Private donors to help pay for parade
EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa on Tuesday defended the decision to stage a victory parade for the NBA champion Lakers, saying it's important to celebrate even at a time of high unemployment and home foreclosures.
Villaraigosa said that some of the city's wealthiest power brokers have kicked in $850,000 of nearly $1 million in city costs for Wednesday's parade and rally. The Lakers and AEG, which owns Staples Center, are paying for another $1 million in production costs.
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"We intend to do everything we can to minimize the cost to the city," the mayor said at a news conference on the Lakers' practice court in El Segundo. "If we hadn't had a parade, you've have a whole other bevy of people criticizing the city. How could we do that? How could we not celebrate this tremendous Laker victory?"
Villaraigosa identified the private donors as Casey and Laura Wasserman, Jerry and Margie Perenchio, Haim and Cheryl Saban, Eli and Edythe Broad, Joe and Sharon Hernandez of Melissa's Fruits and Vegetables, Ed and Gayle Roski and the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians in Highland, Calif.
Casey Wasserman is the former owner of the defunct Los Angeles Avengers of the Arena Football League; Jerry Perenchio is former chairman and CEO of Spanish-language Univision; Haim Saban bought Univision from Perenchio and his entertainment company produced the "Power Rangers" children's television show; Eli Broad is a billionaire developer who supports the arts in Los Angeles and is trying to bring an NFL team back to the city; Joe and Sharon Hernandez's company is a major distributor of specialty produce; and Ed Roski is a billionaire developer whose Majestic Realty Co. helped develop Staples Center.
"We're going to come together as a city at a time when we need to come together," Villaraigosa said. "The reason why so many people from the private sector came forward is because they know this town deserves to revel in itself for a day. We need it."
The mayor and other officials had sought donations after critics blasted the idea of using city money when Los Angeles is considering layoffs to close a half-billion-dollar budget gap.
Also making headlines is the Los Angeles Unified School District -- second-largest in the nation -- which faces a $596 million budget shortfall for the 2009-10 school year. As many as 2,520 teachers and support personnel are expected to laid off for the upcoming school year.
"At a time in the city when the unemployment rate is at 12.5 percent, when 21,000 people have lost their homes due to foreclosure, it's important for us to celebrate this great day," Villaraigosa said. "It's a victory for us, for the fans."
Villaraigosa said the Lakers generate an annual economic benefit of about $150 million to the city of Los Angeles. He claimed the parade will generate an estimated $15 million to the local economy, including souvenir sales.
He pointed out the city provides police, transportation and public works coverage for other major events, including the Oscars and Grammy awards.
Asked if had considered declaring a special day in Los Angeles on Wednesday, Villaraigosa said, "If I declared a day off, I'd get beat up for that. People are going to take off whether I declare a day off or not. Some will say they were sick, others will take vacations. Still others don't have a job and will be there."
Wednesday's event begins at Staples Center and ends at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, where the Lakers' players and coaching staff will address the crowd.
Lakers guard Derek Fisher joined the mayor and Police Chief William Bratton is pleading for paradegoers to behave responsibly in the wake of looting and vandalism that broke out when the team clinched its 15th NBA title in Orlando, Fla., on Sunday night.
"C'mon folks, the fact of the matter is you're going to celebrate a victory like that," the mayor said. "We saw on [Sunday] night people came without a parade and look what happened. I think it's better that we organize it, I think it's better that we celebrate in a peaceful way, and I take responsibility."
Police continued reviewing security video and media images Tuesday to identify suspects who caused damage in downtown Los Angeles. Eighteen arrests have been made.
"We don't want to have one person or one small group of people to ruin this opportunity to have a great day," Fisher said. "There's not going to be any tolerance for anybody who is trying to take away from the safety and the security."
Bratton said plainclothes and uniformed officers would be stationed in the crowd Wednesday.
"Anyone who wants to disrupt it and celebrate themselves rather than the Lakers, stay home," he said.
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press