Organizers of the annual Gay Pride Parade in West Hollywood are negotiating with city officials and state Department of Transportation authorities after filing a lawsuit against the two agencies last week, charging them with requiring excessive and unconstitutional insurance coverage for the event.
Although the lawsuit filed Wednesday by the Christopher Street West Assn. raised doubts whether the Gay Pride Parade and festival can be held as scheduled June 21 and 22, an attorney for the parade's sponsors said late last week that she is optimistic about the group's negotiations with the city and Caltrans over reducing the general liability insurance requirements.
"We're hoping to persuade them to limit our insurance policy to $500,000," said the attorney, Tracy Jordon. "We just don't think we can afford to pay for any more insurance than that."
Until last week, the city and Caltrans were requiring that Christopher Street West purchase $5 million in insurance coverage. According to Jordon, Caltrans had agreed by midweek to pare its requirements to at least $1 million, but parade organizers still balked at that figure, saying it was still too high. West Hollywood officials reportedly were willing to accept the $500,000 figure, but Jordon said the city's offer was meaningless unless Caltrans, too, was willing to accept that figure.
Jordon cautioned that even if the two agencies agreed to lower their insurance requirement to $500,000, Christopher Street West might still have trouble finding an insurer willing to provide coverage. "We've been turned down by two insurers already," Jordon said. "Our agent told us they're worried about AIDS, even though we've had an exemplary insurance record for 16 years."
Christopher Street West has sponsored the Gay Pride Parade since 1970, held first in Hollywood and later in West Hollywood. The parade, which features gay-oriented floats, marching bands and celebrities, has become one of the largest celebrations of its kind in the country, boasting attendance close to 100,000 in recent years.
Jordon said that in the parade's 16-year history, only one insurance claim has been filed against the group. "Our record has been almost perfect, yet our insurance rates have gone almost out of sight," she said.
Two years ago, the parade's organizers paid $3,100 for a $2-million policy. Last year, Christopher Street West had to pay $53,000 for the same coverage. "We have the same problems getting insurance everyone else does," Jordon said. "But we don't believe we should have to pay those rates."
Caltrans requires insurance because part of the parade would cross a median strip it owns on Santa Monica Boulevard. And West Hollywood requires insurance for the parade and the festival because city property would be involved in both events.
A Caltrans attorney said the state agency is hesitant to allow the parade organizers to provide less than $1 million in coverage. "They're the ones responsible for the coverage," said the state agency's attorney, Nancy Palmieri. "They're talking about 80,000 in attendance, with 5,000 people participating in the parade. If they were to have just a few serious accidents, we're worried that $500,000 would just not be enough coverage."
City Proud to Sponsor It
Still, like Jordon, Palmieri said she is hopeful an agreement can be reached this week. West Hollywood City Manager Paul Brotzman said the city still hopes to host the parade. "It's an event we're proud to hold," Brotzman said. "We just hope this is ironed out soon, so we don't have to make preparations at the last minute."
Jordon said that Christopher Street West's contention that it should not be burdened by insurance requirements is bolstered by a recent Los Angeles County Superior Court decision. On May 14, Judge Warren Deering issued a preliminary injunction, ruling that Long Beach Lesbian and Gay Pride Inc., which sponsors a similar parade in that city, did not have to provide $1 million in insurance required by the Long Beach city government.
"We're confident we shouldn't have to pay any insurance," Jordon said. "But Christopher Street West feels that it should carry insurance in case there are any claims. We feel badly that we had to file the suit, but we felt we had to go on file. We didn't want to get boxed in because of the insurance situation in this country."