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Thousand Oaks Petition : 2 Aim to Bar Arts Center Subsidy

March 07, 1986|THOMAS OMESTAD | Times Staff Writer

The leaders of a 1984 petition drive that forced a ballot measure on use of public money to build a performing arts center in Thousand Oaks announced Thursday that they will lead another campaign, this one to block any city subsidy for the center's operations.

The community activists, Richard D. Booker and Heinrich F. Charles, said they will seek a binding ballot question for the November election that would forbid any construction until a $10-million private endowment is in place to finance anticipated operating deficits.

They said they will publish an official notice of the petition drive next week. They will have 180 days to collect the signatures of 5,260 people--10% of the city's registered voters--to get the measure before the electorate.

Question of Support

Already on the June 3 primary ballot is a non-binding measure intended to gauge support for building a regional performing arts center that will cost the city $22.3 million in redevelopment funds.

The Thousand Oaks City Council last month approved the advisory ballot measure and endorsed a plan calling for a 1,800-seat main theater, a 299-seat theater with flexible staging, a 15,000-square-foot art gallery and an outdoor amphitheater. The center would be built on a city-owned golf driving range or on land donated by The Oaks shopping mall.

Three theaters would be built at area high schools, with costs shared by the city and the Conejo Valley Unified School District.

How to pay for anticipated operating deficits has emerged as the chief issue in the debate over the long-awaited complex, which proponents believe will promote the development of local artists and performers while it attracts major theater and music performances.

Previous Effort

In 1984, Booker and Charles, opposing use of redevelopment money for the arts instead of schools, roads and low-cost housing, successfully pushed for the ballot question on whether public funds should be used to build a cultural center. The result was a 62% vote against use of the funds.

Also on the ballot then was a measure proposed by the council, asking voters whether they wanted an arts complex under the conditions that it be built on donated land, financed by redevelopment funds and have an endowment raised to pay operating deficits. That plan won a 61% favorable vote.

The seemingly contradictory results prompted critics of the center to contend that voters were not aware that redevelopment funds are public money. Redevelopment funds come from increases in property taxes in a city area designated as blighted, then renovated.

"This has got to be settled once and for all," Booker said. "It's a misuse of public funds. They expect the public to pay a question-mark deficit out of future taxes."

Booker and Charles said the Alliance for the Arts, a group gathering an endowment to offset operating losses, cannot raise sufficient funds. But supporters of the center predict that enough private funds can be raised to cover the deficits, which a consultant estimated will be more than $700,000 a year in the early years of operation.

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