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Showing posts with label Surveys. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Surveys. Show all posts

June 23, 2018

The Data Chase (part 3): "The scrape"

——Continued from The Data Chase (part 2)——

The good folks a Jassy, Vick and Carolan (JVC ) could no long support us.  In our last communication, JVC  speculated that a backup of the database for the Online Permit System (OPS) could be a public record.  There was little doubt the back up existed and it would hold the data in an electronic form we could use.

We drafted another CPRA request, but were reluctant to proceed without a review from an expert.  Once again we were shopping for pro bono help.

We revisited the First Amendment Coalition (FAC) website for references to other firms with CPRA expertise. We sent an inquiry to every firm they listed in the LA area. Our only reply was a polite reminder from an attorney who had already turned us down. We had hit a dead end.

Then our luck changed.

I was having beers at Der Wolfskopf in Pasadena with an old friend who had given up engineering for law and community activism. I was rattling on about the state of our data collection project. He listened carefully and made a referral. He had seen an attorney make a dazzling, open-records appeal to the Orange County Board of Supervisors. Her name was Kelly Aviles.

We sent Ms. Aviles an inquiry. Her response was immediate; she was willing to hear more. We arranged a call. She was inspiring. Not only did she have confidence in the legitimacy of our request, she was quick to grasp the essentials, convincing in reply, and firm in her analysis. She agreed to review our letter.

On February 15, we sent our third,  CPRA request to FilmL.A.  This one was strongly worded.  We were asking for the "electronic data in the format in which it is held, in this case, the raw data held in the Online Permit System database."

We received the following reply dated February 28th:
We have received and reviewed your latest CPRA request with legal counsel and reiterate that, other than where contractually obligated to treat final permits as public records, Film L.A., Inc. is a private organization and not subject to the California Public Records Act. Our technology systems (Online Permit System) is proprietary and recognized as such in our municipal contract. Data within the system to fulfill our obligation to generate the final permit (all of which would occur during a "draft" stage or stages) may or may not become part of the final released or rejected permit. This data is not, at any rate, the final permit which would be recognized as the public record in our possession and for which we are required to respond to CPRA requests. Our municipal clients have only limited access to OPS through a communications link and not the database or its data. In addition OPS includes information that is internal to the organization and not our municipal clients. The public records we hold (final permits) are available in electronic format and access to those records has been provided to you.b

Excerpt from letter signed by Paul Audley, President of FilmL.A.

Audley's offer of access to the OPS system was as unappealing as ever, but this reply, more than the others, seemed to be laying a legal groundwork. The CPRA stipulates that records with proprietary information are not a public record. It also says that records created during a contract development period is not a public record until the contract is awarded.  Audley seemed to be suggesting that a draft permit was not a public record because it was a contract in development. In other words, if the database held proprietary information or if permits were like contracts, then the OPS database might not be a public record and FilmL.A. might have a basis for a denial.

Were his assertions true?  Were they grounds for denial?

The argument about draft permits as contracts seemed easily overcome. We need only to request a backup version dated a few months back so that any draft permits would not longer be "in development."

Audley's claim that FilmL.A. was not subject to the CPRA because it was private and  because the database held proprietary data might be a dubious.   In an early email, a FAC attorney had advised us that if "...FilmLA was created by the city and county to perform the government function of approving filming permits...then FilmLA should be subject to the CPRA and would have to comply with a records request..." In fact FilmL.A. was created by LA City and LA County for the purpose of replacing services previously provided by City and County Departments. In fact nearly all their operating funds are derived from film permit fees, film field services and school film licenses — all revenues previously charged and collected by local government.

We consulted with Aviles. She was dismissive of Audley's claims and confident that, in the end, our request would succeed. But, she drew the same conclusion that JVC had drawn: FilmL.A. would not provide the records without a writ from the Court. There was no point in continuing to send our informal CPRA letters. To proceed, we would need to raise funds for legal fees and court costs.

We requested feedback from a group interested friends and colleagues who had been following our progress. Did they think we should initiate a GoFundMe initiative to raise the needed funds? The response was very positive. So positive in fact, we had secured enough pledges to pay for the first legal step before we even opened a GoFundMe account.

That was a tipping point.

Before committing to an expensive legal process, we owed to ourselves to take a closer look at the approach Audley had repeatedly offered. Perhaps we could we get the data from the OPS system.  Perhaps it was realistic to capture, or scrape, all the documents from the OPS system and extract the data from them.

I contacted a few old software development colleagues for some pointers. The download could be automated. The software we needed was free and in widespread use by web developers. The download process could be run on no-cost services available from Amazon and Google. The decoding would require some programming. The programming tools were free.

In February I did some investigation and ran some preliminary tests.  FilmL.A. permits have a regular structure; there was a decent chance decoding would work. I timed the download process; the OPS system was slow and the system was restarted every night.  We could down load from four to a dozen documents a minute.  There were about 180,000 documents on the site. The scrape was possible, but would would take a month. Programming the decoder would take a couple weeks. Fixing bugs and correcting for anomalies would take a few more weeks. The project to scrape the data from the OPS system seemed feasible.

I discussed the project with Steve. He agreed that we should try the scrape before starting the legal process.

I began the Scrape Project during the last week of February.   My programming estimate was off by half, but we had a credible data set in early May. After all the hubbub, we  had what we had requested: the data we needed to estimate the untaxed income from location-filming rentals in the Los Angeles region.

Here's a few details about the data we collected in Scrape Project:
  • Jurisdictions covered: City of LA, LA County, plus 15 municipalities in the regionthat have contracted for FilmL.A.'s services
  • Jurisdictions not covered: Burbank, Glendale, Pasadena, plus numerous other municipalities in the region
  • Years covered in the data: Q2 2008 through Q1 2018
  • Total number of permits downloaded and decoded: 180,435
  • Total number of times locations were approved for filming: 335,713
  • Total number of permitted on-location, production days including prep, filming and strike: 913,2951
  • Each data record includes the following values:
    • Permit number
    • Production company
    • Production title
    • Location manager
    • Jurisdiction
    • Prep dates
    • Film dates
    • Strike dates
    • Total production days (sum prep, film and strike days)
    • Year
    • Permit type (commercial, feature, still, etc.)
    • Location address
    • Zip code
    • Location type (e.g. private property, park, parking lot, etc.)
In the coming weeks, we plan to make the data set publicly available. Similarly, we will make the permit decoder source code available.

From the start, our effort to obtain and analyze filming permit data was motivated by a desire to understand the amount of revenue that passed through an exception in the IRS and FTB tax codes. It was our thought that, if the amount was sufficiently large, a local tax might generate funds that would provide significant benefit to underfunded government programs that assist the disadvantaged.

An initial estimate, based on filming in Altadena, appeared to suggest that the untaxed revenues in the LA Region might be as much as $200 million per year. It was thought that if the estimate was accurate, a tax rate comparable to the Transit Occupancy Tax might generate as much as $20 million dollars for underfunded local programs.

We used the scraped data to develop a more credible estimate. Based on that data, it appears the estimate of $200 million per year was much too high. A more reasonable estimate for tax-free, film-rental income in the LA region appear to be between $50-60 million per year. Assuming a transit-occupancy tax rate, the estimated tax proceeds would be $5-6 million per year. Well short of the estimated $20 million per year that originally motivated this study.2

In retrospect, we should have started the Scrape Project months before we did. We did not need to occupy the energies of those public spirited attorneys nor the people of FilmL.A, although we would have hoped that a public agency would be helpful. However, we now have the data and it speaks for itself.

1 The number was not scrubbed for errors in the original permit.  For example, in a dozen or so cases, the original permit may show a start date in 2015 and end date in 2016 adding 300 days to the total.  Consequently, the number of production days may be inflated by a few thousand or less than 0.10%.
2 A informal report that explains the basis of this estimate is available on request.

June 20, 2018

The Data Chase (part 2): "Access to public records"

——Continued from "The Data Chase (part 1)——

When my friend Bill suggested we use the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to obtain the filming permit data, I was annoyed. We had no funds for a lawyer and life is too short to become one. For no other reason to prove the FOIA was simply too much trouble, I googled around for some quick answers that would put the matter to rest.

It didn't work out that way. A two-minute read of Wikipedia turned up this inspiring excerpt from a 1986 California Supreme Court :

I got a pang of civic duty that I would later regret. If we could get the data, if we identified a source of revenue that helped the disadvantage, maybe we could do some good.

I called a friend who had recently retired from the Department of Justice.

"The first thing you need to know," she said, "the FOIA doesn't apply to California. It's just for federal agencies. You want the California Public Records Act. The second thing you need to know... go to the the LA Law Library. "The librarians are very helpful."

So they were. I was soon pouring over Terry Franke's invaluable reference Public Records and Private Information in California. f you should find yourself in the unfortunate position of needing access to public records in California, get this book!

The right of Californians to access public records goes back 150 years. The first statute ensuring access to public records was passed in 1872. An update was passed in 1953, but that bill was vetoed by Earl Warren. It took another 15 years before 1968, Ronald Reagan signed the current statute into law.

The California Public Records Act (CPRA) begins with this:
"In enacting this chapter, the Legislature...declares that access to information concerning the conduct of the people’s business is a fundamental and necessary right of every person in this state."
(CPRA section 6250)
In addition to guaranteeing every Californian the right to access state, county and city public records, the CPRA also provides provisions that compel the government to help satisfy a request.

Here's a paraphrase what the law provides:
When a member of the public requests a public record, the public agency...shall do all of the following:
(1) Assist the public identify records and information that are responsive to the request
(2) Describe the information technology and physical location in which the records exist
(3) Provide suggestions for overcoming any practical basis for denying access"
The CPRA does stipulate that a public agency may deny access to requested records are proprietary or impact privacy. However, if a CPRA request is denied, a citizen may appeal the denial to the Court for a writ of mandamus that forces the agency to provide the records. If the appeal succeeds, the agency is responsible for all legal costs.

There's teeth in the CPRA.

Were FilmL.A.'s permits public records? We did not know for certain.

I returned to Google for additional help. I found two California non-profits whose missions were to help citizens obtain public records: the First Amendment Coalition (FAC) and CalAware. I started with FAC. They offer an 'inquiry hotline. I sent an inquiry to FAC asking if FilmL.A. and their data were subject to the CPRA. To my amazement, the answer came quickly.
From what I understand, FilmLA was created by the city and county to perform the government function of approving filming permits. If that is the case then FilmLA should be subject to the CPRA and would have to comply with a records request, including any requirements described below to, for example, provide records to you in the format in which they exist. Also, the CPRA requires the agency to assist you in making a focused and effective request that reasonably describes identifiable records.

from an associate at FAC's general counsel, Brian Cave LLP
I forwarded the FAC email to Steve. "Great news," he replied. "We need legal advice."

I returned to the FAC site. They offer a slate of attorneys who specialize in first amendment and public access issues. I emailed three firms in the LA area. We received a promising reply from the LA firm of Jassy, Vick and Carolan (JVC). We sent along some documentation and arranged a call.
They were reassuring. They speculated we had a strong case. It seemed likely we would be successful.

With some very helpful guidance from JVC, we drafted a CPRA letters to FilmLA and LA City with supporting citations from the statute and a reminder that, under the CPRA, they are required to help us obtain the records. The letter was carefully worded. We wanted to ensure that FilmL.A. would not misunderstand this request. On July 21st, we sent the letters and crossed our fingers.

Four days later, we received the following response from Paul Audley, President of FilmL.A.
"We do not have a report in the format you described in your CPRA request. However, permit information is available electronically through our Online Permit System ."
Excerpt from letter signed by Paul Audley, President of FilmL.A.
While Audley's response removed any doubt that the FilmL.A. permits were public records, his reply was disappointing. The assertion that they they did not have a report in the format we requested seemed disingenuous. We had already received data from them in the very form we had requested. Perhaps Mr. Audley wasn't aware of the capabilities of his organization. But, the recommendation that we get the data from their Online Permit System (OPS) was less than helpful.

For our purpose, the OPS had two significant drawbacks. The FilmL.A. OPS only allows a user to download one permit file at a time. OPS held over 130,000 permits. There was a bigger problem. OPS stores permit data as pdf documents 1. A pdf document is like a sheet of paper, the information cannot be loaded in to statistic program. To do the analysis, we would have to be copy out the data from each separate permit into a form, like a spreadsheet, that could be loaded into an analysis application. Audley's offer to get the data from OPS seemed like no offer at all.

We sought advice from JVC and drafted another CPRA letter with a reminder that had already sent us the data in the form we requested. To ensure that Audley knew our claim wasn't a fabrication, we cited the February letter we had received from David Howard, Assistant Chief Executive Officer for LA County. "At our request, FiImLA has undertaken a review of their database and has provided responsive documentation in an electronic format..." We included a link to the spreadsheets in the hope that we could eliminate any doubt that FilmL.A. had the data we requested.

We send our letter on September 5, 2017. On September 11, we received the following reply.
"The records you refer to from January 2017 were "ad hoc" reports....They were not standard reports or records that are produced by Film L.A. for our client jurisdictions. Many of the data fields listed in the request from January could not be retrieved after many hours of work by our IT staff. Under the California Public Records Act, we a re not required to create reports that are not generated by us...We do not have the customized reports you requested."
Excerpt from letter signed by Paul Audley, President of FilmL.A.
We puzzled over Audley's response. We knew that the data existed because the OPS generated the pdf documents from the underlying electronic data. Was the denial based on a willful ignorance? Were FilmL.A.'s technical capabilities really that limited? Without doubt the data existed in some electronic form that did not require customization. If nothing else, the database backup files would have the data we were requesting. Surely, FilmL.A. backed up the OPS database — no competent IT organization would fail to make backups of the organization's data.

We once again sought JVC's advice. They were frank. The writing was on the wall. While it appeared that a back-up file might be subject to a CPRA request, it had become clear to JVC that FilmL.A. was not willing to help. In order to succeed, we would have to go to court. But JVC felt our case might not be clear cut. It could be difficult to convince a court that the OPS data did not meet the intent of the CPRA. Given those circumstances, JVC felt they were no longer able to provide us with guidance. We thanked JVC profusely for all that they had done. That had been very generous. We had been more-than-a-little lucky to capture their attention.

We were back where we started.

I was mulling over our options when I received an email from my friend Mary who had been supportive of our project. Mary is an executive at foundation that supports low-cost housing projects. Mary had been meeting Doug Baron, the Manager of the Office of Economic Development and Homelessness in LA County's CEO office. The County's Film Liaison had just been moved into Mr. Baron's Division.

"I think you should meet Doug," she said. "I told him I had a friend working on a project based on filming permit data. He was aware of you. 'You mean that crackpot from JPL?' I told him you were no crackpot, but a serious person that he should meet."

With Mary's help, Steve and I met Mr. Baron on November 1st. Gary Smith, the new Film Liaison for LA County attended the meeting. Both men were very hospitable We discussed our project, the potential we saw and our efforts to date. They seemed genuinely interested. We explained why we believed FilmL.A. held the data in the form we requested. We asked for their help. As we left they agreed to make inquiries on our behalf.

We heard nothing for a couple weeks. Then, just before Thanksgiving, we received a terse note from Gary Smith. "After double checking, we are not able to provide you with the data you seek in the format you've requested." After the warm reception at that November 1st meeting, the note struck us as dismissive. We had hoped to hear more than a summary denial. It wasn't to be.

Just before the Christmas break, I met Steve for lunch to discuss next steps. It had been almost a year since we began the project and we appeared to be out of options.

"Time to give up the ghost or try to find another attorney?" I asked.

"We should try," he said.

It was a good thing, because our luck was about to change.

—— To be continued ——

1Portable Document Format (pdf) is an internal standard for representing documents in an electronic format.

June 12, 2018

The Data Chase (part 1): "Learning the ropes"

The following three-part story recounts a 14-month effort to obtain public records from FilmL.A. Some names have been changed to ensure privacy.

It was a couple days after Christmas. 2017 was days away. I was having lunch with my friend Steve. Steve is a community-spirited fellow with a heart of gold and the kind of integrity you'd wish our public officials exhibited. The sort of person you can admire, but not successfully emulate.

"I'm writing to let you know that FilmL.A. is unable to fill
your request for...ZIP codes 91001 and 91104.
Our permit system is not set up to generate filming
reports with complex geographic boundaries..."
We were discussing the tax loophole for film-location rentals. The loophole exempts film hosts from paying tax on film-rental income while allowing film companies to deduct these rental fees from their bottom line.

In a previous posting, I had estimated that, in LA County, perhaps as much as $200 million a year was paid out as untaxed rental income. It was an 'iffy' estimate. It relied on very incomplete data and a lot of assumptions. I had made numerous requests for additional data, but FilmL.A. turned them all down. I had long since given up.

"Just think," I told Steve, "a 10% tax on $200 million might raise $20 million a year for an underfunded government program -- like something for the homeless."

"What if that estimate was right?" He asked. "What then?"

"Maybe somebody tries to get a tax measure on the ballot," I hypothesized.

"I think we should do it," he replied.

"And what if that estimate is wrong? There are a lot of assumptions."

"Let's find out. Let's get the actual data," he said.

That's how the saga of our endeavor to acquire FilmL.A. filming-permit data began.

The relevant loophole language appears in IRS Publication 527. The text gets right to the point:
"If you use a dwelling unit as a home and you rent it less than 15 days during the year, its primary function isn’t considered to be rental and it shouldn’t be reported on Schedule E (Form 1040). You aren’t required to report the rental income and rental expenses from this activity."
Simple enough. Rent your home for less that 15 days and you do not need to report or pay tax on that rental income.1 So, in order to calculate a credible estimate of of the rental-income that zooms through the loophole in Los Angeles every year, we only needed the total number of annual days that film companies rented from each home owner. As luck would have it, the FilmL.A. permits include all the information we needed to arrive at that figure.

Each FilmL.A. permit provides the location address as well as the dates approved for production2. The permit also includes a designation for a "location type." Applicants are asked to choose from 159 different location types: banks and bakeshops, parks and parking lots, tattoo shops and tennis clubs to name a few. Fortunately, one of the listed location types is "Private Residence." Put it together and there is precisely the information required to match the IRS tax-free film-rental requirement. Once we had the number of days, we could produce an credible estimate for the size of the tax loophole by simply multiplying by typical location-rental fees.

Shortly after 2016 holiday season, Steve wrote a letter requesting the data. The letter was sent to Anthony Nyivih, the LA County Official listed as the manager of the FilmL.A. contract. Steve requested three years of data that included the location address, location type and a few other data points so we could disambiguate any duplicate street names. He asked for it in an electronic format. And, believing that he could appeal to Mr. Nyivih's better nature by telling him about our worthy cause, Steve wrote:
"We believe that the tax rules may provide an opportunity to realize a source of badly needed funds to address the homeless problem. The filming permit data is necessary to confirm the benefits of this opportunity."
The letter was sent on January 12th. A week later Mr. Nyivih, called. He wanted to help, but did not fully understand our request. He suggested we discuss our request with FilmL.A. — that way, they could accurately respond. He offered to set up a meeting. I could hardly believe my ears; FilmL.A. was going to help.

That meeting never happened.

On February 2nd, Steve received an email from the County with three pdf attachments. Each file was a printout of a spreadsheet that held a year's worth of permit data.

The email was a a serious disappointment. Pdf files can not be loaded into a statistics program. We had no easy way to analyze the data. There was a bigger problem. The data was incomplete. They had only included figures for the unincorporated areas of LA County -- about 10% of the what we needed. Worse, the data did not include all the production dates or location type. On top of that, nearly all the zip codes had been removed for the location addresses. We had data, but we could not use it to generate an estimate the size of the loophole. It was as if someone in the County wanted to stymie our attempt to calculate an estimate.

Steve, who is not easily deterred, reached out to Mr. Nyivih and requested the spreadsheets and the additional data. On February 6th, Steve received the requested spreadsheets and the following memo from David Howard, Assistant Chief Executive Officer for LA County.

Mr. Howard wrote:
"As you are aware, FiImLA is the County’s contractor coordinating the issuance of film permits. At our request, FiImLA has undertaken a review of their database and has provided responsive documentation in an electronic format...Note that FiImLA does not have an electronic record of the location manager, or prep dates and strike dates. Additionally, the term “location type” is unclear..."
In time we learned that, for the past ten-years, every filming permit issued by FilmL.A. was assigned a location type and all but a small fraction of a percent included a zip code. However, we did not need all that data to know someone at the County or FilmL.A were shading the truth. A cursory glance at any FilmL.A permit by was proof enough that they had the data we had asked for. We were being stonewalled.

For the next few weeks Steve made repeated attempts to reach Mr. Howard and renew our request. He never received a reply.

In retrospect, we had made several mistakes. The request for data in an electronic form was not specific enough. We should have asked for the data in a form that could be loaded into a spreadsheet application. We did not understand that our request for LA County data would only produce data for unincorporated areas of the County. We needed data for the entire County. We did not think to specifically request that the location addresses include a zip code. Finally, we did not say that our request was based on information that appeared on approved filming permits. If anyone had looked, the meaning of "location type" would have been abundantly clear.  Live and learn.

A month passed. I was having lunch at our usual Deli with my retired friends Bill and Gary. They understood how government bureaucracies and special interests operated. They had made their living offering guidance to left-leaning politicians.

Our conversation drifted over every gloomy topic coming out of Washington. In spirit of gloomy topics, I delivered a play-by-play of how the County had rebuffed our efforts to get the data needed to estimate the tax loophole.

Bill shook his head and gestured with disbelief. "Didn't you try a the Freedom of Information Act Request?"

I shrugged. It never occurred to me.

"Well you should," he said.

Neither Steve nor I had known it, but we had already made our first public records act request. We knew nothing of Freedom of Information Act. We were about to learn.

—— To be continued ——

1 Important note to filming hosts: be sure your 1099 lists your income in the "rents" box.
2 Filming permits include the type of production days: prep days, filming days and strike days. Each type of production days represents a potential IRS rental day.

April 16, 2016

Survey of Homewood neighbors after April 6, 2016 film shoot

I’ve compiled a report based on the Post-Shoot Survey results of the April 6, 2016 Interrogate Productions shoot of a B of A commercial. The report includes an analysis of neighbor responses to questions about the shoot.

The click here to access the report.

All Post-Shoot Survey results are available on the Neighborhood Survey Results page.

Suggestions, comments and corrections are welcome.

March 10, 2016

Somewhat nerdy explanation of how the Altadena Filming Permit Map was created

I've received several questions about how the Altadena Permit Map was created. This post will explain how it came about and how it was done.

There's a lot of filming on our block. Some neighbors have said it's overused. I wondered, "Are they right? How much filming actually goes on here? Can overuse be quantified?"

According to the LA County ordinance about filming permits, FilmLA is supposed to “develop records, reports, and statistical data, including but not limited to … types, and number of permits, … and area filming schedules." Since these would be public records, I thought, "why not ask for the data."

In early July 2015, I requested the data for 91001 zip code from Arturo Pina of FilmLA. Without hesitation, Arturo promised to deliver the data, but that it would take a few weeks.

Weeks turned to months. I pestered Arturo with nearly a dozen requests for the data. Finally, at the end of October, I received a spreadsheet. The data on that spreadsheet was woefully incomplete. It included just 100 permits for the three years span from July 2012 to July 2015. Several known permits were missing and that number was suspiciously low since it would imply there was but 1 shoot in Altadena every 3 weeks. When the missing data was called to his attention, Arturo was apologetic. He explained that the FilmLA IT department was not very capable and they had difficulty producing data for the 91001 area code. However, he said, they were continuing to work on it.

Bear in mind that FilmLA is no shoestring operation. Their 2014 annual revenues were nearly $11M. The FilmLA president earns over $300K (with benefits). They have nearly 100 employees. You would figure that an data-dependent organization that size would have competent database expertise. Apparently not. (Which would seemingly be a concern to LA County auditors.)

More months pass...

A couple weeks ago, when I was building this website, I went to the Altadena Town Council Site, to find the link that now appears on the contact page. Out of curiosity, I clicked on the Altadena census tract map and there, appearing as a 'related' map, was the very map I'd been requesting from FilmLA. Random luck!

Through a process I'll explain below, I extracted the data from that FilmLA map. There were over 1,400 permits listed for 21012-15. A much more credible number than 100. The new data seemed complete. I verified the data by checking a dozen known entries. This new data seem reliable. Afterall, there could only be one source. Only FilmLA has that data.

I build the current map using both the October data and this new data.

I sent this new map to Arturo who confirmed it was FilmLA data. (Note: the FilmLA map has now been removed from public access. Apparently that map was made public in error, otherwise it would surely still be available.)

Building the new map
You can extract the data for any google map as a .kml file. You need only click on the 3-dot menu in legend and select "download KML."

A KML file is an XML file that describes map decorations like boundaries, names, locations, etc. Both Google Maps or Google Earth understand KML. (In fact it's become something of an industry standard.) And since it's an XML file, the KML can be understood and loaded into Excel. There are also a numerous websites that offer tools for converting addresses to lat/lon data (i.e. Latitude/Longitude.) No special tools are required.

Once I had the KML file I was able to determine the data included 1435 entries. Each entry included a location name, a lat/lon position, and the name of the project. The data did not include dates or the permit ID. (It worth noting that the October data included dates, permit ID, type of shoot, product company and production title)

My goal was to create a map that identified the number of permits and the permitted projects for each location and place them on google map. However, the data is messy. FilmLA uses different names for the same location. For example "2000 Acme Drive" and "2000 Acme Dr." would show up as two separate locations. Consequently, a pivot table query would result multiple entries for one location and an inaccurate picture of how many shoots occurred in a single location. In addition, about 100 entries lacked lat/lon data. Finally, Excel doesn't provide a convenient mechanism for consolidating a list of project names after the the location variants had been consolidated.

I solved the consolidation issue by using the lat/lon value instead of the location name. This was not perfect because it relied on FilmLA's consistent usage of a lat/lon tool. The result was decent. Consolidating by name resulted in about 441 unique locations; consolidating by lat/long resulted in 387 unique locations. My first step was to fill in the missing lat/lon data (an annoying 2-hour process). I then did the consolidation calculation in a programing language called R which made it easy to collect all the project names for each unique location into a single text entry. While I was at it, I included a few calculations like location ranking (#1 has the most permits) and percentage of the entire sample at a single location. (#1 was responsible for 12% of the 1,400+ permits.) I wrote out the results from R to a .csv file (comma-separated-values) which could be directly loaded into Google Maps.

Once in Google Maps, I was used their features to add heat map" like icons to make map easier to interpret. A nice feature of Google Maps is that when you click on an icon, you will see the 'name', 'number permits issued' and 'project names' for that location. In addition, if you click on the icon in the legend, you'll see all the locations that correspond to that icon. For example, if you click on the caret (^) next to each legend category, you'll see a list of project associated with each icon.

What's on the Map

In addition to the icons that represent each permitted filming location in Altadena, the map include the following:

I obtained the Altadena boundary data from the County planning website. I obtained the 91001 boundary information for the US Government Census site. I used Google earth to build boundary polygons for both the "Special Filming Condition neighborhoods and the filming areas. The Google Earth polygons and some meta data associated with each polygon was exported to a KML file and loaded into Google Maps.

What are the filming areas? In some cases FilmLA issues a permit that covers an area like "Lake from Altadena Drive to New York Drive." The October data set was almost entirely made of these filming areas. (Here's a link to document with a more detailed description of the "film areas")

Final note
The data from the FilmLA map may have bugs. I've requested more information about how the map was produced. I've also requested an update with additional meta data. No word so far except for reassurances from Arturo that "they are working on it."

If anyone would like more detail, please ask using the comment area below to ask.

Update:April 25, 2016
We have received a reply from FilmLA's VP for Integrated Communications, Philip Sokoloski. He has determined that FilmLA does not have the resources to filming permit data based on zip codes. Mr. Sokoloski has said they will "seek direction" from the supervisor's office to determine "what information FilmL.A. should assemble regarding on‐location filming."  Meanwhile they are "unable to accommodate [my] request..."

Update: January 3, 2017
In 2016, FilmLA did not no follow-up on the promise to 'seek direction.'  It appears that FilmLA did not act in good faith and does not intend to make filming permit data available.

March 2, 2016

Altadena Film Permit Map updated

The Altadena film permit map has been updated.

The map update fixes the following problems in the old map:
  • The count of locations in the old map did not account for different spellings of an address. For example, a "123 Lake Drive" and "123 Lake Dr." previously appeared as different locations. The updated map is uses location data (latitude/longitude) so each location icon is unique. As a result, the duplicates were eliminated and the number of locations was reduced nearly 20%
  • The list of productions is now available with each map icon. Click on the icon and you'll see what was shot there.

Any comments or suggestions about the updated map are welcome!

April 30, 2016 update

Bad news/Good news from FilmLA. We received a note from FilmLA's VP of Integrated Communications. They do not have the IT resources to generate a dataset on filming in Altadena. However, they will seek out direction from our Supervisors and LA County planning to determine what the kind of data they should provide about on-location shooting. This new effort on the part of FilmLA seems very encouraging and we appreciate their willingness to check with the County.

July 29, 2018 update

We have created a new filming map based on LA County film permit data.  Here's the link:

February 15, 2016

Altadena Permit Map (2012-15)

Since last summer I've been requesting film permit data from FilmLA. As luck would have it, I stumbled across an online map with the data I've been requesting. (I wasn't even looking!) I don't know who produced it or where it came from, but after a bit of checking, it seems very credible. 

Using data from this map, I created a new map.  This new map shows the filming permits that have been issued to Altadena locations from 2012 to 2015.  Here's a link to this new map: 

A few statistics from the 2012-2015 permit data:
Note:  It appears that permit data south of New York Drive is missing.
  • Total permits listed: 1435 
  • Permits were issued to 441 unique locations (note the actual number is closer to 400 because FilmLA does not use consistent names.)  
  • On average, 478 permits are issued on Altadena each year or about 10 permits per week. 
  • 35% of the permits were issued to 3%  of locations (13 locations were issued 508 permits)
  • 96% of all permits were issued to locations who received less than 4 permits/year
  • 163 permits were issued to Altadena Cemetery 
  • 54 permits were issued to the old Woodbury house 
  • 51 permits were issued to St Elizabeth Church 
Here's a link to a document that summarizes all permits/location: 

Here's a link to document that lists of all productions by name: 

If you have Google Earth, you can get a better view. Here's a .kmz file: 

Any comments, suggestions or corrections are welcome!

Want to see the original map?  CLICK HERE.  Don't be surprised if the link gets busted.  The data may have been posted by mistake.

January 26, 2016

Survey results for January 13-15 film shoot on Homewood

I've compiled the survey results for the recent Homewood Neighborhood survey. We asked neighbors for feedback on the 1/13-15 Eliquis commercial shoot by Humble Productions. 

The full report with the underlying data is available at 

Here's the executive summary: 

On January 13-15, 2016, Humble (Productions) conducted a three-day shoot (including prep/shoot/strike) for an Eliquis commercial. The neighborhood was not properly notified of the shoot. There were several reports that parking conditions were not met and not enforced by the onsite CHP officer. Four out of twelve neighbors described the filming a “major” or “significant” intrusion. The intrusions and lax permit enforcement may contribute to the result that half the respondents report that Homewood is overused as a spot for on-location filming. 

Comments, corrections and suggestions are welcome. To comment, click on this link:

All comments will be publicly accessible and will be added updated versions of the report.

December 26, 2015

Survey results for recent film shoot on Homewood

On December 14-16, 2015, Reset Content, LLC conducted a three day shoot (including prep/shoot/strike) for a Chase commercial. 

The permit for this shoot was issued by FilmLA in violation of the Homewood Special Filming Conditions. About half the respondents reported that filming conditions were met, but none reported that the filming disrupted their activities. One finding of note: neighbors were nearly evenly split on the questions over “Approval of film shoots on Homewood” and “Is the neighborhood is overused for on-location film shoots?” The response is highly correlated to proximity to the shoot. 

The full report with the underlying data is available at 

Comments, corrections and suggestions are welcome. 
Happy holidays to all!

October 20, 2015

Results of Neighborhood Survey for 10/1-7/2016 film shoot on Homewood

The Homewood neighborhood survey the October 1-7,2015 film shoot  is complete and a report is available. Here's the report summary: 

"In the past, the Homewood/Porter neighborhood has been subject to overuse as a film-shoot location. In a recent film shoot, the film-shoot hosts took several unusual steps to address neighbor concerns neighbors about disruptions to neighborhood peace and quiet. After the shoot, a brief survey was taken to poll neighbors’ opinions about the shoot. A large majority found a very low incidence of disruptive factors. However, a minority did find the filming an intrusive disruption." 

Based on the success of this film shoot, this report includes several recommendations for accommodating both those that support film shoots and those who object to them. It also includes recommendations for both FilmLA and our local government.” 

The full report with supporting data is available online. Here's the link: 

Comments on the report are welcome and may be entered on the Homewood Blog at the link below. All comments will be publicly accessible.