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L.A. Council votes on new policy for subsidizing Grammy, Oscar and other events

September 1, 2009 |  5:37 pm

After seven years of debate, the Los Angeles City Council gave preliminary approval today to a new policy that will govern how the city subsidizes events such as the Grammy and Academy awards, and the Greek and Lotus festivals.

The city has been spending roughly $5 million annually on fireworks, parades, festivals and award shows by waiving fees that cover staffing and overtime costs for city workers to do inspections, close streets, put up parking signs and barriers, handle traffic and crowd control and monitor fire hazards.

The costs vary widely and that has been a source of confusion and frustration for some council members. City budget analysts estimate that the Marina del Rey fireworks show, for example, costs $34,299, and the annual Blessing of the Animals on Olvera Street costs $6,022.

Facing a $530-million shortfall, the council agreed earlier this year to limit the amount spent on the events to $2.5 million.

Under the new policy, $1.5 million will be split evenly among the 15 council districts, and each member gets to decide how to spend it.

The remaining $1 million will pay for up to half the costs of events held by nonprofit groups that are considered to be of citywide interest. That category will include city subsidies of up to $205,000 for the Academy Awards, $50,000 for the Emmy Awards and $62,082 for the Grammy Awards.

There will be an exception for block parties, which may be covered in full, as well as farmers markets, which cost the city about half a million dollars annually.

The measure passed 8 to 3, with council members Janice Hahn, Richard Alarcon and Paul Koretz voting against the policy.

Hahn, whose district stretches from Watts to San Pedro, said she was concerned that smaller events such as Cinco de Mayo festivals and the Taste of San Pedro would disappear because struggling nonprofits will not be able to cover 50% of the costs of the events, as required under the new policy.

 “I think it will have a chilling effect on nonprofits, particularly now -- I think they are all really hurting,” Hahn said. “These events help them raise money or raise awareness of their particular organization, but I think many of them will not have it in their operating budget to pay 50% of the cost.”

“We have never accurately calculated the cost,” she said, noting that council members were puzzled by a $6,000 estimate for a recent block party that did not have any traffic officers, signage or other visible services provided by the city. “We’re all guessing.”

Alarcon said he feared that small events across the city would be cut by the hundreds because planners would not be able to pay city fees. “To cut essentially 50% out of the events budget is to, I think, cut 50% out of the heart and soul of what the community wants,” he said.

The ordinance will be up for final approval as early as next week.

-- Maeve Reston at L.A. City Hall