Malibu Aims to Crack Down on Paparazzi

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The Southern California beachside community of Malibu wants to crack down on the paparazzi. The city's mayor worries that if the problem of star-crazed photographers isn't dealt with now, it will only get worse.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Here in California, the paparazzi, those freelance photographers who make their living taking celebrity pictures, may have irritated one person too many in the city of Malibu. That star-studded, beachside community is trying to figure out how to crack down on the paparazzi, and it's enlisted a famous lawyer to help. NPR's Karen Grigsby Bates reports.

KAREN GRIGSBY BATES: Most every city has a Main Street, but the city of Malibu - nestled between the Pacific Ocean and the cliffs that overlook it - has a Main Street that's not only richer than most, but longer.

Mayor PAMELA CONLEY ULICH (Malibu, California): Unlike other cities, our Main Street is Pacific Coast Highway. It happens to be 21 miles long from one side of town to the other.

BATES: PCH is the Pacific Coast Highway, and that's Malibu's Mayor, Pamela Conley Ulich. Her city's grappling with a problem the rest of L.A. has been trying to figure out: how to deal with the growing throng of aggressive paparazzi who hang around, hoping to get a candid money shot of residents like Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Mel Gibson and Cher.

Mayor ULICH: I'm fearful that we will have a fatality that's directly related to the paparazzi and their reckless disregard for the safety of others.

BATES: The mayor has gotten complaints about the photographers' reckless driving and about packs of them blocking business doorways to get a photo of a star shopping. With celebrity renters descending on Malibu this summer, she worries the problem will only get worse, so Mayor Conley Ulich is establishing a commission to see whether there's a legal way to contain the paparazzi.

MAYOR ULICH: This whole commission is really going to look at what are the laws, how are they being enforced, and can we improve.

BATES: She's asked Ken Starr of Monicagate fame and now the dean of nearby Pepperdine Law School, to head the commission. Starr declined our request for comment. But one thing the city is discussing is a possible sales tax on photographers who make a killing on photos shot in Malibu.

Tony Cassaras(ph), owner of an upscale Greek restaurant, is all for whatever the commission wants to do.

Mr. TONY CASSARAS (Restaurateur, Malibu, California): Anything will help. Anything will help. This is hell. It's hell.

BATES: The bougainvillea-draped patio doesn't look like hell. It's pretty pleasant here. There are hummingbirds that dart in and out and a lovely sea breeze, but Cassaras says the ambiance changes once word leaks out that a celebrity has stopped by, especially a celebrity with children.

Mr. CASSARAS: The cameras, they go to an inch from the babies' eyes or faces. It's the most dangerous way of doing business, if you call it business, in the world.

BATES: And don't let a paparazzi favorite like Lindsay Lohan drop in.

Mr. CASSARAS: If Lindsay Lohan was here was here now, there would be 100 paparazzi outside here, and you wouldn't be able to come in and talk to me.

BATES: According to Joey Puente, who manages Diesel, the local bookstore, seeing Lohan or someone like her isn't all that unusual.

Mr. JOEY PUENTE (Manager, Diesel Bookstore): This is pretty much the town center of Malibu, so if you just waited long enough, you'll see a celebrity pop in.

BATES: As soon as they do, Puente says, somebody - they don't know who - alerts the photographers.

Mr. PUENTE: It doesn't take much to make a connection and show that hey, look, someone famous arrives, and 15 minutes later, you've got 30 people here swarming around them, disrupting business in the area. It's terrible for business.

BATES: New ordinances might not make a differences. The county sheriff, whose deputies patrol Malibu, says existing laws are good enough to deal with the paparazzi problem.

Steve Whitmore, the sheriff's spokesman, puts it this way.

Mr. STEVE WHITMORE (Spokesman for Sheriff, Malibu, California): We don't look at this as a crackdown. We don't look at this as a task force or anything like that. This is just enforcing the law. And as a problem grows, enforcement will grow with it.

BATES: If Malibu's past few years are any guide, it's safe to predict that the problem and the enforcement will grow this summer. Karen Grigsby Bates, NPR News.

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