After years of shrinking revenues for Long Beach Lesbian and Gay Pride’s (LBLGP) annual festival in Long Beach, city officials will examine if they can assist the non-profit in overcoming its recent budgetary woes.

According to financial statements provided by LBLGP, net revenues have consistently dropped since 2014, where the group took home about $281,000 after the annual festival, compared to last year where it experienced a net loss of nearly $100,000.

The city council voted Tuesday night to direct city staff to look into the types of financial assistance it might provide the organization in the future, including reducing city fees and potentially partnering with the group to put on the event.

The organization had previously funded dozens of other non-profits and charities in the region through grants from its own funds but recently has had to reign in that practice. It once was able to fund nearly six dozen of these organizations annually but after years of cutbacks it had to freeze grants completely this year to ensure that the annual Pride event is funded.

Second District Councilwoman Jeannine Pearce, who authored the item, estimated that the annual festival and parade bring in about $12 million annually to the city’s economy and about twice that amount to the regional economy. In the item she pointed to West Hollywood’s efforts to assist its Pride event where the city has waived fees and paid for law enforcement to be present at the WeHo event.

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Pearce said she would be open to mirroring West Hollywood’s efforts in having the city pay for the law enforcement presence at the annual Pride festival, but said that the city’s help could extend to possibly lowering parking fees—they’ve hovered around $30,000 per year—and linking them with the city’s economic development department for advice as it has with the Queen Mary and Grand Prix.

She said the city could also look at helping with how the event is advertised in an attempt to prop up sagging ticket sales. The funding for that could come from leftover council officeholder accounts or surplus dollars from the city’s general fund.

“I don’t want us to be in a situation for us to set up a one-time opportunity just to lower their fees, I want to do this with an organization that’s putting their best foot forward to change their practices and ensure they’re successful,” Pearce said.

She added that as part of the city offering its help LBLGP will work with the city’s auditor who will examine their financial documents and also offer advice for best practices. The organization has been the focus by some in the community of alleged mismanagement and lack of transparency.

“I think it’s a best practice that if we’re going to be offering taxpayer dollars that we ask for something in return and I think that’s the success of this organization,” Pearce said. “I’m committed to that. The organization brings a great deal to the City of Long Beach both on a citywide level but on a national level as well.”

LBLGP has cited rising costs from city fees as part of the issue. Since 2014, those fees that include charges from the city for public safety officers and permits have increased from about $140,000 in 2014 to about $180,000 last year. However, fees and charges from the city were slightly higher in 2016, a year in which the nonprofit even netted about $48,000. It lost over $96,000 last year reflecting about a $140,000 dip in revenue.

Among the other large expenditures in financial disclosure sheets provided in the memo to the council were security fees, which averaged about $80,000 over the past four years, and consulting fees, which have averaged about $67,000 annually.

Denise Newman, LBLGP president, said the group has had to undergo a painful growth from a “mom and pop” type setting to a more professional set up. To do that with nearly all volunteers was difficult, she said, and has pressed it into utilizing costly consulting services for the Pride event because the expertise to run and set up an event that large does not exist in its volunteer pool.

“We’ve had to kind of grow up,” Newman said. “Unfortunately, and fortunately, the organization is made up of volunteers. We’re bound by the level of talent within the organization. Why do we use so many consultants? We didn’t have the talent inside the organization.”

The motion to have the city potentially put more resources behind the LBLGP event was supported by a host of city and regional leaders including State Senator Ricardo Lara, the executive director of San Diego Pride Fernando Zweifach Lopez Jr., Hamburger Mary’s owner Dale Warner and The Long Beach LGBTQ Center.

But not everyone in attendance favored the move by the city. Leslie Smith, board chair of the nonprofit California Families in Focus and a critic of LBLGP in the past, alleged that the organization’s financial issues were not to be blamed on rising costs but on mismanagement, misappropriation of funds and possibly worse.

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“The City of Long Beach has been unfairly blamed for Long Beach Pride’s inability to provide community grants and scholarships,” Smith said. “It’s no coincidence that Pride’s net revenue has fallen the same number of years this current regime has been leading the organization. You would be rewarding illegal, fraudulent and unethical behavior by giving concessions to Pride at this time.”

In an op-ed previously published by The Post, Smith explained that her group was one of those that had previously received funding from LBLGP but was denied funding last year. Newman responded to those claims in a separate op-ed run by the Post, claiming that miscommunication about the financial state of Pride was the reason why nonprofits like CFF did not receive funding.

In an email to the Post, Newman said that the organization is looking forward to partnering with the city and its working with the city auditor is less about malfeasance and more about finding efficiencies to help LBLGP succeed in the future.

“I absolutely believe that partnering with City Council is an excellent first step in developing a relationship with the city,” Newman said. “The action is not necessary to dispel allegations as much as it is to address the continuous evolving of our infrastructure.  We are moving from a grass roots organization so we are reviewing all of our practices. The assistance of the city auditor is simply our way of trying to find the best solutions for moving forward and has nothing to do with any allegations.”

Jason Ruiz covers City Hall and politics for the Long Beach Post. Reach him at [email protected] or @JasonRuiz__LB on Twitter.

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