Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is trying to quell the escalating debate over who should pick up the estimated $1.4 million tab for police, traffic control and other services related to Michael Jackson’s memorial service.
Villaraigosa, who was vacationing in South Africa a week ago when more than 17,000 fans flocked to downtown Los Angeles to watch the public memorial, asserted Monday that the city will pay. He said he will not ask the Jackson family or AEG Live, the owner of the Staples Center where the event was held, to help the city recoup its expenses, and he 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 his weeklong trip. “The idea that we would charge the family for a funeral is nonsensical.”
Despite his comments, the City Council was expected to take up the issue Tuesday when City Attorney Carmen Trutanich reports on the costs of the event. Trutanich launched an investigation into laws to force third parties to pay the municipal costs associated with unexpected events such as the Jackson memorial.
Villaraigosa told reporters that major events such as the memorial 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, which raised $35,000, ridiculous. The site stopped operating Friday afternoon. It was unclear whether the money would be returned to donors.
Villaraigosa’s comments was in contrast to a statement attributed to him in a news release distributed by his office last week. In it, he encouraged Jackson fans to memorialize the pop star by donating to the city. The release quoted Villaraigosa as saying: “Michael Jackson’s music touched millions of fans across the globe. Donations will help the City of Angels provide the extraordinary public safety resources required to give Michael the safe, orderly and respectful memorial he deserves.”
Matt Szabo, the mayor’s spokesman, said the idea to seek donations came from Councilwoman Jan Perry, who served as acting mayor while Villaraigosa and City Council President Eric Garcetti were out of the country.
“Her office asked for donations to be mailed in,” Szabo said. “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 pay.
“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.