Big Brother in Malibu?

Malibu’s mayor brings up the idea of using cameras placed throughout the city to record harassment by paparazzi.

By Nora Fleming / Special to The Malibu Times

In the effort to address the escalating paparazzi problem in Malibu, Mayor Pamela Conley Ulich at a meeting last Friday at City Hall suggested placing cameras in certain areas of the city to record possible high-speed paparazzi chases and harassment of residents.

The Malibu task force meeting followed one Conley Ulich attended in Los Angeles the previous day, where members of the Screen Actors Guild, celebrities and officials from various municipalities with similar paparazzi concerns spoke and hashed out possibilities for recourse within Los Angeles. Councilmember Dennis Zine, who has been working on anti-paparazzi legislation since February, organized the Los Angeles meeting.

Conley Ulich said she is hoping to incorporate of some of the ideas generated in Los Angeles and work with other municipalities to find a solution for Malibu.

Following the late June, paparazzi-surfer beach fights, Conley Ulich, with permission of the city council, organized an impromptu group of legal experts, including Kenneth Starr, dean of Pepperdine University School of School, to see what legislation, if any, could be passed to regulate paparazzi in Malibu.

The idea of creating local highway “safe zones,” or areas that local residents are aware of that can be recorded and monitored by law enforcement from the Malibu/Lost Hills Sheriff’s Station, was one suggestion generated at the meeting.

“There’s a legitimate purpose. PCH is one of the most dangerous highways in California,” Conley Ulich said. “I think there may be an effect with the paparazzi and the people who are doing this, that they may think twice [before engaging in high speed chases]. It’s just an extra tool in our kit because we are so far out here.”

Sgt. Josh Thai of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department said he was unsure if the proposed idea was a realistic option due to the technological capabilities of the station, but did confirm that cameras are watched and monitored at the station 24 hours a day.

Michael Schwimer, an attorney for a Point Dume resident who was involved in the paparazzi-surfer brawl, said he worried that cameras would create a liability for the city.

“I’d be worried that it would get back to the city,” Schwimer said. “The safety zone could be used as an excuse to drive recklessly and that creates a hazard in and of itself. If somebody gets injured, they’d go for deep pockets … the paparazzi obviously don’t have deep pockets, so they’d name the city in a lawsuit that would arise from it.”

Citizen arrests proposed

The task force also examined existing statutes, such as traffic violations, stalking and trespass, that could be used as tools to regulate paparazzi since creating new legislation could be tricky to pass without violating constitutional rights of the press.

Conley Ulich discussed the concern expressed to her personally by many local mothers, who felt their children were endangered and violated by paparazzi who were stalking them in Malibu school parking lots. She mentioned a parent who recounted a car chase by three paparazzi vehicles that boxed her in on Pacific Coast Highway while her children were in the car. Conley Ulich urged the task force to think of way to collaborate with area schools and parents to address the problem.

“We need to assess what the harms are and see if …we can use the tools we have to effectively make the kids feel safe, or do we need to look at creating an ordinance that would pass constitutional muster especially [in locations] where kids are coming and going,” said Conley Ulich, who hopes to examine how Beverly Hills, a community with similar paparazzi problems, has handled the issue at its schools.

Sgt. Thai suggested that residents could work with local law enforcement to make citizens arrests, which consist of witnessing an event, calling law enforcement and through a legal process and paperwork, place that person “under arrest,” though the officials would make the actual, physical arrest.

“We could wait out in a parking lot for 24 hours and [the paparazzi] aren’t going to do anything while we are there,” Thai said. “We have to have the eyes and the ears of the citizens to help us.”

Malibu resident Hans Laetz was also present at the Friday task force meeting. Laetz in letters sent to the mayor and local newspapers, and at the council’s July 28 meeting, claimed the council had violated the Brown Act, a California law that places regulations on local government meetings and requires information about them be made public, by allowing the mayor to meet privately with attorneys regarding the paparazzi issue and working on the development of a potential city ordinance behind closed doors.

Laetz later told The Malibu Times that his filing a lawsuit against the city regarding the issue was not out of the question.

At the Malibu task force meeting on Friday, Laetz again reiterated that the council had violated the Brown Act and demanded copies of any paperwork or research completed by the task force as a matter of public record.

The council said it did not violate the Brown Act law. The mayor made Friday’s task force meeting open and invited the public and area media to attend. At the meeting, she agreed to provide Laetz with copies of any paperwork produced, which could include a packet of information put together by a research librarian at Pepperdine University.

Conley Ulich said she plans to hold a hearing in the fall with area parents to continue the discussion and pursuit of a local ordinance regulating paparazzi.

The Malibu Times is the first newspaper in Malibu, serving the community since 1946.

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