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Los Angeles budget crisis' main event: gridlock?

With funds for traffic officers for big events at major venues way down, fans may find themselves stuck in their cars far longer than in the past.

October 15, 2009|Maeve Reston

The budget crisis in Los Angeles may have unpleasant consequences for concert- goers, Lakers fans and even Dodgers fans on the day of the first game of the National League Championship Series: gridlock.

For more than a decade, the city has covered the full cost of providing traffic officers for events at the Greek Theatre, Hollywood Bowl, Coliseum, Sports Arena and former Olympic Auditorium. Similarly, it absorbed part of the cost for traffic officers who keep cars moving around Dodger Stadium and Staples Center.

But just 3 1/2 months into the fiscal year, the transportation department has exhausted its special events overtime budget -- which had been cut from $6 million to less than $2 million. The only money left is $500,000 earmarked for the Los Angeles Marathon and the Los Angeles Triathlon.

In the face of dwindling reserves, city officials have asked the six major venue operators to cover the full cost of providing traffic officers, who are paid $40.92 an hour while working games and events.

Five have agreed to pay the city this season -- the Sports Arena is opting out of traffic services -- but most plan to reduce the number of traffic officers working, which could lead to congestion.

The city's Principal Transportation Engineer Alan Willis encouraged Dodgers fans and event-goers to use public transportation or leave extra time to get to events in the coming weeks. The reduced staffing plans "may work out well, but we don't know what's going to happen here," Willis said.

When the city agreed to waive fees at six of the major venues in 1995, the annual cost was $200,000, but it has since ballooned to $1.4 million.

Money in the special event overtime account was also intended to cover the costs of 1st Amendment marches and protests, as well as dozens of other city festivals and parades, which often have their fees waived at the request of City Council members. In addition to covering costs for events including the Taste of Encino and the annual Greek Festival at St. Sophia Cathedral at the request of the City Council this year, the transportation department used nearly $31,000 from its overtime account for traffic control the day of the Michael Jackson memorial.

Council members' most immediate concern was today's playoff game between the Dodgers and the Philadelphia Phillies. But Willis said reduced staffing was likely to amount to one fewer traffic control officer at an intersection that previously had four.

"We believe that working cooperatively with the department of transportation that we have a deployment plan that will have no interruptions," said Howard Sunkin, senior vice president of the McCourt Group, which owns the Dodgers. "The level of service at those intersections for our fans and our neighborhoods will continue."

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maeve.reston@latimes.com

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