TO: HONORABLE MAYOR AND CITY COUNCIL MEMBERS
FROM: ASSISTANT TO THE CITY MANAGER
DATE: JUNE 21, 2005
SUBJECT: Appeal of the Pirates of the Caribbean Film Permit Conditions. (Applicant: Second Mate Productions; Appellants: Native Plant Society and Sierra Club) Property Location: Lower Filiorum/Point View property
Deny the appeal and uphold the conditional film permit subject to all of the conditions that have been imposed by Staff, including the revision that "Any brush clearance associated with the film production activity and determined necessary by the County Fire Department must be within the boundaries of the weed abatement that was approved by the City Council or the annual brush clearance that is required by the Fire Department and shall comply with the weed abatement conditions as stated in Amendment One to the film permit."
The City issued a conditional film permit for the Lower Filiorum/Point View property that involves grading for temporary access improvements as well as brush clearance to accommodate film production activities. The Native Plant Society and Sierra Club have filed appeals of the issuance of the film permit primarily due to concerns of potential negative impact to sensitive habitat and wildlife species that may be present in the areas of proposed film production activity. Staff recommends City Council uphold the conditional film permit based upon the collective concurrence by the City Manager’s Office and the departments of Planning and Public Works that the proposed project is temporary and that the existing film permit conditions adequately address any potential adverse impacts upon public safety, wildlife habitat, natural landscape, and residents adjacent to the property.
Second Mate Productions, Inc. has a conditional film permit for Pirates of the Caribbean II/III production activity on the Lower Filiorum/Point View property, located at 6001 Palos Verdes Drive. In a nutshell, the film applicant proposes to film a scene for five (5) consecutive days in August consisting of actors suspended from cranes to simulate the characters climbing a mountainside façade or being trapped inside a net. No pyrotechnics or special effects, except for possible fog or similar weather conditions, are planned. There are three separate parking areas proposed as well as an area for the film set. The proposed temporary access improvements include grading of the existing driveway entrance and the public right-of-way along PVDS to accommodate a temporary right turn lane.
As a matter of background information, a historical account of the film permit review process is provided below.
On February 1, 2005 the applicant, Second Mate Productions, submitted a film permit application (Attachment 1) to the City Manager’s office. The City Manager determined the application was incomplete and staff requested in writing (Attachment 2) that the applicant submit additional information for consideration, such as the traffic study, grading plan, site plan, fire hazard clearance, description of any special effects and/or lighting, and residential approval for any proposed activity occurring before 7:00 am or after 7:00 pm. Staff already had in its possession a copy of the biological report previous submitted by the property owner.
On March 29, 2005, the film applicant submitted additional documents: Exhibit A—sketch of the set piece; Exhibit B—artist rendering of the set; Exhibit C—site plan of the location, including the proposed areas for parking and set; Exhibit D—Fire Safety Conditions from the County Fire Department; Exhibit E—Engineering Plan; Exhibit F—Grading Application; Exhibit G—Traffic Study dated April 2004; Exhibit H—narrative summary of Geological report; and Exhibit I—Biological report.
On March 31, 2005, the film applicant submitted a revised film permit application (Attachment 3), which reflected changes to the film production schedule.
Application Review by City Departments
In April, the Planning and Public Works departments began their review of the revised film permit application along with the supplemental documents. During this review period, the original engineering plan was revised and a series of informational exchanges occurred between City staff and the applicant.
On April 28, 2005, City representatives met with the film applicant to discuss the various outstanding issues, including brush clearance, environmental issues, geology, traffic measures, grading, hours, etc. as referenced in a letter addressed to the applicant (Attachment 4). In response to the meeting, the applicant submitted additional
documents and information requested, and the Planning and Public Works departments continued their review of the application.
In May, the City geotechnical consultant conducted a site visit and reviewed the film permit application documents to determine any potential adverse impacts from the film production activities upon the landslide conditions. The City geotechnical consultant determined the film applicant must provide a geotechnical report describing how the access improvements will be property restored after the completion of the film activities. As of June 14th, the City geotechnical consultant is still reviewing the amended report submitted by the film applicant’s engineer.
On May 20, 2005 the film applicant submitted a grading application with the Planning Department (Planning Case No. ZON2005-00259—Attachment 5) which was then approved on June 6, 2005. The grading request is for 646 cubic yards for the temporary access improvements for the existing driveway entrance and temporary right turn lane. The Planning Department determined that the project involves minor, temporary alterations to the land that will be removed and restored at the conclusion of the filming activity. Staff determined this project is categorically exempt from CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act).
Issuance of Conditional Film Permit
After the City Manager concurred with staff’s recommendation to issue a conditional film permit, the City Manager’s office on June 6th issued the conditional film permit (Attachment 6) which highlighted the remaining permits necessary and some specific conditions regarding dust control, use of the Abalone Cove parking lot, additional traffic control requirements, smoking restrictions, construction hours, and brush clearance.
On June 9, 2005 the City added Amendment "1" (Attachment 7) to the film permit conditions. Amendment "1" re-stated some of the weed abatement conditions previously approved by the City Council on May 17th for the same property.
On June 13th, 2005, the City received two letters of appeal from the decision issuing the conditional film permit for Pirates of the Caribbean II/III at 6001 Palos Verdes Drive South (Lower Filiorum/Point View property) from the California Native Plant Society (CNPS) and the Sierra Club (Attachment 8 and 9).
Staff believes the film permit application has been adequately reviewed by the City’s senior engineer, traffic engineer, geotechnical consultant, senior planner, director of planning, building and code enforcement, and film permit coordinator according to City and State codes and policies to justify the staff’s recommendation for the City Manager’s office to issue conditional approval of the film permit. Staff feels there is no evidence to suspect the film applicant will violate the conditional film permit issued. To reassure the appellants that weed abatement conditions apply to any brush clearance associated with film production activity, staff proposes to strike the broad brush clearance condition and replace it with the following statement "Any brush clearance associated with the film production activity and determined necessary by the County Fire Department must comply with the weed abatement conditions as stated in Amendment One to the film permit."
Because the appellants are primarily concerned about CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act) consideration and compliance, staff will begin with this issue.
Film Permit CEQA Determination
The film permit application materials provided by Disney (Second Mate Productions) and York Long Point Associates (YLPA) depicted the location and scope of the proposed filming activity on the Lower Filiorum/Point View property. In addition to the actual filming activity itself, the project proposed site preparation that includes Fire Department-mandated brush clearance in the area of the set, the areas proposed for vehicle and equipment parking, and along the existing access road around the site, as well as grading for a temporary access point at Palos Verdes Drive South. Site preparation, filming and site restoration activities would take place over a period of approximately two (2) months from early July 2005 through early September 2005.
Based upon the biology report submitted by YLPA and reviewed by the City’s Natural Communities Conservation Plan (NCCP) biologist, none of the proposed filming or related activities would be located within areas of existing coastal sage scrub (CSS) habitat or in areas that contain other sensitive plant species on the Lower Filiorum/Point View property. The biological resource data provided by YLPA—which is the same data used to support the recently-approved weed abatement exemption request—also indicated that none of the CSS habitat in this area of the Lower Filiorum/Point View property is occupied by gnatcatchers, which is further supported by the five (5) years of monitoring conducting in association with the preparation of the City’s NCCP. In addition, all of the Fire Department-mandated brush clearance activity associated with the film permit would be located in areas that either are subject to the annual weed abatement that is mandated by the Fire Department or are within the area that is included within the weed abatement exemption request, which recently was approved by the City Council. Furthermore, Staff will apply the relevant conditions of approval for the weed abatement exemption request to the brush clearance activities associated with the film permit, including requirements for a 50-foot buffer from CSS habitat and biological monitoring during brush clearance. Finally, all of the temporary site improvements associated with the filming activity—including the set, support vehicles and equipment, and the temporary access point at Palos Verdes Drive South—will be removed at the conclusion of filming and the site shall be restored to its previous condition.
Based upon the foregoing information, Staff found that the proposed project is a minor temporary use of land having negligible or no permanent effects upon the environment, as proposed and conditioned through the film permit. As such, Staff determined that this project is categorically exempt (Class 4 – Minor Alterations of Land) from the provisions of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), pursuant to Section 15304(e) of the CEQA Guidelines.
Overview of the Appellants’ Concerns
Although some of this information may be duplicative, staff addresses the appellants’ similarly expressed concerns using the Native Plant Society appeal letter as a reference.
Temporary Access Roadway (California Native Plant Society Correspondence Item No. 1)
"Where on the site will this grading and stockpiling be allowed?"
As a matter of background information, there currently exists an emergency access, dirt road leading into the property from PVDS then splitting into a lasso-like loop toward Narcissa Drive (Exhibit C). To accommodate the City’s traffic safety concerns of large production vehicles entering and exiting from PVDS, the film applicant proposed temporary access improvements consisting of grading the driveway entrance and for the temporary right turn lane (approx 82 feet long) along PVDS within the public right-of-way.
The temporary access improvements plan (Attachment 10) indicates grading (gray shaded area) in the public right-of-way and partially on private property. The grading permit is for an estimated 646 cubic yards, which consists of excavating 323 cubic yards, stockpiling it within the public right-of-way near PVDS to a maximum height of six feet, and then placing the 323 cubic yards back in its current location at existing site contours and elevations. The graded area of the access roadway will be temporarily paved with asphaltic concrete. All temporary improvements are expected to be in place prior to actual on-site film production activity and are required to be removed and have the site fully restored by the end of the year.
During the Planning Department’s review of the grading plan and application, Planning staff concluded the proposed grading would not cause excessive and unnecessary disturbance of the natural landscape or wildlife habitat. The grading would occur within an area that is also an existing unimproved dirt access road on the property and an area of disturbed vegetation that has been regularly disked in compliance with the County Fire Department mandate. Recent vegetation mapping for the property identified a patch of unoccupied, disturbed coastal sage scrub (CSS) habitat along the side of the dirt road to the northeast of the proposed grading, but the proposed access improvements will not be near enough to impact this habitat. (Refer to Attachment 5--Planning Grading Approval Memorandum dated June 6, 2005 Item Number 8.)
As a side note, the City’s Senior Engineer and consulting Traffic Engineer both reviewed the temporary access improvement plan and provided comments and conditions as indicated on the attached Public Works Encroachment Permit (Attachment 11) dated June 10, 2005 to ensure that construction activities do not conflict with public safety. To ensure that all temporary improvements are removed and appropriately restored to its pre-existing site contours and configuration, the City required the film applicant to provide a security deposit to cover the cost.
Weed Abatement/Brush Clearance (CNPS Correspondence Item No. 2)
The appellant states that the previously approved weed abatement conditions of the property should be applied to the Film Permit applicant. For clarification purposes, two of the parking/staging areas and the film set are located within the current weed abatement boundaries. The third, far westerly parking area is located in the area required by the Fire Department for annual weed abatement.
Since the film production activity was proposed to occur within the current weed abatement boundaries, both staff and the film applicant shared the understanding that the private property owner would proceed with the Council-approved weed abatement action prior to any film production activity on location. Staff added Amendment One to the film permit to acknowledge and clarify this understanding and to clarify that the filming activities also must comply with the relevant conditions of approval that were imposed on the approval of the weed abatement request. This includes (Amendment 1, item no. 4) the City requirement that one or more qualified biologists selected by the City shall monitor all of the weed abatement activity on location.
After the weed abatement activity, staff presumed the land would be clearly marked by the mowed areas so that it would be clear where protected habitat exists and that the County Fire Department would conduct another site visit to determine whether additional brush clearance would be necessary for film production activity. In response to the appellants’ concern about potential brush clearance for the film production activity, staff proposes to delete film permit condition number 8 and replace it with the following statement "Any brush clearance associated with the film production activity and determined necessary by the County Fire Department must be within the boundaries of the weed abatement that was approved by the City Council or the annual brush clearance that is required by the Fire Department and shall comply with the weed abatement conditions as stated in Amendment One to the film permit."
Fire Department Required Brush Clearance (CNPS Correspondence Item No. 3)
"What parts of the property would be subject to this increased impact (brush clearance required by the Fire Department for film production activity)?
The Site Plan (Exhibit C) provides the general locations of the areas for parking/staging and film set as well as the access road. The areas of film production activity will be better defined after the completion of the weed abatement, particularly if any sensitive habitat or wildlife species are identified within the vicinity of film production activity.
According to the County Fire Department fire safety conditions for film production activity (Exhibit D), the film applicant must "maintain a minimum of 100 feet of brush clearance around any temporary set, staging area, or parking area." In addition, the Fire Department also conditioned the film applicant "shall maintain a 35-feet wide access road to the film site consisting of 15 feet aggregate road base with the remaining 10 feet of Brush Clearance on either side cleared to the specifications of the Deputy Forester."
Dust Control Impact on Native Plants (CNPS Item No. 4)
The appellants expressed concern that the film permit condition (number 9) requiring the use of a water truck to control dust on the road and parking areas twice daily may negatively impact native plant seeds and bulbs. The Planning Department believed the vehicular traffic may create significant dust during the summer months and therefore proposed this condition to comply with AQMD (Air Quality Management District) standards for fugitive dust. Film companies working on unpaved locations typically apply a minimal amount of water just to temporarily wet the surface just before the caravan of vehicular traffic. Film companies avoid saturating the soil because they wish to prevent tracking mud while on location. Therefore, staff believes the amount of water applied will not be enough to significantly saturate the soil.
Impact of Film Production Activity upon Vegetation and Soil (CNPS Item No. 5)
The Sierra Club is also concerned about the potential impact associated with set construction, use of lights, noise, presence of large vehicles and other heavy equipment and the like upon the habitat and sensitive species on and adjacent to the site (paragraph four of the appeal letter dated June 10, 2005). The Sierra Club believes these and other potential impacts should be evaluated and mitigated.
Staff believes the City biologist and staff have adequately evaluated these potential impacts. As mentioned under the film permit CEQA determination on pages 3-4,
none of the proposed filming or related activities would be located within areas of existing coastal sage scrub (CSS) habitat or in areas that contain other sensitive plant species on the Lower Filiorum/Point View property.
For public safety reasons, the City requested the film applicant to provide temporary downward lighting at the driveway entrance of PVDS in order to illuminate the area so on-coming traffic along PVDS could clearly see the vehicles exiting the premises at night. Because the filming calls for daylight hours only, no other lighting fixtures are proposed.
Portions of the subject property are located within the City’s Landslide Moratorium Area, and therefore the City geotechnical consultant conducted a site visit on May 4th to review the filming-related activities proposed both inside and outside the Landslide Moratorium Area. The City geotechnical consultant determined that the proposed filming related activities within the Landslide Moratorium Area (Attachment 12) would not require the preparation of a soils report, nor would have adverse impacts on existing landslide conditions. However the City geotechnical consultant determined a geotechnical report was necessary for the grading and restoration associated with the temporary access improvements at PVDS, which do not lie within the Landslide Moratorium Area. The City geotechnical consultant’s approval will be required prior to the commencement of the grading for the temporary access improvements.
Protective Buffer of 50-feet from all CSS (CNPS Item No. 6)
The weed abatement conditions on Amendment 1, item number 2, reference a "50-foot wide buffer shall be provided around the CSS patches that are shown on the submitted map, which are to be excluded from weed abatement. The buffer boundaries shall be staked and clearly flagged for the abatement personnel to see and avoid." The Sierra Club in the 4th paragraph of the appeal letter also expressed concern about the film permit condition number (8) suggestion to realign the roadway to avoid the protected coastal sage scrub (CSS) habitat located near the existing access road and to maintain the 50-foot buffer zone. At the time the conditional film permit was prepared, it was staff’s intent to provide notice to the film applicant, since the exact location was not clearly indicated on the available site plan provided by the film applicant. Recently, the film applicant’s engineer prepared a site plan indicating the location of the disturbed CSS habitat and the Planning staff confirmed that the identified patch of unoccupied, disturbed CSS habitat along the dirt road is at least 50 feet beyond the clearance of the unimproved portion of the access road. The Planning Department concluded the proposed access improvements will not be near enough to impact this habitat and therefore will not cause excessive or unnecessary disturbance of the natural landscape or wildlife habitat.
Filming will consist of some actors suspended from cranes to simulate the characters climbing a mountainside façade or being trapped inside a basket-like net. No special effects are proposed on location, except for possible fog or similar weather conditions. No pyrotechnics are planned.
To minimize the number of days on location and maximize the number of daylight hours for actual filming, the film applicant requested five (5) consecutive days (August 22-26, 2005) of filming with a start time of 5:30 am for a limited number of crew to begin preparing the set and cast for actual filming and a final departure time from the property at 10:00 pm. Film companies commonly ask for a broad time frame to allow some flexibility for re-takes, weather conditions, etc. To extend the activity hours beyond the hours of 7:00 am and 7:00 pm, the City will permit extended hours if the film applicant obtains signatures of approval from residents surrounding the filming activity. In this case, the film applicant has already obtained 100% approval from residents adjacent to the property.
The film applicant proposes to piece together a 100’ long, by 40’ high, by 26’ wide mountainside façade on scaffolding. Much of the set will be delivered prefabricated to minimize the amount of actual construction on location. The set location is indicated on the Site Plan (Exhibit C).
Opposition to the Appeal
While preparing this staff report, staff received a letter from the Center for Natural Lands Management (Attachment 13) opposing the current appeal of the film permit. Willie Richerson, Preserve Manager, stated past, successful film experience with the film applicant on property home to the federally protected Western Snowy Plover and sensitive dune habitat located in Northern Santa Barbara County. In the letter, he states, "they were careful in their conduct, followed the guidelines set out in the film permit…" In fact, the same film applicant is currently working with Mr. Richerson for filming Pirates of the Caribbean II/II scene on the same protected dune preserve and he has no concerns about the film applicant
Staff recommends that the City Council deny the appeal and uphold the issuance of the film permit subject to all of the conditions of approval that have been recommended by Staff.
The film applicant will be responsible for the standard fees associated with the film permit and other applicable permits. The City is requiring the film applicant post bonds or a security deposit for the temporary access improvements and biological monitoring services.
Assistant to the City Manager
Exhibit A--Sketch of Set Piece
Exhibit B--Artist Rendering of Set
Exhibit C--Site Plan
Exhibit D--County Fire Department Safety Conditions
Exhibit E--Engineering Plan (original, which has since been revised)
Exhibit F--Grading Application (original, which has since been revised)
Exhibit G--Traffic Study
Exhibit H--Geological Report Narrative Summary
Exhibit I--Biological Report Excerpt