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San Diego City Council Pushes Back Against Arts Funding Cuts

The official seal for the city of San Diego appears on a door to City Hall in this undated photo.
Angela Carone
The official seal for the city of San Diego appears on a door to City Hall in this undated photo.
San Diego City Council Pushes Back Against Arts Funding Cuts
San Diego City Council Pushes Back Against Arts Funding Cuts GUEST:Andrew Bowen, metro reporter, KPBS News
San Diego City Council Pushes Back Against Arts Funding Cuts
Several San Diego City Council members voiced concern over proposed cuts to arts funding in Mayor Kevin Faulconer's budget for the upcoming fiscal year. The proposed cuts amount to nearly a third of the city's current arts budget.

San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer's proposed budget got a mostly friendly reception at its first public hearing at the City Council on Monday, but some council members suggested they would seek to soften the blow to the city's arts budget.

Faulconer released the first draft of his spending plan last week. Several council members and public speakers praised the mayor for largely protecting the budgets of the city's police and fire rescue departments and maintaining library and rec center hours.

However, the budget contains more than $22 million in spending cuts necessitated by a rising pension bill. The cuts are spread across several departments, but the proposed $4.7 million reduction in arts funding — nearly a third of what the city currently spends — drew special attention.

"I certainly wouldn't support — won't be supporting a budget that makes such a deep cut to the arts institutions," said Councilman David Alvarez, a frequent Faulconer critic. "So we'll have to work hard and figure out where to find the funding, but it's going to have to happen because that's just unacceptable."

Councilwoman Lorie Zapf, who, like the mayor, is a Republican, suggested the cuts to the arts would be short-sighted.

"These massive pension bills are going to be with us for a few years, and we have got to grow ourself out of this mess," Zapf said. "We need to not forget that our arts has a significant return on investment and is something that tourists come here for."

Zapf's comments recalled statements Faulconer made in 2012 when, as a city councilman, he supported a plan to gradually increase arts funding to 9.5 percent of what the city collects in hotel room taxes. Under that plan, the city would dedicate about $22 million to the arts this year, instead of the mayor's proposed $10.4 million.

The Independent Budget Analyst's Office is now working on a report that reviews and summarizes all the mayor's spending plans. The City Council is holding multiple meetings over the next three weeks, including a 6 p.m. meeting on Monday, May 15 to allow more people to give feedback. The mayor then presents his revised budget on May 16 before a final City Council vote on June 5.

Public participation in the San Diego budget process:

The San Diego City Council is convening the Budget Review Committee on the following days in council chambers:

Wednesday, May 3 at 9 a.m. and 2 p.m.

Thursday, May 4 at 9 a.m. and 2 p.m.

Monday, May 8 at 9 a.m. and 2 p.m.

Tuesday, May 9 at 9 a.m. and 2 p.m.

Monday, May 15 at 6 p.m.