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(7/4/17)

August 4, 2017

CEO responds to Filming Committee Report: Effective remedy? Bland reassurance?

Back in the old school days, we would explain away any inexplicable coincidence with a standard refrain:
24 hours in a day. 24 beers in a case. Coincidence? I think not.
(The last phrase was always recited in unison.)
If you happen to be interested in the County's management of filming, consider this intriguing coincidence:
On May 2nd the County Supervisors instructed LA County Counsel "to review... and provide recommended ammendments to the County Code, as, to ensure...enforcement authority to address violations of the film permitting process..."

By pure chance, on June 20th, the Altadena Filming Committee submitted its End of Year Report. The report included recommendations that addressed issues and concerns about filming raised by Altadenans.
Here was an a rare opportunity for the Town Council to influence the formulation of new County Codes — after all, we are just forty thousand in a County of ten million. On June 21st, the Council voted to send the Filming Committee's report to Supervisor Barger. Barger then forwarded that report to the County CEO with the request that they review the report and provide their own inputs.

On July 5th, The County CEO sent a response to the Town Council. AltadenaFilming has obtained a copy of that letter thanks to the generous cooperation of the County's Film Liaison.*

In a nutshell, the CEO's letter said that the County will "take into consideration the Altadena Town Council Filming Committee's recommendations" and then provided "additional input" to be used in the amendment process.

Here is that 'input' excerpted directly from the CEO's letter:
  • The following is considered when evaluating a permit:
    1. Location, duration and frequency of filming at the hosting property, including historical use
    2. Location, duration and frequency of activity near the requested location, including parking areas
    3. Proximity of concurrent filming activities and other activities such as street maintenance
    4. Production company size, number of filming days requested and proposed activities, including parking
    5. Any other criteria that may be relevant to the specific situation
  • Generally, the CHP or the Sheriff are required for any filming in the Altadena area for safety and/or filming related activity, including parking.
  • FiImLA currently maintains notes regarding specific community issues, concerns or complaints related to such issues as generator placement and parking restrictions at specific locations.
  • FiImLA has a review process in place for frequently used properties. Properties of concern a re currently flagged in FiImLA's On-Line Permitting System (OPS) and requests to film at these locations require additional review and discussion with a FiImLA Operations Manager (OM). The OM will direct the FiImLA Coordinator to contact affected stakeholders to discuss the filming request, and determine next steps in addressing concerns or potential issues.
  • The County requires that a Community Filming Survey be done for film permit requests that film more than five consecutive days in a row or outside of the normal filming hours. The radius to be surveyed is established by FiImLA based on the location, filming activity, and parking requirements. It is the responsibility of the Production Company to conduct the survey and return the responses back to FiImLA with enough time for FiImLA to evaluate the survey package and make permit adjustments as necessary. FiImLA can arrange review of Community Film Surveys at their office.
  • Riders are issued for minor changes to a film permit. Riders are not used to authorize late night or all-night shoots.
The list corresponds to the current practices often described in public meetings by FilmLA and other County representatives. If taken at face value, these practices might just be sufficient to remedy all the issues raised in the Filming Committee's End of Year Report. If that were true, why bother amending the County Code?

But, are these current practices really effective?

Last year NBC4 reported that, in 2015, FilmLA received nearly 3,000 complaints about filming. And, at the Altadena Town Hall on Filming this past Spring, over a hundred community members turned out to raise concerns.

If current practices were effective, why so many issues and concerns?

The CEO's list may provide a clue. The items on the list are heavy on discretion and light of the specifics that determine permit content and approval. For example: They use different criteria, like filming frequency to evaluate a permit application, but how are those criteria used? How frequent is too frequent? Is the evaluation arbitrary? They say that a law officer is generally required on a shoot? What are the grounds for an exception? In those exceptional cases, who ensures filming conditions are met? They point out that community surveys are required, but does the methodology warrant a reliable result? They say they maintain notes about community issues, but what end do they serve? If these notes are part of the decision process, who ensures these notes are accurate?

Without constraining specifics, the film permitting process is open ended, and the CEO's 'additional input' amounts to little more that a recital of bland reassurances — essentially an appeal to trust the status quo.

How could we tell? Is the current practice, as described in the CEO's list, effective practice or bland reassurance? More importantly, how could a conscientious staff attorney in the County Counsel's office tell?

Getting a few facts would go a long way towards getting things right. If AltadenaFilming found itself in the difficult position of formulating fair-minded amendments to the County Code, here's a few things we would want to know about the "additional input":
  • Are the specifics described in governing documents? If not, why not?
  • Are these requirements on the permitting process or are just informal guidance?
  • If these are requirements, how does the County currently ensure all the listed activities are performed?
  • How does the County currently determine if current practice is effective?
  • How does the County currently determine if issues like those documented in the End of Year Report are the result of insufficient enforcement tools?
There's a point to those questions: You cannot enforce a rule if you don't know what it is. You cannot improve a rule unless unless you know its intent. And, you cannot know if a rule meets its intended purpose unless you assess it's effectiveness.

No telling what pressures might be pressing of the County Counsel. Perhaps they will have the independence to examine the underlying film permitting process as part of their effort to amend the County code. If they do, we hope they make those discoveries publicly available — it would be a significant first step towards making the film permitting process more transparent.


* The County's Film Liasion manages the FilmLA contract. Among other duties, they are responsible for conducting annual performance reviews of FilmLA. The Office of the County Film Liaison has recently been moved from the County's CEO office of Office of Unincorporated Area Services to the Office of Economic Development Affordable Housing Division.

2 comments:

  1. Anonymous8/04/2017

    Per LA County Dept of Reg Planning: "Los Angeles County ...is home to a population of 9.5 million individuals; ...The unincorporated areas ...represent ... one-tenth of its population."
    So - no, don't think we are lost in 10 million - the reps should only be worrying about us in the 1 million, of which a cohesive 45,000 is a decently sized cohort.

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    Replies
    1. Hi. Thanks for reading. Your point is well taken.

      Perhaps you can answer a question:

      Does an ordinance in the County Code, say the regulations regarding Oak trees, apply to the entire county or just the unincorporated areas? For example, does a LA City resident have abide by the County rule that says you have to plant 2 oak trees for every one removed?

      Kenny

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