County Sneaks Through Museum Rebuild Proposal

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors this week voted unanimously to authorize a $250 million bond initiative that would enhance fire and seismic safety at the two major county museums. Sources confirmed that the initiative also could provide the lion’s share of funding for the controversial proposed $200 million Rem Koolhaas reconstruction of the L.A. County Museum of Art.

The Dutch architect‘s tentlike new building -- intended to replace the current Hancock Park campus of LACMA buildings erected between 1961 and 1986 -- was approved in concept by the museum’s board of directors late last year and estimated to cost from $200 million to $300 million.

The “Earthquake and Fire Safety” bonding initiative, if approved by the voters, would endow a $98 million matching grant for the museum, provided that a “Public Sector Match” of $112.5 million in private donations can be raised for a total of $210.5 million. The bond would also provide an identical match for the Natural History Museum, in Exposition Park, whose directors approved a similarly costly reconstruction proposal in June. The initiative also included lesser grants to other county cultural agencies such as the Music Center and El Pueblo de Los Angeles‘ historical and arts complex.

The proposal specifies that the art museum’s share of the money would be allocated “for seismic, fire and life safety, and associated work at the museum.” Jim Rawitsch, the LACMA associate vice president to whom calls on the subject were referred by county officials, declined to confirm that the money would help pay for the Koolhaas rebuild, allowing that it could be used either to extensively rehabilitate the extant campus or for the new museum.

“The [basic] question is, how do we obtain a building suitable to the 21st century?” Rawitsch said. “The question ought to be, how does this bond issue help us make for a safer museum?”

Rawitsch stressed that plans for the Koolhaas building have not yet been completed. But he also noted that the museum had no plans on hand for “seismic and safety” rehabilitation of the current assortment of halls and galleries. The measure is to go on the November 5 ballot, and, according to a board memo, “Total debt service over the 30-year term of the bonds is estimated at $478.1 million.”

Perhaps unsurprisingly, regional director Kris Vosburgh of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association said, “We‘re negative about this.” He noted that this initiative will come along with the county’s proposed $162 million trauma-center bailout proposal. Also on the ballot are several other expensive initiatives that include state measures 49, to raise $400 million for before- and after-school care, and 50, to raise $3.4 billion for water resources.

“We think the purpose of the county‘s [museum] proposal is fine. But in a harsh economy like this . . . it’s going to be a burden on the homeowner who pays for it,” Vosburgh said.

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