Unfortunately, between a valve job on my beater and the usual payments to credit-card usurers, I just haven’t got a spare quarter-million dollars this month. Which is too bad.
Because if I did, I could have my name engraved on a memorial metal thingy that would stand in front of City Hall forever, or at least until needy locals sold it for scrap. As happened to most of the building‘s original memorial brasswork in the late 1990s, when then-Mayor Dick Riordan didn’t look out of his office window, or maybe it was because he often wasn‘t in his office at all.
Chances to get your name on anything more durable than a traffic ticket don’t come around very often. We‘re talking about “The Celebration at City Hall,” a gala rededication (or is it “re-rededication,” since I thought they did the “rededication” last month) of our beloved Primal Skyscraper on September 1-2. It’s five weeks away, and called “an extensively promoted event,” though there hasn‘t yet been much general publicity. But just you wait. According to a solicitous form letter to various local officials and stakeholders, “The event will be promoted via advertising, including a Los Angeles Times Special Section, through partnerships with television and radio media and an aggressive public relations effort.”
That Times Special Section mention recalls a similar project involving Staples Center, a couple of years ago. Which, you may recall, implicated the Times as a furtive profiteer and caused our local daily more damage than anything since the anarchists’ bombing of 1910. But Martha Goldstein, the Times‘ vice president of communications, assures me that this thing is all being done by the special-sections department. “There is no involvement at all by editorial,” she said. Metro editor Miriam Pawel reinforces the point: “We’ve got nothing to do with it.”
What surprised me most about the coming event itself was that the two-day “Celebration” is being produced by Project Restore, for years a modest operation in a modest office, created to save the original architectural details of You Know What. Its major activities were selling T-shirts and mugs in the City Hall canteen, plus an occasional fund-raiser that even a reporter could afford. But since former Community Redevelopment Agency chief administrator Ed Avila took it over in 1998, Project Restore has managed to come up with $2.5 million to facilitate the rehab.
Now, however, the suggested top donation has risen to the price of an average Los Angeles house. But here‘s what you get, besides “The name of the Benefactor permanently engraved . . . on the South Lawn [plaque].”
You get an “Opportunity for high-ranking executive of your organization to greet the audience from the stage at the Gala . . .” plus a “full-page ad in the Gala Tribute Journal — Premier Cover Placement . . .” “Gala Tables seating 36, [in the] Premier Benefactor Area . . . 36 custom designed [commemorative] coins . . . your organization will be included as a Benefactor . . . in press materials for the event.”
That’s just the first day. On the second — the Sunday of the rededication — you get four seats on the stage and 24 reserved seats in the audience; the master of ceremonies “will acknowledge your organization as a Benefactor each hour on the main stage,” which ought to move things right along, eh? And you get “24 invitations to VIP Reception to be held at the Los Angeles Times at noon Sept. 2, 2001.”
If you are out-of-pocket, lower levels of participation range from $5,000 to $150,000. Interestingly, you get stuff with the $150,000 donation that‘s not offered with the higher sponsorship. Such as a $45,000 full-page ad in an August 26 Times Special Section and “prominent logo placement on [the] sponsors page” of that section. You get to hang $40,000 worth of your banners at the site, get your logo on the official T-shirt (!), plus a full-page ad in that Tribute Journal.
Sorry to sound cynical: City Hall is our most beautiful and historic public building, after all. Along with Union Station, and the main library, it also has most of our town’s public indoor space. It‘s just that, what with one thing and another, the combination of large private donations and City Hall has been at the root of urban evil for so long that this high-roller solicitation rubs one the wrong way. And, apart from a few seats in the sunshine and free drinks at the Times, just what is the point of all of this hoo-hah, anyway? For that matter, where is all that money supposed to go?
After all, the renovation books have largely been closed. Exactly what’s being paid for was a detail that puzzled some recipients of the color-photocopied “Celebration” solicitation. Avila‘s accompanying letter does mention a 50,000-attendee entertainment hoedown on the second day, with the surrounding streets “transformed into a spectacular event site.” There’ll be “a large community festival, a Rededication Ceremony and concert performances from major artists . . .” What may not be clear to those solicited is, as Avila explained to me, that the sponsors are expected to pay for the entire show. “Major acts can be very costly,” he said.
Avila is among the most affable people I know. In the late ‘80s, he was president of the Board of Public Works. In the ’90s, he ran the Community Redevelopment Agency. He‘s like an insider’s insider. And he admits that, when it comes to $250,000 donors, “We haven‘t got one yet.” But there’ve been many lesser donors: More than $800,000 has already been raised.
But what‘s likely to be the biggest single problem with this event is the timing. Yes, as you may have noticed, “The Celebration at City Hall” has been scheduled for the Labor Day weekend. Which is perhaps not the optimal 48 hours in which to get 50,000 people to come to the Civic Center to celebrate their not being out of town on the last vacation days of summer.
Ted Stein, Again
If you wanted a single solid indication of just where Jim Hahn stands on the expansion of Los Angeles International Airport, it came last week with the appointment of Ted Stein to the Board of Airport Commissioners. As is widely known, Stein (along with Hahn’s airport-board re-appointees, Leland Wong, Cheryl Peterson and Warren Valdry) has consistently promoted LAX expansion. And it is generally presumed that the ex–LAX panel head will be Hahn‘s new commission president. Hahn’s appointments announcement was conspicuously silent on the future of the LAX Master Plan, although the mayor has allowed an extra 60 days for public testimony on the airport‘s future.
As with most of Hahn’s appointments, there‘s a huge element of political payoff here. Stein, who tried to unseat Hahn in the ’97 city attorney‘s race, boarded the last Hahn campaign early. Okay, but it’s hard to imagine anyone Hahn could have picked who has worse relations with all the parties to the expansion — not just LAX protesters, but the airlines‘ own Air Transport Association, which supports the expansion. Stein also got into trouble, far more notoriously, by exceeding his commission-chairman powers in the hiring of his own Washington lobbyist to fight for the mayor’s attempt to dip into airport revenues. And not just any lobbyist, but Whitewater scapegrace Webster Hubbell himself. Former Controller Rick Tuttle‘s voluminous report on the Hubbell appointment — and its $25,000 cost to the city — concluded Hubbell had done nothing. Despite the report, a heavily lobbied City Council approved Stein’s Harbor Commission appointment.
But Stein‘s been least popular with labor — or at least labor’s low-income workers. Madeline Janis-Aparicio, whose Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy is in the vanguard when it comes to organizing low-wage workers, says, “In 1995, Stein was responsible for 300 low-wage food-service workers,” union employees with up to 20 years‘ seniority, “losing their jobs.” This happened in the course of the out-contracting of airport food services. The action had at least one positive, if unintended, effect, though. It was largely responsible for the city’s passage of its worker-retention and living-wage ordinances.
Once the living-wage laws were passed, Janis-Aparicio said, Stein, by then president of the Harbor Commission, resisted applying them to restaurants in the San Pedro Ports of Call area. Ironically, Stein‘s anti-labor stances were campaign fodder for Hahn himself in the ’97 campaign against Stein in the city attorney‘s race. How soon we forget.