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City Councilmembers Express Support For Increasing Public Art Funding

A push by area arts leaders for greater financial backing from the city of San Diego gained tentative support from the City Council today, though votes on the issue will come later.

The Vermont Street Pedestrian Bridge is public artwork funded by the city's Commission for Arts and Culture.

Above: The Vermont Street Pedestrian Bridge is public artwork funded by the city's Commission for Arts and Culture.

Representatives of the city's Commission on Arts and Culture said at a review hearing on Mayor Jerry Sanders' proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year that they want an increase that keeps pace with projected growth in their primary funding source -- hotel room tax revenue.

Sanders projects that room tax income will go up by 5 percent in the fiscal year that begins July 1, and proposes hiking funding for the city's Commission on Arts & Culture by $135,000 over the current fiscal year.

Representatives of the commission, which distributes money to nearly 70 local arts groups, want an additional $310,000, to bring total funding to $7.742 million.

"I am really supportive of doing that, in particular for organizations that have applied (for funding) for the first time,'' Councilman David Alvarez said.

Councilwoman Lorie Zapf proposed developing a three- to five-year strategic plan to gradually increase financial backing for arts to an even greater level.

"We have a return on investment (in the arts) that's pretty significant,'' Zapf said.

According to the commission, the arts attracted two million visitors and $170 million of spending to San Diego in fiscal year 2011, employing around 6,000 people. Its statistics also showed that the out-of-town guests who come for arts events stay an average of two days longer and part with twice as much cash as the average tourist.

Councilmen Carl DeMaio and Kevin Faulconer also supported a funding increase, but urged caution because of uncertainty brought about by changes to redevelopment. They fear the state could mandate that debt service for the convention center and Petco Park be picked up by the city's general fund, which would reduce money for basic services.

Jay Goldstone, the city's chief operating officer, said the newfound money from the projected 5 percent increase in room tax revenues has already been allocated. If new figures due at the end of this week show an even greater gain, the mayor's office would not object to increasing arts funding, he said.

The council members did not actually vote on the issue.

Sanders is scheduled to issue revisions to his budget proposal in two weeks, and the council will take its votes next month.

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