Legal Hassels in Santa Barbara

Posted on 12/21/1999 by Norm Sklarewitz | Printable Version | Comments (0)



December 21, 1999

by: Norman Sklarewitz

Santa Barbara just 100 miles north of Los Angeles is among the most attractive

oceanside communities on the entire West Coast. It's a very upscale residential

community with a picturesque downtown district and a spectacular beach and


As a result, the entire community is a popular location for still photographers,

among them shooters who specialize in stock. In the past they've enjoyed free

rein when shooting all over the city.

No more. To shoot stock legally in Santa Barbara now requires getting permits and

paying fees - probably the most complicated, confusing, time consuming and costly

process imposed by any U.S. city.

Santa Barbara city and county departments recently have officially taken the

position that stock photographers are commercial photographers, in the same

category as those carrying out fashion and product shoots. As a result, some of

the permit rules and regulations that apply to an ad agency or catalog production

crew with models, motor home dressing rooms and all the rest also apply to the

individual shooter toting nothing more than a bag and a couple cameras.

No one in the city accuses still shooters of causing problems or seeking special

access. There is no record of any "confrontation" between a shooter and

authorities. However, the city takes the position that a stock shooter is engaged

in a commercial activity and thus is required to comply with local permitting

rules and regulations.

What makes that premise even worse is that the various departments

involved in dealing with photography not only operate independently of each other

but each has different requirements and fees. Picture this: If a shooter strolls

down State Street which is Santa Barbara's main drag planning to shoot the

boutiques, outdoor cafes and other shops, he/she requires a permit from the Santa

Barbara Police Department.

Farther along, the shooter comes to the Pacific Ocean and the miles of sand,

breaking surf and parks lining the water's edge. To shoot there requires another,

different, permit from the Santa Barbara Parks & Recreation Department.

Among the more popular attractions there at the beach is Stearn's Wharf jetting

out into the Ocean. If you step onto it to shoot, yep - you need yet another

permit, this one from the Santa Barbara Waterfront Department.

Those involved with promoting tourism locally are aware that the published images

made by stock shooters of all the city's attractions help attract visitors and

are sympathetic to their complaints about the red tape and expense they face.

Says Debbie Barber, communications manager, Santa Barbara Conference & Visitors

Bureau and Film Commission, "We understand that stock photography ultimately

serves our ends as publicity for Santa Barbara. But unfortunately, our hands are

tied by the permitting process. The powers that be consider that stock

photography is commercial photography."

Those shooters on editorial assignments are also required to get the requisite

permits, but Barber's bureau at least arranges for the fees to be waived.

Editorial shooters are asked to supply Barber with a list of expected locations

and to make the permit requests. Then she sees to it that the fees are waived.

With so many tourists carrying cameras, often-expensive ones, one logically asks,

"How does anyone know who is shooting editorial, or stock or just pictures for

the family album?" The answer is, "No one does." It's quite likely that a stock

photographer can make all the images he/she wants and never run afoul of the

picture police, particularly if not turned out in a photojournalist's jacket

using large format equipment on a tripod.

In confidence, city officials concede that enforcement of their rules is

difficult. One says, "We recognize that most transient photographers shooting

stock in the city don't have the required permits and licenses." However, a city

cop, park ranger, harbor patrol type or staffer with any of the permitting

departments apparently has the legal right to check on anyone looking


If the shooter can't produce the required permits, he/she faces a citation or, at

best, being asked to suspend shooting. "It's the city policy that anyone seeking

to make a profit on a photo taken in the city requires a permit," says Officer

Mike Carpenter in charge of issuing permits for the Santa Barbara Police


Technically, a business license is also required of stock photographers,

according to the city's Finance Department. As best anyone can tell, however,

only when under Park's Department jurisdiction is that particular license

actually required as a condition of issuing a permit. Still, it's on the books

as being required.

No one in Santa Barbara is aware that any stock shooter has posed any problem or

caused any disturbance that warrants all these controls. The best anyone can come

up with is that the rules governing movie, TV and still production shoots

suddenly are being interpreted to take in individual stock shooters.

In fact, at one point last year (1999) when the issue of licensing stock

photographers came up for discussion, someone in City Hall even suggested that

stock shooters be required to make their images available to the city for its

use, without compensation. No one quite knew how this was supposed to work but

when word got out some local shooters raised enough ruckus that the bizarre idea

was dropped. One city official calls that a period of "swirling controversy."

As things stand now, though, there is no centralized office that coordinates

photographic requests or any single shooting permit system. If you want to really

be legal in Santa Barbara, this is what's involved.

The police permit covers shooting throughout the city except for areas under the

jurisdiction of other departments. Application for a Still Photo Shoot permit

must be made, preferably three weeks in advance, to: Special Events Planning

Officer, SBPD, PO Box 539, Santa Barbara, CA 93102, Ph: 805-897-2352; Fax:


The application form will be faxed back to the photog. When filled out and

returned accompanied by a $10 processing fee, a $50 permit fee and proof of a $1

million liability insurance policy, the request is reviewed and when approved is

returned. That approved form serves as the shooter's authority.

When it comes to capturing the sunset over the Pacific Ocean through the palm

trees or over the beaches at least it won't be so expensive this year. The Parks

& Recreation Department has dropped its daily permit fee of $250, formerly levied

on still shooters.

Just the same, to be in the clear, a stock shooter is required to file a request

for a permit accompanied by a $5 fee. A new requirement, however, is that the

shooter must have evidence of a paid-up $250,000 general liability insurance

policy and a business license.

If the requirements are met, the shooter is free to cover the city's 37 developed

parks and some three miles of beachfront. Molly Carillo-Walker, assistant

director, Parks & Recreation Department, notes that stock photographers have

pointed out that they have no impact on the environment or cause any

disturbances. However, she says, "The reality is that we have to follow our own

ordinances and codes. We're not in a position to set precedents."

Applications should go to the City of Santa Barbara, c/o Parks & Recreation

Dept., PO 1990, SB 93102. Or fax permit requests to 805-564-5480.

In mid January, however, the Carillo-Walker expects to present

recommendations to the City Council that would eliminate for still shooters her

$5 permit fee but still require the approved permit, proof of insurance and the

business license. The upside to all this, if approved by the Council, is that a

single office would take care of issuing the Park permit and sell the license.

Among the most popular and photographic features of the beachfront is the Stearns

Wharf, oldest working wharf on the West Coast. But set foot on it with cameras in

hand or the marina or other maritime facility, and you're under the jurisdiction

of the Waterfront Department.

It has a filming fee schedule that calls for a $250 a day fee for "crews less

than 15 people" and the Department has determined that applies to just a single

shooter, according to Scott Riedman, property management specialist. In addition,

the Waterfront folks want proof of liability insurance in the amount of $1


Permit request go to Waterfront Department, City of Santa Barbara, PO Box 1990

Santa Barbara, CA 93102-1990, Ph: 805-897-1969, fax: 805-963-2622.

Required no matter where one shoots in the city is a Santa Barbara Business

License. Again, making stock pictures for ultimate sale is viewed as conducting

business for which a license is required. The basic fee is $30 a year for anyone

with gross sales under $25,000. The fee then goes up incrementally based on your


The license can be obtained at the Finance Department Business License Division,

City Hall weekdays 7:30 - 5:30. Or one can call or fax ahead, request the

application form and return it with payment. Ph: 805-564-5341; fax: 805-897-1978.

The address for the Santa Barbara Conference & Visitors Bureau and Film

Commission is 12 East Carrillo St., Santa Barbara, CA 93111, Ph: 805-966-9222,

Fax: 805-966-1728. Email:

If you think this bureaucratic nightmare is over, it's not. Should you want to

shoot in and around the Santa Barbara County Courthouse downtown which is famous

for its Spanish-Moorish architecture, guest what? You got it: you need another

permit, this one from John R. Barron, Film Permit Commissioner, for the county.

Fortunately, Barron runs something of a "one stop shop" for shooters interested

in covering anything in the unincorporated areas of Santa Barbara County as well

as in the county itself. These communities include Goleta, the Hope Ranch, the

beach country and county parks.

While there are fees for county shooting, Barron is easy to work with. He will

often grant stock still shooters a Category F exception from the normal $100 fee.

That's because they leave a "small footprint" in terms of equipment and

disruption. Available to shooters is the block square County Building complex

with its sunken garden, tower providing a panoramic view of the city's

picturesque red tile roofs, the Mural Room and other settings. Still photogs will

need to carry $500,000 in liability insurance.

Prospective shooters should request a Film Permit Application from: County of

Santa Barbara Film Permit office, 123 East Anapamu Streeet, Santa Barbara, CA

93101, Ph: 805-568-3074, Fax: 805-568-3101.

The only remaining question: "Given all this mind-boggling red tape, why in the

world would any stock photographer even consider shooting in Santa Barbara?"

Copyright © 1999 Norm Sklarewitz. The above article may not be copied, reproduced, excerpted or distributed in any manner without written permission from the author. All requests should be submitted to Selling Stock at 10319 Westlake Drive, Suite 162, Bethesda, MD 20817, phone 301-461-7627, e-mail: wvz@fpcubgbf.pbz

Norman Sklarewitz is a Los Angeles-based freelance journalist whose professional background includes staff positions as a Far East Correspondent  for The Wall Street Journal and L.A. Bureau Chief  with U.S. News & World Report. When a foreign correspondent based in Tokyo, he reported on major international events throughout Asia including the Vietnam War.


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