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Preserve Movie Industry’s Starring Role in Economy : Neighborhood and City Hall inhospitality chips away at payroll base of $2.1 billion--about two-thirds of it generated in the Valley.

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<i> Richard Kahlenberg of North Hollywood is a regular contributor to The Times. He is a former administrator at the American Film Institute</i>

Before the Los Angeles City Council last month was a measure that might have given 3.5 million individuals a veto on whether to allow exterior movie or TV filming in our town.

The sponsoring council members, particularly Ruth Galanter, were reacting to constituent complaints about disruptions by things like camera trucks in their districts. Galanter suggested that each filming permit be subject to the approval of the area’s council member. If a constituent complained, the council member could deny filming rights.

It was a regulatory change that unions, employers and Mayor Richard Riordan labeled atrocious. Fortunately, the council came to its senses and dropped the idea, having realized, with firm prompting from San Fernando Valley’s representatives, that this kind of economic activity is a big part of the city’s tax base.

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This was before it was disclosed last week that California film crews face a growing problem of First of a two-part series

disruptions that stop only with cash payments--such as that demanded by a Santa Monica homeowner who used a foghorn until the crew paid him $200 to “rent” it. A state report says half of those responding to a questionnaire reported they had experienced intentional disruption.

At risk of being eroded by neighborhood and City Hall inhospitality is a payroll base of $2.1 billion and vendor sales of $2.6 billion in the area from Ventura Boulevard to Valencia and from Calabasas to La Canada, according to industry and state government figures. The Valley is home to about two-thirds of the city’s cut of “the biz.”

By way of contrast, Sylvester Stallone accepted a gubernatorial invitation to lunch last week and helped in lobbying lawmakers to support the state film commission’s efforts to boost filming. The lunch was in Florida, Sly’s new home state.

The Sunshine State is already doing $500 million worth of film business a year. It will do even better--at our expense--if our politicians keep flirting with more regulation and Florida’s politicians keep up their torrid affair with deregulation.

Angelenos seem to have slid into indifference about the importance of the movie and TV industry to our local economy and our property values. My North Hollywood home’s appraised value instantly feels the effects of any flight of high-skilled, high-paying film jobs over the state border. When the jobs go, values fall. Retaining jobs takes effort. Stallone told the Floridians about us, “Folks have to be pushed out there,” to support the business.

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I’m talking about local retention of the myriad jobs you see listed at the end of a movie, rather than the few flashy ones at the beginning. These are held by 170,000 Californians who do the day-to-day work in the biz. Most of them live in Southern California, and the majority of those, according to the Mayor’s Office of Entertainment Industry Affairs, live in the San Fernando Valley, Glendale, Burbank and Santa Clarita.

Maybe, just maybe, by summer we will have a City Hall operation called the Entertainment Industry Development Corp., for which my councilman, Richard Alarcon, has been leading the push. It would be a public-private operation to do for us what 250 other states, counties, cities and even countries are doing for themselves: grab a slice of lucrative media production.

“Nowadays it’s all we have,” says, David Fleming, former president of the Valley Industry and Commerce Assn. “They are taking our lunch. We are under siege. Florida is a prime example--they’re the best that compete with us--at every level in every town there.”

But they are not the only ones. Places like Toronto and New York are busy too. Fully 60% of the TV movie and TV drama production jobs and contracts are outside Los Angeles. It used to be practically all done here except for a few shows in New York and “Flipper” in Miami.

Southern California has held its own in feature film production, which remains steady. But TV work, with more and more being required by the new networks, cable outlets, syndication and now interactive computer-based video, isn’t staying here in the Valley.

Friendly regulatory climates, more cooperative labor unions and ease of living elsewhere have been attracting the new work, even though locally we have added thousands of jobs. We could have added more had we not become complacent.

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A couple of weeks ago more than 100 exhibitors set up displays at a hotel near Burbank Airport for a weekend to entice production away from here. Places with names like Orlando, Orem, Ohio and Ontario (in Canada) all claim--and they have testimonials to prove it--that when you film on location there, locals do not set their dogs or their cops on your tail. In North Miami, Fla., I’m told, the neighbors literally greet crews with milk and cookies. In response, film and TV crews flock to that state at a rate that doubles each year.

It’s a far cry from the reception that film crews get hereabouts, where neighborhood associations sometimes boast of their ability to banish film crews. A big irony--and a sign of the divisiveness plaguing our town--is that some of the loudest complainers, those able to get politicians to listen to them, are big machers in the very same biz they are bashing.

This is even worse than the old days, when the motion picture business first arrived here and the good citizens of the town called on cops to remove “the movies,” as film people were called back then.

Alas, the temper of the town hasn’t really changed that much. Many think of the movies--whether human or celluloid--as some sort of pesky, alien thing, unconnected with our lives and fortunes. No. They are our neighbors, numerous, economically important and, I hope permanent.

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