Filming permit fees to go up in LA County

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors today agreed on a proposal to more than double Fire Department permit fees for film, television and commercial productions in the county.

The board made the increase contingent on the implementation of a program to spot-check production sites -- a plan intended to reduce the need for fire personnel on set and cut industry costs.

Los Angeles County Fire Chief P. Michael Freeman asked that permit fees be raised to cover the $1.3 million annual budget of the department's Public Safety and Film Unit. The group has seven staffers -- up from two in 2006 -- and processed about 4,000 permits last year, Freeman said.

At first, Supervisor Don Knabe objected.

"This industry has been beat up; we are chasing jobs away,'' he said.

Knabe proposed that the department first collect fees for shoots in a number of cities that do not participate in the county's permit process. Those fees could total as much as two-thirds of total collections, he said.

Freeman countered that even if all those fees were collected, the department would still come up about $800,000 short.

"That means that the taxpayers would continue to bear the lion's share of the cost, or that staffing cuts in this unit would have to be made,'' Freeman said.

Knabe also suggested implementation of the spot-check program.

Freeman agreed to put the program in place by Jan. 1, but industry representatives said the department had been promising such a move since 2005 and never delivered.

"I want to respect any promise that has been made,'' Freeman said, adding he was unaware of an earlier agreement, but that the department had been working with industry members on the details of such a program.

Several industry representatives spoke out against the fee increases.

"Now is not the time to impose fees,'' said Greg Lippe, former chair of the Valley Industry and Commerce Association.

Citing a "tide of runaway production,'' Lippe said California, which controlled 82 percent of film production in 2002, now controls only 30 percent. About two-thirds of the state's production takes place in Los Angeles County, Lippe said.

Once the ordinance takes effect, the base permit fee will increase from $104 to $282. Permits for productions using pyrotechnics or other special effects will increase from $125 to $288. Fees for fuel trucks will go up to $233 from only $40 today.

A new $277 fee will be charged for still production crews of 15 people or more.

The county counsel's office was redrafting the permit ordinance to reflect the board's unanimous agreement on making fee increases contingent on the spot-check plan. A final vote on the language of ordinance was expected either this afternoon or next Tuesday.