Council Rejects Arts Plan to Strengthen Advisory Board

San Diego County Arts Writer

On a 4-4 vote Monday, the San Diego City Council again failed to approve an arts plan for the city, virtually assuring that the plan will not get to the California Arts Council in time for approval in the current fiscal year.

If the plan does not go to the state level, the city is less likely to get state money for public arts activities, a city consultant said.

The arts plan, written by the Public Arts Advisory Board, gives PAAB broader powers in advising the City Council on public arts matters. PAAB, which is less than two years old, has been restricted to advising the council and overseeing a program in which a percentage of city capital funds will be spent on artworks. PAAB also will begin sponsoring concerts and plays in the city's neighborhoods this summer.

The proposed arts plan, which is based on community input taken over the last 4 1/2 years, would provide the city with a more comprehensive arts program in 12 areas, including facilities, activities for youth, international cultural exchange, information and promotion, technical and management assistance to artists and arts groups, cooperation with the county, and funding. Approval of a $57,000 state grant for PAAB staffing is based on the plan.

About a dozen supporters of the plan were muzzled at Monday's City Council meeting when acting Mayor Ed Struiksma allowed no discussion of the proposal.

"We could have clarified some of the criticisms. We could have swayed at least one vote," said PAAB Chairman Ed Pieters. The chief concerns voiced by council members were the lack of a budget for the plan and how it would be coordinated with COMBO, a private arts fund-raising group.

"It's not satisfactory," said Struiksma, who voted against the plan. "It's a very ambitious work, but there's a question of duplication of COMBO functions."

Councilwoman Abbe Wolfsheimer had questions about the lack of a budget. "If there's no budget, there's no plan. That's it," Wolfsheimer said. "I'd like to see (the plan) get moving, but it looks like it's not going to be this year."

Pieters said that, on the contrary, no less than four budgets had been prepared, and the latest was pulled just before Monday's presentation by staffers in the city's Intergovernmental Relations Department, acting against the desires of PAAB members. "It's probably stalled for a year now," Pieters said.

COMBO raised objections to portions of the plan on March 7. All but two of its objections were ironed out by March 11, a COMBO official stated. Those included a proposal to develop new sources of private funding for the arts. COMBO development director Sharon LeeMaster said that the section might infringe on COMBO's fund-raising activities. COMBO also questioned a section on the creation of a committee to review and update the arts plan. COMBO wants that function specifically handled by a body independent of PAAB, LeeMaster said.

The state arts council already has given the city one extension on its March 14 deadline, after the plan was referred on March 10 to the city attorney to ensure that it complies with the City Charter. On Friday, City Atty. John Witt's office reported that it needed two more weeks to study the plan.

Elizabeth Kennedy, one of two city arts consultants who prepared the plan, said that the grant application to the California Arts Council depends in large part on city approval. The grant could still be approved, Kennedy said, but the failure of the City Council to approve the arts plan, which the grant is based on, "does not bode well."

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