LOS ANGELES (CBS) — With the city going broke you may be surprised to find out that Los Angeles is the proud owner of a million dollar yacht and it is about to undergo hundreds of thousands of dollars in renovations at taxpayer expense.
As the head of the Port of Los Angeles raced down the hall, they tried to block our camera and dodged our questions, not wanting to talk about a yacht owned by the port, which is a city agency.
But the mayor said that it is not what we think.
"It's not a yacht. It's a boat," Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said.
But whatever you call it, the Angelena II is 73 feet long and worth about a million bucks -- according to a boat broker we contacted -- and it is all your money.
The port bought it in 1988. It is used for public relations tours of the harbor, which run about two hours long. They are free of charge for just about any group, like one we observed for students of Banning High.
We obtained the ship's logs for the past two years, which show cruises with as many as 48 passengers at a time. We also obtained the names of thousands of people who have been on-board.
More than 4,000 took the cruise just last year. Some of the people do business with the port, but many have nothing to do with it.
We found members of the Morongo Indian Tribe, screenwriters from Universal Studios, a YWCA cruise, people from the exclusive Jonathan Club, UCLA students and dozens of the mayor's interns.
But he said it is all business.
"They've gone to see why the port is such an important part of this administration's priorities. We have got to promote trade. That's why I was in China, Japan and Korea," Mayor Villaraigosa said.
"It's not a perk to get them out on the water," I asked?
"No. No," he replied.
Rusty Millar can "almost" see the port from his home in Silverlake more than 20 miles away. But he and more than a dozen others from the Silverlake Neighborhood Council took a tour on the Angelena in 2006.
"I think somebody brought a boyfriend with them," Millar said.
They brought friends and posed for pictures with the life preserver. But Millar said the tour was beneficial.
"I think it's just a kind of goodwill kind of thing. I don't see a problem with that," he said.
But it is costing the port money -- $147,000 combined last year for two captains primarily assigned to the Angelina; $106,000 for two deck hands; and more than $32,000 for fuel and maintenance.
The Angelena is now in drydock at the Port of L.A. and has not been out on the high seas since September. But over the next couple of months they will be spending close to three quarters of a million dollars on upgrades.
The engines have been removed because they no longer meet California emissions standards. They will be replaced by low-emission hybrid motors.
The port is using $489,000 in federal taxpayer stimulus money that is supposed to go create jobs, plus another $200,000 coming from the port -- totaling $689,000 for new engines.
"It's not helping to create any real jobs," said Tom Schatz with Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW).
He said the Angelena should be sold, not refurbished with taxpayer money.
"It's a big waste of money both for taxpayers across the country and for Los Angeles residents, who clearly aren't all going to benefit from this and are spending money at a time when the city is more than $70 million in the red," Schatz said.
But the port said it is worth it.
"The best way to show people the port is from the water," said John Holmes of the Port of L.A.
The expenditures are coming even when port General Manager Geraldine Knatz testified before the City Council that she is watching spending.
Councilmembers called her in because they were following up on our investigation last year, which revealed the port threw a $200,000 party in Korea.
Knatz claimed that she learned her lesson.
"I have recognized that public perception is an important part of what we do every day and that we really have to tighten our belt and watch every dollar," she said.
Perhaps she forgot about the $689,000 in new engines. But she did not want to talk about it.
"Why won't you talk with me for one second. You talk about public perception being important, yet you're spending close to three quarters of a million dollars on the port's yacht. Is that good for public perception," I asked?
She did not have an answer.
But just last week the port received the final go ahead from the Coast Guard for the new engines and they say the Angelena will be back on the high seas in about 90 days to continue the public relations tours at taxpayer expense.
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