Council waives Grammy Award fees despite Los Angeles budget woes
5:44 PM, January 13, 2009
5:44 PM, January 13, 2009
Los Angeles City Council members have spent much of their time in recent weeks mulling the city's budget woes and the possibility of layoffs, but budget-tightening only goes so far when it comes to gala events like the Grammy Awards.
The council agreed today to waive $124,163 in city fees associated with the Grammy Awards, which will be held Feb. 8 at Staples Center. That might be chump change in the music industry, but the city is facing a $433-million hole in its budget next year — making fee waivers a touchy subject for city officials, particularly when award shows shower performers with thousands of dollars in swag.
Last year, Grammy presenters and performers were offered about $30,000 in gifts. There's no final estimate yet for the value of this year's gift bags, which are being put together by the L.A.-based firm Distinctive Assets, but the bags will include trip vouchers, spa gift certificates, hand-designed Christopher Michael chocolates, Catdaddy liquor, organic skin care products and the Sports Club/LA memberships. In the Xbox 360-sponsored Grammy Talent Lounge, they can pick up additional goodies like sunglasses, jewelry and Gibson guitars.
Was anyone unsettled by such a city waiver during hard times?
Mayoral candidate David "Zuma Dogg" Saltsburg, a city gadfly, was one of two members of the public who spoke in opposition to the item, which was approved by the 13 council members present without discussion.
"I wonder if the city of Los Angeles constituents, the voters, know that you're giving $100,000 or whatever it is, to the Grammy Awards. This special event fee money is to provide benefit to the community — open to the public — not to be used for commercial private entities," Saltsburg said, adding that it was a "money-sucking, vampire drain on the general fund."
Over the last two fiscal years the city waived about $750,000 in fees for award shows.
The city gives up about $5 million annually, waiving fees for the special events of nonprofit groups, but due to the budget crunch, the council recently gave preliminary approval to a change requiring non-profits to pay for at least half the fees.
Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa does not have jurisdiction over fee waivers, but his spokesman Matt Szabo said that although Villaraigosa is a "big supporter" of the Grammys, he believes the city's "fee waiver policy is clearly broken and needs to be fixed."
"At a time when we could be facing a half-billion deficit, the council absolutely must reform a policy, which costs the city upward of $5 million a year," Szabo said.
-- Maeve Reston