The budget crisis won't rain on Lakers' parade

If the team wins the NBA Championship, it will pay for a city parade, sparing the controversy that erupted last year over public funds being used for a celebration.

June 12, 2010|By Phil Willon, Los Angeles Times

If the Los Angeles Lakers beat back the Boston Celtics and win the NBA Championship, the team has offered to pick up the tab of a city parade, a Lakers spokesman said Friday.

The offer should spare the city from the controversy that erupted last year over the use of public funds to pay for a parade after the Lakers beat the Orlando Magic for the team's 15th NBA championship. Eventually, private donors stepped in to cover half the city's $1.8 million in costs for police protection and other services.

Some City Council members and city union representatives already were voicing opposition to a possible city-funded celebration this year if the Lakers win, citing Los Angeles' ailing fiscal health.

"We have offered a sum which we think should more than cover the expected costs; however, we have not had any final plans approved, as we do not want to get too far ahead of ourselves at this point," said Lakers spokesman John Black.

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa on Friday said that if the Lakers beat the Celtics the city should have a parade to celebrate, but he largely avoided the question of whether he thinks the city should pay for it.

"Our city, should we have the great fortune of having a championship, will have a parade if that's what they want to do," Villaraigosa said. "Every city since the 1980s, when they won a championship, have had a parade. The cities have paid for it."

Villaraigosa said that, despite the tough economic times for the city, Los Angeles residents would expect some sort of celebration. But he said it is premature to discuss the issue, since the Lakers and Celtics are tied with two wins apiece in the best-of-seven series and victory is not assured.

"I can tell you that the vast majority of people in this town, I remember last year, feel very strongly that we need to celebrate, particularly in these tough times," Villaraigosa said. "I think the city of Los Angeles ought to celebrate its championships. But we're not there yet. We'll figure it out when we get there."

The city's fiscal health is in even worse shape than last year. To close a $485-million budget shortfall, the council and mayor agreed to lay off hundreds of city workers and cut library hours. Officials also plan to close child-care centers. Villaraigosa and council leaders also are pressuring employee unions to agree to pay and benefit concessions to help alleviate the budget cuts.

Councilman Greig Smith, a member of the budget and finance committee, said it would be difficult to rationalize spending taxpayer dollars on a Lakers' parade when employees are losing their jobs and services are being reduced. He praised the Lakers for offering to pick up the costs.

Last year, the Lakers and Anschutz Entertainment Group, which owns Staples Center, agreed to cover more than $1 million in parade production costs. Casey and Laura Wasserman, Jerry and Margie Perenchio and others made donations totaling $900,000 that covered all police overtime costs and a portion of the salary costs of officers already on duty.

Casey Wasserman is the grandson of former Universal Pictures Chairman Lew Wasserman. Jerry Perenchio is former chairman of Univision Communications.

phil.willon@latimes.com

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