The Republican Majority of the Irvine City Council is considering gutting a jewel in the City’s cultural landscape by lopping off $500,000 in support for the Irvine Barclay Theater in the proposed new city budget for 2013-2014. The new austerity measures make little sense as the city has more than adequate reserves through the efforts of the progressive council majority and the proposed budget looks to be nearly a million in the black.
That’s a million in the black if you count the $500,000 cut to the Barclay, a $10,000 cut the Discovery Science Center in Santa Ana, a $100,000 cut to Orange County Legal Aid that helps families with financial difficulties obtain legal services and more cuts to scholarship programs provided through the Orange County Human Relations Commission. These cuts might be easier to take if the Council hadn’t, on April 23, cut or froze a number of fees associated with construction and development in the city — cuts not asked for by the Business Industry Association. This action, passed on a party-line 3-2 vote, was hailed by Irvine Republicans as a victory for the taxpayer — but trust me, you won’t see a dime in lower taxes because of the move nor with the cuts spur added development in a city with significant amounts of open space to develop. Instead, the taxpayers will receive what sources say will be about $800,000 less in revenue directly out of the general fund.
Defending the cuts and freeze in his blog, Mayor Pro Tem Jeff Lalloway wrote, “Raising various administrative, business, and building and development fees at a time when lingering effects of the recession are still being felt would have sent the wrong message to Irvine homeowners and businesses. That is why Mayor Steven Choi, Councilwoman Christina Shea, and I voted in favor of a substitute motion to reduce and freeze most city fees for at least another year, not increase them as had originally been proposed on the agenda.”
What Lalloway left out is the city has already lowered and frozen fees associated with processing construction and development projects during the Great Recession to help builders and developers. But cutting/freezing the fees, the city actually loses money with each transaction. None of this “benefits” taxpayers in any way but does save a few dollars to developers who won’t pass the savings on to homeowners or property owners.
In Irvine Matters, council member Larry Agran wrote about the fiscal policies of this Republican council majority: “Irvine’s budget matters — it matters a lot. In fact, it affects the quality of life of every Irvine resident every day, in ways large and small. It defines and shapes our community programs, priorities and aspirations. That’s why the annual City Council budget hearing is always important. And this year’s June 11th budget meeting is especially important. Since his election last November, Mayor Steven Choi has repeatedly said he’s determined to take Irvine in a “different direction.” Choi’s proposed City budget reveals the “different direction” he has in mind: It’s backwards.”
Council member Beth Krom chimed in with this: “On Tuesday, June 11th, the Irvine City Council will be considering the 2013-2014 budget. For the first time in more than a decade, the budget will reflect a very different agenda. No longer will community interests be the highest priority. In fact, Mayor Choi stated at our recent Budget Workshop that he gave the City Manager explicit direction to cut funding for the arts, eliminate funding for Legal Aid services to help Irvine residents and do away with sponsorships for the OC Human Relations Commission and other important community partnerships. Since Mayor Choi was elected he has made it clear that he wants to take Irvine in “a different direction.” He doesn’t believe in citizen participation and recommended eliminating the Green Ribbon Environmental Committee and reducing public involvement in our Strategic Plan for Children, Youth and Families Advisory Board. He joined Councilman Lalloway and Councilwoman Shea in eliminating the public Board Members from the Great Park board, consolidating power so that they alone would control all decisions affecting the Park. In less than six months, Choi, Shea and Lalloway have voted to throw out our City Attorney and the firm of Rutan and Tucker who have served this city for four decades, imposed charges for the Balloon and Carousel at the Great Park in an effort to “de-activate” the Park and done everything possible to turn the narrative of our City from one of success to one of failure.”
On May 6, Susan Bryant, the interim executive vice chancellor and provost for the University of California, Irvine, sent Mayor Steven Choi and Lalloway a letter expressing concern over the cut in support from the City.
She writes: “As you know, for over twenty years the University of California, Irvine, has partnered with the City of Irvine to support the Barclay as a crucial part of our commitment to the societal and cultural well-being of our community.
“The Barclay is an important and highly visible part of our collaboration with the City. Over the past few years, we are proud that partnership survived the formidable financial challenges of the budget crisis. Recently, despite many competing claims on our reduced resources, UC Irvine even increased its contribution to the Barclay to keep pace with the City’s continued generosity and in recognition of the key role the Barclay Theater plays in the life of our town and campus.
“We hope you can find a way to avoid what would be a devastating reduction in your funding for the Barclay Theater…..”
So it appears the Irvine Council Majority will deliver a budget that cuts fees to their developer friends, while dramatically cutting services to the arts and sciences, and services that impact working class Irvine families — things Irvine residents use and enjoy about their city.
While hailing the cuts and freezes of builder’s fees as a “taxpayer victory,” the council majority left out a small detail. Now that admission is being charged for the Balloon Ride and the Carousel at the Great Park — fees paid directly by taxpayers mind you — ridership of both attractions is down between 80 and 90 percent. Revenue taken in to offset the cost of operating these attractions is a joke.
Bring this up to our Republican friends and they’ll say cuts to the Barclay were necessary to pay for “Agran’s giveaway to schools last November.” This is Measure BB that means the city’s contribution to our dramatically underfunded schools in IUSD and TUSD (thanks to the inaction of our Republican state legislators) will be north of $8 million — more aid than any city in OC provides to the school districts that serve its residents. Measure BB, of course, was first ridiculed by Choi and Lalloway on the dais before they supported it. And now allies of the council majority are pointing the finger at Measure BB as the blame for deep cuts to cultural programs and legal/scholarship programs that benefit Irvine’s working families.
We can only point out this isn’t “Agran’s giveaway to schools,” but was a measure passed into law by Irvine voters by large margins.
If you care about the Barclay, and are against taxpayer “cuts” that don’t benefit taxpayers, and the bad priorities of this council majority, step up to the microphone tomorrow as say, “Irvine isn’t Costa Mesa.”
Of course the hard part of tomorrow’s meeting is figuring out what time it will start as the Republicans in charge do what they can to minimize public interaction.