Pet Project Alert: LA Ponies Up Millions for Discovery Cube Deal

LA WATCHDOG--On Monday, April 17, the Board of Public Works approved a Memorandum of Understanding between the Bureau of Sanitation and Discovery Cube Los Angeles to “develop, promote, and assist with Sanitation’s educational events and programs for a term of three years at a cost not to exceed $3 million.”  This includes increasing the awareness of the City’s environmental programs and services and promoting environmental stewardship for the next generation of Angelenos.  

But this deal is accompanied by an unpleasant aroma because of the controversial “investment” in 2013 of $7.5 million in the Discovery Cube by Sanitation and the Department of Water and Power and the failure of the Board members to analyze the economics and efficiency of this $3 million transaction. 

The Discovery Cube has a spotted history.  

In 2003, then City Council President Alex Padilla (now California’s Secretary of State) hatched an ill-conceived plan to move the Children’s Museum to the Hansen Dam complex, an out of the way location 22 miles north of City Hall.  By 2013, the City’s mismanagement resulted in a $22 million “architectural eyesore” that needed an additional $21 million to design and build the exhibits. And if the City failed to open the museum, it would be on the hook to repay $18 million to other governmental entities.    

As part of its reorganization plan, the City entered into a long-term management contract with Discovery Cube Orange County, a successful operator of a strategically located science oriented museum in Santa Ana. 

The City Council also decided to hit up Sanitation for $3.6 million by raiding the Sewer and Solid Waste Recovery funds that are financed by the fees that are part of our DWP bill. In addition, DWP and its Ratepayers were fleeced for $3.9 million, for a total of $7.5 million. 

While the City Council justified the heist of our money by saying that our children would benefit from this “world-class education center” and environmentally oriented museum, this investment was the responsibility of the Department of Recreation and Parks and the City’s General Fund, not the DWP and Sanitation Ratepayers. 

Of course, in their haste to approve this new contract, none of this history was discussed by the Board members when it approved this $3 million contract that once again involved the inappropriate use of our money. 

Nor did the Board members discuss the services to be performed under this open-ended contract that did not have a specific work plan or a specific list of projects.  But more to the point, they did not examine the capabilities of the Discovery Cube and its ability to deliver cost effective services to Sanitation, especially when compared to other advertising mediums or venues.  

Nor did the Board members consider the financial condition of the Discovery Cube and whether it is generating enough cash to cover its $5.4 million operating budget.  More than likely, the museum is not hitting its financial projections and is running short of cash.  This places the City in an awkward position which is why the Mayor and the City Council are putting the arm on Sanitation and its Ratepayers to fund the operational shortfall of this poorly located facility. 

But once again, this financial obligation belongs with Rec & Parks and the General Fund, not the Sanitation Ratepayers. 

The Mayor, the City Council, and the Board of Public Works will not have second thoughts about sticking it to Sanitation’s Ratepayers.  But this will confirm why we cannot trust them to be responsible stewards of our money. 

But this is nothing. Just wait until we see the games they are playing with the Budget.  Hearings begin on Wednesday at 1 PM at City Hall.  Bring your hip boots.


(Jack Humphreville writes LA Watchdog for CityWatch. He is the President of the DWP Advocacy Committee and is the Budget and DWP representative for the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council.  He is a Neighborhood Council Budget Advocate.  Jack is affiliated with Recycler Classifieds --  He can be reached at: