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LATC Story Summary

By Eric Richardson
Published: Tuesday, April 05, 2005, at 07:45PM

As I've mentioned a couple times now, today the City Council's Budget & Finance Committee held a special meeting to consider action on a motion (Council File Number 03-2478) to enter into a contract with Gilmore and Associates to operate the Los Angeles Theatre Center on Spring Street. This brought consternation to many in the Downtown arts community, for a number of different reasons.

First, a little background. In early 2003 the Cultural Affairs Department issued an RFP (Request for Proposals) looking for someone to run the center, since the cost of doing so was a burden to the department's limited budget. In July of that year a panel came together to look at the six proposals presented and selected Gilmore's as far and away the best (according to the scores given the proposals). That proposal was chosen to be the winner of the bid process and sent to City Council. In December, 2003, Jan Perry made the Council motion to enter into the contract with Gilmore & Associates. Her language specified that Will & Company and the Latino Theatre Company -- both of whom have been operating in the facility -- be given joint access to three of the threatre spaces nine months out of the year. That motion has been stuck in committee limbo ever since.

In the mean-time, the Latino Theatre Company has secured four million dollars of state money to pay for renovations to the center, but that money seems to only exist if the Company owns the building. The city wasn't involved in that process, and has never intended to give away the building, but that's a lot of money that could be put to good use in the facility. Additionally, the Latino Theatre Company has partnered with the Latino Museum, who was displaced through eminent domain. The museum would use some of the center's lobby, its basement, and the smallest of the theatre spaces.

In the actual discussion fun concepts like bid enhancement and lawsuits got thrown around, but I'll discuss those after the jump.

My live-blogged notes from the meeting are available, but in the body I'll attempt to summarize its contents.

How A Meeting Like This Works

For those who haven't really been involved in a city meeting like this, I think I should first give a little explanation of the layout and how things work. The five Council members on the committee (Cardenas, Miscikowski, Parks, Garcetti, and Smith) are up front facing the audience. In front of them is a table with four microphones. This is where those addressing the committee sit, facing the Councilmembers, while giving their comment. Behind this table is seating for the public attending the meeting.

Today City Hall's Room 1010 was packed. I would estimate that the room had fifty chairs, and that there were approximately that same number of people there.

This was a special meeting with only the one item on the agenda. The meeting was special because according to the Brown Act it had to be: it was only given twenty-four hours public notice. As I mentioned in my post early this morning, the motion on the agenda gave little inkling to what it was the committee intended to do on the subject. It was not even particularly clear to me until late in the meeting what procedure it was that brought the motion to this committee or made their action necessary. Basically I think the Council referred the motion and the proposal to the committee, and therefore they must at least move to receive and file them before anyone else can act.

Public Comments

Public comments come before the committee discusses an agenda item, so those were first up in this meeting and took a little over an hour. In that time we heard from Tom Gilmore, DLANC Board members, AACE (DLANC's Arts committee) members, actors, representatives from both Will & Company and the Latino Theatre Company, Council District 9, and probably others that I'm forgetting.

First up was Tom Gilmore, whose company won the RFP process. He fully believes that he won the process in a fair fashion, and that the city must now act to finalize that process and award operation to him in accordance with the proposal. He would definitely participate in a new bidding process, but sees no fault in the one that already occured.

I didn't take notes on what the next few speakers said, since I was trying to figure out what exactly I was going to say. I spoke in the second group of four, and have to admit I was extremely nervous up there. I started out a little slow, with way too many "um" sounds, but in the end I think I got the point across that as a DLANC Board Member I would consider it wrong for the city to make any new decision on the center's operation (ie moving away from the motion to accept Gilmore's proposal) without giving DLANC time to address the issue. Additionally, I emphasized that the center was intended to play a part in Downtown revitalization and that if it is to now play that role it must be available to all who would wish to use it.

The rest of public comment broke up into a couple pretty defined segments. There were a few DLANC/AACE people asking for a transparent and participatory process (Brady, Jason, Nic, Daniel), there were members/actors of Will & Company talking about how great their experience with the group has been and how multi-cultural it is, and there were members/actors of the Latino Theatre Company/Latino Museum talking about how with this new money the center could be put to greater use, how the Company would not monopolize the center's space, and how space would still be rented out to other companies. The comments did start to get a little racially charged, but I think on the whole the intentions of the speakers are reflected in the above generalizations.

Committee Discussion and Deliberation

Around 5pm public comment finished and the committee began its discussion and deliberation. Here to there were speakers, but this time they were from Cultural Affairs, the Chief Legislative Analyst's office, etc.

Cultural Affairs desperately wants to get the center's costs off of their books, but they're currently operating under city mandate to continue its operation. It's not that they don't want to run the center -- they made clear they'd prefer to continue to do that -- they simply don't have the budget to do so. Therefore they would really like to see the committee act on the RFP.

The CLA's office told the committee that they had a couple of different options. They could accept the RFP, reject it, or just file it.

Bid Enhancement

One of the central discussion points of the meeting was the idea of bid enhancement. Basically this means sweetening the contents of one proposal after all of them are in. In this particular instance, the contention would be that the committee cannot at all consider in the context of the RFP the new money the Latino Theatre Company claims to have secured, since that was not part of their proposal. The office of the CLA advised the committee that they could reject all proposals and start the issue over again with a new process, but this is a path that will definitely bring a lawsuit from Gilmore (in fact he said as much after the meeting).

Restarting the process also keeps the center on the Cultural Affairs Department's books when they really don't have the money for it. This concerns Councilman Greig Smith, who worried that the Council would be "giving up a bird in hand for two in the bush; and we don't know what's in the bush."

Getting Down to Details: The State Money

Another central line of questioning revolved around the state money the Latino Theatre Company was saying they had lined up. In questioning it came out that getting the money may require the Company to own the theatre center.

That seemed to me to be news to the Council. Basically at the point the city made the decision to transfer ownership a number of issues would come into play. It would be messy.

It sounds a bit like the Latino Theatre Company didn't consider that problem fully. Their grant proposal seems to be a little too dependent on the city doing something it has no desire to do.

Reaching a Verdict

Councilwoman Miscikowski made a split motion that the committee receive and file the motion, sending the matter back to the Council for action, and that the CLA's office also be instructed to report back on the specific legalities of restarting the process, considering the new money, and whether the state money is really contingent on ownership. That motion passed 4-1, the lone dissent (I think) being Smith.

Update (Apr. 11): I originally had Garcetti, but the Downtown News has Smith and I think that's probably correct.

And now... Who knows. If the Council lays aside the original RFP, Gilmore will sue. This'll be an interesting story to watch develop.

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