An effort to bring together representatives from the Autry National Center and local community members who have criticized the Autry's stewardship of Mount Washington's Southwest Museum remains in a holding pattern.
A motion first proposed by Councilman José Huizar in June--which would create a working group comprising representatives from the city, the Autry and local communities with the goal of reopening the museum--was tabled due to concerns regarding open meeting law.
Two other motions related to the --one of which would require its owner, the Autry National Center, to be more aggressive in seeking funds for the Mount Washington facility--were also tabled until the committee's May 1 meeting.
Councilman Richard Alarcon, chairman of the committee, said forming a working group which comprised multiple city council members would require that all meetings be held in public, lest a Brown Act violation be triggered.
He said the committee needed to determine if they wanted to conduct business in accordance with meeting law, or assemble the group that would be allowed to meet informally.
"One perspective would say that if we have to have every discussion in the light of committee review process, then that doesn't speak well about our ability to work this out," said Councilman Ed Reyes, who represents the portion of Highland Park where the Southwest Museum's Casa De Adobe sits. "Now we're talking about legalities and pushing buttons and going after each entity that should be working together. I'm trying to avoid that."
A contingent of Northeast Los Angeles community members have clashed with Autry leadership over their handling over the Autry museum, saying they have failed to live up to the 2002 merger agreement which gave them control of the Southwest Museum's massive and valuable collection.
Community members hoped the merger would lead to a revival of the historic but financially struggling museum.
and has shifted the focus to expanding its Griffith Park campus.
Pual Habib--a field deputy for Huizar--said the best solution may be the formation of an informal working group that reported to the Arts, Parks, Health and Aging Committee.
"We have a committee here that is open and part of the Brown Act process," Habib said. "If working out some of these issues and removing some of the animosity--if that has to be done by naming who is in [the group] and removing it from the Brown Act process--we still have a committee we can come to which is open and transparent and can monitor some of progress that will hopefully be made."
Tuesday's motions were first proposed meetings regarding the Autry's plan to complete a $6.9 renovation project on its Griffith Park campus through the use of California Prop. 84 funds.
Two local organizations, the Highland Park Heritage Trust and the Mount Washington Homeowner's Alliance, have jointly filed a California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) lawsuit seeking to overturn the City's approval of the proposed expansion, asserting that the renovation violates state environmental law and local planning mandates.
Luke Swetland, Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of the Autry, said he was opposed to the working group motion as proposed by Huizar, but would support an effort that was more focused on "the right and honorable future of the Southwest Museum."
"The interest here, on everybody's part, is the best future of the Southwest Museum and the Casa de Adobe," he said. "Getting the right people in the room--city, Autry, people from the L.A. Conservancy--you get a few thoughtful experts in the room, and everybody focuses on one thing only--the right honorable future of the Mount Washington campus. The motion as drafted focuses on a whole menu of things, and we believe that deflects our attention away from one objective."
Through the summer, Autry representatives stated repeatedly that they do not believe a working museum is feasible at the Mount Washington facility, and instead envision a mixed use for the building, which would include educational programs and small curated exhibitions.
Swetland also opposed the second motion considered on Tuesday's agenda, which would require the Recreation and Parks Department to ensure that the Autry seeks funds for Southwest Museum in equal measure to those sought for the Griffith Park campus.
"We actively seeks funds for programs, for facility renovations. We have found funds to work on the collection at the Southwest. We found funds to continue repairing the buildings," Swetland said. "Funders want to fund certain things. It's really requiring something to happen that most funders are not going to be interested in. The funders know what they want to spend money on. Our job is to go out and find money for each of the things that we need support for, and we have a development department that actively does that."
David Burton, a managing director of the Autry National Center, also questioned the legality of forcing the Autry to seek grant funding for the Southwest Museum, saying it was out of the city's jurisdiction to force a private entity to take such steps.
Daniel Wright, a local attorney and member of the Friends of the Southwest Museum Coalition, said it was well within the rights of the city to impose such restrictions, given that the Autry rents its Griffith Park campus land from the city for only $1 per-year.
"They have an extremely narrow interpretation of the city council's jurisdiction," Wright said after the meeting. "They rent the land for only $1 per-year but they book the property as being valued at $300,000 to $400,000. That is the basis of the city's jurisdiction--the subsidy by the people of Los Angeles."
He added that the city's Northeast Plan, a planning document which requires the city to seek funding for the Southwest Museum in order to preserve it as a functioning historical monument, also gave the city jurisdiction.