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L.A. City Council panels to consider Michael Jackson memorial costs today

December 7, 2009 |  7:14 am

Two Los Angeles City Council committees are scheduled to meet today to discuss the controversial issue of who should pay the public cost of Michael Jackson's downtown Los Angeles memorial ceremony.

The committees are a prelude to the expected Los Angeles City Council decision this week on whether Anschutz Entertainment Group should help taxpayers cover the costs of Jackson's funeral.

And if AEG steps forward with a check, it will be the latest move by the Jackson promoter to help the city's elected officials out of a jam.

When the council sought voter approval of a $1-billion affordable-housing bond in 2006, AEG and its affiliates contributed $75,000. When Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa needed help with a telephone tax measure two years later, Tim Leiweke, AEG's president and chief executive, gave $100,000 and urged other businesses to do the same.

And when council members faced the prospect of being ousted by term limits, the company and its affiliates stepped forward with more than $137,000 -- becoming the biggest single donor to the ballot measure, which gave council members the ability to run for a third term. Had that measure been defeated, five council members would now be out of office, and four others would have had to leave in 19 months.

Because of those donations, some critics are skeptical that council members will press AEG, which runs both Staples Center and the nearby L.A. Live entertainment complex, to help defray the city's $3.2-million cost for police as well as cleanup after the July 7 memorial.

"I don't believe they can separate themselves" from the campaign contributions, said Lisa Sarkin, who serves on the Studio City Neighborhood Council.

The memorial was televised around the globe and ended with the message "All Rights Reserved" by AEG. Last summer, the city's involvement in the event sparked criticism from taxpayers, in part because L.A. was facing a $400-million budget shortfall.

Councilwoman Jan Perry, whose district includes Staples Center, acknowledged last week that AEG is a player in Los Angeles politics. But to view the company exclusively through that lens misses the larger picture, said Perry, who praised the company for giving generously to charity, transforming a decaying section of downtown L.A.  and providing much-needed jobs in an economic downturn.

"AEG doesn't own the place. ... I think that's a really stupid way to think," said Perry, who would have been forced from office in June had the term limits measure been defeated.

AEG declined to comment for this report. But in previous interviews, AEG officials have said they were  politically active because they wanted to make Los Angeles a safer, more economically healthy city.

-- Phil Willon and David Zahniser

Photo: Mariah Carey performs during the Michael Jackson memorial, held July 7, 2009, at downtown L.A.'s Staples Center. Credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times

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