Troubles threaten Children’s Museum in Valley

first_img“That’s the pity. We’re on the one-foot line of completing the building.” Museum and city officials said the biggest failure has been a lack of support from private donors, especially from the Valley. Of the $36 million raised to design and complete the museum, 70 percent has come from public funds. But some museum officials accused Councilman Richard Alarcón of diverting nearly $1 million in city energy sales dedicated to the museum by his predecessor, now-state Sen. Alex Padilla. The Cambria Energy Fund, which now contains $982,000 generated from methane gas sales from the former Lopez Canyon Landfill, was supposed to act as seed money for a $1 million allocation from the county. “Padilla didn’t have any problem with it,” said museum board member Richard Katz, “but Alarcón has said, `No how, no way.”‘ Alarcón, who assumed Padilla’s Northeast Valley district in January, said neighborhood councils and homeowner groups have demanded the dump funds be spent on the community at large, not on a private museum. “I’m a very strong supporter of the Children’s Museum,” he said. “But the (energy funds) should be used in concert with whatever the community intends. The bottom line is they’ve got themselves in a pickle because they haven’t been able to raise enough private money, and the city shouldn’t bail them out.” In March, the Foothill Trails District Neighborhood Council opposed spending dump gas money originally earmarked for a Hansen Dam Environmental Awareness Center Fund to benefit the museum. Better, they said, to spend the money on a future Hansen Dam Wildlife Reserve or other community service. Mary Benson, treasurer for the neighborhood council, said it set a bad precedent for the city to spend city dump funds on a nonprofit museum foundation. “Once (City Council) members can direct public money to nonprofit foundation favorites, that violates the City Charter and directs taxpayer dollars into private hands,” Benson said. “And that’s wrong. It is illegal.” Other museum funds have fallen through, including $774,000 in state Proposition 12 money, when museum officials couldn’t ensure the facility could open by June 2008. That leaves only $800,000 borrowed by the museum board to pay $3.3 million owed to the contractor. On May 2, the contractor asked for a statement of sufficient funds. “We’re within the last week to demonstrate our ability to pay … (or) shut down construction,” said Cecilia Aguilera Glassman, the museum’s chief executive officer, hired in March with the understanding the museum had enough money to complete its building. “The consequence for the museum is it would be extremely difficult to start up construction again.” The $58.5 million museum was supposed to have opened last year on a wedge-shaped site overlooking the lake at Hansen Dam. Designed by architect Sarah Graham as an environmentally “green” showcase, it would be sheathed in walls of real and synthetic grass. Exhibits designed by Edwin Schlossberg, husband of Caroline Kennedy, were designed to capture the imagination of children. After construction, the museum would still have to raise an additional $11 million for the exhibits. Downtown, the original Children’s Museum of Los Angeles, designed in 1979 by renowned architect Frank Gehry, closed in 2000 when plans were in the works to build sister facilities in Little Tokyo and at Hansen Dam. The Little Tokyo plan was scrapped for a shortage of funds. If construction on the new museum continues, a temporary certificate of occupancy is expected in early August. Padilla, a strong proponent of the museum before he left for Sacramento, did not respond to a request for comment. While Alarcón pledged to help find other sources of funding, Corwin is working well-heeled Angelenos for short- and long-term funds. “I’m running around town, seeing everybody who will see me, to help us get there,” he said. “We haven’t done our homework in the Valley. We haven’t been to the Rotary, the Kiwanis. We haven’t done the groundwork for support. The important thing is, we’ve got to stay positive.” (818) 713-3730160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! LAKE VIEW TERRACE – Construction on the much-anticipated new Children’s Museum of Los Angeles could grind to a halt next week because of a lack of money. Museum backers need either to raise $2.5 million to pay its contractor by Monday or stop work on the San Fernando Valley’s first and only museum. If workers pack up their tools, officials say it could cost $1.5 million more just to resume construction. And some say it could even spell the end of the museum. “It would be so sad to see it close. … In the end of the day, it’s all about the kids,” said Bruce Corwin, co-chairman of the museum board, who was scrambling Tuesday to raise money from sources around the city. last_img