Berkeley movie theater under scrutiny for staff safety

Rialto Cinemas Elmwood has not changed their signs for over a month following a safety investigation. Photo: Seung Y. Lee
Rialto Cinemas Elmwood has not changed its marquee signs for over a month following a safety investigation. Photo: Seung Y. Lee

The Rialto Cinemas Elmwood has been ordered not to change the movie titles on its marquee until it develops a safe way for employees to switch out the letters.

The state’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health, also known as Cal/OSHA, sent a Dec. 29 letter to the theater ordering it to stop changing the movie names on its marquee. Since then, the theater, at 2966 College Ave., has not changed its sign. Three of the four movies currently featured outside are no longer playing; only Boyhood is still screening there.

According to the complaint letter from Cal/OSHA, an employee of the theater was seen changing the signboard while standing on a very narrow ledge 7½ feet above hard ground without guardrails or approved personal-fall protection gear. A Cal/OSHA investigator, who witnessed the scene, asked the employee to stop his work after discussing his concern for the employee’s safety.

Click the thumbnail to read the Cal/OSHA complaint to Rialto Cinemas Elmwood.
Click to enlarge the Cal/OSHA complaint letter to Rialto Cinemas Elmwood.

Rialto Cinemas Elmwood owner Ky Boyd released the following statement to Berkeleyside:


“Since we began operating the Elmwood Theatre in 2007, we have always changed the marquee in the same way as did previous operators. We were advised by a Cal/OSHA official who happened to be walking by that we were not working in accordance with Cal/OSHA guidelines. We are working with Cal/OSHA towards a solution.”

Rialto Cinemas Elmwood is making arrangements to bring in a bucket truck to replace the outdated marquee movie titles with a generic slogan. Then they hope to install an anchor system for fall protection for employees, according to Cal/OSHA spokeswoman Julia Bernstein.

The theater’s management did not provide Cal/OSHA with exact dates for when the bucket truck would come for the installation of the anchor system.

Boyd declined to respond to questions regarding when the marquee sign will be changed and when the new system will be operational.

One local resident expressed concern that Cal/OSHA’s order might be a detriment to the theater’s business.


“I’m all for safety, but I’m a little surprised that OSHA has no guidelines to help out quicker,” said Dan Schiff, an avid movie-goer and a longtime Berkeley resident. “I worry about the Elmwood’s lost revenue.”

In May last year a young man used the movie theater’s marquee to ask a girl out to the prom.

One of the last movie titles to be shown on the theater’s marquee before the ban was The Interview, a controversial film about North Korea that triggered a global brouhaha. The independent theater was one of the first in the country to screen the movie.

Seung Y. Lee is a journalist who has previously worked at the Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle and the Daily Californian.

Related:
Boy asks girl to the prom using Berkeley movie theater marquee (05.15.14)
Berkeley’s last independent cinema on why ads matter (01.04.11)


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