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The Council fights a downhill battle
Jack Balshaw 4/17/02

The City Council is presently embroiled in an argument about the funding of PCA (Petaluma Community Access television).  It seems that PCA doesn’t have enough money and hasn’t used the money it has in the most effective way. Let’s take these one at a time.

Almost three years ago, during the summer of 1999, the council responded to a request by PCA for a 75 cent a month increase to its 50-cent assessment by arbitrarily doubling those 75 cents to $1.50 without any show of need.  AT&T declined to collect the then $2 assessment other than from willing subscribers. This left PCA without a specific amount of money for developing a budget.

Part of the problem (maybe the whole problem) is that the city refuses to use any of the $625,000 they collect annually in franchise fees from the cable company to help fund PCA.  Santa Rosa funds its PCA entirely from the franchise fee without charging its citizens anything extra. This all happened, by the way, when there was the 5/2 environmental majority on the council.  Their attitude has always been there can’t be too much of a good thing, as long as someone else is paying.

While I can understand the council’s desire to keep the franchise fee all in the general fund so they can use it anyway they wish, reason would suggest that they supplement PCA’s budget with some portion of the $624,000.  There’s no reason for PCA to be in this situation if the council would share some of the franchise fee with it.  Note: we’re already paying that $625,000 as part of our monthly cable bill.

Let’s discuss the second issue, management of PCA and how it handles its money.  The council put its own person on the PCA Board. The city’s finance director is a board member as well as PCA’s treasurer.  Yet the PCA board was held responsible for the city not knowing what was going on.  It appears that everyone was acting in good faith, depending on the previous executive director to run PCA day-to-day and keep them informed.  He didn’t and now they’re being held responsible.

The PCA board tried to avoid micro managing and it didn’t work out.  The PCA board tried some fund raising and it didn’t turn out as they hoped.  Now they’re being criticized for not being successful.  No one tried to stop them from raising funds or not micro-managing.  It’s not OK to not succeed however.

We have a PCA channel providing only a small portion of what it’s capable of because the City Council has refused to fund it adequately.  We have a City Council so obsessed with finding funds for unnecessary special studies that they will limit services to the community in order to preserve those funds for their personal pet projects.

This situation won’t end until those who use their office as a mechanism for implementing personal ideologies begin to think of the whole community and its needs first.  In researching this column I came across an old April 12, 2000 column noting the council’s unwillingness to let the voters have a say on issues directly via the ballot.  We were not allowed to vote on Rainier.  We were not allowed to vote on Lafferty/ Moon.  We were not allowed to vote on widening 101. We were not allowed to vote on the $2 cable assessment.

But, that was a different council. Maybe the present council will give us an opportunity to express ourselves directly this November.


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