Business people and local residents in Hollywood, Toluca Lake and Studio City in communities surrounding the Universal Studios backlot plan a protest Saturday afternoon (Nov. 22) to keep a major off-ramp from closing off the Hollywood Freeway.
A group of residents and real estate salesmen that posted the website KeepTheBarhamRamp.com will be passing out signs to post in neighborhood yards to let people know about the Barham ramp that is scheduled to close within the next year, according to Universal Studios officials.
The ramp will be closed when the studios backlot expands a bridge over the freeway and allows customers to exit directly onto the freeway–and they expect that more visitors will be coming to the theme park when the much-anticipated Harry Potter section of the park opens in 2016. The Universal on-ramp will be about 500 feet from the existing off-ramp that serves residents in the hills and the Cahuenga Pass, including an elementary school and a thoroughfare to Forest Lawn Cemetery and Burbank. CalTrans officials say it’s too dangerous to have the on-and-off traffic to weave in between each other.
Corinne Verdery, the studio’s community liaison, said more than 20 options were suggested to keep the off-ramp from closing, but all were rejected by CalTrans. The studio is funding an independent traffic study handled by a community group to review further options.
Meanwhile, more than 1,300 people have signed a petition protesting the closure.
Outpost Estates resident Jack West says, “Universal has never made any effort to direct their exiting traffic- Many are confused travelers who, for what ever reason,made a pilgrimage to this park. Many people that come from other areas, states and countries.Now that they think the stakes are high they want to take another crap on the locals. They simply could direct their exiting traffic west down Cahuenga Blvd. to the on ramp at In-Out burger. I can’t tell you how many T-Bone accidents I’ve seen at the light by Starbucks involving yahoos who just left Universal that are impatient. It’s really ALL Universal’s fault.”
Real estate agent Charles Malki says, “No Hollywood Hill residents nor businesses are in favor of CalTrans and/ or Universal Studios unilateral decision to close the Barham Blvd. ramp. We residents and local businesses must invest our skills, finances and knowledge to prevent CalTrans and/ or Universal Studios from taking the additional time that we locals will have to spend in drive times to and from home, the response time of emergency vehicles, and the value of being conveniently located near the 101 on and off ramp!”
With a long list of caveats and requests, the Studio City Neighborhood Council and the other local councils approved of the NBC Universal Evolution Plan. In the past, the neighborhood councils were against the project when the plan included 3,000 but, the residences are no longer in the plan, and the Universal team seemed amenable to all of the other requests that the SCNC had about the project. The Council gave its approval as long as Universal guaranteed their plans for traffic mitigation, as well work with the Cahuenga and Ventura Bouelvard Specific Plan Review Board. They also asked the studio to follow the Los Angeles Bike Path plan that would connect a bike path from Griffith Park to Studio City.
At the time, the closure of the Barham ramp was not assured. Verdery, who is making the case for Universal, explained that the $1.6 billion project will bring 30,000 local jobs to the area and create a total of $4.7 billion in economic activity to the area. About 70 percent of the studio lot is on county property, and the rest is in the city. Cutting the residential development out of the project has slashed three million square feet of development, but they are planning two 500-room hotels instead, including one where the former Fung Lum’s used to be.
Universal is committing $375,000 to help develop bike paths that lead to Studio City. They plan to give $50,000 each to the Los Angeles Zoo, the Campo de Cahuenga and Travel Town, as well as to other local groups that may be affected by the construction.
Pat Gibson, who was doing the transportation plan for Universal, said that the studio is still devoting $100 million to alleviate traffic congestion. He said they studied 164 intersections in the area, and one the plans is to encourage more mass transit, such as a shuttle bus along Ventura Boulevard connecting the Red Line to the 405.
Local resident and parent John Strozsdas said, “It is good news that Universal is feeling the pressure. However, this group that they are now putting together does no include representatives of the businesses affected by the closure, residents who are not affiliated with HOA’s or members of Keep The Barham Ramp Association. Secondly, there is no timetable for the working group. And, most importantly, Universal will be proceeding full stream ahead with the construction of the new on-ramp as they discuss the alternatives.”
The community action is:
Saturday, November 22, from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.
At the mini-mall at 3240-3268 W. Cahuenga Blvd.