Garden Grove Council Vetoes Group's Tax Plan to Support the Arts

Times Staff Writer

Confusion among members of an arts advisory committee over the city of Garden Grove's taxing policies has put in limbo the issue of municipal support of the cultural arts.

Tuesday night, the City Council voted to "receive and file" recommendations of a 15-member Blue Ribbon Committee for the Arts, at the same time rejecting the report's key provision: a 1.5% increase in the hotel and motel occupancy tax with proceeds allocated to permanent funding of the arts.

"There's nothing that's going to happen now until we get direction from the (City) Council," Michael D. Fenderson, assistant city manager, said Thursday.

At the meeting, some committee members learned for the first time that city law requires all new tax measures whose proceeds are designated for a particular purpose to be placed on the ballot and passed by two-thirds of those voting. Citing the present anti-tax mood of the electorate, at least one council member who supports municipal-arts funding joined opponents in voting 3 to 2 against putting the measure on the ballot.

The tax measure was designed to provide a permanent, annual fund of $172,000 to support the Grove Shakespeare Festival, the Garden Grove Symphony and other community arts organizations.

With such an annual fund and a new panel responsible for administering subsidies, individual groups would not have to appear before the City Council each year to request support. In the past, such requests have divided the council, sometimes with considerable acrimony. The council majority has voted over the last 2 years to steadily reduce funding to the arts.

After Tuesday night's action, according to Richard Hain, president of the symphony board, "It's all back to what we've done in the past--going to the City Council to ask for funds. That's what we were trying to get away from."

Mayor W. E. (Walt) Donovan said he voted against the proposal because he "didn't want to lock in a revenue source just for the arts."

Donovan pointed out that if the measure became law and additional hotels were built in the city, the fund might automatically jump to $500,000 or more, without the approval or control of the City Council.

Councilman Frank Kessler, one of the council's strongest supporters of the arts, said Thursday that he voted against the tax proposal because he believes that "there is a more realistic way to address the thing than the ballot. . . . A lot of the arts committee was unaware that it would take a two-thirds vote."

But Kessler said he was concerned that if the City Council did not act in some way on the issue of municipal support for the city's arts groups, "we could lose some of these very fine organizations to other cities who are willing to support them."

"The greatest disappointment," Hain said, "is that after all the time and effort and research put in (to) making the report, we didn't seem to receive any kind of vote of appreciation from the City Council for what we had done."

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