Oxnard’s Performing Arts and Convention Center and the Carnegie Art Museum are due to close as part of a proposed 2019-2020 city budget, leaving community members stunned and scrambling for a solution.

Oxnard City Manager Alex Nguyen released details of the proposed budget during a series of community meetings that began in April. One such meeting was recorded and uploaded to social media igniting a firestorm in support of keeping the Performing Arts and Convention Center (PACC), which is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, and Carnegie Art Museum, also a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, open. For some employees, the video and reports in local media were the first they had heard of the plans.

“That was a little disturbing for some of us,” said Gary Blum, chair of the PACC’s Board of Directors. Following the news, a board meeting was held. “I’ve been on this board for a long time and can’t quite remember a meeting like that. There was anger and frustration and fear.”

The city’s budget proposal includes over $6 million in cuts which Nguyen says are necessary to “stop the bleeding.” Oxnard’s proposed budget for 2019-2020 is $361 million, according to city budget documents.

“The bottom line is that we just can’t afford to do all these things,” said Nguyen, adding that essentially the PACC has received a $1 million subsidy yearly since 2009, a deficit which remains even after revenues from ticket sales and hosted events. “It’s not that we want to do away with it, but we have to stop the severe bleeding and we’re going to have to figure out a sustainable model that will work.”

While the PACC is a nonprofit, funding relies on the city, which owns the building. Donations to the PACC are sent directly to the general fund. Blum says that this model has prevented the PACC from receiving money from donors who wish for the funds to go for specific purposes, such as renovations or programming.

“They all have to be deposited with the city [into the general fund] so when we have a major donor that wants to give us money and they hear it won’t go to a restricted fund they don’t want to give us the money,” said Blum, adding that this model would need to change in order for the PACC to be self-sustainable in the future.

The city of Oxnard has a $9.2 million budget shortfall; Nguyen’s proposal makes up the deficit through $6 million in budget cuts and $3 million from the rainy day funds.

The Carnegie Art Museum originally opened in 1906 as a library.

In addition to closure of the PACC and Carnegie Art Museum, the budget proposal includes closure of the Colonia Branch Library, grounding of a fire engine at Fire Station 2 in the southern part of the city, cancelling the Fourth of July fireworks hosted annually at the Channel Islands Harbor, slashing the city’s tourism budget through its agency Visit Oxnard in half, eliminating the city’s Public Information Office entirely, cutting 30 percent of the city’s groundskeepers positions, and releasing the victims advocate and communications manager, both civilian positions, at the Oxnard Police Department, just to name a few of the proposed actions to be taken to close the budget deficit gap.

In all, 28 employees will be laid off.

Carmen Ramirez, Oxnard City Councilwoman and also member of the PACC board, says that it’s “very painful times” but that the city “needs to stabilize to go forward.”

“We can’t make things better if we don’t recognize our financial reality,” said Ramirez. Ramirez points out that the city gives thousands in funding dollars to local artists and community cultural groups annually which can’t be touched for any other purpose. “I’m hoping that this is just temporary.”

Ramirez says that she has asked that current commitments at the PACC can be honored, which Nguyen says details are being worked on. The PACC, aside from hosting concerts and celebrity comedians, hosts community events on a daily basis, from a weekly bingo night to weddings and quinceañeras, its calendar filled with various events through the fall of 2020. When they close, however, Ramirez says there are other venues in the community such as at Pacifica High School that could be further utilized and that the studio attached to the Carnegie Art Museum will remain open.

On Wednesday, May 22 (after the VCReporter goes to print), the PACC Board of Directors hosted a meeting at which ideas for the continuation of the PACC were discussed, gathered from community members and board members alike.

Blum says that while nothing has been set in stone, and though he must bear the burden of asking where funding would come from for the various ideas, the board is open to discussing them. Ideas have included launching a GoFundMe to benefit the PACC, proposed by a 15-year-old student in attendance at a meeting held on Monday, May 20, to hosting a series of performances that would raise funds to cover the annual deficit. Blum says any plan would need to be a sustainable one.

Nguyen says that while he knows the importance the arts have for the city of Oxnard, it’s not a question of values, but rather one of being able to compete in the regional market and to become sustainable as a city.

“The message I’m sending to the council is that even though I understand they want to provide these amenities, we cannot afford it right now,” said Nguyen. “Every year someone puts a band aid on it. I am tearing the band aid off.”

 

The City Council will meet on June 5 at 6 p.m. in council chambers where they are expected to give preliminary approval of the budget and convene again on June 18 for a final vote. According to state law, the city must have a final budget by June 30.

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The Carnegie Art Museum provided a statement to the VCReporter in response to inquiry (note: this statement is not in the print version of this story): 

Although the City of Oxnard must responsibly resolve a $9.2 million budget deficit projected for next fiscal year 2019-20, Carnegie Art Museum and its 501(c)3  nonprofit group, Carnegie Art Museum Cornerstones were deeply shaken to learn of the potential closure of the Carnegie after June 30, 2019. The new budget is scheduled to not be approved by City Council until June 18th and the CAM Cornerstones are seeking alternatives so this arts and art education resource is not lost.

Cornerstones aims to continue bringing art experiences to the Oxnard region and museum members even if limited to its CAM Studio Gallery adjacent to the Museum. It is a future hope that the City is planning to reopen a stronger Carnegie after Downtown Oxnard is revitalized as a vibrant arts center.