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December 2, 2017

Down in the weeds looking at permit fees

Keeping film jobs in LA is a source of recurring concern for our local officials. Filming advocates are often quick to point out the importance of incentives — otherwise film producers might just pick up their jobs and run off to Georgia, New York or or, goodness gracious, the other LA! (i.e. Louisiana)

It wasn't so long ago, we heard a LA County official assert that Altadena was an attractive filming location because of the permits fees were the lowest in the region. While this might not represent a majority view among our officials, it seemed a topic worth a bit of noodling.

In a previous posting, we had surveyed the cost of filming permits and related fees for Altadena and a few other communities in LA County. We discovered that fees for filming in Altadena1 were actually among the most expensive in the region. We recently updated our fee survey with data for Altadena, Pasadena, La Canada, Burbank and Santa Clarita. (Click here to see that data.) Here's what we found:
  • Highest permit fee: Pasadena has the most expensive filming permits. Altadena is a close second. Permit fees for either Pasadena and Altadena are more than twice as much as any of the other communities surveyed.
  • Highest notification fees (door hangers): Altadena
  • Highest monitoring fees: Altadena
  • Most expensive law officer: Arcadia
  • Most expensive fire review: Altadena and Santa Clarita
  • Most expensive fire safety officer: Arcadia
  • Most expensive use of public right of way: La Canada
  • Most expensive permit violation fees: Pasadena (only Pasadena lists fees for permit violation)
Surprisingly, the cost of a filming permit in Altadena may not only among the most expensive in the region, it may be among the most expensive in the nation.

Last March the LA County CEO submitted a report to the County Supervisors that compared the cost of filming permits in LA to the permit costs in 10 other cities. The result: filming permits in LA were far and away the most expensive. (The data from the CEO's report is summarized in a table at the end of this posting.)

It's safe to say permits in Altadena are no bargain. Is this a problem? Do high permit fees hinder job growth? Is there any relation between filming permit cost and filming activity?

To test these questions we used an unscientific sampling method (close eyes, move-mouse, click) to pick five filming permits from November 2010 and another five filming permits from November 2017.2 We then compared the selected samples for cost differences by squinting sideways with one eye to determine if there was a huge difference. While this approach may not be statistically representative, it is surely illustrative. There is no apparent difference — the cost of a filming permits has remained quite steady in the $2K to $10K range. (The tables for the 2010 and 2017 permit costs appear at the bottom of this posting.)

30% growth in Shoot days 2010-2016
We then compared filming activity in 2010 to filming activity in 2016 using 'shoot day' data from FilmLA's quarterly reports. It appears that filming activity increased 30%; during those 7 years.

In other words, filming jobs seem to be growing apace in the LA despite the high permit fees. 

No surprise. The cost crew travel fees would quickly offset any savings that might be earned by traveling out of the area to get a cheaper filming permit. In other words, the high cost of a filming permit in LA does not seem any more impact on jobs in the film business than than the growing pile of junk in our garage has on the rotation of the earth.  We can rest easy on both scores.

Supporting Data

Comparisons of filming permit cost in LA to other cities

LANYAtlantaChicagoNew Orleans
Application fee$660$300$100$25/location$0
Fire safety officer$163/hr$210/hr$280 (8h)$5/hr
Law Officer$134-84/hrtraffic control $0$40/hr
Comparison of costs between CitiesSource: Memo to LA County supervisors from LA County CEO

Comparison of 2010 filming permit costs to 2017 filming permit costs
Arbitrarily selected examples of filming permit fees in November 2017
Permit #1Permit #2Permit #3Permit #4Permit #5
Application fee660660660660660
Notification charge42492656656164
Fire review282282282
Fire safety officer3,570
Road inspection346346
Road application157157
Fire Dept. spot check858585
Special effects permit288
Road encroachment permit286312286
Total permit cost1,2722,5182,26811,8641,895
2017 example permit fees
Arbitrarily selected examples of filming permit fees in November 2010
Permit #1Permit #2Permit #3Permit #4Permit #5
Application fee525625625625625
Notification charge1,180540465955
Fire review10410410485
Fire safety officer1,792
Law officer4001,669
Road inspection
Road application5252
Fire Dept. spot check8585
Special effects permit
Road encroachment permit624305610312
Total permit cost9,5821,0861,9313,1956,072
2010 example permit fees

Note: According to the County CEO, 'review fees' pay for the staff time need to review a filming permit application and 'service fees' recover the personnel cost need to support filming.

1 The filming permit fees are the same for all unincorporated communities in LA County. Fees are determined by the LA County Supervisors
2 Student filming permits were excluded. While student filming may be key to developing a work force for the film industry, it does not figure to be a significant source of those well-paid film industry jobs.

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