Giles and I returned to Runyon yesterday, on the Mulholland side. Got my work done early. Figured mid-afternoon, weekday, light traffic on the trails…since there’s no longer parking at the bottom of the hill, I’ll hike in reverse. So off we went. My first clue something might have been off was the absence of any available spots around the Runyon gates. Unusual for the time of day, but it happens. I ventured into the windy streets below Mulholland where there are always spots. Always. Usually not far off. And then I saw this sign. (Note the shinier exposed steel where the old sign used to be) Now, for those unfamiliar with Runyon, probably 80% of the users access the park from the bottom of the hill, from Vista or Fuller, and that’s where the parking drama has historically resided. The upper gate is for the Valley folk and people who live in the hills, and generally has been a low-key affair. Runyon Mellow. The sudden appearance of a new battleground in the War of Rich Douchebags vs. The People of Los Angeles, here, threw me. Having slept on it, I don’t know why I felt surprised. I circumnavigated Upper Nichols Canyon chastised by a succession of No Daylight Parking, District 38 Permits Exempt signs in all the old familiar places. I did not see a parking permit tag on any car. Could it be no one who lives in that neighborhood needs a permit, because…they don’t actually park on the street, because….well, they can just park in their own garage? I looped around then ended up back on La Cuesta when I noticed a hand-written sign pertaining to parking, pinned to a privacy wall. Intrigued, I pulled to the curb, left the car running, and went to read it. Immediately, an angry bellowing erupted behind me, and I mean angry. A man and his Boston terrier were walking straight at me, gesturing and demanding to know what the f*** I thought I was doing and how I had no f***ing business parking there. I started to explain I wasn’t parking, only reading the sign, but he was having none of it. “Get your shitty car out of here. I paid $2 million for this house and I don’t have to have people parking their shitty cars in front. You’re trespassing. This is private property. Now get the f*** out of here. You have five minutes.” I’d been out of the car all of ten seconds. As much as I would like to report any number of snappy comebacks from yours truly, the truth is they only occurred to me later. Like all tough guys, he closed the garage door behind him and disappeared into the house. Flushed with renewed affection for my 2002 Honda Civic, I drove to Fryman Canyon, where this week at least there is still parking, sort of. If you don’t mind hiking a bit, to get to your hike. Just to be very clear about this, all dialogue is verbatim. So there we have it: La Cuesta Drive, Nichols Canyon, and by extension, the park itself…all proclaimed private property now, by decree of the wealthy.
David Simon, the creator-producer of the HBO series The Wire recently gave a speech in which he lamented what he saw as a two-tiered economic system in America, divided between haves and have-nots: “My country is a horror show.” After some rumination on the wisdom of Marx, and a lament on the impact of money in elections, he concluded, without irony, the time might be right for people to “pick up a brick”. At what or whom the bricks would be hurled was left unsaid. I thought of this as I was trying to park yesterday at Runyon Canyon.
Runyon Canyon, the most popular hiking trail in the city of Los Angeles, has no parking lot. Consider that for a moment. It also has no bus service. Unless one has the good fortune ($$$) to live nearby, one is obliged to arrive by car. Not so long ago one could park anywhere along Vista and Fuller, all the way up to the park gates. Then the folks in the big houses petitioned the city to eliminate all street parking in front of their homes. Not that they were impacted in any way directly vis-a-vis parking. Every house on those blocks has ample garage and driveway space. No, what the homeowners objected to was the use of their street by their fellow Angelenos, even though these were the only access points to the park. The purpose of the parking ban was to inhibit people from using the park at all. Effectively, to privatize public space. In practice this didn’t happen. Hikers parked in the available spots south of Franklin and hiked a few extra blocks, past angry signs like this one. We were inconvenienced, but we chalked it up to calories burned and made the best of it.
That arrangement is now a memory. The city has eliminated nearly all non-permit parking within range of the Runyon gates. Parking Enforcement Priuses silently trawl the neighborhood for tickets, assisted by confusing and at times contradictory signage. Which is to say, liberal Democratic Los Angeles has declared war on its people at the behest of the wealthy. The ticket revenue is now a de facto usage fee for what was formerly a public park. As a point of comparison imagine the residents of the Dakota Apartments cordoning off the crosswalk at 72nd and Central Park West and slapping a surcharge on the exit turnstiles at the subway station to limit visitors to Strawberry Fields. How long do you think New Yorkers would stand for that?
Is it not enough there is no equivalent to Central Park, or even Golden Gate Park, in Los Angeles? The City’s investment in recreative public space are a pair of gates, some garbage cans and an unmaintained dirt trail. It may not have been much, but it offered a grand view and a chance for folks from different tax brackets to admire one another. Even this widow’s mite is being withdrawn from the public commons bit by bit, first with the trail grab alongside the Pink Wedding Cake house on Solar Drive and now this….reverse Homestead Act for the Gentry. Obama signs were recently thick upon the ground here, but now only the stoop labor remains, toiling beneath the palm fronds. As for the rest of us? Well…when the Hour of the Brick comes round, I can think of a place to start.