It may not be Fifth Avenue at Christmastime, but at least organizers of the second annual Beverly Hills Holiday Pageant will not have to worry about snow falling on Rodeo Drive.
The pageant, which organizers hope will become as traditional as the Christmas tree lighting ceremonies at Rockefeller Center in New York City and the White House, will be held Friday at 8 p.m. in front of the Beverly Wilshire Hotel, Wilshire Boulevard and Rodeo Drive.
The Beverly Hills Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Bureau, which is producing the pageant, hopes that the $1-million extravaganza will bring visitors--particularly holiday shoppers--to Beverly Hills.
"We want visitors to experience shopping in a spectacular holiday atmosphere, like Fifth Avenue in New York at Christmastime," said Michael Sims, the chamber's executive vice president. "But without the snow," he added with a smile.
Ten 60-by-20-foot greeting cards strung across Wilshire Boulevard will be illuminated, along with 400 smaller cards on lamp posts throughout the city to transform Beverly Hills into what officials are calling a "glittering seasonal showcase of animated lights and decorations."
The pageant, the costs of which are being shared by the chamber, the city and the Finnish consulate general, will feature a 300-voice choir processional with trumpet fanfare, celebrity families, marching bands and an appearance by what Finnish officials claim to be the original Santa Claus in a horse-drawn sleigh.
Twenty-two children from Camp Ronald McDonald, a program for children with cancer, will depart on Dec. 3 for a weeklong visit to Santa Claus Land in Lapland, Finland, near the Arctic Circle. The trip, sponsored by the Finnish consulate as a promotional activity and the Beverly Hills Chamber of Commerce, also will include a reception given by Rockwell Schnabel, the U. S. ambassador to Finland, and stops in Helsinki and Stockholm, Sweden.
Mayor Benjamin H. Stansbury, who said he was embarrassed last year when the city did not send an elected official to accompany the children because the City Council refused to use public funds to pay for the trip, said he plans on going along this year, even though he said he still was not sure who would pay the $966 round-trip air fare to Finland.
"I feel there is an obligation of the city to have the mayor present at these affairs," Stansbury said in an interview this week. "It is critical that we do not embarrass our host country of Finland. I don't know where the funding will be coming from, but I will be making the trip."
Last year and again last week, the council majority said it would not use public funds to pay to send Stansbury to Finland.
Finnair, Finland's national airline, has offered to fly the mayor for free, but state law prohibits elected officials from accepting a free ride on any form of commercial transportation.
The Chamber of Commerce last year also had offered to pick up the cost, but the state Fair Political Practices Commission said that a council member who accepts any good or service worth more than $250 from any individual or organization cannot vote on issues affecting the donor for a year.
Because the city supports the chamber financially, Stansbury said he could not give up his right to vote on issues affecting the chamber.
"I think (the prohibitions) are both ludicrous and quite outdated," Stansbury said. "I can assure you that council people from all over the country, and particularly from Los Angeles, are continually taking trips everywhere that are not funded by them personally.
"There are appropriate means to do this (trip). For political reasons, this council has not done it. It has never been a point of sending me but of sending the mayor. Hopefully, we can get some wise people on the council who understand the value of promoting the city. It is extremely important."
Councilman Robert K. Tanenbaum, who has said publicly that he will work to oust Stansbury and Councilwoman Donnal Ellman from office during next year's municipal elections, has said public funding of the trip is not appropriate and that if Stansbury wants to go, he should pay for the trip himself.
Stansbury maintains that the city "has the duty to pay for the trip" because promoting Beverly Hills, particularly in Europe, is vital for the city's tourist-dependent economy.
'Have Product to Sell'
"Out of sight is out of mind," he said. "Beverly Hills is no different. We have a product to sell, and it is the mayor's job to do it."
Meanwhile, chamber officials hope that its million-dollar pageant will entice holiday shoppers to visit the city.
"A few years ago, Beverly Hills was the only place to go," said Max Factor III, chamber president. "Today, Beverly Hills is at the center of a very competitive marketplace. West Hollywood, the Beverly Center, Westwood, Westside Pavilion, Santa Monica Place, South Coast Plaza--they've all taken a piece of the pie."
"The holidays are the cornerstone to a successful retail year, and the city's Holiday Pageant is designed to tell the world that the welcome mat is out in Beverly Hills," he said.
"There's a misconception that Beverly Hills is open only to the rich and famous," said Sims. "But for every international designer, there are four moderately priced retailers."
And perhaps the best bargain is two hours of free parking the city is providing in its public lots.