A court commissioner has banned filming of the popular television show "Beverly Hills, 90210" at a beachfront home in Hermosa Beach, ruling that it violated city laws prohibiting business activity in residential neighborhoods.
The decision could complicate a story line that the hit Fox series launched this season in which three characters rent a beach home during their freshman year of college.
Producers shoot many "90210" scenes on a sound stage, but wanted the Hermosa Beach home, located on the Strand, so the show's characters could interact in an authentic beachfront setting.
Torrance Superior Court Commissioner Abraham Gorenfeld, in a ruling issued Wednesday, said the show could easily go elsewhere.
"If sand and surf continue to be important features of this TV series, there are many miles of seashore available in Southern California," he wrote.
Gorenfeld's decision came in response to a lawsuit filed by a group of Hermosa Beach residents who complained that the show's slew of cast and crew, trucks and heavy equipment disrupted their neighborhood. In their suit against the city, the residents said the filming violated zoning laws that prohibit commercial activity in a residential area.
"We're very pleased," said attorney Jim Hamilton, a neighbor who is representing himself, his wife and another couple in the suit.
Producers have said that if they were barred from the site, they would be forced to pay a "substantial cost" to change scripts or rebuild sets. They also warn that the ruling could further sour film and television production in California.
"It's going to be a real blow for the film industry and the economy in Southern California," said David Bloomfield, vice president and general counsel of Spelling Entertainment. "Producers will all look at this and say, 'Oh my God! A simple film permit.' It's not as though we were there seven days a week at all hours of the day and there was great outrage from residents. We were thrown out because a small group petitioned and cited a technicality" in city zoning laws.
The controversy has attracted the attention of industry trade groups and the state Film Commission. They argued that such local opposition is stifling the growth of film and TV production in the state.
"I'm astounded that the judge could not be considering the greater economic good of the community at large," said Patti Archuletta, director of the commission. "This is a precedent-setting decision. It sends a very negative message to the entertainment community."
The commission fears a ripple effect, in which residents in other cities would also cite local zoning laws to keep production out of their neighborhoods.
Archuletta said she plans to seek state legislation allowing filming in residential areas where zoning laws might be used to prohibit it.
Hermosa Beach city officials have not decided whether to appeal Gorenfeld's ruling.
Entertainment industry officials acknowledge that many factors are prompting producers to film outside California, including high union wages and production expenses here. But they say court rulings such as the one Wednesday are worrisome because they are beyond the industry's control.
"We can sit down with union leaders and work out a solution," Bloomfield said. "Something like this comes out of left field."
In the "90210" story line, three characters--Kelly Taylor (Jennie Garth), Donna Martin (Tori Spelling) and David Silver (Brian Austin Green)--rent the home.
Scenes have been shot only three times at the Hermosa home, all since July. Under conditions imposed by the city, the shooting was limited to between 7 a.m. and 8 p.m. and could bring no more than 15 vehicles to the site.
In several court hearings, the city argued that the production was no more intrusive than a door-to-door salesman or delivery truck driver.
Gorenfeld rejected that comparison.
"A United Parcel Service driver is at the door of a residence for a very brief period . . . and is there for the direct benefit of the resident," he wrote. The filming of the show "is extended (for a long period of time) and rather substantial."