With TV and film production in freefall in Los Angeles, the mayor’s race to replace Antonio Villaraigosa has engaged Hollywood in ways rarely seen for a municipal election, but the candidates offer few specifics about how to stanch the production flight to rival cities.
Eric Garcetti, one of two leading candidates in the field of five heading into the first round of voting on March 5, stumped aggressively this week after the City Council, of which he is a member, passed a waiver of television pilot fees based on one of his initiatives.
"My plan is that if you film a pilot in Los Angeles, you will not get a bill from the city," Garcetti said at a news conference at Sunset Gower Studios in Hollywood after the council's 11-0 vote. "This strategic incentive for TV pilots increases our chances of landing the television series that follows."
TheWrap asked the other candidates where they stood on issues affecting Hollywood, with a focus on how they might reinvigorate local production to grow. Television pilot production in Los Angeles has fallen drastically in recent years, from 60 percent of all pilots in 2007 to 29 percent last year.
Wendy Greuel, the other leading candidate and a former executive at DreamWorks, said she would focus on eliminating a gross-receipts tax levied by the city on movie and TV production, which she said would have a greater impact on producers than the pilot permit waiver.
She also promised to take on the issue using personal diplomacy. “I’m going to be the mayor that picks up the phone and talks to producers and studios heads and encourages them to stay here,” she told TheWrap.
Most of the candidates said they supported removing the state’s cap on tax incentives that aims to keep productions in California, though that is a lever controlled in Sacramento, not City Hall.
In addition, Garcetti said that if his pilot waiver is successful, he would support extending them to web series and digital media.
The other candidates, including Jan Perry, spoke in more general terms. “Obviously, I will work with Film LA to streamline permits, reduce costs for doing business and make it far more efficient for cost control, ease of doing business so this becomes a competitive place for pilots,” Perry said in an interview with TheWrap.
A spokesman for Emanuel Pleitez, a tech executive and candidate, said Pleitez has no specific plan to bolster the entertainment industry: “It wouldn't be his first priority.
"In terms of a specific policy tailored to keeping the film industry here, at this time that policy is not fully developed," John Hill told TheWrap. "He sees the film industry as part of the overall business environment in Los Angeles."
Like Greuel, Pleitez wants to remove the city's gross receipts tax. An August 2012 report from the city found that Los Angeles's tax was about 9.5 percent higher than other U.S. cities and that it was damaging job growth.
Young, charismatic and of mixed ethnic background Garcetti — who represents Hollywood on the City Council — has supporters ranging from Jimmy Kimmel to Will Ferrell.
Greuel, the city controller, has access to the deep pockets of her former bosses Jeffrey Katzenberg and Steven Spielberg and has had one recent fundraiser at the home of industry billionaire Haim Saban.
They are a tight match in fundraising. Garcetti remains very narrowly in the lead in direct campaign contributions — the latest reporting figures up to mid-February have him raising just over $4.8 million, and Greuel just under $4.8 million — although the momentum has swung, also narrowly, in Greuel's direction in recent weeks.
According to a Los Angeles Times analysis of city Ethics Commission records, Garcetti has raised twice as much as Greuel — $462,000 to $226,000 — from actors, producers and directors. At a fundraiser at the Fonda Theatre earlier this month, Garcetti jammed with Moby on both the keyboards and the congas. Ferrell and Salma Hayek have produced videos on his behalf.
But the election is likely to hinge as much on independent expenditures — the unlimited spending by outside groups sympathetic to one candidate or another — as on campaign funds. Here Greuel appears to be in the driving seat. She has had more than $2 million dollars thrown her way by the Department of Water and Power's union and a handful of law enforcement groups, money that in turn is paying for a blizzard of television ads.
Suitably enough for Hollywood, the debate is as much about image as substance. The city of L.A. represents only a sliver of the Southern California metropolitan area, and the mayor wields far less power than counterparts in New York or Chicago. From a conservative point of view, the single biggest issue facing Los Angeles is reining in the power of the public service unions so the pay increases they have been promised — up to 25 percent over the next two years — do not overwhelm a city budget already mired in hundreds of millions of dollars in red ink. Both Garcetti and Greuel enjoy deep union ties and support, so the election may well hinge on how voters perceive their potential toughness in negotiating with their own constituencies.
So where will the entertainment vote go? That is not yet clear – not least because a lot of the big-money players live in Beverly Hills, West Hollywood or Santa Monica and are not eligible to vote in L.A. city elections.
Andrew Gumbel and Alexander C. Kaufman contributed to this report.