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Committee Forwards Arts Funding Issue to Vote of Full City Council

The City Council’s Public Services and Safety Committee did not take a position Wednesday on a proposed arts funding freeze, and instead voted unanimously to allow the full council to hear testimony and vote on the issue at its June 14 meeting.

The committee--meeting to hear testimony from arts groups, the city manager’s office and the Commission for Arts and Culture--decided not to vote on a revised plan to keep funding at the same levels as last year.

City Manager John Lockwood’s budget proposal of May 15, which deleted all transient occupancy tax funding for the arts, galvanized the arts community into a show of force at the council’s May 24 meeting. At the city’s direction, he revised the budget to maintain current funding levels.

On Wednesday, Council Members Linda Bernhardt, Ron Roberts, Judy McCarty, John Hartley and Wes Pratt went out of their way to stress that they support the arts as a vital element of the city. But there was a caveat.

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“I hope you will support the council when we have to make some difficult decisions,” Bernhardt said. “I will be knocking on your doors.”

Specifically, the council wants the arts groups to honor a commitment to support the council’s efforts to raise revenue to help meet the city’s current fiscal crisis.

“We are going to have to do something to raise revenue,” Roberts said. “It’s not enough to say you support the arts if you are not willing to say you support more revenue.”

“It was clearly a call for partnership,” said Adrian Stewart, director of the San Diego Arts and Culture Coalition. “We don’t look at it as holding our feet to the fire; we look at it as a supportive partnership. If we are to get the support, we need to support the other areas of funding.”

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Stewart and the 120 members of the coalition have already begun campaigning for the passage of Proposition D, the so-called Gann waiver, which would allow the city to raise revenues above existing limits in order to provide such services as police and fire protection.

Council members apparently know the arts groups can have an impact. Stewart said the coalition has managed to exert some political muscle in the year since it was formed.

“It’s emerging that arts and culture has a role to play because of the breadth of our constituency,” Stewart said. “The coalition has a unified voice.”

“We’ve got over 4 million patrons of the arts,” Stewart said with a smile. “That’s a very strong constituency.”

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While neither Stewart nor Victoria Hamilton, the director of the Commission for Arts and Culture, would predict that the proposed funding freeze is a sure bet to pass the council, both expressed optimism that the commission’s recommendations would sail through untouched.

That would mean $4.9 million from transient occupancy tax revenues would go to arts groups. Individual groups would receive more or less money out of the $4.9 million contrasted with last year, but in most cases the amounts would not differ substantially.

In addition, City Manager Lockwood called for funding the special projects and festivals budget with $750,000, the cultural arts festival budget with $1,420,000 and the public art master plan with $72,500, and for allocating $369,134 for the commission’s administration costs.


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