Twelve years ago, when the "Gang of Three" was the voting majority on the San Ramon City Council, they had lofty ideals about a Civic Center with a 1200 seat theater, a new, enlarged library, a City Hall building, and a Swim Center. It was a lovely vision, but the Council majority had no idea where the money would come from.
My fellow blogger, Tim Hunt, just wrote a sobering story about Livermore's Bankhead Theater which was in some danger of closing because of "a $22.3 million debt." The 500 seat Bankhead was the smaller of the planned theaters for Livermore's ambitious arts program. Its construction was funded in part by a grant from the Bankhead family.
In 2002 our City Council wanted to build a 1200 seat theater here. The Council went as far as spending $1.5M on plans for the theater. Councilmember Donna Dickey even said we needed to beat Livermore to it, as if building the biggest theater was a competition. Fortunately no more money was wasted or invested in a race to out-do Livermore or Walnut Creek.
Instead the next City Council voted to invest $2M in partnership with the San Ramon Valley Unified School District to construct the auditorium in the new Dougherty Valley High School as a shared facility to be used as both a High School auditorium and Performing Arts Center. So now San Ramon has a 600 seat Performing Arts Center for a tenth of what Livermore still owes on its 500 seat theater.
Tim Hunt goes on to say, "The arts group, however, will still need to raise $4 million this year to cover its operating costs." The super-size theater proposed ten years ago for San Ramon was estimated to cost $2M in annual operating expenses.
When I was on the Arts Advisory Committee two years ago, we received a presentation from the consultant who operates our Performing Arts Center. She said the theater operates at a loss of about $35K a year. That's a drop in the bucket compared to the cost of Livermore's operating expenses.
Except for the two years that the profligate City Council was throwing money at idealistic dreams, San Ramon has always been run by a pragmatic and prudent City Council that keeps costs down while providing services equal to or better than neighboring communities. Some of this is done by partnering with other agencies or businesses for sharing facilities and/or costs. We partnered with the School District for Parks and Recreation facilities like the two Olympic-size pools at the High Schools, with Contra Costa County for Library services, and recently with Sunset Development for our new City Offices building.
Even when we go it alone we still keep the costs down. Five years ago, when real estate prices were depressed, the City purchased the office building on Crow Canyon Road to use for our Police Station. This consolidated our Police in one location without breaking the bank on a fancy new building.
San Ramon does not have grandiose edifices to show off our self-importance. Some residents would like more pomp in our public buildings, but pomp costs money and isn't worth the ongoing expense. Let Livermore pay for the pomp. San Ramon does just fine without it. We get the same services without the big price tag or ongoing expenses.