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Scenic Mulholland Drive's Path to No-Growth : Anti-Development Groups Continue to Hold the Line

February 10, 1986|JOHN VOLAND | Voland lives in Los Angeles. and

The leisurely spin along Mulholland Drive has become as much a part of "doing L.A." as practically any other activity--and not only for the sometime visitor but for the jaded resident as well. For on a clear day, almost the entire jumble of Los Angeles spreads out like a supplicant, with the ocean or still higher mountains forming a distant curtain. And the surrounding landscape is almost wild, a pocket of chaparral in the midst of so much neon.

But if the pleasures of Mulholland are natural and geographical (in scope if not ecologically), the manner in which the drive has been maintained--as a serpentine two-lane mountain road relatively free of fabricated blemishes--has been social, a success story of people joining together to maintain the thing they love.

Though the labors of action groups such as Mulholland Tomorrow and homeowners' associations of the neighborhoods that border on the drive haven't yet been awarded with the garlands of civic code, there exists a sort of unspoken moratorium on any new intensive building along Mulholland.

20 Years of Work

And a fait accompli , Louise Frankel says, is a heck of a lot better than nothing accomplished whatsoever.

"You put all the work and time and complaining we've done over the last 20 years together--a chip here, a chip there--and it has more or less halted the building movement up there," the Tarzana Homeowners Assn. member said. "So now when I drive around up there, or even just look up from where I live, I'm thankful that we still have something left. At many points along the way from the first time I got involved in the fight, I wondered if we would be able to see any mountains at all around here by 1986."

The fight. Practically everybody involved with the effort to keep Mulholland Drive for the lovers, for the stargazers, for the nature-lovers and for the temporarily urban-crazied called it that, like urban guerrillas struggling for freedom. For them, the fight has been a pitched fracas, bloodless but intense and meaningful.

Before 1973--when the City Council affirmed the decision of a citizens' advisory panel to keep Mulholland rustic--political and entrepreneurial forces sought to widen the drive, enabling a maximum of six lanes of traffic to be constructed and thus allow freer access to envisioned residential developments in the Santa Monica Mountains.

But the citizens' decision--the body of which became known as the Green Book, after the color of the binding it was delivered in--advised maintaining two lanes of traffic, with controlled access and a speed limit of 25 m.p.h. and with park-like islands along the route with picnicking spots, trash cans, hiking trails and vista turnouts. The result, the panel concluded, should be called the Mulholland Parkway.

After the initial victory, however, optimism soured: No city codes, strengthening the decision into law, were written. Development continued, further straining the already overtaxed sewer, water and utility connections and making those leisurely passes of Mulholland and other canyon roads seem more a demolition derby than a Sunday pleasure drive by the time 1980 rolled around.

And the fight became a quieter, internalized conflict, less antagonistic and sharply divided because many people working for the government on the Mulholland issue also wanted to keep the corridor relatively clear. People like Joe Edmiston, the executive director of the state-administered Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy.

"The bureaucrats in Sacramento don't like us because we show considerable contempt for the state apparatus, but so far they've taken a rather indulgent view of our occasional 'shortcuts'," Edmiston, a former environmental-issues lobbyist, said with a chuckle as he recalled his office's tendency to be impatient with making surveys and recommendations through proper bureaucratic channels.

"For me, the recent decisive movement toward codification of the Parkway is a kind of reverse 'edifice complex': The clearer it stays up on Mulholland, the prouder all of us around here all feel." Edmiston echoed the sentiments of Frankel, Mulholland Tomorrow's Barbara Blinderman and other citizen-activists when he expressed a desire to "just get the thing finalized so we can start implementing the letter of the code. That's the biggest thing left."

Blinderman, whose group, she said, "tries to keep a fairly low profile--except in court," seconded that emotion, noting that the so-called Green Book remains the basic blueprint for designing what remains of the Mulholland Parkway.

"Implementation of the Green Book is it for all of us, pretty much," she said. "The mayor (Tom Bradley) and Councilman (Joel) Wachs seem to support the Green Book plan, so all we're really waiting for is the codification, which we're told will come any day now."

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