A stage in disrepair
Union Tribune (2010-01-16) Editor
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More Info: El Cajon City Council
, Save ECPAC
Saturday, January 16, 2010 at 12:04 a.m.
First of two editorials
Step back for a moment and forget the controversies, the politics and even some pleasant memories.
If the East County Performing Arts Center were a car, what kind of auto would come to mind? How about an 18-year-old gas guzzler, one never really assembled right, and now on its last legs. In short, a clunker and one that El Cajon is about to pour millions of dollars into instead of trading for a new model more appropriate to today’s cultural scene.
What’s wrong with the ECPAC, besides the horrid name? El Cajon is hardly a tropical rain forest yet the center’s roof has leaked almost from the beginning nearly 40 years ago. You don’t dare hang paintings on the wall. The center cannot handle standard stage scenery. It’s in violation of the law – the Americans with Disabilities Act. The plumbing is a problem and there are not enough bathrooms – ask any woman. There are not enough dressing rooms, the ceiling and even the stage have been known to collapse.
At 1,142 seats the center is too big. Think a wedding party of 50 in the Notre Dame Cathedral. The center is too lonely – there are no companion meeting or food-service areas.
Even the center’s surroundings are in question. Take this multiple choice quiz, and if you can get a straight answer from Mayor Mark Lewis and city staff, you are doing better than we are:
Question: Why are the duck ponds and adjacent park-like surroundings about to be bulldozed into oblivion?
A) The city wants to hold some outdoor concerts.
B) Water evaporates and the city has been told it has to conserve in a drought.
C) The city is building a new police station and has learned it is required to punch through a new road for emergency vehicle access, emptying onto the main street that it just paid millions to discourage traffic from.
D) The duck ponds have a leak and the city has no money to repair them.
There is no official “right answer” to the quiz but the changes could severely hamper any expansion of the performing arts center.
Against this backdrop, the city is holding two public forums to gauge public sentiment. The first was in December with all of 20 people attending. The next will be at 7 p.m. Jan. 21 in the Ronald Reagan
Center. There will be no real presentation, no cost estimates of either the pressing repairs for the clunker, or what it would cost to expand it to meet today’s needs. Just a “what kind of events would you like to see” and “do you solemnly swear to attend them” kind of session.
It gets worse.
The dirty little secret that longtime El Cajon residents have not been told or perhaps have forgotten is that the center sits smack dab on a major underground drainage system. Tunneling for underground parking or such is not possible.
The city has a theater consultant, one so new to this scene that some on the staff could not recall his name. Kurt C. Swanson of Theatre Management Associates, by the way.
Against this backdrop, Mayor Lewis wants to bring the matter to council on Feb. 9.
For what, to raid the city’s redevelopment fund to pour millions into a clunker without a game plan that has been vetted to the public?
The East County Performing Arts Center is closing for two years, supposedly for lack of nearby parking. Oh sure, the lights will come on now and then for a few previously booked events through May. This concert venue also does not have any organization willing to manage it or any recent track record suggesting it can compete with Indian casinos outbidding it for touring performers.
This center does not have a City Council willing to subsidize it any more, either for operating costs or repairs. Except for redevelopment money, that is, which Lewis and Company would prefer you not think of as your money.
It doesn’t have to be this way. El Cajon – not us – has decreed that the city will go two years without the sound of music, at least in a civic venue.
Why not use that time to dream big, to come up with a vision and create a model more suited to today that is more likely to finance itself?
To open a discussion on dreaming big, we’d like to present one possible vision, ideas from El Cajon Councilwoman Jillian Hanson-Cox, who helped save the Mother
Goose Parade and who has staged such events at the center as Chubby Checker
, James Darren
, “An Evening With Elvis” and “The Beatles” with Abba.
Next Saturday: A theater El Cajon can be proud of.