When the stars come out, they usually spell trouble for the residents of a three-block area of West Hollywood.
The trouble, however, has nothing to do with celestial bodies, but rather with the earthly luminaries who frequent Spago restaurant, a popular West Hollywood hangout at 1114 Horn Ave. The restaurant was the site of one such star-studded party Monday night after the Academy Awards ceremony.
"It's a real problem," said Sibyl Zaden, a West Hollywood transportation commissioner and nearby resident. "I came home from work (on Monday) and the traffic was so congested that it took me almost 10 minutes to drive two blocks up the hill. I could have walked it faster."
According Zaden and other residents, chauffeured limousines regularly taxi up to the restaurant and drop off passengers. And, they say, where there are stars, there are unruly star-gazers, all of whom leave the streets clogged, the driveways blocked and precious parking spaces at a premium along Horn Avenue and Shoreham and Sherbourne drives.
Wolfgang Puck, who owns the restaurant with his wife, Barbara Lazaroff, says Spago should not be held responsible for limousines or the crowds.
"They make it seem like it is the worst thing in the world to have a successful restaurant in the community," he said. "There is congestion everywhere. If you go on the Hollywood Freeway at 5 p.m. you find congestion. Some of these people are exaggerating; they need something to cry about."
Members of the Shoreham Heights Assn. Neighborhood Watch met Sunday with Puck and Lazaroff in an attempt to solve the problem. West Hollywood Mayor John Heilman attended the meeting along with representatives of the West Hollywood Sheriff's Station and Tower Records, which has a store across the street from the restaurant.
The residents complained that the limousines are jamming the densely populated apartment community around the restaurant. They also said that sheriff's deputies are not ticketing violators.
"The limousines come and the sheriff's deputies don't have the courage to ticket them because they are the cars of the rich and the wealthy," said Richard Maggio, captain of the 50-member Neighborhood Watch association. He also said that Spago has failed to provide adequate parking for its 80 employees.
The restaurant has a 100-car parking lot but does not allow limos to use it.
Lazaroff said that the restaurant is willing to cooperate with the community. "We have homes too," she said. "It would be ludicrous to say that this is someone else's problem and we are not going to deal with it."
At Sunday's meeting, Puck said proposed a series of changes aimed at easing traffic congestion in the community, including making Horn Avenue a one-way street and putting a traffic signal at Sherbourne Drive and Sunset Boulevard. He also asked West Hollywood to consider a plan that would eliminate six parking spaces across the street from the restaurant to widen the street to create a limousine drop-off lane at the door.
But Maggio said the restaurant is not really concerned with the community's needs. "They are really waiting to see which way we are going to go before they commit themselves," he said. "One of the things we are considering asking for is permit-parking from the city."
Another proposal, he said, would require the restaurant to maintain a lot off the street for limousines. The restaurant could contact drivers by phone or radio when their passengers are ready to be picked up, he said.
Heilman said that the city would try to develop some "long-range solutions to the problems. This problem didn't develop overnight and the desire to solve it immediately is unrealistic."
On Monday night limousine after limousine brought some of the biggest names in show business to Spago's doors, including Meryl Streep, Joan Collins, Richard Dreyfuss, Quincy Jones and James Stewart. Because parking was prohibited across the street from the restaurant, chauffeurs parked their limousines wherever they could find space on the street, sometimes up to two blocks away.
"West Hollywood is the worst place," said chauffeur Howard Jaffe as he waited for his passenger, a record industry executive. "If I can get my client to go anywhere else, I will. In West Hollywood we get too many parking tickets. Anywhere else they make provision for us." He said that chauffeurs frequently get parking tickets because their stretch limousines are up to four feet longer than the average car. Because the cars do not fit in the painted parking spaces, they are frequently fined when they are left unattended. The chauffeurs pay the fines.
Chauffeur John Lewis complained that the city had a hostile attitude toward limousines. "We are bringing dollars in the city. We have rich clients who spend a lot of money in this town, but they treat us like we are taxi cab drivers."