Santa Rosa's Community Media Center may go dark

  • Shari Borkin, works on one of her media shows at the Community Media Center of the North Bay on Mendocino Ave., Friday, February 1, 2013. Borkin has been working at the center for six years and posts many of her videos on YouTube. (Crista Jeremiason / The Press Democrat)

Santa Rosa is preparing to cut off funding to the Community Media Center of the North Bay, a move that would shut down the nonprofit that since 1997 has broadcast City Council meetings, managed public access channels and provided video editing training to residents.

In an era of smartphones and YouTube, city officials say they no longer can justify spending hundreds of thousands of dollars a year on the center, which is located on the grounds of Santa Rosa High School.

The city plans to directly take over some of the operations.

The center employs about seven people and in 2012 received $300,000 in City Hall general fund money. On Friday, its staffers filmed the release by Russian River Brewing Co. on Fourth Street of its wildly popular Pliny the Younger ale for a county economic development board project promoting the area.

Jennifer Phillips, an assistant city manager, said the city is seeking a new approach.

"We have the same model we've had for 20 years," she said. "We're looking for innovation. We're looking for collaboration."

Center officials on Friday acknowledged the city's budget constraints, but said that the center is a rare and valuable resource that benefits schools, the public and government.

"These are difficult times fiscally and I don't think there's a lot of financial wriggle room," said Maria Sundeen, a board member. "Services are being cut and Parks and Rec programs are being ignored; it's difficult to justify a media center. But we don't have anywhere in Sonoma County a media center that does what this one does."

The city has been negotiating its contract with the center for two years. If the plan is approved by the City Council on Tuesday, the center would close after its contract expires March 31.

Sundeen said center directors hope the city will agree to at least extend that deadline to the end of the nonprofit's budget year, June 30, creating an opportunity to find a better solution.

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