County OKs huge new studio proposed by Disney

LOS ANGELES (AP) — A gigantic new Disney studio planned for oak-studded ranchland north of Los Angeles has won the approval of Los Angeles County — a milestone in the effort to build the half-million square feet of new production space in a state hard hit by runaway production.

County supervisors signed off on Tuesday on the Golden Oak Ranch project in the Santa Clarita Valley, although it still needs state and federal approval, the Los Angeles Times reported ( ).

Disney/ABC Studios has spent the past four years attempting to build a high-tech production center in the area that Walt Disney selected decades ago to be the backdrop for his movies and television shows.

Rural and a short drive from major studios, the site has been depicted as a jungle, the Old West and other locations in productions such as "Old Yeller," ''Beverly Hills 90210" and "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End."

Golden Ranch would be one of the largest studio developments in more than a decade, with six pairs of soundstages along with shops, prop and costume storage areas, offices, writers' bungalows and a commissary.

Disney estimates the project would create $533 million a year in economic activity — a healthy jolt as California fights runaway production that has cost it more than 36,000 jobs since 1997, according to a 2010 Milken Institute Report.

"Many of the film production companies are now going out of state," Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich said before the 4-0 vote. "This is an opportunity to increase film production in Los Angeles County."

A handful of environmentalists testified against the project, voicing concerns about pollution, loss of wildlife habitat and the need to cut down 158 oak trees. However, more than 100 supporters were on hand, including nearby residents and business and political leaders.

Disney said the 58-acre development will cover less than 7 percent of the 890-acre Golden Oak Ranch property. Disney plans to retain most of the natural settings.

Despite runaway production, local demand for studio space remains high. TV shows, commercials and new media productions financed by companies such as Netflix and Amazon have helped keep the average occupancy rate for Los Angeles County soundstages at 70 percent to 90 percent, said Carl Muhlstein, managing director for Jones Lang LaSalle, a global real estate service provider.

ABC, which produces 14 to 18 TV shows at any given time in the Los Angeles area, has outgrown the space at its studio in nearby Burbank and rents other soundstages to accommodate the work.