City ponders filming changes

As the city prepares to update its film ordinance, neighborhood groups have formed to push their respective views of the regulations.

Some say the ordinance, which was last updated in 1995, is too restrictive, while others seek to protect their neighborhoods from excessive filming. The city will host a public workshop on Nov. 21 to gain more feedback from residents. Residents from both sides of the issue and members of the film industry are expected to attend.

Residents on Commonwealth Avenue, south of Berkshire Avenue, called for officials to take a deeper look at the ordinance when a Warner Bros. production of the film “Jersey Boys” set up in their neighborhood in September. They said the neighborhood had seen several productions in the past year and some complained that they did not receive proper notice.

Residents formed a group, called La Cañada Neighbors for Fair Filming, and asked the city for a moratorium on filming until the City Council looked the revising the current film ordinance.

City Manager Mark Alexander agreed instead to enact rules that would immediately address residents’ main concerns.

Any production that involves 20 people or more will now be required to get the green light from at least 60% of the residents in a 500-feet area around the subject property. The provision only applies to the section of Commonwealth Avenue, where one large estate has pulled four film permits in 13 months.

Lawyer William Stoner, who is representing the Commonwealth residents, said the group was pleased with Alexander’s decision. But the group was not happy with recently proposed changes to the film ordinance, he said. They would like to see more restrictions, including banning filming on Saturdays and giving 10 days of notice to residents.

“Some of the changes are moving in the wrong direction,” said Stoner.

A proposed film ordinance was brought before the city’s Public Safety Commission last week. Officials decided to continue the discussion at a public workshop, which is slated to be held either at City Hall or Descanso Gardens at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 21. The ordinance is expected to come before the City Council in December or January.

Proposed changes to the ordinance included allowing six consecutive days of filming and no more than four film permits per property in a 12-month period. There is no current limit for film permits on one block. Officials proposed limiting the amount of film permits issued on one block to nine in a 12-month period.

Currently, applicants must seek a film permit four business days in advance of the production, but the proposal calls for increasing that lead time to six days. Other suggested provisions would also limit the time in which large productions could film and limit the amount of large productions that could occur on one block.

Several groups sent letters to the city claiming that a restrictive ordinance would drive business away from the city.

In an Oct. 23 letter to the city, Descanso Gardens Executive Director David Brown said that the organization relies on filming as a source of revenue. Filming brought in $4.2 million this year, 5% of Descanso’s income, he stated.

The letter also stated that the city should address the concerns of residents negatively impacted by filming, but should also “recognize that not all filming within the city’s limits is the same in such impacts.”

A group of residents also wrote a letter to the city last month that compares La Cañada’s filming law to that other nearby cities. They cite high permit costs and restrictions on frequency of filming as factors that deter production companies from setting foot in the city. The letter is signed by more than 50 residents.

Andrea Meyerhofer, who lives on Escalante Drive, is one resident calling for fewer restrictions.

“It’s so strict,” she said of the local ordinance. “[The city] should become more like Los Angeles or Pasadena.”

The money earned by film shoots could be used for projects in the city, such as fixing roads or giving money to schools, she added. “It would be a win-win for everybody.”

Michael Walbrecht, a La Cañada resident and vice president of public affairs for Warner Bros., also sent a letter to the city in opposition to more restrictions on filming in the city. More than 125 Warner Bros. employees live in the city, according to Walbrecht.

“As you know, the film and television industry is a signature industry in California and La Cañada offers many unique locations important to production,” he stated. “The proposed amendments to the ordinance sends a message that filming is not welcome in the community, a community that counts many industry members as residents.”


Follow Tiffany Kelly on Google+ and on Twitter: @LATiffanyKelly.


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