City council revokes fee for writers

Home Occupation Ordinace eliminated in L.A.

In a victory for writers and other self-employed people who work at home, the Los Angeles City Council voted Friday to revoke a requirement that they purchase a permit and register with the city.

A coalition of entertainment and literary organizations, led by the Writers Guild of America, claimed success after the 10-0 vote, which amends the city’s controversial Home Occupation Ordinance to end the annual $25 permit charge.

“We are very pleased with this action by the Los Angeles City Council,” said Dan Petrie Jr., president of the WGA West. “By eliminating the registration and permit requirements of this ordinance, the city has gone a long way toward addressing the First Amendment concerns we have raised.”

When the ordinance was passed in 1996, its proponents argued that they were attempting to help those who worked at home comply with zoning requirements. It was also seen as a way of regulating illegal or “problem” businesses, said council member Laura Chick, who proposed Friday’s amendment.

“But our legal advisors did not tell us that we needed to exempt certain businesses,” Chick told the council meeting. It was not the council’s intention, apparently, to restrict the solitary, unobtrusive work of writers and others whose labors have no impact on their immediate neighborhoods.

Last October, the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Assn. filed a lawsuit against the city alleging that the permit price constituted a new tax and that, as such, it required a vote by the public. Plaintiffs alleged that the tax was unconstitutional. That suit, and another one filed by the WGA, is still pending.

The entertainment coalition is backing a bill in the California Assembly, sponsored by Assemblyman Tony Cardenas, that would establish statewide limits for home occupation ordinances and the application of business license fees. The bill is due for a vote later this week.

Petrie said the problem had not been obliterated by the council’s vote on Friday. He said the city’s actions set a precedent that “still leaves our members vulnerable to unconstitutional intrusion into the creative process.”

“We are hopeful that today’s repeal of the home occupation permit represents the possibility of a continued dialogue that will allow us to fully address all the concerns raised by the coalition,” he said.

In addition to the WGA, the coalition includes the ACLU, the American Society of Journalists and Authors, the Dramatists’ Guild, the Independent Writers of Southern California, the Motion Picture Screen Cartoonists, the National Cartoonists Society, the Organization of Black Screenwriters, the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists.