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Villaraigosa returns tonight from vacation in Iceland, heads to fundraiser at L.A. Live

August 4, 2009 |  3:51 pm

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa comes back from a one-week vacation in Iceland this evening, celebrating his return with a private fundraiser for the city’s anti-gang programs at L.A. Live, the entertainment complex owned by Anschutz Entertainment Group.

The event starts at 6 p.m. at L.A. Live’s Grammy Museum. AEG is one of four named sponsors of the bash, which will raise money for the mayor’s Summer Night Lights, which provides youth programs such as soccer and music classes.

That arrangement has sparked complaints from one of the city’s noisier activists, who has repeatedly called on the mayor and City Council to demand repayment from AEG for the $1.4-million cost of last month’s Michael Jackson memorial, held at Staples Center and L.A. Live.

“This is why they didn’t ask for our taxpayer dollars reimbursed back from the Jackson event,” said Monica Harmon, a public safety activist who lives on the Westside.

Villaraigosa spokesman Matt Szabo dismissed such comments, saying “at some point we need to draw a line between healthy skepticism and a sick obsession with conspiracy."

 “We’re talking about a program that is literally saving lives and bringing hope to communities which have been ignored for decades,” Szabo added. “To suggest that there are any nefarious motives is ridiculous and disgusting.”

Last month’s memorial for Jackson sparked a debate among residents and policymakers over who should pay for the event. When it was televised, it ended with a credit for AEG and the words “All Rights Reserved.”

The mayor has regularly asked AEG for help with his political and policy initiatives, receiving six-figure contributions for his school takeover effort and, more recently, a telephone tax ballot measure.

Over the last few weeks, Villaraigosa’s gang czar, the Rev. Jeff Carr, has been sending invitations to the “Hot Summer’s Night” fundraiser, which costs $250 per ticket and features Pete Carroll, the USC football coach, as a special guest.

AEG officials said they have supported various Carr initiatives since before he was hired by Villaraigosa. The company waived the rental fees for the Grammy Museum, which it regularly does for nonprofit groups.

The Summer Night Lights program extended the hours of 16 park facilities to midnight and provides extra activities, including sports and arts programs, to neighborhood youngsters. Aside from AEG, sponsors include Majestic Realty, Deloitte and the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce, according to the event invitation.

The event’s host committee has dozens of members, some of whom have battled over the Jackson memorial costs. The panel includes Councilman Dennis Zine, who repeatedly pressed AEG to reimburse the city for the cost of policing the memorial. And there’s AEG president and CEO Tim Leiweke, who called Zine “shameful” and accused him of metaphorically dancing on Jackson’s coffin.

Villaraigosa was in Iceland last week with his son and a few friends. A knowledgeable source, who spoke on condition of anonymity to protect his relationship with officials, said the mayor’s retinue included Richard Katz, his point-man at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, and Keith Brackpool, chief executive of the company known as Cadiz.

Brackpool’s company, which hopes to complete a water banking project in the Mojave Desert, has employed both Katz and Villaraigosa over the last decade.

-- David Zahniser and Phil Willon at L.A. City Hall