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City Officials Consider Revising Policies on Special Events

September 20, 2003|Jessica Garrison | Times Staff Writer

Even as the Los Angeles City Council on Friday authorized shelling out more than $180,000 for Bob Hope's memorial service and $75,000 for Sunday's Emmy Awards, some elected officials said the cash-strapped city must come up with new policies on whether to spend taxpayer dollars on parking, traffic and police services for special events.

"In the past, the city has blindly approved waivers for special events, whether they are worthy or not," said Councilman Jack Weiss, who said he would like to draft new rules on when such expenditures would be allowed.

From the Academy Awards to the Brentwood Presbyterian Church picnic, hundreds of groups hold special events on Los Angeles streets, an expense that one council member estimated at more than $10 million a year.

Almost every time the City Council meets, it votes to waive fees for such gatherings. On Friday the "waivers" ranged in cost from $312 for a children's event to $183,104 for last month's memorial for Hope. In total, the council voted Friday to waive $282,000 in fees.

"That's a lot of money that we're throwing away," said Councilman Dennis Zine, who questioned why the city is allocating $75,000 for the Emmys.

Some officials said the prestige of having such events in the city outweighs the public expense.

Todd P. Leavitt, president and chief executive of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, agreed and noted that the television industry is crucial to the Los Angeles economy.

"We would hope that we could demonstrate to the City Council's satisfaction that the good will that is created by this once-a-year event ... is more than valid," Leavitt said.

Councilman Tom LaBonge offered a similar rationale for the city's involvement in the Hope memorial. He said that the entertainer, who died July 27 at age 100, "was a great resident of this city and a great American."

Still, LaBonge said he looked forward to a report, expected next week, that will evaluate how much the city is spending on the events and enumerate how many are put on by nonprofit neighborhood groups and how many by for-profit entities.

City Controller Laura Chick praised the effort to evaluate how much is being spent.

"We do want to be a city where people can have neighborhood and community celebrations," she said. "These things bring tourists" and "improve community relations."

But, she added, "they have a price tag, and in order to be realistic and responsible, the decision-makers should know the figures.... It's pretty hard to have a cost-benefit analysis when you don't know the costs."

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