This year’s L.A. Pride festival and its Resist March are likely to cost the City of West Hollywood $1.1 million, an increase of 71% over what the city spent on the event last year.
The projected costs are included in a formal proposal that the city underwrite costs of the event, which in June will be in its 47th year. That proposal will go before the West Hollywood City Council at its meeting on Monday.
A major factor in the cost increase is the June 11 Resist March, which by some estimates could bring as many as 750,000 to West Hollywood, a compact city with about 36,000 residents. Past Pride events have drawn an estimated 125,000 to 210,000 visitors to West Hollywood. The budget for the event that is included in the proposal to the Council projects $924,000 in spending on public safety and traffic control, compared to $594,000 spent last year.
The concept of a Resist March was promoted early this year by Brian Pendleton, a local entrepreneur and supporter of LGBT organizations. Pendleton recently joined the board of directors of Christopher Street West, the non-profit that puts on the annual Pride parade and festival, and CSW announced early this month that is would replace the parade with a Resist March. That march will begin on Hollywood Boulevard at Highland before making its way down Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood. Similar marches will take place on the same day in major cities around the country. The marches are being organized to protest measures proposed or implemented by President Donald Trump that many see as discriminatory. It will focus on immigrant rights, women’s rights and other issues in addition to LGBT issues.
The Resist March has gotten support from many local institutions including the WeHo Chamber of Commerce, the WeHo City Council, the L.A. LGBT Center and the National Council of Jewish Women Los Angeles, and from some local businesses. Owners of other businesses, however, are concerned that they will lose money because of the Resist March. They argue that participants in a protest march aren’t likely to stop at local retailers to shop or to dine or drink at local restaurants and bars. For many in the city’s Boystown nightlife area, the annual Pride event is a major revenue generator. A study commissioned by the city estimated Pride brings in an estimated $5.1 million for local businesses and workers.
The cash-strapped CSW is asking that the city this year cover costs that CSW used to reimburse the city for and waive its advance deposit of $25,000. Last year CSW reimbursed the City of West Hollywood for $80,000 of the $415,000 that the city spent on L.A. County Sheriff’s Department services. This year’s cost is projected to be $600,000. Historically CSW also has reimbursed the city for street sweeping and other maintenance. The city’s Economic Development Department is recommending that CSW’s request that the city waive reimbursements be denied. The city also projects that it will forgo $225,000 in revenue this year from things like parking meters and by waiving certain fees it typically charges.
The cost of Pride to the City of West Hollywood has increased dramatically in recent years. Last year the city spent $659,000 on what turned out to be a highly controversial and money-losing Pride festival and parade, which was 45% more than what it spent in 2015.
CSW, under new management, upset many by recasting the 2016 Pride festival as a music festival aimed at millennials. It ended up losing $396,000 last year and still owes $56,000 to the City of West Hollywood. In an op-ed written for WEHOville, former board member Dan Morin said CSW began this year with only a few hundred dollars in the bank and that its president, Chris Classen, had to pay its office rent himself. In 2015, under its previous management, CSW ended the year with $300,000 in cash. The annual Pride parade, with its corporate sponsors, and the festival, with sponsors and rented booths and admission ticket revenue, is CSW’s only significant source of income.
A new challenge for CSW this year is the reduction in available space for its two-day festival in West Hollywood Park, where construction and redevelopment is underway. The Pacific Design Center has agreed to let CSW lease its plaza on San Vicente Boulevard as it did last year. However the city was unable to get L.A. Metro to let CSW use its bus yard and executive staff parking lot for festival events. The reduction in the number of festival events may mean a reduction in ticket sales ($20 per day in advance this year raising to $25 next month), however that might by offset Resist March participants entering the festival.
The proposal before the City Council does not include any requirement that CSW disclose its finances or the budget for the event. Mayor Lauren Meister asked in July 2016 that city staffers present to the Council a recommendation of measures the city could adopt to require financial transparency from organizations it supported. That recommendation has yet to surface.
Unlike similar Pride organizations in cities such as San Diego and Long Beach, CSW has been reluctant to disclose its finances, including its federal tax returns. Those tax returns are available to the public on request from the Internal Revenue Service and on WEHOville, which has obtained and published CSW’s tax returns for past years. WEHOville also has posted a financial statement showing CSW’s 2016 loss, which CSW’s president denied existed until it was published.