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AIDS Ride Splinters Over Dispute

Charity: Fight over proceeds has led to formation of a rival group, dueling event.


California bicyclists who raise money for charity learned Thursday they had better tighten their helmets and shinguards: The annual 575-mile San Francisco-to-Los Angeles AIDS bike ride is getting bumpier than ever.

And the route seems headed directly to court.

A dispute over proceeds from this year's marathon ride has led to the formation of a competing AIDS ride group and a controversial plan to have rival charity riders racing down the California coast next year. Mediation efforts this week have failed, officials on both sides said.

Two AIDS groups that have been beneficiaries of the last eight annual California AIDS Rides have formed a new bike ride fund-raising group, AIDS/LifeCycle, and are recruiting riders for their own San Francisco-to-Los Angeles event on May 13-19.

The longtime promoter of California AIDS Ride has responded by signing up a third AIDS group to be its new sponsoring beneficiary and is soliciting riders for its north-south ride on June 2-8.

On Thursday, promoters of California AIDS Ride said they planned to seek a court injunction to stop AIDS/LifeCycle's ride.

In the meantime, other AIDS activists were calling for unity--and for an end to the burgeoning bicycle war.

"The donor community will be confused and disillusioned, riders will be split up and confused, and people in these little towns won't know what to make of two groups coming through within weeks of each other," warned Michael Weinstein, president of AIDS Healthcare Foundation. Weinstein's organization is not involved with either bicycle ride.

Added pioneering Hollywood gay activist Morris Kight, 82: "To have competing charity drives taking up the highway is really selfish."

The AIDS/LifeCycle ride is being jointly organized by the Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Center and the San Francisco AIDS Foundation.

The California AIDS Ride is run by Los Angeles-based Pallotta Teamworks, a promotions firm that originated the original AIDS ride fund-raiser in 1994. Its new beneficiary is AIDS Project Los Angeles.

The Gay & Lesbian Center and the San Francisco foundation have been embroiled in a dispute with Pallotta Teamworks over this year's five-day event.

Officials of the two groups say unexpected cost overruns cut into profits from the ride. They also complain that "cross-promotion" of other events staged by Pallotta Teamworks such as the Avon 3-Day Breast Cancer Walk diminished the impact of this year's ride.

"Significant costs were over budget by several hundred thousand dollars," Gwenn Baldwin, executive director of the Gay & Lesbian Center, said Thursday. She said a mediation session Wednesday among Pallotta Teamworks, her group and the San Francisco foundation failed to resolve the monetary dispute.

Gustavo Suarez, a spokesman for the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, said the cost of fund-raising for this year's bike ride climbed to 50 cents on the dollar from 35 cents in previous years.

"That's a very serious jump," he said.

Norm Bowling, senior vice president for Pallotta, confirmed that court action was planned. He said his firm was "hurt and disappointed" by the failure of the mediation session.

"We don't feel like we're left with any choice but to file a lawsuit, unfortunately. There are large sums of money in dispute we believe are owed to us, both for [last June's] California AIDS Ride and for costs incurred on their behalf for next year's ride," he said. He asserted that AIDS/LifeCycle has hired several former California AIDS Ride officials with "proprietary knowledge" of his firm's operations to help organize its ride.

Bowling said extra costs for security and logistics, coupled with an unexpectedly light turnout of riders from San Francisco, cut into the ride's profits. About 52% of the $11 million raised went to the Los Angeles center and the San Francisco foundation, he said.

In its new arrangement with AIDS Project Los Angeles for next year's ride, new safeguards--including a potential refund of part of Pallotta Teamwork's $450,000 fee--have been written into the contract to protect the AIDS group, he said.

Although the expense of staging long bike rides typically exceeds the normal 35% charity fund-raising overhead cutoff recognized by philanthropic watchdogs, his company's events have generated more than $40 million over the last eight years for the Gay & Lesbian Center and the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, Bowling stressed.

For now, the rival rides are recruiting participants and volunteers. This year's attracted about 2,300 riders who each paid an $85 entry fee and then collect a minimum of $2,700 in donor pledges.

Jeff Haber, co-chairman of the board of directors for AIDS Project Los Angeles, said his group would welcome the Gay & Lesbian Center and the San Francisco foundation back as co-sponsors.

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