Hollywood Spotlight on Broken Fee Policy

When it comes to the Grammys, to show support is to pay up. While the Los Angeles city deficit is up to $433 million, the City Council has decided to fork over $124,163 for the Grammy Awards ceremony, bringing the money spent on awards shows to $750,000 over the past two years.
While Los Angeles residents are facing foreclosures and debt, multi-milliondollar earning performers are being given gift bags worth $30,000 in the form of designer bags, spa gift certificates and liquor, in addition to a free visit to a gift room stocked with Gibson guitars, jewelry and other goodies. In a time of financial crisis, the stark difference between Hollywood elites and Los Angeles residents becomes even stronger in the spotlight.
During more prosperous fiscal times, the City Council generally offered $5 million worth of support to non-profit special events like the Grammys. Due to budget cuts, the city now requires non-profits to pay for half of their own fees. This has not stopped some, including a mayoral candidate, from asking whether the Grammy Awards should even qualify as a “non-profit special event.”
Mayoral candidate David “Zuma Dogg” Saltsburg, an outspoken opponent of the funding, asserted that the special-event money is to “provide benefit to the community – open to the public – not to be used for commercial, private entities.” Saltsburg went further to call the Grammys a “money-sucking, vampire drain on the general fund.” He was a vocal public dissenter as the 13 City Council members passed the waiver without discussion.
The spokesperson for mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Matt Szabo, issued a statement saying the “fee waiver policy is clearly broken,” but the mayor has no jurisdiction over how the city council chooses to spend their budget. The mayor’s statement against public funding comes despite his ties to the Grammy Foundation. The Foundation has hosted several benefit events honoring the mayor, including a 2006 benefit concert that recognized the mayor with a Grammy Foundation Leadership Awards for helping at-risk youths access high-quality education through after-school programs. Villaraigosa seems to be making a distinction between benefits that clearly aid the community and franchises, like the Grammys, that seek to receive private funding alongside public funding.
In relation to total Grammy expenditures, money offered may only be a drop in the ocean. But the sponsor of the Grammy waiver, Councilwoman Jan Perry, is arguing that not funding even that small amount will have serious consequences for Los Angeles. The presence of the Grammys in Los Angeles, she argues, is never a guarantee. Any underperformance resulting from a combination of insufficient funding and low viewer turnout could result in a defection of the awards to New York City, causing major losses in Los Angeles revenue. This was what happened in 2003.
Council members supporting the hefty donation argue that the city receives a considerable amount back from the Grammy Awards, which draws $45 million worth of revenue. However, whether or not the Grammy Awards draw any return for the city is an irrelevant question; at a time when thousands of Californians have lost their jobs and schools are cutting back on their budgets and on student admittance, surely $123,000 could be put to better use in order to directly benefit Los Angeles residents.

Frida Alim is a second-year political science major. She can be reached at aabdelal@uci.edu.