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City Hall Bad News for TV Crews

Media: Restoration left out things like needed video lines, lighting and special parking access.

April 17, 2002|BOB POOL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The place looks as good as new. But they may have trouble showing off City Hall's new $300-million makeover, Los Angeles officials discovered Tuesday.

Television crews descending en masse on the 74-year-old landmark for the first time since its reopening discovered that restoring the place to its 1928 glory has meant eliminating a few high-tech additions--like the video line used to broadcast City Council meetings, TV lights in the mayor's media conference room and parking space for TV trucks.

A dozen local TV crews showed up at the downtown Civic Center to report on Police Chief Bernard C. Parks' appearance before the City Council. Coming three days before the official rededication of City Hall, the unusual council proceeding was the first major event at the building since its five-year closure for a seismic retrofit and refurbishing.

But before they could set up their cameras, broadcast stations had to beg for temporary permission to park satellite trucks and microwave news vans near City Hall. Then they had to string 600-foot-long cables through City Hall windows to reach the gleaming, newly refurbished council chambers. Inside the mayor's office, they found their TV lights missing.

TV technicians discovered that the designated news van parking area on 1st Street was out of range of the stations' microwave receivers on Mt. Wilson, a mile above Pasadena. So they were forced to bounce the signals off the walls of nearby office buildings or rent $8-per-minute satellite time in order to air Parks' presentation to the council.

"The city General Services Department believes aesthetics are more important than television news coverage," shrugged Hans Laetz, a news assignment editor at KTLA-TV (Channel 5), who unsuccessfully sought permission for news vans to park on the Spring Street sidewalk outside City Hall, as the trucks did before the renovation.

"Their first answer was, 'No, you can't park on the sidewalk. It's dangerous and it doesn't look good.' But safety is not a problem. News trucks have been parking on that sidewalk for 50 years and never hit a pedestrian," Laetz said.

The missing video cable had linked the council chambers with a TV van junction box next to the Spring Street sidewalk. From there, news trucks had a straight shot at Mt. Wilson.

"People don't realize you really have to be in the right spot to get a picture out," said David Gregory, whose KCBS-TV (Channel 2) van was on 1st Street.

David Seger, supervisor of electronic journalism field operations for KNBC-TV (Channel 4), spent two hours stringing his station's cable out a council chambers window and installing amplifiers needed to beef up the video signal strength from the 600-foot line.

KCAL-TV (Channel 9) cameraman Ron Price said TV lights used to professionally illuminate the mayor's media room were victims of the City Hall project. Julie Wong, a spokeswoman for Mayor James K. Hahn, said the lights apparently did not fit with the architectural preservation.

Steve Kindred, a reporter for KFWB radio (980 AM) who works with the local Radio and Television News Assn., said David Gershwin, an aide to Council President Alex Padilla, was able at least to wrangle two-day parking permits.

Tony De Clue, assistant general manager of the city's General Services Department, said officials are willing to work with TV crews. But he warned that parking on the sidewalk may be a thing of the past.

Public access to government may be a thing of the past too, said cameraman Stephen Coleman of KABC-TV (Channel 7). He blamed the parking problem on authorities' reaction to the Sept.11 terrorism attacks.

"There is no street parking left anywhere near the Civic Center. It's becoming an insular government. It's coming to the point [where] there is no access unless you spend $12 to park at a lot blocks away," Coleman said.

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