Friends of Griffith Park reached out to both Council District 4 candidates, Nithya Raman and incumbent David Ryu, asking four questions on a variety of subjects ranging from the Griffith Park Aerial Tram to permanent road closures. FoGP believes these questions are timely and relevant to protecting Griffith Park for the benefit of all Angelenos.
Friends of Griffith Park: Are you committed to keeping Mount Hollywood Drive and Vista Del Valle Drive closed to all vehicular traffic, except for essential city staff? These roads have been closed to vehicles since 1992 making them an exceptional place for safe passive recreation, in addition to keeping the park cleaner and safer. Do you think it is a good idea to close additional portions of interior park roads to cars?
David Ryu: I do not support opening these roads to vehicular traffic and we should be working towards making Griffith Park car-free. Griffith Park is so important to the residents of Council District Four and Los Angeles, and really our identity as a City as a whole. It is the home to the now internationally renowned P-22 and an oasis of biological and ecological diversity in the middle of a bustling and ever-growing City. My commitment to open space is evident in my record and work to continually expand our parkland, whether it’s the Rim of the Valley Corridor, Runyon Canyon, new open space in Laurel Canyon, or Griffith Park. Ensuring the integrity of our open spaces is a number one priority and limiting vehicular traffic can be one component to that preservation. That is why my office conducted the Dixon Study, implemented the 7-day a week electric DASH connecting visitors from the Metro Red Line to Griffith Park, and created the parkwide circulator, the Griffith Parkline which will eventually be completely electric.
Nithya Raman: Yes, I absolutely support keeping Mount Hollywood Drive and Vista del Valle closed to non-essential vehicular traffic. Both are among the great hiking and cycling destinations in the entire city! I do think it’s worth getting some of the more egregious potholes and mounds resurfaced for the benefit of ankles and bike wheels, though. I’d welcome the opportunity to close more roads in the park to cars, as well — the success of the closures of these two roads has been a great proof of concept.
FoGP: There has been much focus recently on investing in the homelessness crisis, defunding the police, and overall city budget shortfalls and furloughs. The current feasibility study of an aerial tram in Griffith Park will cost at least $750,000 if run to completion of just the Stantec phase. In the face of a city-declared “fiscal emergency,” overwhelming opposition to the aerial tram from constituents, and the backdrop of a global pandemic, should the city continue to pour large sums of money into the ongoing study? And more broadly, do you support the concept of an aerial tram in Griffith Park? If so, please explain why.
David: We are in a changed world as a result of the Covid Pandemic. The feasibility report was initiated pre-covid and I would not have supported starting such a process in a post- COVID world. At this point, the consultants are just completing the terms of their contract which has been largely already paid for. The City has not decided whether to pursue an aerial tram and the Feasibility Study is early in the process. It’s important to note that the study goes beyond looking at the feasibility of the aerial tram – it also studies the visitor and tourism patterns throughout the park to see what people-mover options, of all kinds, work to reduce traffic and allow for safe park access.
No decisions have been made, nor will any decisions be made any time soon. I have always been committed to receiving full community feedback on ideas presented by my communities before making final decisions. Feedback on this idea is still open and you can participate online. The aerial tram was one of 29 strategies proposed through a community idea-sourcing process in a 2018 report to improve access, safety, and mobility around Griffith Park and the Hollywood Sign. However, I will say that there is no funding for this theoretical project and I’m not hearing much community enthusiasm for the idea.
Nithya: I wouldn’t have commissioned the aerial tram study, and while I’m not sure how much of the money is already spent, I’d be strongly inclined to cancel the study at the next available stage. I don’t believe an aerial tram in Griffith Park is an effective, environmentally-friendly, or cost-effective solution to issues with Hollywood Sign access.
FoGP: Why is an incredibly expensive aerial tram being considered by the City when both the electric shuttle strategy and alternate trail strategy (unanimously supported by GPAB, HUNC and most of the neighborhood organizations) achieve the same goal for a fraction of the price and with very little negative impact on habitat? The electric shuttle strategy has not progressed after two years. Do you favor further progress on this initiative? When?
David: Nineteen of the 29 Dixon strategies are moving forward, and some have already been implemented. The alternative trail strategy was one of the strategies the City Departments did not recommend. The electric shuttle is one of the nineteen moving forward, and I support further progress. Currently, no electric buses exist that can traverse high grade hillside roads. We have been working with manufacturers to design and procure these buses. In the alternate trial process, I have worked with the County to develop a trail at the Ford Theatre which will provide great views of the sign in a location with no neighborhood impacts, ADA access, parking, and restrooms. That project is in its final pre-construction planning phases now.
Nithya: I’ve actually been talking to neighbors about moving a Hollywood Sign shuttle plan forward! The shuttle is a crucial part of my overall goal of expanding access to Griffith Park while minimizing vehicle traffic and environmental impact.
When I get in office, I will work immediately with local stakeholders to create a Hollywood Sign Visitor Center on Hollywood Boulevard proximate to the Metro and high foot-traffic touristed areas. A small electric shuttle will leave from the visitor center and provide access to Griffith Park via a route that stops at Metro stations in Hollywood.
The visitor center will act as a central clearing house for information, coordinating with Yelp, Tripadvisor and other popular tourist information sites to promote new public transit options as the ideal means of visiting Griffith Park
I will also create Rideshare Drop-off Zones at shuttle stops outside the park, and push to implement “geo-fencing” strategies to direct rideshares seeking access to the Hollywood Sign to shuttle stops and away from congested residential areas.
Compared to proposals for an aerial tram, I believe the Hollywood Sign shuttle plan is a cheaper and lower-impact remedy that can be implemented with much greater speed.
FoGP: With the 2017 Council approval, Quimby fees may now be spent at regional parks up to 10 miles away from the project being assessed the fee. Will Griffith Park be receiving more Quimby funds? How will you prioritize the use of available Quimby funds over the next four years? Will you look to Friends of Griffith Park for advice for using Quimby funds in Griffith Park?
David: Griffith Park receives millions in Quimby Funds from my office. In particular, from Quimby alone I have allocated $500,000 to the Griffith Park Boys Camp renovations, $500,000 to the Griffith Park Girls Camp Renovations, $400,000 to Bronson Canyon for sidewalk and restroom improvements, $500,000 to replace the Bronson playground, $750,000 to Fern Dell to bring the restroom to code and replace the playground, $250,000 allocated for the study of a senior community center at Friendship Auditorium, and allocated over $1,000,000 to renovation of the Plunge Pool. This does not include millions secured from non-Quimby sources for the Vermont Canyon Tunnel, the Plunge Pool, and the Commonwealth Nursery. I will continue to allocate Quimby to Griffith Park and look to Friends of Griffith Park for guidance to ensure it is the best urban wilderness in America.
Nithya: I’m not sure what the current schedule is for Quimby fee allocation, and I’d have to look deeper into how funds have been allocated in the past. Griffith Park is the crown jewel of LA, and deserves its share of fees dedicated for park space. I’d love to work with you to advise on how to use those funds! But I also want to stress that CD4 is the most park-rich district in Los Angeles, and much of our work must be concentrated on distributing park resources to neighborhoods that don’t currently have access to the rich, verdant land that we do. It’s a balance, but a balance that I’m confident we’ll be able to strike together.