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Paper Work Almost Topples Holocaust Statue

November 22, 1987|DEAN MURPHY | Times Staff Writer

One city official was calling it "a big fuss about nothing" last Thursday, but by late afternoon it had escalated into a big enough fuss that it threatened to topple plans to honor a hero of the Holocaust.

"This could lose us $80,000," said Jane Fantel, a fund-raiser for the Raoul Wallenberg Fund, a Westside Jewish group that is trying to collect $150,000 to erect a monument to the Swedish diplomat who saved thousands of Hungarian Jews during World War II.

Two days earlier, the Los Angeles City Council had approved an agreement that called for a statue at the corner of Beverly Boulevard and Fairfax Avenue. The problem, discovered Thursday, was that the agreement contained an error that apparently offended officials at the Jewish Community Foundation, the endowment arm of the influential Jewish Federation Council.

The agreement erroneously stated that the foundation was a party to the agreement and that it would share in responsibilities to maintain the statue. Instead, the agreement should have listed the fund, the city and Great Western Bank as participants in the project.

The foundation, which acts as the bank for the Wallenberg Fund, in fact has nothing to do with the statue. The fund has applied for an $80,000 grant from the foundation, but the application is still pending.

Erroneous Data

"I have had several calls from our board, and the way they read it, it gives the impression that we have agreed to put up the statue," said Irving Allen, director of the foundation. "There is only a proposal before us. They are not happy with the fact that it seems like it has already happened."

Added one city official involved in the agreement: "They are very insulted."

The Wallenberg Fund, anxious to remain in the good graces of the foundation, immediately set out to correct the error in the agreement by contacting the city and The Times, which had published an article about the agreement on Thursday.

In the process, however, they discovered the agreement held another surprise: It requires the fund to join the city in maintaining the statue and accepting liability for it.

Paul Brooks, president of the fund, said he thought the agreement called for the fund to pay for and erect the statue, while handing maintenance and liability responsibilities to the city. Brooks said he must have overlooked the error when he signed the agreement last April.

"Obviously if we are going to do the statue for the city, the trade-off is that they will maintain it," Brooks said. "We have to change this."

Assistant City Atty. John Haggerty, who drafted the final version of the agreement, said no one from the city or the Wallenberg Fund objected to the document when it was given to them to review last spring.

"It may be that we are going to have to sit down and work this out," Haggerty said.

After a few tense hours late Thursday, the problem apparently was resolved.

Michelle Krotinger, who handles the statue issue for Fairfax-area Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky, contacted Brooks and the Jewish Community Foundation and assured them that the city would go along with the changes. Krotinger said the groups will have to draft a new agreement and Yaroslavsky will have to introduce a new motion to the City Council.

"It is hard to say exactly what happened," said Brooks. "There was an honest mistake."

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