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Rethinking the Community Media Center of the North Bay

  • Tommie Smith, left, and Cie Cary use editing software to complete the 30th anniversary video for the master gardeners at the Community Media Center of the North Bay. (JOHN BURGESS/ PD)

A man juggling knives.

A local brewer extolling the virtues of hops.

And a therapist discussing the meaning of dreams with a monkey puppet.

These are just a few of the hundreds of videos local residents have produced and aired over Santa Rosa's public access cable television channels with the help of the Community Media Center of the North Bay.

The diversity of the programming shows the 16-year-old nonprofit has been fulfilling its mission of giving the residents access to media technology and training they might not have had otherwise.

But tight city budgets and the easy availability of smartphones, YouTube and other new technology have the city slashing funding for the center and rethinking what kind of media services the community needs in the future.

On Tuesday, the Santa Rosa City Council approved a new contract with the Community Media Center that cuts city operating funds for the center by 55 percent, from $660,000 last year to $300,000 for the new contract.

Dan Villalva, executive director of the center, said he's grateful the negotiations are over, but regrets the new contract may force additional layoffs at the struggling center.

"I wish it were a better contract," Villalva said. "But given the financial circumstances of the day, we're grateful to be getting the money we're getting."

Last year, in the midst a protracted contract dispute with the city, the center was forced to lay off four of its 14 employees, Villalva said. The new one-year contract now threatens three more positions and could further reduce public access to the center's Mendocino Avenue production studios, he said.

The nonprofit was established 16 years ago to manage the four channels that the city has secured for public access through its franchise negotiations with Comcast's predecessor. Funding for the center has come largely from the franchise fees paid by the cable company to the city.

Details of the financial disagreements between the two parties and how they were resolved are complicated. But the single largest revenue stream for the center, from franchise fees paid by Comcast, is taking a significant hit.

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