An Autry National Center request for permission to remodel its facility on city land in Griffith Park will be heard by the Los Angeles City Council’s Arts, Parks, Health and Aging Committee this Friday, June 3 at 8:45 a.m. at City Hall. One focus of the redesign effort is the creation of gallery space in which to showcase items from the Southwest Museum collection.
The Los Angeles City Council voted unanimously this morning to assert council jurisdiction over a Board of Recreation and Parks Commissioners decision that gave the Autry National Center the go-ahead on the remodel.
See below on this blog for the back-story leading to today’s vote: http://arroyosecojournal.blogspot.com/2011/05/autry-plans-for-southwest-collection.html
The motion to assert jurisdiction was brought by Councilmembers José Huizar and Ed Reyes, who represent the Southwest Museum’s Mount Washington campus and its surrounding neighborhood on the City Council.
Twenty-five members of the public, including representatives of the Friends of the Southwest Museum Coalition and Friends of Griffith Park, plus residents of Highland Park, Mount Washington, Montecito Heights, Glassell Park and El Sereno, spoke before the council in favor of the motion. The opposition was represented by five speakers: the chair of the Autry Board, museum staff members and the museum’s attorneys.
Huizar began the proceedings by asking his colleagues to support his motion because many citizens believe that they were not given the opportunity to attend the Recreation and Parks hearing and voice their opinions and that “they weren’t even properly notified about the hearing.”
Councilmember Tom LaBonge, whose council district includes Griffith Park, was initially strident in his opposition to the motion.
Among LaBonge’s points were the fact that the portion of Griffith Park where the Autry is a lessee is the site of post World War II emergency housing, not part of the park’s original green space, and that the Autry has a $6+ million grant from the State “to enhance it’s mission.” Autry Chief Executive Officer Daniel Finley said that the awarding of the state grant to the Autry had been well publicized. Autry Board Chairperson Marshall McKay added that the Autry’s application for the grant was fairly considered, that the project will highlight important cultural contributions of Native People, and that 50,000 Los Angeles school children per year will benefit from visiting the remodeled museum.
“The Southwest is no longer in existence,” declared LaBonge.
“The Autry is committing a fraud,” replied Mount Washington Homeowners Alliance member Mark Kenyon during public comment. “The Southwest is only closed because the Autry did not live up to the terms of the merger agreement.”
However, while the closure of the Southwest Museum and the relocation of its collection to Griffith Park are at the heart of issues surrounding the Autry request, what was on the table today was actually very specific. Huizar asked his colleagues, whether they agreed or disagreed with the substance of the Autry request, to “give the many interested individuals the opportunity to be heard.”
“Yes is not a vote against renovation,” said community member Darryl Ramos-Young. “Just a vote for a proper, open hearing.”
City staff members were called forward by LaBonge to explain that the agenda for the Recreation and Parks special board meeting had been posted two days in advance. The Department of Recreation and Parks asserted that the conflict of interest that had previously prevented its board from ruling on Autry matters is now moot. Board President Barry Sanders is indeed a former partner in the Law Firm of Latham and Watkins, but that firm has not represented the Autry for over a year now.
Speaker after speaker spoke to the fact that there had been no public notification regarding the Recreation and Parks meeting.
Charlie Fisher of Highland Park said that he felt rather like Arthur Dent in Douglas Adams’ Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. Dent awakens one morning to find bulldozers about to demolish his house to make way for a highway. Notification had been given; the plans had been posted in an obscure location in a government building somewhere. Further, the earth is about to be wiped out to make way for a hyperspace bypass; the plans had been posted on another planet.
“[The Autry] set about to get these permits in an underhanded and stealth way,” said Mount Washington resident Daniel Wright of the Friends of the Southwest Museum Coalition. “A fundamental government right is at stake here.”
Wright said that a no vote on the Huizar-Reyes motion would feed public cynicism and growing anger toward government. He added that allowing the Recreation and Parks decision to stand without public input could well lead to civil court action regarding denial of the public’s rights.
The motion looked to be in serious trouble for a while, as councilmembers, city staff and Autry officials grappled with whether delays could cause the Autry to lose its grant money. Grant reporting is due by July 1. Recreation and Parks, Finley and LaBonge all argued that the delay could doom the funding.
But Councilmember Reyes rose and said, “We can move diligently. We talk about good will and transparency, about fair access, fair hearing.”
At that point Reyes looked at LaBonge and asked, “Will you offer that good will?”
It wasn’t LaBonge’s turn to speak, but it was widely noted in the Council Chamber that Reyes did not exactly get eye contact in return.
Councilmember Richard Alarcón pursued the issue of Recreation and Parks agenda notification. Rec and Parks said it did what it always does with agendas and suggested checking with Info Tech. A representative of the City Attorney’s Office finally confirmed that the agenda had not been posted by the City Information Technology Agency, and that the agenda had not been mailed to subscribers through the City’s Early Notification System.
“The question is whether we want to fully inform people, even beyond the Brown Act,” replied Alarcón.
Councilmember Dennis Zine admitted that he had never been to the Southwest Museum and that he knew little about the controversies surrounding it, but he said that he was prepared to support the Huizar-Reyes motion because, “People are telling me that it’s an issue for them in their community, and that means something to me.”
“Congratulations,” Zine said to the Northeast Los Angeles community members in attendance. “You have had an impact on my vote.”
Huizar reported that, if the council were to pass the motion, that passage would open a 21 day period within which the council would be legally obligated to take action.
“This will not jeopardize the grant,” said Huizar. “Take that off the table.”
As the hearing wrapped up, it seemed clear the motion was on its way to passage. LaBonge held a quick side aisle conversation with Autry officials and then agreed to make the passage unanimous and to hear the matter of the Autry remodeling at a meeting of the council’s Arts, Parks, Health and Aging Committee, which he chairs, this coming Friday morning.
Arts, Parks, Health and Aging Committee members, in addition to LaBonge, are Reyes and Councilmember Herb Wesson.
The conversation now shifts from public notification and government transparency to whether or not LaBonge’s contention that the Southwest Museum is no longer in existence is true.