Schwarzenegger wants state to hand off its role in L.A. science center

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In his emergency drive to slash state spending, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger hopes to save as much as $20 million annually by ending the state’s involvement in the public-private partnership that runs the California Science Center in Exposition Park.

The proposal comes at the tail end of a laundry list of cost-saving and cash-generating tactics the governor issued this week in response to falling revenues and a widening, multibillion-dollar deficit. Also on the list is the sale of the neighboring Los Angeles Coliseum.

The idea of ending the state’s role at the science center is in its embryonic stage, said Amanda Fulkerson, spokeswoman for the State and Consumer Services Agency that encompasses the science center and the neighboring California African American Museum, a smaller institution that has been affected by overall budget cuts but is not part of Schwarzenegger’s load-shedding bid.

‘I can’t tell you definitively if anyone is interested in taking ownership or how much it will save us,’ Fulkerson said. The proposal, she said, had been ‘floated internally’ by Schwarzenegger’s administration but had not been discussed with officials of the California Science Center Foundation, the state’s partner in running and funding the 245,000-square-foot exhibition hall. A new World of Ecology wing is under construction and scheduled to open next year, but Schwarzenegger’s 2009-10 budget calls for delaying its opening an additional year to save $5 million.


‘We’re looking at opening it in the spring of 2010, and I haven’t heard anything different than that,’ said George Deukmejian, the former California governor who is immediate past president of the Science Center Foundation’s board. Deukmejian said the idea of fully privatizing the science center’s operations also was something that hadn’t previously been brought up.

The state is spending $16.6 million this year on the Science Center, and an additional $2.5 million on the African American Museum, according to the budget the governor submitted before calling this week for further cuts. Those totals were to rise to $19.9 million and $2.6 million in the coming fiscal year, before Schwarzenegger announced that drastic revisions would be needed in the face of the deepening crisis.

It was unclear whether those amounts include what the private foundations for each institution contribute and, in the science center’s case, whether the amounts are strictly for operations or also cover some of the cost of building the new wing. Admission is free at both museums, although the science center charges for IMAX films and for occasional special touring exhibitions, such as the popular series of ‘Body Worlds’ shows of plastinated human corpses it has hosted.

Some critics say the governor’s new bid to sell off prominent properties, further reduce education spending and consolidate some departments is a gambit to scare voters into approving emergency fiscal measures on Tuesday’s statewide ballot. But Fulkerson said state officials would explore a science center pullout, no matter how the voting goes.

Jeffrey Rudolph, the science center’s president, could not be reached Friday. Shell Amega, a spokeswoman for the center, said it was doubtful that the foundation that oversees its day-to-day operations, and is raising money to pay for the expansion, could shoulder the state’s share of the funding. The foundation currently contributes about half of a $13-million operating budget, she said, and ‘it’s taken us 15 or 20 years to get to that point. It’s not likely we can raise more money than we’re already raising in this economic climate.’

The science center’s large cultural neighbors -- USC and the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County -- are two other nonprofits that conceivably might want to operate the venue, but it was unclear Friday whether either would be interested in taking it over from the state.

‘To date, there have been no conversations to explore the idea of any formal partnership,’ said Cynthia Wornham, spokeswoman for the natural history museum.

-- Mike Boehm

Photo (top): The California Science Center’s lobby, crowded for a 2005 ‘Body Worlds’ exhibition. Credit: Christine Cotter / Los Angeles Times.

Photo (bottom): Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger discusses his cost-cutting plans this week in Sacramento. Credit: Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press