One of the most common criticisms of Occupy L.A. and its two-month stint at City Hall is the massive amount of city resources it's been sucking up to sustain itself.
We have our own criticisms about the Occupy operation, for sure. But why is everyone focusing on the price tag of the protest? Off the top of our heads, we can think of much sillier (and, fittingly, much more corporate) events/gifts on which city leaders have wasted taxpayer dough:
Uber-wealthy architecture firm Gensler is being offered $1 million to move into downtown Los Angeles. The L.A. Community Redevelopment Agency, which could otherwise be pumping its property-tax profits into schools and local services (also your property-tax profits, because the agency is working for you) just gave $52 million to a billionaire for his new museum's parking garage. And as a party favor, there was that recent $200,000 gala — including $41,000 dancers and $61 wine — thrown at the Los Angeles Port.
The best side-by-side comparison that comes to mind, though, is the downtown Michael Jackson memorial, right before the release of MJ documentary “This Is It,” that required $3.2 million in LAPD training and night-of security.
Though AEG — the company that ran the event, and profited off it — eventually paid back $1 million of that, after being strong-armed by City Attorney Carmen Trutanich, the additional $2.2 million in the original estimate was never addressed.
Well, except for $300,000 of it, which AEG donated to the Los Angeles Police
Protective League Foundation. Only problem is, the Foundation is a non-profit that doesn't share a bank account with the city. So, sweet gift and all, but taxpayers weren't exactly on the receiving end.
(One thing the Foundation does have in common with Occupy L.A.: It ruined its brand-new lawn via tent suffocation during a company gala. Yet strangely, no one called them filthy hippies with no respect for city property.)
After the memorial, the city tried to make its go-to excuse that Jackson's fans had stimulated the local economy. LA Weekly's Dennis Romero reported on the “funny figures” in December 2009:
[Jack Kyser, chief economist at the Los Angeles Economic Development Corp.] says he based his $4 million estimate more on the hoped-for spending by high-dollar celebrities who would come to town, stay at posh hotels, fly in on expensive charter planes and eat at high-end restaurants while mourning Jackson.
Many of the celebrities listed as official guests, however, already live in or near L.A.
Plus, as occupiers might attest, investing in already filthy-rich companies belonging to the 1 percent is barely a relief for the other 99.
Nothing against Michael Jackson. We love the guy as much as the next Conrad Murray death threatener. But AEG was already profitting to high heavens off his tragic death — shouldn't the entertainment company have covered full collateral damage?
More of Romero's 2009 coverage:
Some leaders, including ex-Los Angeles Police Chief Bill Bratton, have said the city should cover the price — that stuff happens in a major metropolis, and city governments are there to take care of things. It's certainly true in the case of riots, unpredictable protests, earthquakes and other unknowns. But in the context of AEG's shameless profiteering, you have to wonder if we're not left holding the bag for one big red-carpet premier.
One point for Mayor Villaraigosa, today, is that he agrees with Bratton: “The 1st Amendment is messy. It's not always pretty. There's sometimes a cost to it. What's the cost if we deny the 1st Amendment to America and Americans? We're all going to pay for it and in tough, tough economic times and that's true around the country.”
But the bratty insistence by City Councilman Mitchell Englander — and the redundant cries of the right — to hold those homeless, jobless, desperate victims of corporate greed responsible for their desperation is getting a little out of hand.
In the end, $1 million and change is a small price to pay for L.A.'s refreshing new involvement in local politics and sense of our own surroundings. And it's nothing compared to most of the other crap our City Council invests in to win back their seats at City Hall. (We'll update with a more specific breakdown of Occupy L.A. cost estimates as soon as we can get our hands on them.)
“I don't know what kind of message we're sending when we're spending millions of dollars to support protesters,” Englander tells the Times. “Yet we charge these other organizations tens of thousands of dollars throughout the city for use of the same types of facilities.”
Unless the org — or, more often, the business — is friends with the City Council. In that case, no fees or public spending reports necessary.
Update: Somewhat unrelated, but good for scale: The unprecedented LAPD manhunt that was launched after a school police officer falsely reported being shot on campus in January cost the city $500,000. That was just one guy, one lie. And he was on paid administrative leave for almost a year after the fact.