is the Editor of the Los Angeles Business Journal

It’s sickening to see the way Eli Broad is being mugged by Los Angeles.

Here’s a statesman who’s trying to make a gift to the city, and one that’s exceedingly generous. So you’d think the so-called leaders of Los Angeles County and the city would have the decency to say thank you.

Instead, they’re leveling the blued-steel barrel of government power at him and saying, “Stick ’em up.”

Broad is being forced to march through L.A.’s band of brigands, paying a little extra here, a few million more there, and it’s stomach-churning to watch.

Broad’s gift, of course, is a downtown L.A. museum – that he would pay $100 million to build – that would display terrific art, which he would supply. And he’ll even endow it with $200 million to pay for its future operations. Got that? Broad’s gift would be akin to creating a city or county museum – an outstanding one – except he’s paying for all of it; taxpayers are getting a gift.

Well, Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael Antonovich didn’t see that. He saw a chance for a shakedown. There’s no reason for local governments to give Broad a $1-a-year lease for the land that Broad wants to build on, he said, asking, Why should we do a favor for some rich guy?

Well, here’s why: Broad wasn’t asking for a favor. He was requesting the same kind of consideration that cultural institutions from sea to shining sea have always received because cities and counties benefit tremendously from such museums. A dollar-a-year deal was given to the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena and the Museum of Contemporary Art on Grand Avenue downtown (which is across the street from Broad’s proposed museum).

Now, the four other county supervisors could have risen to the occasion. They could have said Antonovich was being embarrassingly stupid and he’s only one vote and they’d override him. But they didn’t. Gloria Molina and Mark Ridley-Thomas sat silent, effectively helping Antonovich block the museum. Translation: Hand over your wallet, Mr. Broad.

Without complaining, Broad gave in to the county bandits. To get the supervisors’ votes, he recently agreed to pay the $7.7 million market value to lease the land. So he can have the pleasure of making his gift to the county.

But the holdup of Broad didn’t end there. The cutpurses down at the Community Redevelopment Agency told Broad he needs a big garage for his museum. Actually, the museum only needs 100 or so parking spaces, and it could lease those from nearby buildings, so, no, it doesn’t need a big garage at all. The CRA said Broad didn’t hear correctly. He needs a big garage.

So, without complaining, Broad agreed to loan the CRA $15 million to help pay for a 300-space garage under the museum. And Broad’s museum will lease parking spaces from the CRA. Money that the CRA can use to help repay the loan. Neat, huh?

But the CRA wasn’t done with Broad. At a recent meeting, the CRA required the museum be built under a Project Labor Agreement, which means it must be constructed with union labor.

Now, Broad would have done that anyway, but it provided Madeline Janis, who chaired the meeting for the CRA, a chance to let her union buddies take the stage and testify how they’d support the museum – so long as there was a PLA. (Does anyone else see an itty-bitty conflict in allowing Janis, who founded and oversees a union labor organization, to chair meetings in which the CRA becomes an unalloyed union-boosting agency?)

Broad’s not done. He still faces at least two more shakedown possibilities. He must get his museum proposal through the Los Angeles City Council and a special group called the Joint Powers Authority. I might need more Pepto-Bismol to watch that.

I’m a naïve idealist, but I still hope that our government leaders stop with the extortion act. I’d like to hear them say something like: “Thank you, Mr. Broad, for your generous gift that will enrich Los Angeles. And thank you for bearing the extra burden to make sure your museum is near MOCA and the Walt Disney Concert Hall. That will create a culture zone along Grand Avenue. Your generosity and foresight will benefit this community through the ages. You can put your arms down, now.”

Letter to the Editor Response, from Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich:

As the editor of a newspaper that reports on business and economic issues, it is troubling that you failed to contact me to get the pertinent facts on this agreement before publishing your “damn the taxpayers” editorial.

Asking Mr. Eli Broad to pay taxpayers fair market value, $7.7 million for public land to build his museum, was a reasonable request supported unanimously by the Board of Supervisors — the original request of one dollar-a-year was not. Mr. Broad has now agreed and will move forward with the $300 million museum project.

As an elected official, I feel strongly that taxpayers must receive adequate remuneration for their property under any circumstances. It is good business practice and my fiduciary responsibility — which one would expect a business newspaper would support.