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L.A. aims to limit Jackson crowd

Only 17,500 will get tickets for the service at Staples Center. Authorities warn others to stay away.

July 04, 2009|Cara Mia DiMassa, Richard Winton and David Zahniser

Facing overwhelming demand for tickets to Michael Jackson's memorial service, officials are warning those who do not win seats for Tuesday morning's Staples Center event to stay away as police plan a massive deployment around the downtown arena.

A total of 17,500 free tickets will be distributed to people selected at random from among those who register by 6 p.m. today at www.staplescenter.com.

So many people tried to register for the lottery that the website's server briefly crashed Friday morning as the ticketing process was announced. More than 500,000 people had registered for the lottery by Friday evening, a spokesman for the Jackson family said.

Seeking to discourage massive throngs, officials said that there would be no funeral procession and that no one would be allowed inside a large area around Staples unless they had a ticket and a wristband, a media credential or could prove they live or work there.

"You must have a ticket to be admitted to the venue," Los Angeles Police Department Assistant Chief Earl Paysinger said at a news conference outside Staples Center attended by journalists from around the globe. "There's no way to get to this venue if you don't have a ticket."

The restricted area is bounded by Flower Street on the east, Olympic Boulevard on the north, Pico Boulevard to the south and Blaine Street to the west.

The memorial will be staged in a "safe and calm manner," L.A. City Councilwoman Jan Perry said. "That should ease the potential burden enormously" for taxpayers, she added.

Perry said the extra police deployment will be paid for out of an LAPD fund reserved for overtime costs of special events such as "1st Amendment marches, protests and funerals and other special events large in scope and that have a potential to impact public safety."

Because the fiscal year started July 1, the fund for all police overtime -- which according to one source covers 1.6 million hours, or nearly $90 million -- is flush. But some city officials questioned the wisdom of spending possibly more than $1 million in overtime funds so early in the fiscal year, noting that the city could find itself cash-strapped later in the event of a fire, earthquake or other major disaster.

"Do we want to blow our money at the first week of the fiscal year?" asked Police Administrator Rhonda Sims-Lewis. "No. We would prefer to get some reimbursement. That would mean we would be prepared as we go through the rest of the year. I believe they are working on trying to work this whole thing out. I hope it gets worked out."

Sims-Lewis said that each year, police officials expect a few extraordinary events. Last year saw marches for and against Proposition 8, a Metrolink crash and a few immigration protests, among other things. But "if we have something huge like an earthquake or a flood and a string of incidents, that could devastate us," she said.

In the case of a large-scale disaster, some expenditures could be reimbursed by the federal government.

Sims-Lewis said that last year, the LAPD did not use all of its allotted 1.6 million hours of overtime -- in part because about 100,000 hours -- or $6.7 million -- was returned midyear after Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa asked city departments to tighten their belts.

Perry said city officials don't know the public cost of the Jackson memorial but are using last month's Lakers championship parade -- which cost $2 million and was ultimately covered by private contributors -- as one benchmark. Nearly half of the money was for public works and law enforcement, the largest deployment of LAPD forces in approximately a decade.

At the news conference, Perry asked for donations to help pay the city's non-law enforcement costs. "The city would deeply appreciate" the help, said Perry, who was acting as mayor since Villaraigosa was in South Africa and City Council President Eric Garcetti was in Japan.

Tim Leiweke, president and chief executive of AEG, the company that owns and operates Staples Center and that was producing Jackson's comeback concerts in London, said the service will be carried live on television and the Internet. Further details about the service were still being discussed, he said.

Jackson family publicist Ken Sunshine said the event and the distribution of tickets are being orchestrated with the fans in mind.

"Everything about the memorial has to do with the fans," Sunshine said.

Late Friday, AEG announced that the random drawing, originally limited to U.S. residents, had been expanded to those living in other countries.

Staples Center, site of Jackson's last rehearsal, can hold as many as 20,000 people, depending on its configuration.

Organizers plan to select 8,750 names at random from the list of people who register on the Staples Center website; those selected will be notified between 11 a.m. and 8 p.m. Sunday and told where to go on Monday to pick up two tickets and wristbands guaranteeing them seats at the event. Of the 17,500 tickets available, 11,000 are for the Staples Center and 6,500 are for Nokia Theatre, across the street, where the service will be shown on a jumbo screen.

The rest of the available tickets will be given to "family, and friends of the family, for their use," Sunshine said.

Both Leiweke and Sunshine said they do not want anyone to try to scalp tickets.

"We're hoping people have dignity," Leiweke said. ". . . Those who would take advantage of this, shame on them."

--

cara.dimassa@latimes.com

richard.winton@latimes.com

david.zahniser@latimes.com

Times staff writer Andrew Blankstein contributed to this report.

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