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Staples Center at core of wide security cordon in downtown L.A.

Extra police and fire crews will be on duty for Jackson memorial as thousands are expected near Staples Center and Nokia Theatre. Councilman Zine calls on AEG to cover full cost of the event.

July 07, 2009|Andrew Blankstein and Mitchell Landsberg

A city accustomed to outsized public spectacles headed into uncharted territory today, uncertain how fans would respond to a carefully planned public memorial to singer Michael Jackson -- an event expected to cost nearly $4 million in city services alone.

Authorities were throwing a wide cordon around Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles, hoping that would keep away crowds who lacked tickets to a 10 a.m. memorial service featuring some big names, among them Kobe Bryant, Mariah Carey, Jennifer Hudson, Lionel Richie, Smokey Robinson, Brooke Shields and Stevie Wonder.

Thousands of police officers and firefighters were being assigned not only to that event, but to the Jackson family compound in Encino, the home Jackson rented in Holmby Hills and to Forest Lawn Memorial-Park in the Hollywood Hills, where the family was to hold a private service at 8 a.m.

Despite the severely limited opportunities to participate in the events, fans were pouring into Los Angeles from around the world, determined to say goodbye to a pop idol who inspired tremendous loyalty even through the most difficult phases of his career, which was marred by erratic behavior and allegations of child molestation.

Organizers and public officials were not disclosing information about several aspects of the farewell to Jackson, who suffered cardiac arrest at his home and died June 25 at age 50. In an apparent effort to discourage an unmanageable funeral procession, authorities were not saying exactly how Jackson's body would be moved from Forest Lawn to Staples Center.

Also unclear: Who was paying all the costs related to the televised memorial, being produced by AEG, the owner of Staples Center and the promoter that had been preparing to produce Jackson's comeback concert tour.

Los Angeles City Councilman Dennis Zine called Monday on AEG to cover the full cost of the memorial, saying the company had made the decision to hold it at Staples. "I don't fault their decision," Zine said. "I'm just saying that it should be at their expense, not the taxpayers'."

Zine said Monday evening that officials in the chief legislative analyst's office estimated that security and logistical support alone would be $3.8 million.

An AEG spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Zine said he asked City Atty. Carmen Trutanich to find out whether the city could take legal action to recoup its costs. A spokesman said the city attorney and his staff are "researching all options available to the city for reimbursement."

Another council member, Jan Perry, suggested the Jackson family should help cover the costs.

This being Los Angeles, about 8,750 pairs of tickets to the memorial were handed out Monday morning in a drive-through line at Dodger Stadium, where the lucky faithful who won an online lottery began gathering by 6 a.m. and never had to leave their cars. More than 1.6 million people had vied for the opportunity to watch the memorial either at Staples or in overflow seats in the adjacent Nokia Theatre.

The winners were fitted with glittering wristbands that were designed to be non-transferable.

Bob and Shaneese Lewis of Palm Springs awoke at 3 a.m. to make the drive to the stadium.

Both had registered for tickets online, and it was Bob Lewis' entry that got them through the gates.

"I feel very lucky," he said. "I grew up on Michael Jackson, and I learned to dance watching Michael Jackson."

The Lewises planned to stay with friends Monday evening, then pay their respects and pray for Jackson at the memorial service. "I feel like I won the lottery," Bob Lewis said.

He certainly should see his share of famous faces. Besides the celebrities named above, those expected to participate included the singer Usher, Motown founder Berry Gordy Jr., Magic Johnson, Martin Luther King III, the Rev. Al Sharpton (who has been serving as a Jackson family advisor), Shaheen Jafargholi (a finalist on "Britain's Got Talent") and others.

Among those not attending: Debbie Rowe, one of Jackson's former wives and mother of his two eldest children.

"The onslaught of media attention has made it clear her attendance would be an unnecessary distraction to an event that should focus exclusively on Michael's legacy," said a statement from Browne, Woods & George, a law firm representing her. "Debbie will continue to celebrate Michael's memory privately."

The Los Angeles Police Department urged people who aren't attending the memorial to stay away.

Several days after predicting that as many as 1 million people could turn out for the event, police seemed to be hoping that they could limit crowds to little more than those who would fill Staples Center and the Nokia Theatre. Given the tremendous interest, however, it was not clear how successful that effort would be.

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