Griffith Park Observatory in Danger Following LA’s Annual Budget Plan

Featured image credit: Prayitno

Everyone’s favorite free spot to bring out-of-town guests is in trouble. With the reveal of Mayor Karen Bass’s civic budget plan for the year, it’s apparent that LA’s Department of Recreation and Parks (RAP) is a low priority in a year fraught with financial hardship. This means Griffith Park, along with the Griffith Park Observatory that punctuates it, will be losing a significant amount of its annual funding. 

The Immense Civic Value of the Griffith Park Observatory

Photo credit: Griffith Observatory

Even if you don’t live in Los Angeles, you’ve probably seen the iconic view from the Griffith Park Observatory. It’s almost a mandatory requirement for all guests to snap a ‘gram-worthy photo at the iconic overlook. The observatory also famously featured in James Dean’s Rebel Without a Cause, commemorated with a monument on the grounds. 

Fewer people realize just how many interesting things are going on inside the building. There’s a Tesla coil that employees fire up throughout the day as guests watch safely from beyond its glass barriers. Specimens taken from meteors are on display, sometimes beneath the exploratory lens of microscopes. Looming recreations of planets give context to the out-of-sight, out-of-mind universe around us. And it’s all available to anyone who walks through the observatory’s doors… free of charge. 

It’s easy to take the Griffith Park Observatory for granted. It seems that practically every Angeleno has passed through its doors. But we never consider that it could someday decline… or close altogether. Yet the observatory heavily relies upon funding from the city to offer its myriad of engaging exhibits to a curious public. And funds are running dry. 

Forthcoming Cuts to the City’s Recreation and Parks Department

Photo credit: Griffith Observatory

With a significant city deficit looming large over the horizon, Mayor Karen Bass needed to make cuts to her annual budget. The most severe sector impacted? The Department of Recreation and Parks. The city’s working with a smaller budget than last year in general, but some departments, such as the LAPD, will still see a budget increase. Recreation and Parks is not as fortunate. 

Even more unfortunate: this isn’t the first rodeo for the Griffith Park Observatory. Nor is it the first time the budgetary bull has bucked it off. Amidst drastic budget cuts in 2008, the observatory released approximately one-third of its full-time workforce. 

These were positions that were never restored over the subsequent years. Considering the last round of budget cuts translated to permanent damage, observatory staff are right to be alarmed by the proposed 2024 – 2025 city budget. 

How Budget Cuts Would Impact the Griffith Park Observatory

Photo credit: Matthew Field

Fortunately, Mayor Bass’s suggested budget compensates for the retention of many essential city employees. It’s not fully clear if this will provide any insulation to observatory staff. However, in late April, it was announced that over 300 jobs could be cut from LA’s Recreation and Parks Department. The Griffith Park Observatory has been transparent that budget cuts would almost definitely damage public programs, including long-running programs designed to engage with city schools. 

The Griffith Park Observatory is also an important center for scientific research. Astronomers are often hard at work behind the scenes, using the observatory’s equipment to further what we know of the world beyond our world. A decrease in funding will also hamper these efforts which are already critically underfunded. 

The Observatory’s Future Remains Uncertain

The Griffith Park Observatory continues to be a world-class facility allowing the public to see the planets and stars through normally inaccessible high-powered equipment. It’s a luxury that very few major cities can afford. Representatives sent out an open letter on May 2 urging interested parties to show their support by contacting local council members. But in the wake of Thursday, May 2’s budget review by the City Council’s Budget, Finance and Innovation Company, it remains to be seen how the public can best voice their support for this beloved Los Angeles icon. The new budget goes into effect on July 1. 

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