By Ian Lovett, 8/12/2010
For tourists in Hollywood, in addition to the Walk of Fame, the Hollywood Sign and the Sunset Strip, the list of destinations often includes homes where famous film scenes were shot or where movie stars live. Up and down Hollywood Boulevard, people hand out tour bus brochures, offering tourists a chance to glimpse the homes of Madonna, Britney Spears and Paris Hilton.
These tour buses have been a Hollywood fixture for years, with the oldest company, Starline Tours, founded in 1935. Many city officials have also highlighted the importance of the tourism industry in the city’s economic recovery. However, the proliferation of tour companies during the last year has led to confrontations on Hollywood Boulevard, and complaints from Hollywood area residents who live near famous homes.
Patty Morrissey, a resident of the area just north of Sunset Boulevard near Orange Drive, said she and 25 neighbors conducted a survey on Friday, July 30, sitting out on the corner from 10 a.m. until 8 p.m., during which time they counted 113 tour buses. She said the buses often illegally block traffic, make too much noise, and sometimes come by after dark when tour-goers can see in the windows of her house.
“The buses have always been a part of living here, and I know this issue is not unique to our neighborhood,” Morrissey said. “But it’s really gotten bad this summer. I understand it’s an important industry for L.A., and we’re not trying to shut the buses down. Nobody is asking for any new laws. We’re simply asking that the buses follow existing state and city codes, which these companies are just flaunting.”
In response to residents’ concerns, Los Angeles City Councilmember Tom LaBonge, 4th District, introduced a motion last week that would ban tour companies from using amplified sound on their buses, instead requiring they provide passengers with headsets. The phase-in of headsets would begin next summer, though tour companies would not have to be in compliance until July, 2015.
The Fourth Council District Office has also been in touch with tour companies about the issue. Starline Tours voluntarily made the switch to headsets on all its buses earlier this year, while several other companies are preparing to follow suit.
Local residents said they were happy to see the city taking up the issue, but hoped officials would focus on the traffic issues as well as the noise.
Cara Rule, the Hollywood United Neighborhood Council representative for Beachwood Canyon, said tour buses often parked illegally at the top of Deronda Drive, where they blocked a fire road into Griffith Park. In response, the local homeowners association has paid around $2,000 to put up signs that will direct buses to places where they can legally park to view the Hollywood Sign and Lake Hollywood. LaBonge is also planning to contact GPS and rental car companies to make sure the navigation systems direct people to the right places.
For the tour companies themselves, however, the new regulations pose additional costs and challenges at a time when the economic downturn and the proliferation of new tour companies has already driven down profit margins.
Jan Sherwood, vice-president of LACity Tours, said her company is in the process of converting their four open-top buses to headsets, which would cost about $2,000 per vehicle. She also worries about the experience that headsets would offer for tour-goers. In addition, the City of Beverly Hills has begun strictly enforcing laws about loading and unloading passengers. Her company has been cited four times in Beverly Hills, each ticket costing more than $200.
“I don’t know what they want from us anymore,” Sherwood said. “We’re supposed to bring these people here so they spend money, but at the same time we have to follow all these new guidelines. A lot of the new companies are operating illegally. We’re obviously going to comply with the new ordinance, but it’s going to be costly, especially with economic cutbacks, and the city not controlling rogue operators taking more and more of our business.”
Kerry Morrison, executive director of the Hollywood Business Improvement District, said the proliferation of tour companies on Hollywood Boulevard has also become an increasing cause for concern.
Next month, a task force that includes representatives from the BID; the office of City Council President Eric Garcetti, 13th District; the Los Angeles Police Department; and the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce plan to take up the issue. Earlier this year, the task force orchestrated the removal of masked characters from the boulevard. Morrison said on one busy Saturday, a member of the task force counted 50 different people hawking tours on the boulevard between Vine Street and Orange Drive.
“It’s an unacceptable situation,” Morrison said. “Businesses have started popping up all over, and there doesn’t appear to be any enforcement. It’s led to some territorial turf disputes and even in some cases violent confrontation. Our efforts to get this under control all comes under the overarching objective our board laid out in January to restore civility to the sidewalks of Hollywood. All of these things detract from civil sidewalks. We’re trying to professionalize tourism and the tour business in Hollywood.”
Enforcement, however, remains difficult, in part because so many different city and state agencies have a hand in regulating tour companies, including the Los Angeles Department of Transportation, the California Highway Patrol, the Bureau of Street Services, and the Los Angeles Police Department.
“It’s quite a convoluted process,” said Capt. Beatrice Girmala of the LAPD’s Hollywood Division. “A lot of different regulatory bureaus are responsible for it. I really think we have to take a comprehensive look at things.”