LOS ANGELES – It wasn’t the kind of Hollywood experience that the French tourists were hoping for.
The Cali’fun tourist van they’d chartered was carrying seven of them up Beachwood Drive toward the Hollywood sign when Los Angeles Police Department motorcycle officers pulled it over just north of Scenic Avenue.
Driver Ben Barlow was instructed to pull his van onto a set of portable scales. He showed his driver’s license to the officers, and in return they handed him a citation.
“They won’t tell me how much the ticket will cost. I have too many seats,” said a puzzled Barlow, standing down the hill from one of L.A.’s most recognizable tourist landmarks.
Not to mention, Barlow had the wrong kind of driver’s license. Now, not only could he not drive his passengers to the nearby Hollywood sign vista point, he couldn’t even take them back down the hill – they would have to wait for a replacement driver to show up.
“We don’t have much time to see the sign now,” said Marie, a 32-year-old Paris resident. She and the others said they had spent $75 for the 4½-hour French-language tour of Los Angeles and Hollywood.
Six Los Angeles Police Department officers and two from the Culver City Police Department formed the impromptu Beachwood Drive task force on a recent weekday morning, the latest response to growing complaints from residents who say their neighborhoods are being overrun by tourist vans and rental cars drawn to the sign.
Despite the heavy traffic that usually rolls in, only two commercial tourist vans were cited.
Tony Fisch, who has lived midway between the sign and the Hollywood Reservoir for 14 years, said authorities probably showed up too early to nab the typical swarm of tourists.
“Most of the van companies don’t start until 11. We’ve been asking the police for three months to come between 11 and 6 p.m. and focus on the vista point where the tourists stop to take pictures,” Fisch said.
Fisch said a tourist crashed head-on into his car earlier this summer while looking for a place to view the sign, and another sideswiped it just weeks after he got it back from the repair shop.
Fisch said he’s seen as many as eight tourist vans and 100 people at the Hollywood sign vista, some double-parked and others parked on the wrong side of the street. “I think it will take a death or a fire to force the city to do anything.”
Sgt. Christopher Kunz acknowledged that the Beachwood Drive checkpoint “wasn’t hugely successful when you think of the nature of the problem.”
Besides requiring chauffeur’s licenses for tourist van drivers, the law also restricts overweight commercial vehicles on narrow residential streets that are posted with signs prohibiting vehicles over 6,000 pounds. Authorities use portable scales beneath the front and back tires to weigh the vans. Fines are based on weight.
Kunz agreed that many of the Hollywood sign tourist vans enter the hills from Barham Boulevard instead of Beachwood.
“Los Angeles needs the tour industry,” Kunz said. “But the vans are bad in the respect that they’re an inconvenience to those who live up there.”
Part of the Beachwood Drive enforcement effort was observed by Tracy James, director of field operations for Los Angeles City Councilman Tom LaBonge. She has helped arrange for cones to block parking on a Canyon Lake Drive curve near the sign-viewing point and for police cadet volunteers to be placed at the vista point on weekends.
LaBonge said 42 tour companies operate in Hollywood, and the advent of GPS devices has made it easy for visitors in rental cars to find the sign.
“We have thousands of tourists who like to see the real things they see on the reel, and I do support tourism 1,000 percent,” he said.
But he has plans pending for preferential parking for residents living beneath the sign, ideas for pay-to-ride trams that would take visitors to a sign-viewing spot and a proposal to have a professional amusement ride operator place “a big Ferris wheel on Hollywood Boulevard” to help tourists see the sign.
He added: “But I’m sorry for the French people who didn’t get to see the sign.”