The City of West Hollywood spent over $2.7 million on special events in 2011, according to a staff report released at Monday's Council meeting.
Staff presented a report with details about 71 events that the city either sponsored or co-sponsored last year—everything from big events like the , and Christopher Street West gay festival to smaller events like a senior Valentine's dance, the ceremony and a breast cancer educational forum.
These 71 events attracted an estimated 650,000 people, according to the report. The $2.7 million includes $695,000 worth of staff time producing the events, as well as $157,000 worth of fees waived (permits, facility rental and parking) in association with the events.
Council was pleased to get the detailed breakdown of the costs and attendance, but was surprised by the numbers. 95 of which were city sponsored or co-sponsored. However, that 2010 report failed to include cost and attendance figures.
“I’m surprised at the number of events here, but can’t find any that I didn’t vote to approve,” said Mayor Pro Tem Jeff Prang.
Mayor John Duran was at first startled by the cost, saying, “We spend more on art than we thought,” but then said he was not worried since the city is still operating in the black. He pointed out that in cities operating with a budget deficit, arts and cultural events are generally the first things to be cut.
City Manager Paul Arevalo said the special events have not needed tight fiscal oversight since the city is in the black financially.
Councilman John D’Amico said the number of events is likely to continue to grow since “our appetite for events is unlikely to abate.”
Arevalo said they can create consistent standards for producing events once the council gives them more direction.
Quantity vs. quality
Councilman John Heilman noted that the report provided quantitative information about the events, but now they needed qualitative information about the events to help determine if the event is worth devoting city time and funds.
Councilwoman Abbe Land pointed out that some events may have low attendance, but reach certain segments of the community, therefore they can not be judged on attendance figures alone.
Heilman said that if an event raised money for a charity, they needed to know how much money was raised if they were going to evaluate the effectiveness of the event.
Duran suggested that the staff members putting together the events are likely the best people to judge whether an event is working or not.
D’Amico asked what the council needs to do to better support the staff members who put on all these events.
“Our events are who we are,” D’Amico said. “It’s a very good investment in who we are to make sure our events continue to be exceptional.”
Heilman said they should explore more opportunities for co-sponsorship with other organizations or businesses.
Duran suggested that the council should start getting monthly reports about the events as a few dozen was easier to evaluate than a huge year-long report.
The staff report also contained information about 19 events the city helped promote and 41 events the city endorsed, as well as 50 events connected to the “One City, One Pride” festivities held in June during gay Pride. None of those events carried any direct costs to the city.