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Santa Rosa council says media center too important to lose

Elaine B. Holtz, producer and host of television show Women's Spaces talks with Janeen Murray of Sonoma County Go Local Coop after the show at the Community Media Center of the North Bay, Friday, Feb. 1, 2013.

CRISTA JEREMIASON / PD
Published: Tuesday, February 5, 2013 at 3:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, February 6, 2013 at 7:18 a.m.

Finding that the voice that the Community Media Center of the North Bay gives to the public is too important to risk losing, the Santa Rosa council on Tuesday rejected a plan to cut off its funding.

Instead, the City Council wants its staff to bring back a recommendation in a month on how the media center and the public access it provides might survive.

But is was also clear that the council didn't want the city of Santa Rosa, which provides more than 80 percent of the media center's funding, to continue to shoulder the load alone.

"It concerns me that we are funding a countywide program," said Councilman Ernesto Olivares. "If it is going to be a community access program it should be community funded and not by the city."

Staff members were recommending that the city discontinue funding the media center and bring in house the job of broadcasting City Council, Planning Commission and school board meetings.

Assistant City Manager Jennifer Phillips said government programming is the core and could be done for $250,000.

The city's contract with the Community Media Center of the North Bay ends March 31. Last year, the media center received $300,000 from the city.

The media center put in a bid of $952,884 to continue the government programming, plus educational and public access programming.

The Santa Rosa Media Institute put in a bid of $791,440.

Santa Rosa's support for the media center comes from the $1.6 million the city receives in franchise fees from Comcast, which goes into the city's general fund.

The city also receives $300,000 from Comcast that is restricted to purchasing equipment for broadcasting.

Pulling the government broadcasting away from the media center was viewed by many as dooming the media center, which now provides that service, to failure.

The council heard 2½ hours of public sentiment toward preserving the media center, which is now in a rented space at Santa Rosa High School, because of the public and education programming that is also provides.

"It is a valuable platform for freedom of speech, there are no commercials, there is no manipulation of content," said Jake Ward, a media center producer. "It is the only outlet where local voices are heard."

Ward was one of three dozen speakers who all asked the council to keep the media center open.

"This community deserves an open forum for dialogue," said Russ Bowden, the media center's treasurer.

George Magnan, executive director of the Community Media Center, asked the city to extend the contract until June 30, when the fiscal year expires, to give them time to work with the city.

It was clear, however, that there was sentiment on the council to keep the media center open.

"Let's come back with another recommendation and keep this community asset. Let's bring back some other options," said Councilman Gary Wysocky.

It was also clear that when the budget talks begin within the next few months, the media center will be vying with potholes to get scarce city funds.

"We are in a new economic world," said Mayor Scott Bartley.

You can reach Staff Writer Bob Norberg at 521-5206 or bob.norberg@pressdemocrat.com.

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