In response to growing complaints about West Hollywood's annual Pride parade and festival, the city has decided to form a committee dedicated to overhauling the event for 2013.
Consuming almost two hours of a five-hour council meeting Tuesday night, the Pride discussion grew impassioned at times as both councilmembers and public commenters spoke about their vision for the annual gay Pride celebration, which takes place on the second weekend in June.
At the Dec. 19 council meeting, Councilman John D’Amico called for changes to the event. “There is a serious disconnect for a lot of people on that event,” he said, noting that many residents have long complained about the 42-year-old parade, often calling it “lame” or “tired.”
Rodney Scott, executive director of Christopher Street West (CSW), which puts on the pride festivities, explained to attendees of Tuesday's meeting that the event brings in approximately $1.2 million in income each year. About $400,000 of that amount comes from festival admission tickets.
Scott said the event has $1.1 to $1.2 million in expenses each year. The city waives many of the fees associated with putting on the parade and festival, but CSW reimburses the city for the cost of festival preparation, sheriff’s personnel and clean up.
The , which travels down Santa Monica Boulevard from Crescent Heights to San Vicente, attracts an estimated 250,000 to 400,000 people. Approximately 25,000 people attend the accompanying festival held in .
Articulating community concerns
D’Amico asked Scott to articulate what he understood the community concerns to be. Scott said the issues centered around creating areas for gay youth and transgender people, plus a need for more dance space.
D’Amico said Pride was no longer a political event. “The politics have drained out in favor of commerce,” he told Scott. He also said many residents do not feel included anymore and that the parade was far too long, often lasting three hours.
During public comment, many people spoke about the exuberance of coming to their first gay pride event and how exciting it was to ride or march in the parade. Others talked about the satisfaction they gained from volunteering.
Several business representatives said they earned a fourth to a third of their yearly profits during Pride. Chamber of Commerce CEO Genevieve Morell said CSW was as important a partner in the city as any other business.
Former Councilman Steve Martin said it might be impossible to recreate the electricity of a person’s first gay Pride event, but that the city was now the “trustee” of the event, so it was important to raise its quality.
Admission and fencing
Several public speakers said they felt caged in by the fencing around West Hollywood Park during the festival, but Scott said the enclosure was important for the security of attendees, and to protect the vendors’ booths overnight.
The admission fee ($15 in advance, $20 at the gate) was also a point of concern for residents. Scott noted Long Beach, San Diego and Palm Springs also charged admission to their Pride events, while San Francisco did not, but Councilman John Heilman did not want people to focus on the logistics of admission.
“I think we should be focusing on how to make the whole experience the best it can be and not really worrying about whether people can afford $20 to get in,” Heilman said. “I think our community by and large can afford that charge, and if they can’t, we need to provide a mechanism to accommodate them.”
At one point, Heilman asked what CSW would want from the city to help improve the event. CSW board member Steve Ganzell, who stepped in after Scott left for a flight, replied “miracles,” adding that more space in the park would be ideal.
D’Amico said it was important for CSW to spell out what it required from the city to upgrade the event. “Tell us exactly what you need from us,” D’Amico said. “If it’s $10 million and 10 acres, tell us.”
In the end, the council decided that CSW does an admirable job organizing the event, but needed help with fundraising. Mayor John Duran suggested the council could revive the West Hollywood Community Foundation to help spur community involvement and fundraising, but the council postponed acting on that idea.
Duran and D’Amico agreed to serve on a committee with CSW officials to find ways to raise the quality of the event. Their role will be limited in the next few months since plans for the 2012 festival are well under way. Come July, once this year’s festival is over, the two will be more heavily involved.
D’Amico said he was glad the conversation was happening, and that the city would take a more active role in the event.
“We cannot back down from our need to be leaders in the [gay] movement,” D’Amico said. “Where that will take us is only limited by how we end the conversation ourselves.”