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Cameras and Compromise

June 18, 2003

Los Angeles has plenty of problems that resist solutions. Gridlock on the Ventura Freeway. Graffiti. Homelessness. But friction between film companies and residents? That's fixable.

And now is the time. The Los Angeles City Council and the county Board of Supervisors have ordered an overhaul of the Entertainment Industry Development Corp., created in 1995 to issue permits and streamline filming in and around L.A. Driving the reorganization are questions about whether the nonprofit agency went too far in wining and dining producers and politicians. Its executive director resigned under pressure in December after a county audit turned up over-the-top spending and the district attorney's office launched a criminal investigation into possible misuse of public funds. The crisis is also reason to ask whether the agency does enough for residents.

The one-stop office handles filming permits, street closings, police and fire services and all the other headaches that go with turning real streets, offices and homes into movie sets. Elected officials hope such service will keep jobs and tax revenues here in an era when productions are fleeing to Canada.

The trucks, lights and noises that ensue, however, mean headaches for the neighbors. Filmmakers, for example, have used downtown Los Angeles as a stand-in for Any City USA for a hundred years. But the long-predicted downtown housing boomlet is turning what used to be virtually a back lot into the backyard of downtown loft dwellers. Blinding night-for-day lights and diesel generators wake the new residents in the wee hours. Other neighborhoods have complained for years about these and other problems.

Shutting film production out of the city is out of the question, even for most of the people complaining. Peorians don't get to go to a movie and say, "Hey, there's the Cinerama Dome." The challenge is finding a balance.

The entertainment agency says it is trying to meet that challenge. Coordinators visit film shoots and leave postage-paid feedback cards on neighbors' doors. Disgruntled neighbors can call the office weekdays from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. [(323) 957-1000] or page the agency after hours [(800) 201-5982]. But they ring up City Hall instead to grumble that the agency created to help Hollywood honchos treats them like blacklisted actors, ignoring their complaints and failing to enforce promised filming hours or parking restrictions.

A series of public hearings began Tuesday evening, aiming to retune the balance. With vigilance from elected officials, consideration from film crews and a little give by residents, relations can be restored without losing the benefits -- OK, and the cachet -- that location filming brings to the movie industry's hometown.

To Take Action: The next hearing is at 7 p.m. today at the Altadena Senior Center, 560 E. Mariposa, Altadena. For others, check the EIDC Web site (www.eidc.com).

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