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Arts Leaders Urge City Not to Shortchange Penny for the Arts Plan

The Penny for the Arts plan passed in 2012 envisions putting 9.5 percent of the city’s hotel tax collections toward arts programs by 2017. But the mayor’s 2017 budget only devotes 6.4 percent of those collections to the Commission for Arts and Culture.

San Diego arts leaders want the City Council to fulfill a promise it made with its Penny for the Arts plan.

Passed in 2012, the plan lays out a five-year blueprint for increasing arts and culture funding, from about 5 percent of the city’s transient occupancy tax collections at the time to 9.5 percent by 2017.

But the mayor’s proposed 2017 budget is out, and it devotes about $13.8 million, or just 6.4 percent, of the hotel tax to the city’s Commission for Arts and Culture. The city agency reallocates a large chunk of the money it gets to local arts nonprofits and directs the city’s public art program.

At a budget hearing Monday morning, arts leaders are hoping to persuade the City Council to bump that number up to about $20 million, or the full 9.5 percent envisioned by the Penny for the Arts plan.

“This work needs to be funded and hopefully funded at the full freight,” said Rebecca Smith at a meeting of the San Diego Regional Arts and Culture Coalition, an advocacy group, in Balboa Park Wednesday.

Smith is one of the 15-member volunteer commissioners for the city’s Commission for Arts and Culture. She encouraged the arts leaders in attendance to show up to Monday’s 9 a.m. meeting to show Council members how serious arts groups are about seeing the Penny for the Arts promise fulfilled.

The city’s Commission for Arts and Culture used to get a little over 11 percent of the city’s hotel tax back in 2002, but numbers have since dipped and were at their lowest – 5 percent to the hotel tax – during the recession in 2008 and again in 2013.

Minus that dip in 2013, the commission’s budget has seen slight increases each year since Penny for the Arts was adopted in 2012. The city’s hotel tax has also grown, especially in the past few years as the city has enjoyed record high tourism rates, which means the smaller percentage is yielding higher dollar amounts than predicated in 2012.

A spokesperson for the mayor’s office acknowledged that the city hasn’t met the blueprint’s percentages, but said that since the pot of hotel tax keeps growing, they are closer to the ultimate goal. He said the blueprint projected allocating $15.4 million to the commission by 2016. Last year the mayor allocated over $12 million to the commission.

“Mayor Faulconer strongly believes that the San Diego arts community is a vital part of our city’s identity and has supported this idea by significantly increasing the arts commission budget by $4.3 million since he took office,” spokesman Charles Chamberlayne said in a statement.

Alan Ziter, executive director of the NTC Foundation and a leader of the San Diego Regional Arts and Culture Coalition, said no matter the dollar amount, the city should stick to the percentage of the hotel tax it promised back in 2012. He said the arts and culture organizations are themselves a tourism draw  and have helped grow that pot of money.

“The budget is going in the right direction,” he said. “It’s just not yet where everyone intended and planned for it to be. … So does the Council have the political will to get it there?”

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