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McDonald's Neighbors Are McMad : West Hollywood: Rowdy customers at drive-through are a rude awakening for nearby residents, who take their battle to court.

December 27, 1990|JOSH MEYER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

In its famous jingle, the largest restaurant chain in the world tells its customers: "You deserve a break today, so get up and get away . . . to McDonald's."

But what if you live right smack next door to the Golden Arches, and it is precisely that fast-food restaurant and its nearly all-night drive-through window from which you seek respite?

Such is the predicament of Iris Rodney, her husband, Bernard Fishman, and her mother, Hilda Fiddleman--three transplanted Londoners who lived happily in their rent-controlled West Hollywood apartments for the past seven years.

Happily, that is, until the Golden Arches opened for business next door in October, 1988, just across the border in Los Angeles.

Soon afterward, a steady stream of irritable, rude and noisy motorists began arriving under Fishman's and Rodney's third-floor apartment windows, revving their engines, beeping their horns and shouting orders for Big Macs and fries at all hours of the night and day, they say.

"It's destroyed our lives completely," laments Rodney. "We can't sleep. Our nerves are shattered. I've never been to prison, but I imagine this is worse."

Fiddleman lives on the first floor, where she says the noise is just as bad. Also, the view from her windows has been obliterated by the wall constructed between the drive-through and the apartment building.

In a lawsuit filed against the McDonald's franchise at 8152 Sunset Blvd. and its parent company, the three say the restaurant's drive-through kiosk is too close to their windows. It is so close, they allege, that it violates Los Angeles municipal codes by subjecting them to unbearable noise from motorists and employees who "scream at each other" until the 4 a.m. closing time, noxious and "horrid" car exhaust fumes and unwelcome stares into their windows from impatient patrons waiting for their food.

In addition, trash that has been dumped by employees in back of the restaurant has created "sickening and oppressive" odors and insect infestation that has spread to their apartments, according to the lawsuit.

After two years of fighting McDonald's--to no avail, they say--the three are ready to take their case to court. A trial date has been set for Jan. 9.

In their lawsuit, filed in Superior Court more than a year ago, the three seek unspecified damages and guarantees that the drive-through be operated only at unspecified reasonable hours, if it is operated at all. Additional safeguards, such as preventing cars from playing loud music, also are being sought.

McDonald's and the owner/operator of the Sunset Boulevard franchise, Fran Jones, are negotiating with the three plaintiffs in an effort to settle the case, according to their Los Angeles-based attorney, John Ward.

"Basically, McDonald's doesn't like to talk about things in litigation," added Neil Cohen, a local spokesman for the corporation, which has its headquarters in Oak Brook, Ill.

"Obviously, you want to be a good neighbor," said Cohen. "We don't want it to go to court. . . . We want to do the best we can to work the situation out."

Cohen said McDonald's has invested $100,000 in an effort to reduce the noise level, mostly by replacing a loudspeaker system with face-to-face windows, installing "special acoustical walls" and changing schedules so that delivery trucks don't unload their wares at all hours of the night.

As the unofficial spokesman for the three plaintiffs, Rodney scoffed at McDonald's claims that it has done all it can to minimize the impact of the drive-through on the surrounding neighbors. She said Jones and company officials have refused to answer calls and letters and that restaurant employees have been rude and unresponsive when she has complained.

As for the negotiations and settlement offers, Rodney said: "They must be talking to people we don't know. We've heard not a word about settlement."

Last week, in fact, the three plaintiffs were called into the offices of McDonald's local lawyer, where they spent the better part of several days giving depositions.

The mitigation measures have done little to help, the three said. Conditions continue to be so bad that they have to sleep with earplugs and with their windows shut at all times.

Rodney and Fishman, both legal aides, said they have been kept up so many nights by the noise that they were forced to leave their jobs at the same law firm.

"We've had no sleep. We are going up the wall," said Fishman, who said he is recovering from lung cancer.

In 15 hours of videotapes, the three plaintiffs and their lawyer, Neville Johnson, have documented screaming matches, fights, drunken people urinating outside the drive-through area, and lines of cars with drivers revving their engines and leaning on their horns at the same time.

"We have horn wars out there," said Johnson. "I call it the devil's symphony."

Johnson said his three clients have spent "a fortune" in pressing the case against McDonald's, and that they are seeking to recover court and legal costs as well as damages.

Other neighbors are upset, too.

One elderly neighbor, Olga Jager, said the noise and fumes have made it impossible for her to sit outside on her porch and soak in the panoramic view of Sunset Boulevard and the Hollywood Hills behind it--what had been her favorite pastime since moving into the building 14 years ago.

"I simply can't afford to move," Jager said. "I love my apartment. Everybody here does."

Looking out the window of her third-floor apartment last week, Rodney said she too refuses to give up and move, no matter what happens. Even if the drive-through is shut down, she said she will continue to fight until the wall that the restaurant erected comes down.

"They've got rid of the Berlin Wall, they can get rid of this," she said.

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