LONG BEACH — An annual lesbian and gay pride festival may be in jeopardy because organizers have been unable to obtain the $1-million liability insurance policy required by the city.
Leaders of Long Beach Lesbian and Gay Pride Inc., the group sponsoring the event, plan to appeal to city officials to reduce the insurance requirement.
On Tuesday, the City Council dealt festival organizers a setback on a related matter, voting unanimously not to waive the estimated $28,000 cost of police supervision and other municipal services during the fete, scheduled for May 17 and 18 at Shoreline Aquatic Park.
Judith Doyle, president of the organization, said she was disappointed by the council vote, in particular because the group was not notified that the matter was scheduled to be heard on Tuesday.
Before last June's two-day festival, Doyle and other organizers accused city officials of trying to block the event by charging the group about $23,000 for city services. Those fees prompted the American Civil Liberties Union to file a discrimination lawsuit that is still pending.
Nonetheless, the liability insurance matter could pose a far more formidable obstacle for the group.
Doyle said organizers have worked for about three months with a pair of insurance brokers to acquire a $1-million insurance policy, but have come up empty-handed so far.
One insurance firm offered to provide the coverage for $25,000--but only if no alcoholic beverages were served during the festival. Doyle said that was not feasible because organizers raise nearly all operating funds through the sale of alcohol. All profits go to homosexual-related charities, including groups that provide information and assistance to AIDS victims.
So far, no insurance companies have been willing to provide liability coverage if alcohol is served, Doyle said.
"The quotes we've been getting from insurance companies have been totally out of the ballpark for us," Doyle said, referring to the $25,000 cost of coverage with an alcohol ban. "We don't have the funds or the fiscal abilities to come up with money like that."
The predicament facing festival organizers has become all too common. In recent months, the insurance industry has raised liability premiums throughout the nation, hitting cities, groups and individuals with increasingly harsh requirements and higher rates.
Water-Skiing Event Canceled
Last month, a water-skiing club had to cancel its annual event at Aquatic Park in Long Beach because the council refused to budge on a requirement for a $1-million insurance policy, something the group's organizers said they could not obtain.
But the council earlier this month agreed to slash in half the liability insurance requirement for promoters of the Long Beach Grand Prix, allowing race organizers to provide $10 million in coverage instead of the $20 million required in previous years.
Doyle said she hoped city officials would agree to reduce the insurance requirement on the gay pride festival, which includes a parade along Ocean Boulevard on May 18, to "something we can afford."
Assistant City Manager J. Edward Tewes, however, said city staff would stick by its requirement for a $1-million policy, which is standard for events that draw large crowds and involve consumption of alcoholic beverages.
Tewes said other groups have been able to obtain $1-million coverage for festivals where alcohol was served at Shoreline Park, citing an event sponsored by the Long Beach Grand Prix Benevolent Association the weekend prior to the Long Beach Grand Prix.
Never Bought Insurance
But Sharrie Dyer, executive director of the charity group, said her association did not have to buy insurance because it was covered under the $10-million policy bought by race organizers.
Although city management promised to stand firm, some council members held out hope for the gay pride festival.
Councilman Wallace Edgerton, a supporter of the gay pride festival, hinted that he would support a reduction in the insurance requirement, saying he felt an event like the Grand Prix is "a hundredfold more dangerous."
"If we were prepared to take risks with the Grand Prix, I think we're going to have to follow the same guidelines for the gay pride festival," Edgerton said.
Councilman Warren Harwood, however, said officials would have to be careful to consider the city's liability during the event and whether the event would be taken as a precedent by organizers of other parades and festivals.
"My judgment certainly would not be guided by my support or lack of support for the gay pride festival," Harwood said. "That has nothing to do with it. The only consideration is exposure to the city and precedent."
If officials refuse to compromise, Doyle said, her group is ready to take the city to court over the insurance requirement.