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September 7, 2017

First look: permit data for unincorporated communities in LA County

LA County Districts
(click to see larger map)
If you should happen to be a regular reader here, you may recall that the County Supervisors asked the County's Film Liaison to make some recommendations.

That was a bit of a puzzle. Who knew the County had a Film Liaison? What did this Film Liaison do? The office wasn't listed. Googling was useless. But, with help from our local County Field Deputy, the Supervisor Barger's Planning and Public Works Deputy, and a few other hard working County officials, we were able to reach Gary Smith, LA County's newly appointed1 Film Liaison.

Among other things2, Mr. Smith manages FilmLA's contract and receives quarterly reports on filming for the unincorporated communities of LA County. We asked Mr. Smith if the quarterly reports for the past 3 years were publicly available. Mr. Smith, like his County colleagues, has been extremely helpful. He sent along a composite report with frequency and complaint data for each Supervisor's District. The report includes data for each quarter from January 2014 through January 2017. (a link to the report appears below)

We used this quarterly-report data to put together a few charts that show filming activity for the unincorporated areas of the County. If you should happen to be a person who prefers data as a basis for fact, perhaps the following will be of interest.

Q: How much filming occurs in the unincorporated communities compared to other areas of LA County?
On average 12% of the filming permitted by Film LA occurs in the unincorporated areas of the County. The estimate does not include filming in places like Burbank, Glendale and Pasadena which do not use the FilmLA permitting service.

Q: How much filming occurs in LA County District 5 (Altadena's District)?
On average, 60% of all shoot days in the unincorporated areas occurs in District 5.

Approximately 2 million people live in the unincorporated communities in LA County. Approximately 400,000 people live in the 70 or so unincorporated communities of District 5. Altadena is the largest unincorporated community in the District with approximately 44,000 residents.

The Film Liaison's report does not include enough information to determine what percentage of the District's filming occurs in Altadena zip codes. However, using AltadenaFilming's film permit map data, we can estimate that 29% of District 5 filming occurs in Altadena.

Q: How many filming complaints were recorded from each of the unincorporated communities.
Between 2014 and 2107, FilmLA recorded 293 complaints from the unincorporated areas of LA County. Nearly 71% of the complaints concerned filming activities in District 5.

Note: Last year NBC4 reported that, in 2015, there were over 2,900 filming complaints just in the City of Los Angeles — a rate much high than that reported in the unincorporated areas. The disparity suggests that either complaints are under reported in the unincoporated areas or that film companies are, in general, better behaved when they leave the city limits.

Q: What is the most frequent complaint about filming?
Problematic film-company parking was the most frequent complaint in all unincorporated areas. 38% of District 5 complaints were classified as 'parking.'

Q: What about the rate of complaints? Are they higher in District 5?
With the exception of 2016, the rate, as complaints per 100 shoot days, for District 5 is in line with other districts. However, it appears the complaint rates for District 1 and 2 shot up in 2016.
The big picture
Overall, filming in the unincorporated areas plays only a minor part in LA County's overall film-production picture. However, a large majority of the filming in the unincorporated communities takes place in District 5.

Since the Film Liaison only provided data for the unincorporated communities, we'll conjecture that LA County's jurisdiction for film permitting approval and enforcement is limited to just these unincorporated areas. If true, District 5 is the District most affected by the County's filming permit approval and enforcement policies. In that case, Supervisor Barger should rightly have considerable sway in any Board decisions concerning film permitting and permit enforcement.

Data notes
  • The report only includes data for the unincorporated communities of LA County. The data does not include results from incorporated communities like Monrovia, Pasadena, Burbank, etc.

  • The Film Liaison's report included a summary of frequency and complaint data for each quarter in each district from Q1 2014 through Q1 2017. The report also includes a County-wide summary of frequency and complaint data.

  • The contents of the report were extracted to text and modified for export to excel.

  • Starting in 2015, FilmLA began reporting frequency as Shoot Days. Prior to 2015, FilmLA reported frequency as as both Permitted Production Days and Shoot Days. Here's FilmLA's definition of the difference.
    A Permitted Production Day (PPD) is defined as one crew’s permission to film at a single defined location during all or part of any given 24‐hour period. This measure is best used to quantify days of impact from filming on area communities. Determining PPD involves looking at all calendar days in which filming occurs, and summing the number of unique locations filmmakers were permitted to use on each day.

    Shoot Day (SD) is defined as one crew’s permission to film at one or more defined locations during all or part of any given 24‐hour period. This measure is used to quantify how many days of work film crews perform during a given time period. Determining SD involves looking at all calendar days during which filming occurs, and summing the number of unique permits simultaneously active for filming on each day.

    In order to normalize 2014 frequency data with the 2015 and 2106 data, we used FilmLA's 2010-2014 data to calculate a Production Day to Shoot Day ratio. The ratio is roughly two-thirds. We used that ratio to estimate 2014 Shoot Days. It appears that this techniques underestimates the actual values.

  • The quarterly report data has errors. The County-wide summary is inconsistent with the data from the individual districts. In our reports we used the data for individual districts and ignored the County-wide data since it is likely that the inconsistency is the result of arithmetic errors.

  • FilmLA issues quarterly press releases on shoot-day data for all the incorporated and unincorporated areas they serve. These FilmLA press releases were used as a source of data for the county-wide comparisons.

  • An estimate of annual shoot days in Altadena was based on data that was accidentally released by FilmLA — the same data is used to generate the Altadena permit map that appears on this site.

    The Altadena estimate is based on the following: between 2012 and 2015, there was a yearly average of 478 filming permits issued in Altadena. If we assume a day-and-a half of shooting for each permit, that's an average of about 717 shoot days per year. Based on the Film Liaison's report, there are roughly 2,500 shoot days each year in District 5. If these estimates are accurate, then roughly 29% of District 5 filming occurs in Altadena.
Links to source material
Here are links to the data provided by the County's Film Liaison:

1 : The County's Film Liaison was recently moved to a new organizational home. Previously, the office was located in the CEO's Office of Unincorporated Area Services. It is now located in the CEO's Economic Development Affordable Housing Division.

2 : The LA County CEO recently publish a memo describing the Film Liaison's responsibilites.


  1. Our neighborhood was impacted by a massive and potential major studio television ongoing hit series filming project and as neighbors noted glaring electrical safety problems and gross violations of notification, keeping within contract hours (lighting up the night sky with a crane and a lighted ballloon until 1 or 2am, etc. When multiple neighbors tried to call FilmLA, they always got a non-functioning phone system and absolutely no help.

    1. Thanks for your comment.

      The incident you describe resembles an issue that was brought up at the Altadena Town Hall on Filming that occurred this past February. That event, like the one you describe, appears to have had a serious safety concern. It also appears to have been quite intrusive.

      If you happen to be an Altadena resident and there's another intrusive incident, I'd encourage you to contact the Altadena Filming Committee ( The committee influence is limited, but they can help ensure that the County Services, like FilmLA are made aware of your concerns.

      The LA county ordinance makes it clear that a temporary use permit, like a filming permit, shall not change the character of the neighborhood. It's the job of the County Services, like FilmLA's, to try to strike a fair balance between the right of a property owner to rent and the right of the neighbors to live without onerous intrusion. They are obliged to address your issues.

      Regarding the electrical safety issue... It's quite likely that no representative from the County will have the necessary expertise to make an expert assessment of an electical safety issue. However, we understand that safety issues, like one you described, is a concern Cal/OSHA. If there's a similar incident, don't hesitate to contact them. Here's a link to their contact page:

      Hope this was some help. If there's an addition question or comment, please send it along.