A motion to discontinue funding for was narrowly avoided Monday night when the city council agreed to postpone its decision until Jan. 23. The motion passed in a 3-1 vote, with Councilmember Jeffrey Cooper voting no.
However, for supporters of the series, the battle is far from over. The festival is just one of scores of Culver City cultural events that to date had been funded by the city’s Redevelopment Agency. Following the State Supreme Court’s decision on Dec. 29 to effective Feb. 1, Culver City (along with 400 other communities) no longer has the funds to support many of its projects.
City Manager John Nachbar provided a bare bones outline the Supreme Court’s decision has had on the city’s finances.
“The Redevelopment agency funds presently support the operation of the city to the tune of $7.5 million per year,” he said. He added that prior to the Supreme Court’s decision the city had already begun reducing its expenditure a couple of years ago that had saved the city $3 million annually. Had those cuts not been made today the city would be looking at a structural deficit of $9 million,” he said.
The city’s most recent deficit was $4 million Nachbar added, and the plan had been to address that deficit over the next 4-5 year period. However, given the abolition of the RDA, Nachbar said the city was now looking at losing $4.5 million in annual revenue every year over the next five years.
He added that if the city does not make significant adjustments it would have depleted its reserves within three years.
One of the first “significant adjustments” to come before the council was the future of the music festival. Mayor Micheal O’Leary said it was simply unfortunate that the festival was the first on the list, but that there would be plenty of other cultural events that would have to be reconsidered in the coming months.
However, attendees told Patch they were also upset that the agenda item was not posted on the City’s website until Friday night, leaving them only two days to scramble to get the word out that the festival could be on the chopping block, and to rally supporters to speak at the meeting.
Several speakers came forward to urge the council to save the festival, many of whom spoke about the additional revenue that the festival brings in to the city via the restaurants that stay open during the festival, as well as the great PR it provides for the city.
Gary Mandell, who has produced the festival for the past 11 years said the festival improves quality of life, makes people want to move to the city and makes residents feel proud.
“It’s hard to measure the concerts on revenue,” he said. He added, “Last year I mentioned it would be a good time to look at the prospect of getting an outside person to generate sponsorships but nothing was done.” He cited the Twilight Concert series in Santa Monica that has raised $150,000 through sponsorships.
Mandel told Patch following the meeting that the city had had “11 years to get big sponsors and they haven’t done anything. Culver City is the heart of screenland and they’re going to let the heart of screenland lose its concert series?”
Calling on the council to not “act hastily” by cutting the program, CCUSD Board President Karlo Silbiger told the council that the $75,000 to run the festival was less than one tenth of one percent of the city’s $83 million General Fund.
“For that very small amount, you get thousands of happy resident and others attending every week; a cultural center in our community; a busy downtown; exposure in the media… you get so much for such a small contribution.”
However, incoming Chamber of Commerce Chairman Goran Erikkson said while he wanted to see the concert series continue the money should definitely not come out of the General Fund.
“I don’t think it’s right to allocate $75,000 today when we don’t know what issues we will face down the line,” he said.
Meghan Sahli-Wells and Gary Silbiger urged the council to postpone its decision, at least until after tonight’s Cultural Affairs Town Hall meeting, which would give people time to hopefully come up with some creative solutions for funding the series.
Councilmember Cooper then put forward a motion to eliminate funding for the festival but not the festival itself. However, no councilmember seconded his motion.
Councilmember Christopher Armenta put forward a motion to postpone the decision until the council’s next meeting on Jan. 23. Armenta said given the discussions of the evening it would be best to mull over some ideas, rather than make an immediate decision on the fate of the festival.
“I’d hate to react under the fog of what’s happening,” he said.
Councilmember Cooper was the only one to vote no to the motion, saying that tough decisions needed to be made and all the council was doing was kicking the can down the road.
Councilmember Andrew Weissman said two weeks was only a “small kick down the road.” He also added that he had no intention of supporting a motion to allocate money from the General Fund to the festival. He told Cooper that if alternatives were not found by the Jan. 23 meeting he would second Cooper’s motion.
Following the meeting Cultural Affairs Commission member Ronnie Jayne told Patch that Councilmember Armenta has always been a great supporter of the arts and she was pleased with his motion.
“I’m hopeful and happy,” she said. “The festival’s not saved yet, but hopefully at tomorrow night’s Town Hall meeting we’ll have some suggestions.”
The Cultural Affairs Town Hall meeting will take place tonight at 7 p.m. in City Council Chambers. The public is encouraged to attend.