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Film Permit Firms Sue Liaison

Times Staff Writer

In a rare moment of unity, five rival film permit companies have joined together to accuse the Entertainment Industry Development Corp. of trying to drive them out of business.

In a lawsuit filed late last week, the companies allege that the corporation, which is under contract to the city to coordinate permitting in Los Angeles, has treated them “in a discriminatory and unfair manner.”

The companies allege that the not-for-profit corporation violated laws prohibiting unfair competition by making them follow rules that production companies don’t have to follow. Further, the suit accuses the corporation’s senior vice president of operations, Michael Bobenko, of slander.

“I’ve come together with my competitors because all of us feel like we’ve been mistreated,” Eric Nichols, president of Pacific Production Services in Hollywood, said in an interview Monday.

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Along with Nichols’ company, the plaintiffs are Film Permits Unlimited, Film This Production Services Inc., Walker Location Services and Beautiful Day Permits. The five plaintiffs, which are all of the film permit companies in Los Angeles County, account for about 65% of permits issued in the city and the county, according to the suit.

The plaintiffs also sued the city of Los Angeles, saying it refused to issue permits directly even though it had the authority to do so. The development corporation was created in 1995 to coordinate film permitting in the city and unincorporated parts of the county.

A city attorney’s office spokesman declined to comment.

Steve MacDonald, president of the corporation, declined to respond to the suit other than to say the “charges are without merit.”

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The organization’s task is to “keep production jobs and revenues in the region while protecting our neighborhoods. That’s our mission. Not to increase the bottom line,” he said, responding to allegations that the corporation was seeking to increase its own revenue.

The corporation charges a flat fee of $450 for processing permits, but it also generates money by providing other services such as notifying neighborhoods of film activity -- an area that has also been lucrative for permit companies.

In their complaint, the plaintiffs cite several examples of the corporation’s alleged double standards. Although the group will fax permits to production companies, for example, it won’t extend the same courtesy to permit companies, the suit claimed.

“Ultimately, it’s affecting our ability to conduct business,” said Nichols, who started his business in Hollywood 17 years ago.

The companies are seeking to force the city to issue permits directly, rather than through the corporation.

They have also asked the court to order the group and its operations chief, Bobenko, to pay unspecified punitive damages. Bobenko, the suit says, has made “disparaging remarks,” describing the film permitting companies as “unnecessary and incompetent.”

Bobenko was unavailable for comment.


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