WAITING FOR THE OTHER SOCK TO DROP: I don’t know much about art, but I know what I don’t like. What I don’t like is the high-handed manner in which the people behind the Center for the Performing Arts have been acting. No doubt, they’re a great bunch. No doubt I’d like them a lot if I spent any time with them. And no doubt, I’ll love it when their wet dream comes true and the Granada Theatre is rehabilitated to its once and future splendor. Then we can all watch Broadway musicals, like Cats, ’til the cows come home. No doubt the center will act as an engine of cultural and economic vitality — as promised. What’s not to like? A couple weeks ago, the good folks at the center announced they’d like City Hall to write them a $500,000 check to help fix the Granada. The cost of construction is skyrocketing, they explained, and what was once billed as a $19 million project has now morphed into a $52 million nightmare. Because of the pressing schedule dictated by the availability of matching grants, they added, they didn’t have time to line up with everyone else looking for a handout from City Hall. Typically that line starts forming in late spring.
Some people around City Hall have their noses seriously out of joint over this, but I totally sympathize. My bills are piling up, too, and I could use half a million. But while I might entertain lofty delusions about my indispensability to the well-being of this community, I lack such high octane gazillionaires as Mike Towbes and Sarah Miller McCune on my board of directors. Likewise, I lack the presence of a single former mayor, while the center’s board boasts both Harriet Miller and Hal Conklin. When the center came forward with its request a few weeks ago, its boardmembers had every reason to think the most impertinent question anyone might ask would be how they wanted it — in thousand dollar bills or hundreds? It’s always been that way. But not this time. It turns out a lot of the other arts groups in town went bonkers and started working the phones. That’s because the center had already received $4.5 million from the city’s Redevelopment Agency, free and clear. And that doesn’t include the $25 million City Hall spent to build the Granada parking garage so that Granada patrons wouldn’t have to walk a block or two.
Given that the city’s Redevelopment Agency — the golden goose when it comes to arts and infrastructure funding — will go out of business in five years, people in the arts are understandably nervous. Furthermore, there’s no shortage of bad blood between the center folks — known as the Capital ‘A’ Arts crowd — and the small ‘a’ arts crowd. Competition for money is clearly at the root of it, but the Big A’s overweening sense of entitlement doesn’t help. In fact, after the center folks conducted a dog-and-pony show about the theater before the City Council a few years ago, Santa Barbara’s Air Pollution Control District was forced to declare an emergency smug alert. If the City Council were to give the Granada crowd $500,000, then maybe in exchange the council could require Granada patrons to pay a $1 surcharge on all tickets and use the proceeds to fund the arts organizations that have to scrimp and scrape to buy musical instruments for school kids and the like. That’s what the small ‘a’ crowd suggested. And that’s what councilmembers Grant House, Brian Barnwell, Das Williams, and Helene Schneider seemed to be thinking too. Sounds reasonable, but the powers backing the Granada feel they’re being picked on. “Why us?” they demand. To be fair, they’ve got big troubles yet they’re promising below-market rents to local performance groups. Even so, I can’t believe the extra buck is going to chase away a single customer. If you’re willing to spend $50 for a night at the opera, what’s $51?
If they get the $500,000, they’ll wind up with $5 million in direct subsidy, plus the parking garage. They hate it when you bring up the new Granada parking garage. That’s completely separate, they insist; the garage was in the works long before the Granada improvement scheme was ever hatched. True, but just barely. The fact is the Granada garage would never have been built were it not for the powerful push provided by the Granada’s board. Some people still argue it was designed to meet a vast pent-up parking demand north of Carrillo — somewhere in the neighborhood of 1,500 spaces. Guess what? As of two o’clock Monday afternoon, 333 of the lot’s 525 spaces were empty. Had the city built a smaller, more appropriately sized garage, it would have had a few million to spend on such worthy causes as affordable housing, bike lanes, better bus service, the arts, or maybe even bringing the Santa Barbara Foresters downtown. But that would have meant that some Granada patrons would have to walk a block or two from their car to the theater. The least the A crowd can do is give a little back. Call it a convenience tax. At a buck extra per ticket, it’ll be a long time before the city begins to break even. And as gestures go, it would be a nice one. But the Granada, I understand, would rather do without the money than accept such conditions. And in the interest of making nice, the council will give them the money. Like I say, I don’t know that much about art. But I do know what I don’t like.
— Nick Welsh