DOWNTOWN — A circus-like atmosphere began unfolding at the First Presbyterian Nursery School, the source of chaos coming not from crying children, but rather a group of two dozen photographers snapping away from behind a fence.
They hooked their cameras into the fence, some even climbing up the divider erected between the playground and the alley where they stood, all to capture photos of a few celebrity parents with their children.
Such is a description of the scene according to Councilman Richard Bloom who recently visited the nursery school after receiving letters from more than 30 parents complaining about the nuisance caused by the paparazzi. During tonight’s City Council meeting, Bloom and Mayor Pro Tem Pam O’Connor plan to ask staff to investigate “intrusive and invasive activities” of paparazzi photographers and videographers in areas where children gather, returning with recommended regulations to protect their privacy.
“Celebrities may not like it but they get that this is something they have to accept and live with … ,” Bloom said. “I think there are limits as to what somebody should have to experience in this situation, but for the parents and children of the school, it’s a very intolerable situation.”
Among the celebrities who reportedly have children enrolled in First Presbyterian are Jennifer Garner and Meg Ryan, both of whom have been photographed at the school and displayed on various celebrity gossip Web sites.
Bloom said he was contacted by parents of the school several months ago about the ongoing issue of the paparazzi. During the visit, the councilman said he witnessed photographers blocking the alley and the entryway to the school.
“Inside the school, there were parents who felt trapped,” he said.
In the letters parents talk about the problems experienced with the photographers, at least one even claiming that their family has been verbally assaulted.
The parents said that the paparazzi have also increased congestion on the street, taking up parking spaces and driving recklessly. One parent observed a photographer standing on top of a car and taking pictures over the fence. Another parent said the crowd of photographers also attracts people passing by, adding to the already congested environment. Parents also said the scene can be frightening to their children.
“Our families deserve the opportunity to give our children a safe place to learn and grow,” one parent wrote.
In a letter to Bloom, Mary Hartzell, the director of the nursery school, said that church staff have asked the photographers to temper their actions, only to be met with insults.
She added that though the school has had famous parents over the years, the situation it experiences today is one it has never faced before.
“The school has always been a place that welcomes diversity and we have families from different economic, racial, social and religious backgrounds,” she wrote.
Hartzell could not be reached for comment.
Bloom said he envisions regulations that would establish a reasonable distance that photographers should have to maintain.
“It has reached the point at this particular school where these folks feel strongly enough about it to contact a council member and ask if something could be done,” he said.
Francois Navarre, the owner of Beverly Hills-based X17online, an agency dedicated to celebrity photography, said that there are plenty of rules in place right now that restrict photographers, including one that prohibits them from parking in an alley.
“The police always find a reason to push away photographers,” Navarre said. “They say we’re disturbing the traffic and disturbing this and that.”
He added that more laws could raise issues for his agency.
“Any specific regulations against the paparazzi is very dangerous for me because the difference between paparazzi and journalist is so ambiguous,” he said.