neighborhood that wraps around the Thai Town and Little Armenia area known as East Hollywood.

One would think that such a hot tourist attraction would be guarded and protected by city leadership, celebrated and supported as a valuable heritage that deserves to be nurtured, not just for its economic potential but simply for its cultural legacy and value as an iconic symbol of the entertainment industry that gave birth to to the celebrated community.

Granted, Hollywood has had a bit of a roller-coaster past, going from peaks filled with klieg lights & red carpets to lows lit with red lights and inhabited by squatters. Along the way, Hollywood Boulevard lost its claim to fame as the center of the Entertainment Industry. FilmLA Inc., (formerly the EIDC) the company that handles the bulk of the film permitting process for the LA area, gave up its Hollywood digs in order to move to the old Unocal Building in downtown LA. Production companies, post-production facilities, payroll companies, sound studios, rental companies, and studio support of all flavors left town for more hospitable accommodations in surrounding communities. While Hollywood fiddled, local cities such as Santa Monica, Culver City, Burbank, Santa Clarita, and Glendale courted the Industry and facilitated moves that left Hollywood light on production and heavy on blight.

Things have now reached the point that even if a local crew member were to get called by a local production company to shoot a film locally, that person would likely be paid by a payroll company located in Burbank or Santa Monica, would likely rent everything from trucks to grip & electric from over the hill, would likely drive to the westside for all post-production, and would likely go to Santa Monica to sell the finished product at the American Film Market. "Local" just doesn't really mean "local" anymore!

Of course, Paramount Studios and Eastman Kodak are still in the neighborhood and if the film does well, our local crew member will be able to sit in the grandstands on Hollywood Boulevard to watch the stars arrive at the Kodak Theater to pick up their Academy Awards, so it's fair to say that Hollywood has hung on to some of its glamorous past. Barely!

While Hollywood's shine faded and the CRA came in to address the blighted conditions, speculators started circling, waiting for the right moment to dive in with bags of taxpayer money to develop any of the large number of chain-link protected empty lots that litter the Boulevard all the way to Sunset on the east. For literally years the locals and the developers have been engaged in a tug-of-war over the past, the present and the future of Hollywood Boulevard, debating development, revitalization, funding, traffic, infrastructure, community character, and nightclubs. Adding fuel to the fire were and are charges of cronyism, corruption and simple incompetence.

In the midst of the brouhaha, Hollywood lost its most valuable commodity, its name! Hollywood is the brand known around the world and Universal City, located just outside of Los Angeles on LA County land, simply lifted it and reinvented themselves as Universal Hollywood, leaving the locals on the boulevard to debate the CRA projects that litter the landscape and promise, at best, a better quality strip mall selling more expensive t-shirts.

Apparently, the fix is in, the deed is done and all that remains is for Hollywood to recover, rise from the ashes, reinvent itself, a task that appears to be underway.

The Hollywood Chamber of Commerce took a shot at promoting Hollywood as the Capital of Healthcare, an image that is supported by the fact that of the top three employers in Hollywood, two of them are Hospitals! Kaiser Permanente and Children's Hospital edge out Paramount and Sunset-Gower Studios, 8800 employees to 8000 employees, and based on results, often harsh but always fair, the Healthcare Industry has overtaken the Entertainment Industry as the substance of Hollywood.

All of which could change quickly, especially if LA's leadership continues to support the Trucking Industry with the bold and cavalier carte blanche and red carpet that they have offered thus far.

Hollywood Boulevard is designated as a Major Highway. It ranges in width from 60' at the eastern Laurel Canyon end to 70' at the western Virgil end and it varies in width along the way, getting as wide as 82' at one point. It is referred to as "built-out" by the Transportation Department, meaning that it is lined with historical buildings that prevent the widening or streamlining of the boulevard. It has three Metro Rail stations between Highland and Western, making this one of the most transit rich boulevards in the City of Los Angeles.

And yet, requests for bike lanes and sidewalk widenings are quickly squelched as simply impractical. The current City of LA Bike Plan maps confirm this by simply ignoring Hollywood Boulevard on the surveys and by using the visionary term "Infeasible" when referring to bikeways improvements for the boulevard. After all, "It's simply too 'built-out' and there is no more room!" This has become a popular refrain from the Department of "No!"

This position is repeated at community meetings throughout the area while complaints of 18 wheelers parked on Hollywood Boulevard, often for days on end, fall on deaf ears.

Calls to Councilmembers Eric Garcetti and Tom LaBonge yield instructions from local deputies on how to dial 311, an exercise in futility that leaves the caller frustrated and the 311 operator confused. The LAPD defer to the LADOT, the LADOT has been aware of the problem for two years and Chief Jimmy Price himself has claimed that the department is all over it and yet...the Hollywood Boulevard is still an 18 Wheeler Parking lot.

The simple secret is this; the parking ticket is cheaper than the off-street parking fee plus the shuttle back home. Locals park 18 Wheelers on Hollywood Boulevard because they can. They can because Garcetti and LaBonge let them. Parking Enforcement Supervisors acknowledge that there is no political will to enforce of parking restrictions for the operators of 18 Wheelers who leave their vehicles on the Boulevard, even when parked under a Tow Away sign.

As for the parking enforcement officers, there's simply no motivation to spend an entire shift working on the impound of an 18 Wheeler when during the same time, the same officer can write a full book of tickets. One Supervisor explained "These drivers need to sleep! It's better to let them park on the boulevard than to drive tired."

Good logic but not when it impedes traffic, forcing those in the #2 lane on a congested and "built-out" street to merge into the #1 lane to avoid sideswiping the 18 Wheeler.

Unless, of course, Garcetti and LaBonge are now reinventing Hollywood as the Trucking Capital and if that's the case, then it all makes sense. With the Healthcare Industry in flux, Garcetti and LaBonge are apparently betting on the future of Hollywood as a Truck Stop. It's the kind of genius plan we've come to expect, although the thought of Garcetti and LaBonge working in sync is a stretch. Regardless, public safety concerns be damned, Walk of Fame be gone, it's time for Hollywood to welcome its destiny, don the Trucker Cap, and embrace the future.

Hollywood is now your "Last Stop for Gas!"

(Stephen Box is a transportation advocate and writes for CityWatch. He can be reached at


Joe Linton said...

LOL... I heard somewhere a while back that Hollywood Boulevard is something like the most popular tourist destination in L.A. but that tourists spent an average of 10 minutes there.

David Bell said...

Great article Stephen. Some people think that the only way to love Hollywood is to keep your mouth shut and learn to embrace the status quo. As I walk through block after block of the once beautiful streets of Hollywood I often ask myself: "Who let this happen?" Now we know the answer: it was us. It was the people who congratulated the incompetent "leaders" who sat by and watched as the center of American culture was raped for short term cash. This is a tragedy not just for the people of Hollywood, but for everyone in America. This is our culture being sold to the lowest bidder.

LAkompany said...

Ironically, the piece of property where those statutes sit was at one time long ago a streetcar stop.