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ELECTION 2002

Back to Drawing Board for Museums

With Measure A's failure, art and natural history facilities must seek other fund sources.

November 07, 2002|Christopher Reynolds | Times Staff Writer

They knew it was a long shot. But the backers of Measure A figured it was a worthwhile gamble to spend $5 million in hopes that voters would embrace a $250-million "earthquake and fire safety" bond issue to bankroll capital improvement projects at Los Angeles County's art and natural history museums, along with a handful of other cultural facilities.

The gamble failed. Though Measure A drew 60.4% of the votes cast in Los Angeles County, about 10,000 more votes than Gov. Gray Davis won here in his reelection victory, it fell short of the 66.7% it needed for passage.

As a result, the county's homeowners won't see their property taxes rise next year by $6.96 per $250,000 of assessed value. And the museums, whose upgrade-and-expansion plans together amount to an estimated $600 million in coming years, now face anew the question of where all that money will come from.

Officials at both museums say they have no immediate plans to pare their ambitions or slow their schedules.

"I really believe that the right mix is one-third public money and two-thirds private, which parallels how we cover our operating expenses. These are public buildings, and the collections are owned by the public," said Jane Pisano, president and director of the Natural History Museum.

"At worst, it delays plans, rather than eliminates them," said Eli Broad, the philanthropist who gave $1.19 million to the Measure A campaign, then loaned another $1 million in its closing days. Broad also conceded, however, that "in this economy, it's going to be a tough, slow road to raise the kind of money that LACMA and the Natural History Museum need."

Broad, who has hinted at a future gift of at least $25 million to the LACMA campaign, added, "I can't do it alone. Where does all the rest come from?"

County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky praised Broad's "courage" in bankrolling the campaign, noting that early on, "I advised him against this; the odds were very slim. We were drawing to an inside straight."

LACMA's plans call for razing the four central buildings of the museum complex, which dates to the 1960s, and replacing them with a new campus designed by Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas. The cost has been broadly estimated at $300 million.

The Natural History Museum, whose oldest sections date to 1913, remains at an early stage in its expansion and renovation plans, but it also expects the project to include replacing some parts of the current complex and renovating others, at a cost estimated at $300 million.

The Measure A campaign spent most of its $5 million on 30-second television spots and mailers.

Measure A's opponents, who included the local leaders of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Assn. and the Libertarian Party, spent nothing on advertising but asserted in ballot arguments that the "earthquake and fire safety" language used by backers was a smoke screen for a batch of new and improved buildings.

Under Measure A's provisions, the county would have provided $98 million each to LACMA and the Natural History Museum, provided that each institution separately raised $112.5 million in matching funds by November 2012.

The measure called for an additional $54 million in bond money for cultural facilities in the county, including new performing arts facilities at Cal State Northridge and in the San Gabriel Valley, along with a new cultural arts complex at El Pueblo de Los Angeles historic district downtown. Yaroslavsky declined to give up on all those projects. However, he added, "I think the San Gabriel project is dead."

Though the postelection hunt for funds will be challenging, the Natural History Museum's Pisano noted there are places to look. On Nov. 1, Pisano said, she learned that the governor's office plans to direct $6 million in state funds toward preservation efforts in the oldest portion of the museum.

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