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Hollywood tour bus vendors worry about lower sales amid crackdown

L.A.'s ban of sightseeing ticket sales on the Walk of Fame on Hollywood Boulevard will cut into sales, tour vendors say.

October 21, 2013|By Catherine Saillant

For 90 minutes Monday, City Councilman Mitch O'Farrell, accompanied by Los Angeles street services officials and a scrum of TV cameras, informed Hollywood tour bus operators that they can no longer sell tickets from sidewalk kiosks.

The mood seemed to be one of disbelief.

"I never thought this day would come," said "Melrose" Larry Green, who sells tickets for Openbustours.com outside a T-shirt shop on Hollywood Boulevard. "We have to make a living, and this will make it tougher."

O'Farrell's team handed out dozens of letters informing tour vendors that a city ordinance that took effect Sunday makes it illegal to sell tickets from the public right of way. On Hollywood Boulevard, that means along the gray terrazzo sidewalks filled each day by throngs of tourists following the Walk of Fame.

The councilman called the action an informational step that would be followed in coming weeks by citations for those found violating the law. Violators face a $1,000 fine or six months in jail. City inspectors would be checking to make sure kiosks do not block foot traffic, he said.

The City Council approved the new law to begin managing the crowds that come to Hollywood, with foot traffic sometimes spilling out into the street. Although the law will hurt sales, Green said he would find a way to work within the new rules.

"We don't live in the Mojave Desert. We live in the city — I understand that," he said. "But I believe we all have to compromise."

Nearby, Jesse and Roxanne Lee, a young married couple who work for the same tour company, said the change would affect their ability to pay their bills.

"If he can't sell tours, I don't know how we're going to pay our rent," Roxanne Lee said. The couple estimated that the tour bus business employs hundreds of people along the boulevard.

Under the ordinance, tour operators can sell tickets to tourists from shops and kiosks on private property. But many of the sellers notified Monday say they can't afford to lease private space.

Others said removing kiosks from the busy sidewalks would cut into ticket receipts.

"I think it's going to hinder our business," said Raquel Benadda, an owner of Hollywood Sightseeing. "We greet people. We give them information. We want them to have a good time while they're in L.A."

Santa Monica attorney Carol Sobel said the ordinance could be used to target the dozens of costumed characters who pose for tourist tips outside the TCL Chinese Theatre and the Hollywood & Highland entertainment complex.

Sobel represented a group of characters after a 2010 sweep of Hollywood Boulevard and won an injunction barring the city from stopping them from performing. She also sued the city after it passed an ordinance attempting to regulate vendors on the Venice boardwalk.

It's unconstitutional to restrict an artist's ability to vend in public spaces because it's considered free speech, she said. "The 1st Amendment principles are the same whether it's on Venice Beach or Hollywood Boulevard."

O'Farrell said the changes wouldn't affect the street entertainers.

It also doesn't address the proliferation of CD sellers who ply the sidewalks, shoving discs into tourists' hands and then asking for a donation. O'Farrell said previous city attempts to regulate them proved unsuccessful after the city was sued for violating their constitutional rights.

But O'Farrell said he hopes to send a message to everyone who works Hollywood Boulevard.

"It's important for us to raise the standards," he said. "It's about time. The people deserve this."

As O'Farrell was conducting his tour, a CD vendor got into a scuffle with a TV news reporter. Los Angeles police officers apprehended the vendor and put him in handcuffs.

The man, who declined to give his name, threw a stack of CDs at a reporter as he was being taken into custody.

catherine.saillant@latimes.com

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