Update on LA City Cultural Centers & RFP Process

Tue, 11/23/2010 (All day)
Advocacy Team (if applicable): 

Barnsdall Art ParkThe Arts, Parks, Health & Aging Committee meeting of the Los Angeles City Council on Tuesday, November 23rd, 2010 included a discussion of the proposed Request for Proposals (RFP) process to pursue public/private partnerships for 15 city-owned cultural facilities.  This issue has been discussed by City Council for several months (please see artsforla.org/la-cultural-centers for background on the issue).

The Committee discussed the RFP process and heard a report from the City Attorney's Office.  The CAO submitted a comprehensive report on the status of the process, which is available for download as a PDF here.  The full history of this issue can be accessed (and subscribed to) at LA City Clerk Connect, including speaker cards, motions and council actions.  Click here to access it.

The Arts, Parks, Health & Aging Committee has heard multiple reports on this issue over the past eight months.  Committee Chair Tom LaBonge said, "We're all struggling with this issue.  This is space the City is sharing with those who serve the community.  We own the building, and I don't know if we can ask them to be fully responsible for the building."  Councilman Ed Reyes added, "Let's understand the consequences of implementation and move forward with our eyes open." 

The most pressing issue is that of continued funding for the centers while the RFP process is being discussed.  "We are going to run out of money by the end of the year," said a representative from the City Attorney's Office, adding that there was only about $60,000 available for all of the centers in 2011.  Garay called this "a terrible situation," as the Department of Cultural Affairs has been directed to lay off multiple positions but wants to maintain services at all city-owned cultural centers.  Councilman LaBonge will meet with Garay's office and some of the community members attending the meeting to determine next steps.  Councilman Reyes asked how additional continuance would affect individual centers and requested a timeline of these issues on a per-center basis.

The City is leaning toward retaining responsibility for the utilities after the centers are transferred to public/private partnerships.  The Committee discussed the costs of utilities, including water & power, and how cultural facilities on Recreation & Parks land would be affected. They also discussed potential revenue-generating opportunities such as investment, leasing and air space.  "These are times in which we have to be creative as we look at our assets," said Councilman Reyes; "Other cities find ways to create revenue for their arts programs."  The CAO's office will look into potential revenue-generating opportunities and report back to the Committee.

Councilman Herb Wesson asked for clarification on which facilities were not recommended for public/private partnership.  Olga Garay, Executive Director of the Department of Cultural Affairs/City of Los Angeles, said that The Watts Towers Arts Center, Canoga Park Youth Arts Center and Sun Valley Youth Arts Center had been removed from the partnership list, as those are smaller facilities in areas of the community that are extremely underserved.  Councilman Wesson asked, "There are some facilities, from a realistic standpoint, that no one will bid on. Does that mean the comunity gets no service?"  Garay responded, "In the case that there are no bids or if they are not viable, we would come back to the Committee to figure out where we go from there.  These facilities are a lifeblood to the communities they're in, and the community members have been very proactive and vocal about how much they care about these facilities.  The Department of Cultural Affairs has been stripped of a lot of human and financial resources, so if we're going to bring additional facilities back to the fold, we would need some human and financial actions." 

Councilman Wesson introduced a motion that the William Grant Still Arts Center be removed from the partnership list.  There was debate between the CAO's office and the Committee regarding whether the motion would be allowed, as it was not on the agenda.  "Unless there is a legal problem, William Grant Still Arts Center will not be on this [partnership] list," said Councilman Wesson.  This does not guarantee continued funding for the Center; Garay has not received the departmental budget for 2011/2012, so cannot say whether the Cultural Affairs Department can afford to continue operating William Grant Still Arts Center; however, she agrees with Councilman Wesson's assessment that the William Grant Still Arts Center is a small facility in an underserved district, and therefore supports the motion.

Public comment ensued, and included representation from multiple cultural facilities.  A representative from the Sierra Club expressed concern over the continued use of these facilities, and encouraged the Council to promote good stewardship of public lands for those participating in the RFP process.  Several speakers asked for the Barnsdall coalition of stakeholders to work on a new model for governance of the Park's facilities; Councilman LaBonge asked Garay whether the coalition can bid on Barnsdall.  Garay said the coalition can bid and participate in the RFP process.

Community member Judea Watkins spoke about the value of William Grant Still Arts Center and recommended that that center be removed from the partnership list.

Claire Knowlton, Executive Director of McGroarty Arts Center, suggested the terms of the RFP be increased from five years to ten years, which would help to secure capital funding and grant monies.  The Council indicated that this was a possibility and asked the CAO's office to pursue it.  Liz Schindler Johnson from the Warner Grand Theatre expressed that organization's support of the RFP process, and also asked to extend the lease to 10 years to create more stability.

The item was continued, and will be dealt with in a special meeting with additional report-backs.  December 7th was mentioned as a potential date for the Committee revisiting this issue, but has not been officially scheduled.  Councilman LaBonge requested prompt scheduling to address this issue before the new year.

To listen to full audio from the meeting, please click here to visit the City Council's Live and On-Demand Audio page.  Scroll down to the On-Demand Council Committees section and click "Audio" next to the Arts, Parks, Health & Aging Committee meeting on 11/23/10.

Photo: "A chair with views," taken at Barnsdall Art Park by Flickr user Xurxo Martínez; Creative Commons licensed