By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
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By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
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Still, in late 2004, Matsuda told L.A. Weekly that the grant had been “earmarked for Latino Theater Company, pending approval of the board.”
When asked whether Assembly Speaker Núñez had been instrumental in directing state moneys toward Latino Theater Company, Valenzuela replied slyly, “Everybody helped me in Sacramento, whoever could help me.”
A secretary in Núñez’s office remarked that “[Núñez] was heavily involved [on behalf of Latino Theater Company’s CCHE grant application],” though further clarifications from Núñez’s office have not been forthcoming.
With the promise of $4 million hanging in LATC’s rafters, in 2005, the Cultural Affairs Department restarted the RFP process from scratch with a notation of “changed circumstances.” The bidding process, however, remained open to Gilmore and others — as open as a preordained process can be.
With the pressure of the CCHE grant deadline looming, the Latino Theater Company proposal swept through the city’s Budget and Finance Committee on December 20 and was rubber-stamped by the City Council on December 23. The CCHE board then approved the $4 million state grant in March. For his part, Valenzuela defends the handling of the contract: “From the public officials, I don’t think there was a single one who was against it. The final vote proves it.”
However, one outraged downtown activisttold L.A.Weekly, “Boss Tweed at the height of his powers could not have pulled off a fraud as big as this in full public view.”
The city, also, was bendingits own rules to fit the occasion. An internal memo from Chief Legislative Analyst Gerry F. Miller dated May 6, 2005, states, “Entity must provide a description of funds to be committed for programming and capital improvement.” (The CCHE grant is not to be used for programming.) “Funds must be specifically identified and evidence must be provided that the funds are available at time of proposal submission.” Of the two leading applicants, only Gilmore came to the table with money in the bank, via a letter of credit from East West Bank.
LATC’s contract may have actually gone to the better plan. Gilmore’s old-school approach included renting the facility’s larger theaters to film festivals, dance companies and touring musicals — a strategy with no proof of viability. The leftover spaces would have gone to children’s programming and various resident companies, none of whom provided letters of commitment.
Valenzuela’s homegrown agenda includes installing companies with proven audiences — Culture Clash, East L.A. Classics and Robey Theater Company — plus the critically accomplished Playwrights Arena, and a little-known Asian-American company, Cedar Grove Productions. Valenzuela hasn’t yet determined how the budget will be distributed. To keep the operation afloat, he says he’s counting on fund-raisers and the interest of the Ford and Wallace foundations in L.A.’s “minority” voices.
The challenges facing Latino Theater Company are daunting. The troupe has never run a theater and Valenzuela’s production record is not impressive: three plays in the past nine years. LATC’s lease includes a minimal production requirement (one play per year in each theater), possibly to avoid the plight of the privately held, 1,200-seat Ricardo Montalban Theater on Vine Street, a refurbished venue that has sat mostly vacant in the wake of mismanagement and the forced closure of its operating company.
A city proclamation signed by Mayor Villaraigosa, congratulating Latino Theater Company on their 20th anniversary, now hangs in the LATC central office. “He’s our friend,” says playwright Evelina Fernandez from a side office.
If Spring Street revitalization can move as swiftly as Latino Theater Company’s learning curve, this plan has a fighting chance. Meanwhile, they’re going to need all the friends they can get.