Neighbors file reports for missing lawn signs


Area signs protesting the Harvard-Westlake Upper School’s proposed parking structure project have been disappearing in recent months. Credit: Noa Schwartz/Chronicle

Sammi Handler

Save Coldwater Canyon! members and local residents have replaced signs protesting the school’s proposed parking garage after they were reportedly stolen in June, the latest incident in a string of alleged thefts, neighbors said.

Some residents on Coldwater Canyon, Halkirk Street, Dickens Street, Greenleaf Street and Alcove Avenue found that their signs were missing the morning of June 8.

“Somewhere between 50 and 100 [were reportedly stolen],” said Sarah Boyd, who is a member of the Board of Directors of Save Coldwater Canyon!. “We found some of them in a garbage can on Ventura [Boulevard].”

SCC is an advocacy organization residents founded after the school proposed building a parking lot and bridge over Coldwater Canyon Avenue because they are concerned about “ensuring the safety, quality of life and enjoyment of the Canyon’s hillside residents,” according to SCC’s website.

Lawn signs displaying messages such as “Stop Harvard-Westlake’s Destruction of Coldwater Canyon!” and “Harvard-Westlake, lower your carbon footprint,” are one method the organization uses to communicate some neighbors’ grievances.

Out of 100 houses on Dickens, Coldwater, Halkirk and Alcove, 52 had signs displayed on Sept. 29.

When residents began putting up signs in July 2014, some reported them stolen, and neighbors also reported a significant number of signs stolen at least one time after that, Boyd said.

“The assumption is always [that] it’s the Harvard-Westlake community, but we can’t always prove that,” Boyd said.

A Harvard-Westlake parent may have carried out the first occurrence of thefts last year, and was photographed taking signs and putting them in the trunk of his car, Boyd said.

Odessa Chiklis ’17 said that a friend’s mother had picked her and some friends up from a Friday football game and then pulled over onto Halkirk.

“She [said something like] ‘these signs are so rude and absurd’ and took the sign from the lawn and stuffed it in the tiny car we were in and took it home,” Chiklis said. “I think it’s unnecessary and kind of rude [to steal signs]. However, it was very funny at the time.”

After the second incident, residents filed police reports. Some filed reports again in June.

“This has happened numerous times, but the most egregious occurrence was the day after HW graduation when every single sign in my neighborhood along Halkirk Street, Alcove Avenue, Goodland Place and Goodland Avenue were taken in one fell swoop along with every single sign along Coldwater,” Halkirk resident Nancy Mehigian said. “That same night a plastic bag of vomit was left in front of my neighbor’s house, and another neighbor called me at 4:30 a.m. to say she saw someone in my driveway…I’m not accusing anyone, just reporting facts.”

Following the latest incident, residents have considered installing security cameras, according to Boyd.

Some students said that the Sunday after graduation they took some signs from neighbors’ houses as they were items on last year’s senior scavenger hunt, which is not school sanctioned.

“There’s probably still some crumpled up in the back of my friend’s car,” Christina* ’17 said. Students preferred to remain anonymous since some neighbors filed police reports after the incident.

Christina said that she and some friends took signs from Halkirk and Coldwater residents.

“We went from Harvard-Westlake to the Palisades, and we had like 10 signs in the back of the car,” she said. “We threw some of them out the window onto PCH and others we kept. It was fully kind of like an ‘up yours’ to the neighbors, but at the same time it was also an adrenaline rush. It was just fun. It was stupid fun.”

The school does not condone students taking signs for any reason, and President Rick Commons said that he “really wants to be a good neighbor.”

“We can’t be involved in [stealing signs],” Commons said. “I know that for all of us the signs are disconcerting. For some of us they probably seem unfair and the abundance of them sometimes can seem ridiculous, and so it can seem that it’s responding in kind to remove the signs, but in fact it’s a crime to remove something that someone has placed in their yard. We respect the neighbors’ property and we respect that they put up signs. I urge all members of the community to leave the signs alone.”

Greenleaf Street resident Kathleen Nielsen said that one morning in early June all of the signs on her street were gone.

“One might say I did not see who committed this act, but at about midnight on the night in question, I heard a car pull up and young, excited voices in the front of my house,” she said. “I could definitely draw a strong inference that the perpetrators were HW students who had the misguided notion that people affected by the HW project should not be allowed to express opinions in opposition.”

Some students feel that the lawn signs are an overreaction from the neighbors.

“Honestly, if the worst thing that’s happening in your life is that a school that you’ve voluntarily moved next to is trying to build a parking garage so that students don’t have to park in front of your houses, then you have a very good life,” Christina said.

Other students think that taking signs does more harm than good to the school.

“It’s inappropriate given the positive relationship we are working on fostering with our neighbors,” Head Prefect Hunter Brookman ’16 said. “We need to do our best not to interfere with our neighbors’ property, regardless of whether we agree with the signs or not. The school definitely needs to continue working on our relationship with our neighbors, and stealing their signs is not helping move us in the right direction.”

Similarly, not all neighbors are opposed to the school’s project. Some have posted responses to SCC members’ posts on the app Nextdoor, in which users set up private social networks for their neighborhoods. While some residents’ posts condemn the project, others have said the school “works really hard at being a good neighbor.” Some choose to remain indifferent.

“I’m not ‘for’ or ‘against’ the garage and related development,” Studio City resident Joel Tantalo posted on Nextdoor. “I frankly don’t care one way or the other. I just don’t automatically oppose development because it will result in some degree of inconvenience or because it may conflict with my personal aesthetic preferences.”

As the Chronicle reported in April, some neighbors are more concerned about students parking in front of their houses and speeding.

Last year, Commons said that he planned to meet with residents and local organizations during the summer to improve the school’s relationship with those in Studio City, but he did not meet with SCC since he does not want to possibly interfere with the legal process, Commons said.

The school is in the process of preparing their case for the city on why the project is necessary to accommodate big events, including graduation, and to improve safety on Coldwater Canyon, Commons said. Meanwhile, SCC is making the case on why the project would be harmful to Studio City.

“We hope that the city will give us permission to go ahead with this project, and once that is done I hope to hear directly from Save Coldwater Canyon,” Commons said.