Cash-strapped Los Angeles city officials are pushing the operators of Staples Center, Dodger Stadium, the Coliseum and several other venues to cough up hundreds of thousands of dollars each to reimburse the city for traffic cops deployed for major events.

The reimbursement demand would end a 15-year practice of providing free traffic control, which was designed to encourage promoters to schedule events in Los Angeles.

As such, the deployment of the traffic cops not only helped prevent snarls around stadiums and concert sites, but amounted to a city subsidy for event companies and venues.

"If we have to cover these costs, we might have to pass those costs on to the event sponsors or promoters," said Pat Lynch, general manager of the Coliseum Commission. "And that might make them look more seriously at other venues, like the Rose Bowl in Pasadena or the Home Depot Center in Carson, which would be a lose-lose for Los Angeles."

Since the program was launched in 1994, city costs for the traffic control officers have zoomed from $300,000 a year to $1.4 million as venues such as the Staples Center were added and labor costs increased. Now, with a $400 million budget deficit, city officials have decided that paying for these traffic officers is no longer affordable.

They have started negotiations with the owners or operators of the six venues to have them pay the city for future traffic officer deployments.

By state law, only uniformed city officers can step onto public streets to control traffic, which precludes the venue operators from assigning the task to parking lot attendants or other contractors.

Besides the Coliseum/Sports Arena, Dodger Stadium and the Staples Center, the other venues include the county-owned Hollywood Bowl, the city-owned Greek Theatre in Griffith Park and most recently the L.A. Live complex, including the Nokia Theatre.

According to city documents, the city spent $250,000 during the 2007-08 fiscal year deploying dozens of traffic control officers around the Coliseum and Sports Arena for USC football games, soccer matches and various concerts. In that same year, the city spent $480,000 on traffic officers for sporting events and concerts at the Staples Center.

Controversy grows

The issue of city funding of police and traffic services for special events became controversial after this year's Lakers victory parade and Michael Jackson's memorial event at Staples Center.

Department of Transportation officials say budget cuts and the cost of special events have drained the money they use to pay for traffic control, and once the budget is empty they will no longer provide any traffic control officers for these venues.

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