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Tim Myers: Everyone is willing to spend someone else's money

Myers' Musings

Posted: February 7, 2009 10:29 p.m.
Updated: February 8, 2009 4:55 a.m.
I believe I attended my last State of the City meeting in 2004. These luncheons constituted an opportunity for local elected officials to "speechify" concerning the many predictable accomplishments of the year, from new roads to shiny new recreation facilities.

But my favorite time always related to questions from the floor for the mayor and the city manager.

During this particular luncheon, a well-coifed, slender soccer-mom type stood and wondered aloud if the city could step in and restore the recently canceled Newhall Land and Farming Company-sponsored street art festival at the Westfield Valencia Town Center Mall.

I knew from reliable sources that Newhall Land subsidized the festival to the tune of about $750,000 per year. Attendance over the weekend event may have increased normal traffic at the mall by 20,000 people, meaning that Newhall Land paid nearly $40 for each incremental attendee - the price of a balcony seat to "Wicked" at the Pantages Theatre. (A nice event, but not "Wicked.")

This struck me then as it strikes me now: Just like the most hardcore welfare family, the well-heeled of suburbia sure do like to get free stuff, and they never really think of the cost, particularly when payment comes from someone else.

Fast forward to 2009 as College of the Canyons struggles to maintain its Performing Arts Center, and the recent dustup concerning the requesting of dissolution of the memorandum of understanding, or MOU, between COC and the city of Santa Clarita.

Just the latest in the saga of the Performing Arts Center from a dodgy "sponsorship" for naming rights to speakers' series that literally no one attended.

During the initial building of the Performing Arts Center, Santa Clarita contributed some $2.4 million, basically used to convert the center into a 886-seat venue from the original plans of approximately 700 seats, making it larger than the Hart High School auditorium, which seats some 700.

In exchange for this capital investment, the city executed an MOU requiring the college to "hold" one-third of weekend dates for community activities.

Now I sense some confusion in local blogs and the general public concerning the terms of this held use.

COC does not provide the venue to community groups for nothing; it just agrees to hold one-third of the dates for community groups. The groups still must pay the tariffed charge for usage.

Now let us examine some numbers (theoretical and not actual) to illustrate the point. Assume the maintenance, utilities and any other costs to carry of the PAC, run to $520,000 per year (this makes the arithmetic easy).

This means that while setting its budget, COC needs to collect about $10,000 per week in usage fees to break even and make the PAC self-sustaining.

COC must also generate nearly all the money from weekend engagements in this sleepy suburban enclave, since the Performing Arts Center stays dark for most of the week.

Now COC needs to set aside 17 weekends for community groups pursuant to the MOU. Let us say college officials decide to provide the community groups a discount equivalent to 20 percent, or a weekend usage rate of $8,000.

To break even, COC must now charge $11,000 to non-community groups and fill every weekend in the calendar.

But this did not occur. Chancellor Dianne Van Hook reported that one-third of the dates held for community groups went dark - the subsidized price tag still much higher than the comparable venues of the Hart auditorium and the Valencia High School theater.

These weekends of lost revenue run up quickly to a deficit of nearly $50,000, or 10 percent of our theoretical operating budget.

Remember, because the MOU provides for the freezing of these dates, COC must make up the deficit by either charging more to other users of the facility (difficult in this or frankly any other economy) or making up the shortfall out of its own funds.

The individual equivalent of this arrangement would look something like a dual employment situation - one that requires people to make themselves available for work four months out of the year, perhaps at a lower wage, and then additionally not actually providing employment because the employer deems the services unnecessary.

Now would that slender soccer mom, TimBen Boydston, Joan McGregor or any of the other cast at the City Council chambers screaming for the maintenance of the MOU tolerate that in their own personal lives?

I think not, but in suburbia no one feels shy about dipping their hands into someone else's pocket.

Tim Myers is a Valencia resident. His column represents his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal.


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