Costa Mesa Sidesteps Austerity : ‘City of the Arts’ Now Hopes to Avoid Draconian Cuts in Its Subsidies to Groups

After a brief brush with austerity, it appears the city of Costa Mesa will be able to hang onto its designation as the “City of the Arts.”

During an April 10 City Council study session, several staff members informed councilmen that a projected budget shortfall, perhaps as high as $2 million, might require severe cutbacks to arts groups that share about $225,000 in yearly subsidies.

“The finance director and the city manager sent us a signal that we were getting into a bit of a money crunch, that it might be necessary to eliminate support entirely,” Mayor Peter F. Buffa said.


But after a closer look at the figures, Buffa said, “Things are looking somewhat less grim. . . . It’s increasingly unlikely that there will be any really Draconian cuts.”

Buffa said it now appears that the council will “be in a position to continue funding in the arts, close to the level of this year.”

Of the 15 arts groups that received funding from the city last year, including Opera Pacific and South Coast Repertory Theatre, the financially troubled South Coast Symphony would be hurt most by any cutbacks.

A cutoff of support from the City Council “would be a great setback,” said Larry Granger, the orchestra’s musical director. “We don’t like to think that any one source of funding would make or break an organization, but for us, the timing is not helpful.”

The 5-year-old orchestra, which had a $30,000 deficit last season, had to cancel two concerts this season after moving them from Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa to Santa Ana High School. The orchestra subsequently announced that all future concerts would be held at OCC.

“We’ve always considered ourselves a Costa Mesa-based orchestra,” Granger said. “It would be a great tragedy for there to be any dramatic funding cuts.”

Last year, the symphony received about $30,000 from the city, according to Granger, and this year it was hoping for an increase to about $50,000. The symphony’s current budget is $208,000, according to general manager Doreen Hardy.

In addition to proposed cutbacks, the council is also looking at several alternatives for funding the arts, according to Ann Gyben, assistant to the city manager.

One proposal is to separate the existing Cultural Arts Committee, a panel of citizens appointed by the council, from the city and to make it a nonprofit organization that could raise funds independently. Another is to increase the municipal bed tax on hotels and motels, with funds designated for the arts. In exchange, hotels and motels might receive discount or preferred seating at cultural events for their guests.

The issue of arts funding will probably be on the council’s agenda within the next month, Buffa said.