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May 13, 2005

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Palo Alto Online

Publication Date: Friday, May 13, 2005

Theatre, ranger programs back in budget Theatre, ranger programs back in budget (May 13, 2005)

A beloved summer theatre program for young adults and popular program run by the city's rangers were saved from being cut out of the City of Palo Alto's proposed 2005-06 budget Tuesday night.

The four-member Finance Committee unanimously voted against cutting the programs. Each committee recommendation needs final City Council approval.

The committee also voted to save a proposed layoff to a half-time ranger. By cutting that position, the city would have eliminated popular outdoor programs such as nature hikes and star parties.

But other cuts, such as new or increased fees, have not been removed from the proposed budget. For instance, a new $5 parking fee for the city's open spaces, including Arastradero Preserve and Foothills Park, received tentative approval.

The committee also recommended a new $1 charge on all ticket prices from outside theatre companies who perform at the theatre at the Lucie Stern Community Center. Representatives from TheatreWorks and West Bay Opera protested the fee at Tuesday's meeting.

The committee will discuss the city's fee schedule on May 24, which could be another chance for it to alter the proposed rates.

Tennis courts, parks, fields and community centers will get less maintenance work under other tentatively approved budget proposals. Development plans will also be reviewed slower due to budget proposals. And police officers will also have slower response times to parking and noise violations.

More than 25 theatre supporters crammed the Council Chambers Tuesday night to protest the proposed elimination of the Wingspread program. Many wore handmade "Save Wingspread" stickers and cheered when the committee voted to keep their program intact.

The committee has also been showered with letters from alumni of Wingspread, which gives actors 16 to 24 the challenge of producing four to five shows a summer.

The summer theatre program costs $43,000 a year, but also makes $14,500 in revenues through tickets. After voting to save the program, as was expected, the committee asked the city staff to consider adding new fees or charge higher ticket prices for the program.

The city is facing a projected $5.2 million deficit, which is primarily the result of tax revenues not growing to meeting exploding employee-benefit costs. The Finance Committee is meeting Tuesdays and Thursdays throughout the month. The council is scheduled to approve the budget in June. --Bill D'Agostino

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