Christmas lights bring ho-ho hoardes of cars

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Note: This Christmas story is from the archives and was originally published in 2015.

Your tree is up, your lights are strung and your garland is hung.  But what happens when your holiday decorating is too successful?  Reporter Susan Valot says that’s what one Torrance neighborhood is dealing with.

For decades, the area called Sleepy Hollow has been known for its holiday light display. Residents string thousands of white lights from the wispy Chinese Elm trees that line the streets. They frost their houses with even more colorful, twinkling lights. They haul out snowmen, Santas, and even a giant Sandy Claws, the main character from “The Nightmare Before Christmas.” One front yard has a lighted mini Ferris wheel.

Steve Vint dresses as Santa and sits in a lawn chair to hand out candy canes to visitors and pose for pictures amid his decorations, which include Cookie Monster, pigs with Santa hats and the Abominable Snowman from “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.”

“I’ve always enjoyed the Christmas season, but here just makes it a little more special,” Vint said. “You can come out here and make people happy in the crazy world we live in. A little bit of joy and peace.”

Kids bundled in coats on a chilly Southern California evening either approach Santa timidly or run up to him, yelling, “Ho, ho, ho!”

“Hey, do I smell to you?” Santa said as he leaned in toward an adult in the group.

“No,” she said, somewhat surprised at the question.

“Oh, because sometimes I smell like reindeer,” Santa said with a twinkle in his eye and laugh. “That’s what they tell me.”

The lights seem to feed the excitement of the children like a big shot of sugar. But along with Sleepy Hollow’s festive joy comes something that lands the many visitors on the naughty list: traffic.

An estimated 250,000 people make their way on foot and in cars — and occasionally on top of cars, illegally — through the Christmas-bedazzled neighborhood.

Vint said it gets so bad that the pizza guys won’t deliver. He’s not complaining but some neighbors are, saying publicity has made the traffic worse, jamming up the streets.

Ann Cooper, a 14-year resident, considers her decorating average, not over the top, but admits to having at least 35 boxes of decorations. She says the traffic does chip away at the holiday spirit. Tahnya Nodar said she and her husband steered clear of Sleepy Hollow when buying their home to avoid the traffic, but it is now encroaching on her quiet little street nearby. Around the corner, long-time resident Mike Short said at first, he and his wife enjoyed the lights but he now regards the idling gridlocked cars as a health hazard.

“Our eyes ache. Our throats are sore. And I have a headache for like two or three weeks,” Short said. “And so this year, we’ve decided to go away. Just can’t take it anymore.”

Assistant City Manager Mary Giordano said the city is focusing on traffic safety at the private event, putting about a half dozen extra police officers in the area, with some on bikes. She acknowledged that road signs intended to help traffic flow have spread the impact over a wider area. City officials met with community members before the holidays, to let them air some of their concerns.

But many neighbors in the heart of the lights said they don’t mind the inconvenience for a few weeks each year.

Mark Osborne, sitting with his family and friends around a fire pit in his driveway, said he doesn’t put up lights for the stream of visitors. He puts them up for his family.

“It’s fun,” Osborne said. “We like Christmas.”