Tonight’s City Council meeting will decide if imperiled virtue will win out in 2019 over Doomstown’s dastardly villains in Santa Clara Showtime.
City Hall’s new, unannounced policy of demanding that community benefit groups pay thousands in rental rates to use City buildings is threatening well-established events that have benefited community services and City programs.
It’s a sharp departure from long-established practice. For as long as anyone can remember, Santa Clara’s community benefit groups were allowed to use public spaces in return for their contributions to programs and services for City residents.
A June 25, 2018 blog post by City Manager Deanna Santana explains the new rules, although it doesn’t indicate when City Hall changed its mind about supporting community groups:
“The Municipal Fee Schedule states that ‘all fundraising activities by private parties are charged 15 percent of gross receipts or rental fee; whichever is greater’ with the goal of cost recovery… Under the [parks and Recreation priority] guidelines … activities where the rental fee is higher than funds raised, and fundraisers that by agreement specifically support a City program or civic event are not charged a percentage of gross revenues.”
Last August the Council established a new community grant program, to which community groups can apply for grants up to $10,000 to cover the City’s charges. Groups must submit the three-page grant application 90 days prior to the event. Santana, who proposed the grant program, is the decision-maker. Sunnyvale has a similar policy.
Although the grant ordinance says nothing about the new rental policies, it’s being offered as one excuse for the new requirements, say groups that have been taken by surprise by the dramatic change. These groups include the Historic Home Tour, Santa Clara Showtime and Santa Clara Rotary.
There’s some irony in this. In November Mayor Gillmor said that a $2,500 rental fee for using the community room in Levi’s Stadium was “despicable.” Vice Mayor Kathy Watanabe also said at the time that the City “can do better. We deserve better.”
“At the same time we’re demanding developers to provide community rooms at no charge to Santa Clara nonprofit organizations,” said Council Member Patricia Mahan, “residents are being asked to pay to use the public community spaces that they have already paid for with their taxes.
“It’s not a gift of public funds if it’s the public using the facilities that they have already paid for,” added Mahan.
City Cuts Off Nose to Spite Face
Over its 40-year history the Santa Clara Historic Home Tour has raised about $500,000 for maintaining and preserving Santa Clara’s City-owned historic properties — including the Harris Lass House, the Jamison Brown House, the Mission Library, the Fire Museum — as well as social services in the City, including Bill Wilson Center and Santa Clara Senior Center case management staffing, according to its website.
For 40 years the Home Tour has had a dinner for its volunteers at the Senior Center and expected to be able to do so this year as well. In the past they were able to use the space at no charge.
This year they were informed that would have to pay $294 an hour to use the auditorium plus $64 an hour for “maintenance staff” fees, according to board member Jeannie Mahan. And the group would have to pay for an additional three hours beyond the six that they needed: a total bill of $3,222 for nine hours.
Senior Center Director Jennifer Herb told Home Tour board members in an email that the fact that they hadn’t been charged in the past was an “oversight.”
In response, the Home Tour moved their volunteer appreciation dinner to the Santa Clara Elks Lodge, which generously donated use of the hall.
This year the Home Tour won’t be making a donation to the Santa Clara Senior Center.
Curtains for Santa Clara Showtime?
The City’s conduct towards Santa Clara Women’s League’s (SCWL) annual Showtime could be the subject of one of the 35-year-old institution’s melodramas: No Good Deed Goes Unpunished in Doomstown.
Showtime — an evening of old-timey entertainment whose centerpiece is an original melodrama — was started in 1983 by legendary community activist the late Cleo Stuckrath to restore Senior Center health and wellness services after Prop 13 decimated municipal revenue and eliminated funding for the program.
Showtime donates all the money it raises to health programs at the Senior Center — between $10,000 and $15,000 a year. The family-friendly show also offers its fun to all, with a low admission price — currently $7.
For most of its history, the all-volunteer production — actors even provide their own costumes and props — was held in the Community Recreation Center, at no cost to the SCWL. Until about 10 years ago, Resurrection Lutheran Church in Santa Clara, where Cleo was a member, donated rehearsal space. Since then the Senior Center has provided rehearsal space, again at no cost.
This year, however, when Showtime co-director Rick Mauck contacted the City to schedule the show he was told that Showtime would have pay nearly $16,000 to rent the spaces it needed:
- $10,281 for 3 show dates
- $3,223.50 for 4 rehearsals at the CRC
- $1,994 for 12 rehearsals at the Senior Center
- $324 for 9 SCWL monthly meetings
- $135 for 5 SCWL Showtime planning meetings
It’s unclear why a show that exclusively benefits a Santa Clara public service is being charged the same rate as a private party.
Showtime would cost less to produce in Sunnyvale.*
SCWL is pursuing the grant and is asking the City for the full $16,000. One alternative would be to double ticket prices; something that is contrary to its founder’s intention of making the show easily accessible to everyone.
The Women’s League Board has decided not put on Showtime if the City refuses to fully sponsor it, according to Mauck. The request will be discussed at the Jan. 15 Council meeting.
Bye-Bye BBQ Championship?
For six years the City has partnered Santa Clara Rotary to sponsor the Kansas City BBQ Championships. Rotary’s programs — Steps for Success, Christmas for Kids and scholarships — benefit Santa Clara school children, and the City also collects sales tax from the event.
This year Rotary was told by the City that they couldn’t hold the popular event in Central Park on any terms because that was “a gift of public funds,” say Club members. Rotary plans to appeal that decision at a February Council meeting. The service club is also looking at other possible venues, including in other cities.
More Ripple Effects
Other community benefit groups could also find themselves hit hard by the new policy.
These include: the Santa Clara Library Foundation, which pays minimal rent for its offices in the City Library and holds its annual fundraiser there; the Camellia Society, which puts on the City’s annual Camellia Show at the CRC; and the Santa Clara Sister Cities Association, which supports youth exchange programs and holds events for visiting exchange students and volunteers at the Senior Center.
The Mission City Community Fund (MCCF) — Mayor Lisa Gillmor sits on the board and Council Member Debi Davis is chair — has long enjoyed the benefit of free use of public facilities. The 30-year-old philanthropy supports services and programs for City residents.
MCCF’s monthly meetings are held the community room at the Santa Clara police station at no charge, and for many years its annual fundraiser dinner has been held in the Convention Center, also with no venue rental charge.
Now the might be paying more for its fundraiser and giving less to the community — including library, senior and school programs.
Who knows? The Santa Clara Kiwanis Club might be barred from holding its Easter Egg Hunt — a nearly 70-year tradition — and Arbor Day celebration in Central Park on the grounds that use of City parks by non-profits is “a gift of public funds.”
*Showtime could be put on for in Sunnyvale’s community theater for about 40 percent less — about $10,000 — even at non-resident rates. This is a rough estimate:
- $1,600 for 12 rehearsals at the Theater dance studio
- $2,300 for 4 rehearsals in the theater (off-peak times)
- $3,700 for 3 show dates (peak times)
- $1,200 Additional theater staffing (1) 30 hours and use of upright piano
- $1,000 for 14 SCWL monthly and planning meetings
Editor’s note: Carolyn Schuk is a Showtime volunteer.
At its Jan. 15 meeting the City Council unanimously approved funding to cover the costs for Santa Clara Showtime. However, Santa Clara Women’s League spokesperson Emily Adorable said at the meeting that if the volunteer group has to go through this process every year 2019 “might be the last Showtime.”
The Council didn’t address the fundamental issue of whether the City should charge non-profit Santa Clara groups that raise money for the City to use public buildings. City Manager Deanna Santana reminded the Council that they approve the City fee schedule and can change it whenever they want.
The Council didn’t discuss changing the fees or adding a free use category.