CITY HALL — The days of paparazzi crowding sidewalks, standing on top of cars and swarming near a local preschool to get candid shots of celebrities with their children could be numbered.
The City Council on Wednesday directed its staff to investigate “intrusive and invasive” activities of celebrity photographers and videographers around areas where children gather, returning with recommendations for regulations to protect their privacy.
The issue came to light after parents at the First Presbyterian Nursery School contacted councilmembers about the chaotic scene that often unfolds when celebrities pick up and drop off their children, complaining that photographers block sidewalks and stand on cars, all fighting to get a good shot.
Parents called it a safety issue.
Geoff Blake said that he has been knocked over by a photographer and his 4-year-old son has been “trampled on.” A friend also sustained a gash on his head from a swinging lens.
“It’s akin to literally a shark feeding,” Blake told the council.
Justin Henry, who has a 4-year-old daughter, said that it’s a matter of time before someone gets hurt, perhaps pushed out onto the street by the crowd as a car goes by.
Henry added that he is familiar with such situations, having been a child star who played the role of Billy Kramer in the movie, “Kramer vs. Kramer.” He did note that the paparazzi were not an issue in his home town in New York state.
“These are very small children and they don’t deserve to have to deal with the trappings of celebrity simply because they’re going to school,” he said.
Councilman Richard Bloom said he has received several dozen letters from parents over the past few weeks and also visited the school, observing roughly 30 photographers swarming the entrance to the school, pushing up against one another.
“I was told by parents that children had been jostled and in a couple of occasions … had been hit in the head or their bodies with cameras,” Bloom said.
Paparazzi are a common sight in Santa Monica, which has a relatively high population of celebrity residents. Some councilmembers asked whether regulations should extend beyond preschools to cover other areas, but Bloom cautioned that sensitivity must be paid to First Amendment rights.
“The broader we craft this, the more difficult it is going to be to come up with something sustainable here,” he said.
Blake recalls a conversation he had with a neighbor one day about the preschool. The neighbor was apparently able to recite which celebrity’s child was in what class at which time.
“It’s like, how do you know that and why do you care?” Blake said.
Shortage of water in town<p>
Below average rainfall over the past few years has forced the council to declare an advisory water shortage emergency.
The council adopted a water shortage response plan that calls for reduction in total water demand in several stages.
The declaration of an advisory level shortage means that water use restriction is voluntary at 10 percent, which basically means that residents and businesses can continue as normal thanks to ongoing conservation efforts within the city.
If the issue worsens, the council can up the water emergency, mandating conservation.
The governor earlier this year declared a state of emergency because of a drought situation caused by below average rainfall. Lee Swain, the director of public works, said the issue has been aggravated by court decisions placing restrictions on state water project deliveries because of endangered species.
The Metropolitan Water District, from which the city receives most of its water, also approved a shortage allocation plan in April, shooting for a regional reduction level of 10 percent. The conservation level in Santa Monica already exceeds 10 percent.
Council finishes allocating RDA funds <p>
The production of affordable housing will get a financial boost after the council voted to allocate $43.6 million from the Redevelopment Agency to fund projects that would help replenish a diminishing stock of relatively inexpensive residential units.
The council finally completed a lengthy discussion that spanned several meetings on how to spend roughly $283 million in RDA money expected to be available if City Hall is able to commit debt obligations by 2014.
On May 12, the council appropriated roughly $206 million, including about $57 million for joint-use projects at Santa Monica High School, $25 million for shared parking and $2.3 million for the expansion of Memorial Park.
The remaining $77 million was earmarked yesterday, including $27 million for land acquisition as part of the Downtown parking plan, $2 million for freeway capping, and $4.4 million for traffic signalization, and money for affordable housing.
The council meeting on Tuesday was continued to the following evening as officials were unable to complete its discussion on the RDA funding, having spent more than an hour disagreeing over whether to allocate more money for joint use opportunities at Santa Monica High School.
Several proposals were on the table to spend more money to move the proposed soccer field at the Civic Center to Samohi, freeing up that space for other uses. Mayor Ken Genser and Councilwoman Gleam Davis were in favor of funding joint use projects up to $118 million, which would allow the soccer field to be moved to Samohi. Genser said the only way that the soccer field could be placed at the high school was if it was constructed on top of another facility, all of which would come to about $118 million.
Several councilmembers expressed discomfort with giving such a large pot of money when there are other areas of the city that also needed attention. A couple of compromise proposals were presented, including allocating an extra $16 million for a joint use contingent that the soccer issue be resolved. None received the necessary four votes, leaving joint use projects with the original $57 million.
Legal settlements reached<p>
The council resolved three legal matters this week, including a $45,000 settlement in a bus-related injury in the case of Halashizadeh vs. City of Santa Monica. The incident involved an elderly rider who fell on the bus when it was in motion.
The council also approved a $25,000 settlement for Gasdaglis vs. City of Santa Monica, a case that involved a bicyclist who collided with a bus.
A case involving a business sign issue at 1844 Lincoln Blvd. was also resolved. The settlement allows the owner to keep their existing roof sign for six years before taking it down. The owner apparently was not notified to take down the sign earlier.