Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said Monday that the city will pick up an estimated $1.4 million in costs related to last week’s Michael Jackson memorial service and lambasted a city Web site set up to request donations.
“This is a world-class city, and we provide fire and police protection, period,” Villaraigosa said during his first public appearance since returning from a weeklong vacation in South Africa. “The idea that we would charge the family for a funeral is nonsensical.”
Villaraigosa said he will not ask the Jackson family, AEG Live, owner of the Staples Center where the event was held, or the public to help pick up the tab for police overtime, traffic control and sanitation crews.
He noted that such major events occur frequently in Los Angeles and other big cities. New York and Chicago do not ask others to cough up cash, he said.
The mayor called the city’s donation Web site “ridiculous.” As of last week, some 1,800 fans had donated $35,000. So many fans responded that the site crashed several times.
It was unclear Monday whether the money would be refunded.
Matt Szabo, the mayor’s spokesman, said the Web site stopped operating around 1 p.m. Friday.
He said the idea of seeking donations came from Councilwoman Jan Perry, who served as acting mayor while Villaraigosa and City Council President Eric Garcetti were out of the country.
“It was announced by Acting Mayor Jan Perry the Friday before the memorial that she wanted to collect donations and she gave out her e-mail address,” Szabo said. “Monday, her office asked for donations to be mailed in. The bottom line is our office then moved to support that effort with an online contribution form.”
Perry could not immediately be reached for comment.
The issue took on political overtones last week when several council members asked who was going to foot the bill at a time when the city faces a $530 million budget shortfall and layoffs. One of the most vocal critics was Councilman Dennis Zine, who said taxpayers don’t typically pay for motorcade escorts for funerals.
Zine said he agreed with Villaraigosa that the city should not solicit donations, but asserted that the Jackson family and AEG Live should foot the bill.
“AEG and the Jackson family turned this memorial into a worldwide event, the taxpayers should not be responsible for what they did,” Zine said Monday.
Zine introduced a motion calling for a review of city policies governing expenditures on such events and a detailed report of the costs related to Jackson’s death, as well as who approved the expenditures.
Councilwoman Janice Hahn, meanwhile, introduced a motion asking for a full accounting of tourism-related revenue that flowed into the city after the singer died June 25.
Both motions are on the council’s agenda for July 21.
City Attorney Carmen Trutanich also launched an investigation into laws to force third parties to pay the municipal costs associated with these type of events. In the case of the Jackson memorial, AEG Live and the Jackson family/Jackson estate have been the only third parties mentioned, said spokesman Frank Mateljan.
Trutanich is scheduled to give a report at Tuesday’s City Council meeting despite the mayor’s comments, Mateljan said.