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Film Commission Re-buffs City Staff Suggestion to go on “Hiatus”

With most commissioners agreeing that a two-year “hiatus” of the film commission was tantamount to closing the commission and closing the City of Alameda to the film industry business, the commission voted resolutely to re-buff the suggestion from the Redevelopment Services department that they go on a self-imposed two-year “hiatus.”

City Staff had put the proposal on the January 21, 2009, 3:00 p.m. Special Meeting of the Alameda Film Commission, held at City Hall West, and supported by Redevelopment Services staff. Citing City Council’s desire to review all boards and commissions with a view towards cutting costs, staff had proposed a “two-year hiatus due to current economic conditions and general downtown [sic] of the film industry in California.”

Ironically, Alameda Film Commission Chairman Dave Duffin apologized at the start of the meeting for not turning off his cell-phone, because “I’m expecting a call about somebody that wants to use the skateboard park [at Alameda Point] for a shoot.” Meeting minutes included a list of film permits issued by the City of Alameda for the second quarter of 2008, and the permittes listed were: Mythbusters, Microsoft, “Photo Shoot”, “Zephr Photo Productions – still photography” and Mythbusters again. Barclay’s Ishare was issued a permit in the first quarter of 2008. One commissioner noted that in economic downturns, Hollywood turns to locations closer to Los Angeles, such as Alameda, for shoots, as cost constraints restrict them from traveling farther afield.

City Staff reported that in the first year of its inception, roughly four years ago, the commission spent as much as $12,000 plus City staff time promoting Alameda as a movie and film shooting location, but since then, costs apart from City staff support have dropped far lower. City staff represented that they are trying to save the costs associated with City staff supporting the film commission meetings – attending the meetings, writing agendas and meeting minutes and so on. The Film Commission currently meets four times per year, and many of the commissioners volunteer their own time outside of the formal meetings to support movie and TV shoots. Many commissioners noted that the staff time costs associated with the film commission regular and special meetings must be a “drop in the bucket” – like “a penny applied to the Lehman Brother’s crisis” as one commissioner put it.

In response to comments made by three public speakers on the agenda item, including Save Our City! Alameda Founders Arthur and Gretchen Lipow, City staff acknowledged that City staff time to support the film commission meetings was funded not by the General Fund, but by the Community Improvement Commission (CIC) of the City of Alameda. The General Fund is used to pay for basic city services like fire and police protection. Redevelopment Services city staffer Dorene Soto noted that the State of California had appropriated roughly $900,000 from the CIC budget this year to help balance the state budget. However, she declined to inform film commissioners that the money was appropriated for the Education Revenue Augmention Fund – the statewide pot of money used to fund California schools, and that the California Redevelopment Association, of which her boss, Ms. Leslie Little, is a member of the board of directors, has sued the State of California to return the money.

In the end, the film commission passed a resolution to send a message to City Council in the spirit of the following words [ed. note: these are not the exact words of the resolution, but we believe we have faithfully captured the spirit and intent of the resolution.] “In recognition of the current economic conditions, the film commission proposes – if needed – to cut the number of annual regular meetings in half, from four to two. We believe we must continue to work to support the economic health of the film industry in Alameda.”

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