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Balboa Boardwalk business owners upset by filming closure seek edits to city’s film policy

Tony George, owner of the Surfside Pick Your Print gift shop on the Balboa Boardwalk Thursday.
Tony George, owner of the Surfside Pick Your Print gift shop on the Balboa Boardwalk, contacted Newport Beach City Hall to speak against a closure of the nearby Fun Zone, which he said will impact his business.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

A recent request to shoot scenes for a feature-length film at Newport Beach’s iconic Balboa Fun Zone — which required temporary closure of the family entertainment center — has some business owners calling for edits to the city’s film ordinance.

Local officials, working with third-party liaison FilmLA, had processed permits for a production company to film scenes throughout Newport Beach for “Jesus Revolution,” a movie about the life of Orange County pastor Greg Laurie starring comedian Jim Gaffigan set for release in 2023.

To accommodate filming, the Fun Zone would have to be closed to foot traffic on Friday and Saturday.

But a handful of business owners who run largely tourist-based shops and services one block over say the closure is poorly timed — taking place on the final weekend of the spring-break rush — and could hurt their bottom lines.

A card warning of a three-day closure of foot traffic at the Balboa Fun Zone.
A card warning of a three-day closure of foot traffic at the Balboa Fun Zone was given to some but not all nearby merchants.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

“All of us will lose a ton of money on this,” Tony George, longtime owner of custom T-shirt and gift shop Pick Your Print said Thursday, as tourists shopped for hats to battle a heat wave.

George maintains he and other surrounding business owners received scant notice a film crew had plans to shut down a portion of the Boardwalk on a weekend when regular tourists still on spring break set their sights on Newport Beach.

“The way I found out about it was a location manager came to me about renting part of my parking lot,” said George, who took his concerns to City Hall. “The city is responding by saying, we’re sorry but it’s too late — that’s not helping anybody.”

Pick Your Print is one of a few businesses one block over from the Fun Zone, along a segment of the Balboa Boardwalk that was not shut down for filming. While businesses in the zone were offered reimbursement for the closure, owners say adjacent stores received no compensation.

Visitors enjoy the Newport Beach Fun Zone on Thursday, April 7, 2022.
Visitors enjoy the Newport Beach Fun Zone Thursday. Local businesses were given short notice about the filming of a movie nearby, which they said would impact revenue on a busy weekend.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Armando Terrones owns the waterfront snack stand Balboa Beach Treats. He bought the business in 2019 and suffered two terrible years during the pandemic but said things were just beginning to pick up when, earlier this week, he got a small postcard notifying him of the filming.

“This is literally my first almost-real spring break. According to everyone, this was the big week,” Terrones said Thursday. “It was kind of a bummer to find out this was happening now.”

Ranjit Mac, who’s owned the Blue Sails gift shop for 23 years, wants to know why she and others weren’t involved in any discussions or given a chance to suggest alternate filming days.

“They have to do a meeting with all the business owners and find out what is the best time to give the film people,” she said. “We tried to send [the city] emails and called them — they said we cannot do anything because it doesn’t affect you.”

Ranjit Mac, owner of Blue Sails gift shop, checks out a customer Thursday, April 7, 2022.
Ranjit Mac, owner of Blue Sails gift shop, left, called and emailed Newport Beach City Hall to share concerns about a nearby filming closure she said would hurt her business during a peak time.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Filming notification requirements are handled on a case-by-case basis, according to city spokesman John Pope. When a crew wishes to film in a residential area, a 500-foot notification radius is a common condition of approval, but in commercial areas such mandates are less clearly defined.

Although a page on Newport Beach’s website says the city may require a film crew to formally notify areas impacted by a production, the ordinance doesn’t spell out guidelines for notification.

“For businesses, we’d look at what is a reasonable area to provide notice to the closure zone and folks who would be impacted by the closure,” Pope said. “The ordinance allows for staff to make that call.”

Councilwoman Diane Dixon in a March 22 meeting requested the council reexamine the city’s film ordinance and compare it to laws in similar cities to see if improvements might be made. The motion passed unanimously.

In addition to receiving an email from George, Dixon was contacted in January by Balboa Peninsula residents, who had complaints about another filming project lasting for months.

“After digging deeper, I realized we haven’t reviewed our filming ordinance in a while,” she said Thursday. “I do know the city works hard to accommodate filming requests. [But] we have to be cognizant of impacts on residents and business owners.”

For caricature artist Tracy Buck, who’s been penning likenesses on the Boardwalk for 25 years, a little cognizance would be appreciated.

“I would like a general heads-up on something like that,” he said.

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