Jackson memorial squeezes L.A. city coffers

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Los Angeles city officials, burdened with a budget gap of half a billion dollars, said on Monday they were worried about the public cost of controlling the big crowd expected at the memorial for pop star Michael Jackson.

City Councilman Dennis Zine estimates the city could face $2.5 million in police and other expenses for the event on Tuesday at a downtown sports arena.

“Michael was a phenomenal entertainer, but why should the taxpayers of Los Angeles pick up this extremely high tab for security?” Zine told Reuters.

Concert promoter AEG Live, the company that signed Jackson to perform a series of 50 now canceled shows in London, will hold the event at its Staples Center arena, which has a capacity for 20,000 spectators.

But police expect that the crowd converging on the memorial could top the 250,000 who attended last month’s victory parade for the L.A. Lakers basketball team, said Officer Karen Rayner, spokeswoman for the Los Angeles Police Department.

Acting Mayor Jan Perry and Zine said they want AEG to reimburse the cost of handling the crowd, but that so far the company has not responded to them.

It is not known how much the event is costing AEG.

Representatives for AEG did not return calls or e-mails on Monday.

But last week, company CEO Randy Phillips told reporters that the company was mindful of the cost to the city.

“As you know AEG is a company that has a big investment in L.A. and a fantastic relationship ... so we’re trying to figure that out, get a budget together,” Phillips said.

Zine, who is a reserve police officer, said more than 2,000 officers will be deployed to downtown L.A. for crowd control.

Perry, who is serving as acting mayor while Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is away, said some fellow officials have asked why the city, should bear any cost for the Jackson event, particularly with a $530 million deficit.

“Every dime we spend is a concern, because we have a deficit. These are tight times,” she said.

Editing by Mary Milliken and Sandra Maler