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Litigation Update: Old Zoo Performance Stage Project

CATEGORY: Current Events · In the News |
On Nov 25, 2016


In 2014, Friends of Griffith Park and Griffith Charitable Trust went on record opposing a permanent stage to be constructed in the Old Zoo Picnic Area because of its impact on habitat, wildlife and the historic grottos. Shakespeare performances have become popular during the summer months at this remote park site, but portable temporary staging was used previously. The proposed project also includes new 400-amp electrical switchboards, a backstage, storage area, lighted pathways, and a set of modular bridges leading to the Old Zoo to improve accessibility for disabled patrons. Currently, it is an estimated five million dollar project with three million dollars currently allocated from Proposition K funds.

When our objections to certain aspects of the project were not considered, we filed an appeal with the City and finally a petition in Superior Court based upon provisions of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). Both actions were taken jointly with the Griffith J. Griffith Charitable Trust. Our concern is that the use of the Old Zoo as an evening entertainment center will only increase, unabated. Special permits — not subject to a public process — are granted by the Department of Recreation and Parks for use of the Old Zoo area with little regard for wildlife or other impacts. The best example of this is the Haunted Hayride event in its seventh year, essentially renting the Old Zoo area for a small fee for a month and one-half and running until 1:00 a.m. with as many as 4,700 paying customers per evening!

hh1Our hope was to reach an amicable settlement with the City that would set conditions of use for the proposed permanent stage and for the Old Zoo Picnic Area. They included: 1) that performances be free, 2) that sound and light be kept at a low level to minimize the impact on wildlife, 3) that performances end before the park closes (10:30 pm), and 4) that the attendance be capped at 2,500 to reduce impacts, including the risk of brush fires in this area which is completely surrounded by volatile native habitat.

We were unable to reach a settlement with the City, as the City was unwilling to set “operational limitations.” We were very disappointed and so the trial moved forward. Our strongest arguments to prove a resultant increase of significant impacts to the area lie in aesthetics, historical, and biological impacts. The Old Zoo resides within the wilderness area of the park and the artistic 1930s grottos and caves are historic elements of the park per the Historic-Cultural Monument.

Superior Court Judge Richard Fruin issued a decision in favor of the defendant, the City of Los Angeles, citing lack of evidence that the project itself will harm wildlife or impact historic resources. The judge cited a robust current baseline of events already held there, including the Haunted Hayride event. He also noted the proposed modular bridges are required to create accessibility, and therefore do not raise independent CEQA issues.

The “slippery slope” for change of use and the commercialization of the Old Zoo area began years ago and will be a difficult train to stop. We hope park management will see that the concerns raised during our settlement talks are valid. We want to protect this area for passive recreational use and minimize habitat and wildlife impacts. However, the City’s refusal to establish operational limitations makes Friends of Griffith Park even more wary that this will be difficult to accomplish.

We hope you will share your experiences related to closures of trails in and around the Old Zoo Picnic Area during the recent Haunted Hayride in Griffith Park.


photos, from top: The cages containing some Haunted Hayride “exhibits” are part of LA’s Historic Cultural Monument #942 which should offer some protection to Griffith Park. Other exhibits include a children’s “playground” scene where one child figure is sawed in half, as well as a figure turning on a spit over a charcoal flame.



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