In asking a production company seeking to film in his district to pay for a traffic study, Los Angeles City Councilman Eric Garcetti was following a political tradition -- one Los Angeles can do without. No matter how worthy the cause, such "requests" feed the kind of quid pro quo expectations that lead to government corruption.
Garcetti asked Sony Pictures to pay for the $10,000 study last fall after residents in his Hollywood district complained about filming-related traffic. He defends the request, reported last week in The Times, as looking out for his constituents, even though the company had already paid for city film permits that included funding for traffic rerouting. Garcetti is following in the footsteps of his predecessor, Jackie Goldberg, now a state Assembly member, who is unapologetic still about "asking" three filmmakers seeking to temporarily close the Glendale Freeway in the late 1990s to donate to specified charities. No donation is voluntary when an elected city official requests it of a person or company that needs city permission to do business in that official's district.
Los Angeles residents have a love-hate relationship with Hollywood movie makers. We don't want them running off to Canada to film, taking their jobs and money with them. But we don't want them shooting in our neighborhoods either, jamming traffic and causing noise and litter. By requiring permits and charging fees, the city tries to control disruption and force the industry to pay for some of the detrimental effects. As good-government guru Robert Stein, president of the Center for Governmental Studies, told The Times, it's appropriate that the city regulate filming on public streets -- but it should not be at the whim of an individual council member.
And it's not just the film industry. Shortly after he was elected in 1999, City Councilman Nick Pacheco established a nonprofit group to do outreach and leadership training in his Eastside district. Fine, except that he then solicited donations from city lobbyists and businesses. Pacheco's group, which later disbanded, drew the scrutiny of the City Ethics Commission -- to which Garcetti's father, former Dist. Atty. Gil Garcetti, was recently named. Perhaps it's time to deliver some fatherly advice.