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