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Sunday, June 19, 2011

[CityWatch] Stubborn Autry Museum Asks City Council to Break Law

Stubborn Autry Museum Asks City Council to Break Law
By Ann Walnum

PARKS POLITICS - As a long-time volunteer for the Southwest Museum and a founder of the Friends of the Southwest Museum Coalition (70 community and civil rights organizations), I remain amazed at the Autry Museum’s stubborn effort to violate our General Plan – the City’s fundamental zoning law – in a series of project proposals intended to relocate the Southwest Museum to the Autry’s building in Griffith Park.

A recent version of this idea was approved by the Recreation and Parks Commission but City Council voted under Charter Section 245 to assume jurisdiction over the issue due to concerns about transparency of the approval process.

After Autry angrily withdrew its first expansion proposal in 2009 which endangered preservation of the Southwest Museum under the General Plan, the Autry Board developed a new project idea, to move its collection storage out of Griffith Park and begin relocating the Southwest Museum’s premiere exhibits from Mount Washington to Griffith Park’s storage area.

The new project and the one withdrawn in 2009 are equally offensive to the City’s General Plan which contains a policy requiring the City to only take actions that “maintain the Southwest Museum on Mount Washington.”

Autry applied to the State for a $6.6 million grant to pay for relocation of the Southwest Museum’s most important Native American exhibits to its Griffith Park building. State officials, unaware of the unlawful nature of the grant proposal, tentatively funded it.

This puts the Los Angeles City Council in an unfair position: Should it ignore its own General Plan and approve Autry’s project to avoid losing the State grant? Or should the integrity of the City’s fundamental law -- the General Plan -- prevail? Autry knows its proposal is contrary to City law, but is asking Council Member Tom LaBonge to ram it through City Council on Tuesday, June 21, 2011, nonetheless.

Recently, the California Department of Recreation and Parks announced that the Autry Museum was selected to receive a $6.6 million Proposition 84 grant of taxpayer dollars to pay for the construction of permanent and rotating galleries of Native American themes and a native plant education garden at its Griffith Park site. On the surface, to the average person and typical City Council member, this sounds like good news: $6.6 million returning to the City’s economy.

But dig deeper and you’ll learn that Autry’s grant application should have never been submitted. That’s because the project for which it seeks state funding is designed to forever destroy the Southwest Museum – an institution Autry promised everyone it would “respect” by maintaining its separate identity and operation as part of a 2003 merger with the former Southwest Museum Corporation.

For more than 50 years, school field trips to the Southwest Museum brought to life history lessons about the State’s and Southern California’s earliest inhabitants. Autry’s move will render the historic building redundant to exhibiting its own collections – a building for which we taxpayers already shelled out $25 million for a Metro Rail Gold Line station at the front door to help bolster its economic feasibility. That clears the way for Autry to sell or give the building away – essentially stealing the Southwest’s priceless collections for itself and forever extinguishing the “Southwest Museum” name/institution.

At a hearing in Council Member Tom LaBonge’s Arts and Culture Committee on Friday, June 3, 2011, Council Member Ed Reyes had some questions he needed answered.

The Casa de Adobe (a replica of a hacienda from California’s pastoral farming days), from which Autry removed all the artifacts and locked the door, lies in Reyes’ District. “What are Autry’s plans for the Southwest Museum and Casa de Adobe?” Reyes asked. Autry’s new CEO and President, Daniel Findley, essentially took the Fifth Amendment: “I will defer to the City Attorney as to whether I have to answer that question,” Findley replied.

When it became clear that Findley would refuse to answer Reyes’ questions about plans for the future of the historic Southwest Museum structures in Northeast LA, Reyes simply read his questions into the record and they remain unanswered.

However, it does not take a rocket scientist to figure out Autry’s goal. Autry signed the 2003 merger agreement promising to rehabilitate the Southwest Museum if its expert team found it physically and economically feasible.

Read the rest of this story at CityWatch