La Cañada Flintridge council OKs film regulations

La Cañada Flintridge council OKs film regulations
A caravan of production vehicles line up for a McDonald's commercial film shoot at Descanso Gardens in La Cañada Flintridge. (Tim Berger / Los Angeles Times)

Fourteen months of negotiations among residents, movie executives and weary public officials ended Monday when the La Cañada Flintridge City Council approved new regulations governing filming in the city.

The ordinance classifies productions based on size and the potential effect on residents, according to city administrator and policy drafter Kevin Chun.


"The overriding consideration ... was to try to strike a balance between all of the interests," Chun told the City Council, adding that the ordinance creates a positive environment for film production opportunities while also protecting "the quality of life in our neighborhoods."

The ordinance divides filming into three production levels. Level 1 is smaller independent or student films, Chun said, while level 2 productions are larger and might use the public right of way or employ special effects. Filmmakers would have to notify property owners located within 300 feet of the production, and get written consent from at least 51% of them, to receive a permit.

Level 3 productions, defined as any project exceeding the ordinance's limit of 12 days per calendar year, would require 67% approval from affected homeowners.

Although the revisions, the first since 1995, represented compromises on both sides, council members made two critical changes to a list of agreements brokered by the Public Safety Commission.

The commission's recommendations were the result of hours of talks with people in the city's heavily filmed lower Commonwealth Avenue area, working collectively as La Cañada Neighbors for Fair Filming. They stipulated that any production team of more than 25 members would be classified as level 2 productions, and that all level 2 and 3 projects would be required to seek approval from two-thirds of adjacent property owners.

Chun and city staff, however, recommended Monday that the production team threshold be increased to 30 and that the adjacent neighbor requirement be removed altogether, to strike a more appropriate balance between competing interests.

Lawyer and La Cañada resident William Stoner said the changes effectively tossed out a year of work done by those who negotiated an agreement.

"The bedrock of the compromise has just been pulled out from under us," Stoner said. "Why even bother with the Public Safety Commission if they come up with a 5-0 recommendation, it goes back to staff and magically, out of the black box, we're back to where we started?"

Despite that and other protests, the City Council agreed with the changes.

Councilman Don Voss, who sat on the film ordinance subcommittee with Councilwoman Laura Olhasso, said requiring production companies to get two-thirds agreement from adjacent neighbors was not feasible.

"To me, the adjacent property standard of 67% represented a tyranny of the majority," Voss said. "You would basically divine whether [a homeowner] was able to make a shoot on their own property or not, and I don't think that's fair."

Olhasso commended the staff and the Public Safety Commission for trying to find something that worked for everyone, but said the Commonwealth residents amount to only a minority, while an ordinance must consider the needs of all.

Mayor Mike Davitt cast the lone dissenting vote.

"I kind of looked at this like [the commission] approved this, there was an agreement that was made after a 14-month process," he said. "I would be willing to say that if that's what you guys wanted, I could support that and go with that, and then revisit it in a year and see what happens. But I don't have the majority."


The ordinance will go up for a second reading in January on its way to passage and will be enacted 30 days later.

Twitter: @SaraCardine