With LA Pride only 32 days away, the West Hollywood City Council finally settled on an expanded footprint for the annual event and approved $1.87 million to support it, an increase of 70% from last year.
The decision came after a debate in which several Council members argued that Christopher Street West, the non-profit producer of the annual event, should eventually pay back some of the money it got from the city to underwrite the event.
This year the event will include “Pride on the Boulevard,” an expansion from its traditional location in West Hollywood Park and San Vicente Boulevard, to include part of Santa Monica Boulevard. Pride on the Boulevard would provide free access to visitors, booths for local non-profit organizations and a stage for local LGBT performers, addressing concerns raised in the past about the cost of entering the festival and having a booth here.
The footprint for Pride on the Boulevard has gone through various iterations in the past month, with Christopher Street West, the non-profit that stages the annual event, initially requesting that it be permitted to close Santa Monica Boulevard from Robertson Boulevard to San Vicente Boulevard for the expansion. However, at the City Council’s March 18 meeting, Councilmember Lauren Meister suggested the event be extended to La Cienega Boulevard to benefit bars and restaurants and shops there. The Council finally approved CSW’s plan to close eastbound lanes of Santa Monica Boulevard from Robertson Lane to Hancock beginning at 10 a.m. on Friday, June 7. On Saturday, the westbound lanes of that stretch of Santa Monica Boulevard also would be closed. And on Sunday, the day of the annual Pride parade, Santa Monica Boulevard would be closed in both directions from Fairfax Avenue to Doheny Drive.
The late change in the footprint is partly a response to concerns from business owners on Santa Monica Boulevard who expressed concerns that closing down Santa Monica all the way to La Cienega Boulevard would cost them money by making their businesses more difficult to access. Genevieve Morrill, CEO of the West Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, also expressed concerns about the impact on businesses of plans to close Robertson Boulevard from Santa Monica Boulevard south to Melrose Avenue.
Councilmember John Duran argued that the city shouldn’t subsidize the event without some guarantee that CSW would repay some of the subsidy, depending on the ultimate profit of Pride weekend. CSW funds the event not only with subsidies from West Hollywood but also from revenue from sales of tickets to the Pride festival and from corporate sponsors of the festival and the parade. Duran noted that Verizon has committed $1 million to support the event, its largest single donation ever. It is not clear how many years that donation will cover. Duran characterized such corporate donations as the “creeping corporatization of Pride.”
CSW is said to already have secured $1.85 million in sponsorships for the event, an increase of 54% over sponsorships for last year’s event.
Duran and Councilmember John Heilman said City Hall should demand more financial transparency from CSW. “We need to understand where the money is coming in and where the money is going out,” Duran said. While the organization each year makes its federal tax return public, which is a federal requirement for non-profits, Heilman said it also should allow the city to do its own audit to focus on the Pride-related expenses. Heilman cited concerns about CSW’s spending under its previous leadership. The former CSW chair, Chris Classen, didn’t disclose to its board that it lost $395,000 on the 2017 Pride event until the loss was revealed by WEHOville. Classen and CSW’s board of directors also gave former board member Craig Bowers, a business partner of Classen’s, a lucrative contract to secure sponsorships for Pride in an apparent violation of state law.
Estevan Montemayor, the chair of CSW, said the organization was taking on a large financial burden based on direction from the City Council to expand the festival footprint and make it more accessible. That includes staging a free concert on the festival’s main stage on Friday that will feature Paula Abdul.
A breakdown of the revenue that will be allocated by the city for Pride shows that 80% of it ($1.5 million) will be spent on public safety $1.5 million. That includes a little more than $1 million for services from the Sheriff’s Department, which cost $567,000 last year. Other major increases over last year include the addition of more public restrooms and the temporary relocation of employees of L.A. Metro, who work from a campus on Santa Monica Boulevard that would be entered from the Pride on the Boulevard site.
The City Council also asked that CSW work harder to note that West Hollywood is the location of L.A. Pride. Mayor D’Amico insisted that the event be called “LA Pride in West Hollywood” in all of CSW’s marketing materials.