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Writers Cramped : W. Hollywood Seeks to Register Those Who Make Living at Home

Times Staff Writer

A proposed law in West Hollywood requiring persons who earn a living at home to register with the city has upset some TV and motion picture writers who claim it threatens an invasion of privacy that smacks of “Big Brotherism.”

“It’s horrible,” said writer Kay Lenard, who won an Emmy for her work on the daytime drama “Days of Our Lives.” “I’ve been a writer for 35 years and I’ve never heard of such a thing.”

However, city officials say the ordinance is similar to those in other cities, and have expressed puzzlement that the West Hollywood proposal should be considered controversial.

“There’s nothing about what we’ve proposed that lends itself to prying into people’s lives,” said Paul Self, the city’s business license officer. “It (the proposed ordinance) is not unlike those in Los Angeles and a good many other cities.”

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‘Under Review’

Cheryl Rhoden, a spokeswoman for the Writers Guild of America, West, headquartered in West Hollywood, said the matter was “under review” but declined to comment until she has a chance to see a draft of the ordinance.

West Hollywood, with a population of 37,000, is widely considered to be among communities with the highest number of professional writers per capita in the United States, including 500 guild members who make their home there.

The ordinance, which is to be discussed at a hearing of the Business License Commission on Tuesday, aims to license many of the city’s estimated 5,000 businesses, many of which have remained unregulated in the five years since West Hollywood became a city.

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While exempting from regulation writers, artists and others who are self-employed and work at home, the law nonetheless would require such persons to register with the city clerk’s office and pay an annual fee to be determined by the City Council.

Public Record

But several writers who opposed the idea when the commission first began considering the proposal two weeks ago claim that the way the law is drafted could leave them vulnerable to city officials and anyone else wanting to pry into their business activities.

“It’s a lame excuse for building a bureaucracy that, if you believe what’s written in the ordinance, would have almost Nazi-like powers,” said Robert Adels, a writer who works in the music industry.

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He is especially upset that the law would require applicants to make their name, address and phone number a matter of public record, and require them to provide the city with “any other information that the Director of Community Development deems necessary.”

“I think that lends itself to a wide range of interpretations. It’s similar to what we think of in Germany in the ‘30s and ‘40s. The next thing you know, they could ask who your sexual partners are, or anything else they please,” he said.

Self said the provision Adels referred to “obviously is meant to apply to business matters.”

Statistical Information

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“This is only a draft, and there’s nothing about the wording of any sentence that’s written in stone. The spirit and intent of the ordinance has nothing to do with interfering in people’s personal lives,” he said.

He said the reason for having people who work out of their homes register was to provide “statistical and demographic information” that city officials hope to use in determining if the city is receiving its fair share of sales tax revenue from the state.

Only about two dozen types of businesses that operate in the city would be required to obtain licenses and come under regulation, he said.

“There’s a clear distinction between registration and regulation and I think there has been a big misunderstanding with respect to what we’re requesting of the writers and others who fall into the latter category. . . . We’re not attempting to regulate them at all.”

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Los Angeles has for years required writers and others who work from their homes to register with the city clerk. They are required to pay an annual registration fee that varies according their income, said Paul Inafuku, an auditor in the Los Angeles city clerk’s office.

Rarely Enforced

Inafuku said that he was unaware “of there ever being any complaints from anyone having to register,” but he acknowledged that the law is rarely enforced “except in those cases where the city receives complaints about zoning ordinance violations and those sorts of things.”

Self said that under the proposed West Hollywood law, the city “would not seek to enforce violations (of the law) through inspections . . . We wouldn’t be coming into people’s businesses--their homes--to make inspections, and under the law, we couldn’t.”

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“Some of the comments we’ve heard make it sound as though an inspector could knock on somebody’s door at home and just come in and take a look around. But there’s nothing in the ordinance that even implies that.”


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