By Besha Rodell
By Patrick Range McDonald
By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
City police were stretched to the limit and taxpayer dollars were splurged by the millions, but the City Hall scenes swirling around the Michael Jackson memorial also created an unmistakable glow — one that spoke to ambition and opportunity — and at its center was City Councilwoman Jan Perry.
There was Perry basking in that attention, on CBS’ The Early Show one minute and MSNBC another, even earning a gushing Los Angeles Times profile that painted her as Citizen Perry up at 4:30 a.m., “zipping up and down city streets around Staples Center in her Honda Accord hybrid.” The Jackson tragedy was a public relations coup for Perry, who has represented the downtown area for eight years and is said to aspire to be mayor. With Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa in South Africa attending an awards banquet, and Mayor Pro-Tem Eric Garcetti off to Japan, the pop icon’s funeral served as a perfect dry run to demonstrate Perry’s capabilities as mayor.
As she called for the Jackson family to defray the event’s estimated $3 million to $4 million cost, these scenes, both on TV and over the radio, perhaps unintentionally exposed who Perry perceives as her key constituents. It wasn’t taxpayers.
It was all but impossible to find mention, in Perry’s extensive media whirlwind, of the 800-pound gorilla in the room, as controversy over the costs mounted. That gorilla would be corporate king AEG (Anschutz Entertainment Group) a multitentacled billion-dollar enterprise. AEG owns Staples Center, which hosted the memorial, and the neighboring L.A. Live entertainment venue. It is also developing the über-luxury Ritz-Carlton Hotel under construction nearby, which will include opulent condos with five-star amenities.
AEG and its reclusive Colorado billionaire owner, Philip Anschutz, stand to profit from the more than 100 hours of footage taken of Jackson in meetings, auditions and rehearsals at Staples Center in preparation for his last, never-to-be, “This Is It” 50-venue concert tour.
Yet the much-disputed cost of providing thousands of police, street and sewer workers and others utterly free of charge, to keep order, control traffic, provide toilets and close Los Angeles freeways during the Jackson event, will be borne by Los Angeles residents.
On July 13 the mayor was back from South Africa, where he attended an awards banquet. His vacation, it now turns out, was paid by the banquet’s producer, the Academy of Achievement — which lists none other than Philip Anschutz as a big-money donating “patron.” Upon his return, Villaraigosa scolded those questioning the memorial’s cost, declaring that L.A. is a “world-class” city so he would not seek reimbursement from the Jacksons — or AEG — for funeral costs.
Both Perry and Villaraigosa have many strong ties to AEG. The firm has showered Villaraigosa’s political initiatives with $150,000, backing the mayor’s successful push to significantly boost the city phone tax on residents, and supporting Villaraigosa’s failed bid to take over L.A. schools.
Both Perry and Villaraigosa are highly visible boosters of Anschutz and AEG president and CEO Tim Leiweke. Perry and Leiweke have breakfasted together, regularly chat and often publicly praise one another. On June 18, at a celebration of the Laker NBA Championship at the Coliseum, Perry went before a crowd of 80,000 — and thanked her friend Tim Leiweke. Earlier in June, she joined Villaraigosa in announcing that the NBA’s All-Star Game would come to Los Angeles in 2011 — and she again thanked Leiweke and AEG.
Perry’s support for Leiweke and Anschutz has created a persistent City Hall rumor: that Proposition R, approved by Los Angeles voters in 2006, which allowed the council members to remain in office for 12 instead of eight years, was initiated to keep Perry in power — so she can continue supporting AEG’s interests.
Perry did not respond to the Weekly’s queries. Such rumors are bound to arise, since taxpayers have been tapped to provide AEG with several big financial crutches, and Perry and Villaraigosa are the key cheerleaders. In 2007, wealthy AEG received a whopping $50 million in state bond monies from Proposition 1C, the Housing and Emergency Trust Fund Act of 2006. As the Weekly has reported, California voters approved this bond money to provide “affordable housing” for battered women and the poor.
But by mining the bond measure’s fine print, state officials, egged on by L.A. politicians, legally diverted $50 million — not for affordable housing but to pay for pretty sidewalks, upscale street-scaping and other improvements to Figueroa Street, which leads to AEG’s Staples Center and L.A. Live.
There’s more: The city has agreed to “rebate” to AEG up to $246 million in bed taxes paid by hotel visitors — a huge windfall that would normally flow into city coffers from the two high-end hotels AEG is developing next to its L.A. Live venue. But keep your calculators out: Anschutz has also received $4 million in “forgiven” building-permit fees for downtown developments — fees that little-guy businesses are seldom allowed to avoid. And last September, with only Councilman Bill Rosendahl dissenting, the City Council sold AEG the exclusive rights to erect controversial, huge, lucrative billboards on the taxpayer-owned Convention Center. In selling off this vast outdoor advertising space to AEG, the City Council failed to allow competitive bidding, prompting billboard opponent Dennis Hathaway to say, “AEG is the tail wagging the dog of the city.”