Councilman Nickel: Residents ‘have been heard’ on arts and culture concerns

IECN Photo/Bill Sandefur: Councilman Henry Nickel, seen here with Cajon High School student Anthony Gray, said he agrees that San Bernardino needs to maintain an arts program.

San Bernardino officials confirmed they intend to continue moving forward with an amendment to a city municipal code that intends to convert a commercial construction fee into a tax for general use.

However, concerns and criticisms from city fine art commissioners convinced at least one councilmember to consider allocating thousands of city dollars to support the arts.

“I don’t necessarily disagree with staff recommendations,” said Councilman Henry Nickel. “But I do want to thank the public for their comments…you have been heard. I do agree that we do have to maintain an arts program for our city.”

Changes to the Cultural Development Construction fee, the ordinance located within Municipal Code 650 that imposes an excise tax on development, came after a review from the City Attorney’s office. Deputy City Attorney Steven Graham explained amendments made nearly 30 years ago to the ordinance do not align with state law. The changes made in 1989 placed revenue generated through the tax in a separate fund.

According to Graham placing tax revenues in a separate fund violates Propositions 13 and 218. Any “special taxes” require majority support from voters.

Nickel said he shares the concerns of the Fine Arts Commission and suggested setting aside $400,000 for the arts. He agrees that future councils could forego providing support for arts and cultural programs.

“I want to provide with some assurance that we will come back with an item that will ensure we do have a cultural arts program that will be brought forward,” said Nickel.

City Manager Andrea Miller confirmed her staff will provide the Council an opportunity to explore the possibility of allocating funding for the arts during budget discussions. Nonetheless, she reminded councilmembers that they need to prioritize their money to support more pressing issues.

Fine Arts Commissioner Barbara Babcock claims the city has provided over $200,000 each fiscal year to support organizations. She believes the cultural impact fee is something that will continue to help the community prosper.

“I really encourage you to look at our youth and look at our artists,” Babcock said. “We can make a difference in the arts.”