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Overfilled Hollywood tour buses feel the weight of the law

Los Angeles police say that some of the vehicles taking paying customers to celebrity-packed neighborhoods are too heavy for residential streets.

August 27, 2011|By Bob Pool, Los Angeles Times
  • Hollywood tour guide David Lewis drives an open-top van filled with sightseers up Outpost Drive, where a sign prohibits trucks weighing more than 6,000 pounds. A motorcycle officer cited Lewis for being over the limit. He says he plans to contest the ticket.
Hollywood tour guide David Lewis drives an open-top van filled with sightseers… (Genaro Molina, Los Angeles…)

Tour guide David Lewis was headed toward the Hollywood Hills homes of actors Charlize Theron and Laurence Fishburne and rock star Billy Idol when he and his 14 passengers were pulled over by police in front of game-show host Bob Barker's house.

Motorcycle Officer Timothy Rolsen sized up Lewis' 2008 Ford E-350 open-top van and the tourists inside. He decided they were 1,800 pounds too heavy to be on Outpost Drive.

As the passengers looked on dumbfounded, Rolsen handed Lewis a traffic ticket.

"He told me that no commercial vehicles were allowed," said Lewis, 44. "I told him the sign down the street doesn't say 'commercial vehicles.' It just shows a picture of a truck with a slash mark through it and the words 'Over 6,000 pounds.'"

Although Hollywood tour guides try hard to fill their buses and vans with paying passengers before heading to celebrity-packed neighborhoods, Los Angeles police say some are too full — making them too heavy for residential streets.

The weight limit enforcement has come as two new tour companies have entered the highly competitive Hollywood sightseeing field. The proliferation of tour buses has prompted complaints from homeowners who contend their neighborhoods are overrun with vehicles that stop in the middle of the street and block driveways.

The city's municipal code prohibits vehicles heavier than 6,000 pounds from using local streets posted with weight-restriction signs. The restrictions also apply on some streets classified as "major" or "secondary" thoroughfares.

The code specifically authorizes local streets' weight restrictions for vehicles "used for round-trip sightseeing tour service."

Lewis said Rolsen cited him for weighing 7,800 pounds.

"I told him these vans weigh about 5,900 pounds, but this one is even lighter because the roof is off. But he didn't weigh the vehicle. So how did he know it weighed 7,800 pounds?" said Lewis.

According to Ford Motor Co., the E-310 weighs 5,404 pounds. Add 15 people each weighing an average of 175 pounds and the tour van's total weight is 8,029 pounds — minus a few hundred pounds for the missing roof.

The van's passenger load counts as part of the vehicle's gross weight, said Sgt. Christopher Kunz, who is in charge of traffic officers in the Hollywood area.

Managers of the city's Department of Transportation aren't so sure, however.

"They don't count the vehicle's passengers' weight. My understanding has always been the weight refers to the vehicle, perhaps including the gasoline in its tank," said John Fisher, the department's assistant general manager.

What is clearer is the municipal code's authority to restrict tour buses and vans on local streets throughout Los Angeles, Fisher said.

Section 80.36.1 prohibits tour buses and vans on virtually all of the narrow, winding streets in the Hollywood Hills and on residential streets in flatland neighborhoods if they are posted with advisory signs, as Outpost Drive is.

That means tour buses and vans could be banned from the vicinity of the Hollywood sign. Residents of that area have complained that tour vans have added to congestion along narrow Deronda Drive, which dead-ends at a locked gate to a fire road that leads to the top of Mt. Lee, where the sign stands.

"I don't think Beachwood Drive is a major or secondary street," Fisher said of the roadway that tour vans must take to reach Deronda Drive.

For the city, weight restrictions are important, he said: "It's for the integrity of the asphalt. Paving is not as thick on local streets intended for local circulation as it is on main thoroughfares." Delivery trucks, construction vehicles, garbage trucks and municipal buses are exempt from street weight rules.

Other tour drivers said they have been cited by Rolsen for their vans being overweight.

Kunz said Rolsen, who has been a police officer for three decades, did the drivers a favor by ticketing them under the municipal code instead of the state's vehicle code, which would have added a point on their driving record and could have resulted in a fine totaling 40 cents for each pound they were overweight.

Kunz said tour bus drivers and their companies could ask the City Council to amend the municipal code to raise the weight restriction to 8,000 pounds or to eliminate Section 80.36.1 (b), which prohibits sightseeing vehicles on local streets. Conversely, residents of neighborhoods frequented by sightseeing buses and vans could ask the city to post their streets with weight-restriction signs.

Lewis, meantime, said he plans to contest his ticket on Monday. If he loses, he expects it could cost him $500 out of his own pocket.

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