Long Beach Museum of Art battles city government over $3 million
If it's true you can't fight City Hall, word hasn't reached the leadership of the Long Beach Museum of Art -- and some local arts lovers are worried that its $3-million dispute could cripple or sink the museum.
The fiscally beleaguered city government, currently trying to pare its general fund budget by $38 million, had to shell out $3 million earlier this week to retire 10-year bonds issued in 1999 to complete financing for a $6.4-million renovation and expansion of the picturesque, oceanfront museum. Before the City Council OK'd the borrowing, leaders of the nonprofit foundation that runs the city-owned museum had promised to raise the money to pay off all the bonds' costs. But the campaign fell far short of its goal, leaving the government on the hook for the $3 million.
Now the city administration wants the museum to come up with a plan to gradually pay off what it sees as a firm commitment. But as museum director Ronald Nelson mulled over what to do a couple of months ago, he researched the original bond agreement that both parties had assumed laid full responsibility for repayment on the museum foundation -- and says he found the actual language says otherwise. The documents, Nelson says, put the onus on the city to make good on the bonds should the museum's fundraising fail -- and say nothing about the museum foundation having to pay the city back.
And given the museum's take on the matter, Long Beach Mayor Bob Foster says the consequence should be a loss of all city support. He has recommended cutting the $569,000 museum appropriation from the proposed 2010 city budget that the City Council is expected to vote on by Sept. 15.
"It's really a sad situation," says Justin Hectus, president of the Arts Council for Long Beach, an independent arts support group. "It's like watching your mom and dad fight, and all you want them to do is stop fighting, and you're powerless to do anything."
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-- Mike Boehm
Photos, from top: Long Beach Museum of Art; museum director Ronald Nelson. Credits, from top: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times: Christine Cotter / Los Angeles Times