L.A. City Council members scrape for money to keep arts centers open
The Los Angeles City Council started cracking open municipal piggy banks Wednesday, hoping it could shake loose enough change to keep the city's network of neighborhood arts centers in place amid a budget crisis.
Councilwoman Janice Hahn anted up $9,000 that had been designated for bus shelter furniture in her district. It'll be used to delay the layoff of one art instructor in Watts from April 1 to July 1 -- if the city attorney deems the switch legal.
Potentially more far-reaching is a proposal by the council's art, parks, health and aging committee -- Tom LaBonge, Ed Reyes and Herb Wesson -- to tap a pot of money fed by a city law that requires L.A. to deposit 1% of the cost of all government capital construction projects into a fund for arts. The uses are restricted to such things as purchasing public art and funding new arts facilities, but on Friday the council expects to take up a motion to allow the fund, which LaBonge said contains more than $5 million, to spend money on arts center operations as well.
LaBonge said his committee favors spending about $600,000 a year from the fund to keep arts centers staffed, which would buy a year or two for a controversial proposal to seek private operators for seven more centers, on top of the 10 already run by private nonprofit groups. The city has 25 neighborhood centers in all.
Critics say that the current plan to privatize additional centers by July 1 to save operating costs is hasty and could lead to crippling damage by making a well-planned transition impossible. A rally at the Watts Towers on Wednesday morning protested plans to include the two arts centers next to the towers among those to be taken private. Later, Hahn, who represents Watts and had put them on the privatization list, said she was taking them off.
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-- Mike Boehm
Photo: Dorothy Taylor and David Brown, a teacher at the Watts Towers Art Center, embrace before a rally at the site Wednesday. Credit: Katie Falkenberg / For The Times