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'90210' Crew: Return To Sender : Television: Hermosa Beach residents file a suit against the city to block filming. Officials say the case exemplifies why producers are pulling out of California, draining the state of needed revenue.

July 29, 1993|TED JOHNSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

For three seasons, producers of the Fox series "Beverly Hills 90210" just added a few BMWs and clean-cut students to masquerade the exterior of Torrance High School as fictitious West Beverly High.

Now they're at it again, this time in neighboring Hermosa Beach, which will mock as an unidentified, hip beach town where three of the show's college-bound characters will rent oceanfront digs.

But this attempt to create another trendy locale has hit a snag: Real-world neighbors have pulled the welcome mat.

Earlier this month, as the crew shot at the site with series stars Tori Spelling (Donna), Brian Austin Green (David) and Jennie Garth (Kelly), a Hermosa resident tried to block an ocean-view shot by boating offshore and displaying a banner that read: "Go Home, Tori."

And a group of residents, led by an attorney from Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan's former law firm, has filed suit against the city to block further filming at an apartment house on the Strand. They're bitter over the onslaught of a production crew, and with it heavy equipment, more noise and fewer parking spaces. Not to mention fans of the show's stars.

"Our question to the city is: Should residents be subjected to this type of heavy activity?" said resident Jim Hamilton, an attorney with Riordan & McKinzie. "The city, in order to generate more revenue, is forgetting about zoning ordinances."

State film officials, however, consider this more than a Not-in-My-Backyard hassle. They call it a case study of just why producers have been packing their bags and shooting on location in other states and Canada, draining Southern California of one of its last thriving industries.

"(The protest) is coming from residents who are not thinking globally or thinking of Southern California," said Patti Archuletta, director of the California Film Commission. "The cachet of California, the lifestyle, is fueled by this industry."

The dispute comes just as efforts are underway to create a South Bay Film Commission, which would be a one-stop shop in which producers can get a permit for filming anywhere throughout the region.

That would be welcome relief, producers say. When Hermosa Beach granted a permit to Spelling Entertainment earlier this month, some neighbors appealed to the City Council. Producers of "90210" then had to wait five hours before the permit came up on the council agenda, and council members gave their OK at about 1 a.m., Archuletta said.

"This is kind of the classic microcosm of the trials and tribulations of location filming," said Hermosa Beach Acting City Manager Mary Rooney. "You try to mitigate the concerns of the residents, but it will never tiptoe in and out of town. (Location shooting) is always going to be a big production."

In an effort to please each side, the city placed restrictions on "90210." The crew can be in production only during the hours of 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., and for a maximum of 24 days of filming a year. (Sets of the apartment's interior and front porch have been re-created so the bulk of the shooting can be done on a studio lot.)

Although it is not the main defendant in the suit, Spelling Entertainment would have to rewrite scripts, re-shoot scenes and build new sets if it is not allowed to shoot at the locale, said Gail Patterson, vice president of production for the company, which produces "90210." A hearing has been set for Aug. 3 in Torrance Superior Court.

"More and more of the problems we face are not with unions and guilds, they are with neighborhood politics," Patterson said. "It's really sad. I don't think they realize the impact it has."

For the city, losing "90210" could mean as much as $30,000 in permit and parking fees if the show shoots there all 24 days. Already, the controversy has been printed in industry trade papers, and Spelling has vowed to never shoot there if the residents' group wins.

"The word being out that Hermosa is not a film-friendly location is not going to be a big positive," Rooney said. NBC's 1980s action series "Hunter" and "Riptide" regularly shot scenes in the city. Much of the movie "Carrie" was shot there, including scenes at the Hermosa Beach Community Center, used as the lead character's high school.

Hamilton has a different take on the filmmaking.

"Every other industry has to respond to local zoning ordinances," he said. "Those procedures just weren't followed."

He said history proves his point. Four years ago, scenes from "My Stepmother Is an Alien" were shot at the same house "90210" is using. Hamilton said that the crew members disrupted the neighborhood by hogging parking spaces, and their noise kept neighbors up all night. It was all for a scene that was in the movie for five minutes.

"(The crew) made a lot of promises to us that they would take care during filming," he said. "But they just did it the way they wanted to do it, the residents be damned."

Spelling officials, however, protest the comparison.

"My Stepmother Is an Alien" had "special effects, a night shooting schedule and a UFO landing on the sand," Patterson said. "That's not us."

She points to the show's experience at Torrance High School, where location scenes were shot even while real-life students were in class.

"If we were at the high school, even when school was in session, it can't be that bad," she said. "And we're talking about the Strand. I would like to see how noise gets on the weekend."

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