Thursday, October 2, 2008

Ojai Public TV Access May Be Over

Fate of local cable programs in hands of city as providers now franchise with state

By Nao Braverman
Beginning in January, Ojai’s public access station will be in the hands of the city, which still has little if any spending money to spare.
Local public access Channel 10, offering everything from John Wilcock’s low-budget video travelogue, to lectures by the late philosopher and spiritual speaker J. Krishnamurti, may be showing nothing except government meetings in the coming year.
Public access cable services provided by Time Warner, which have dwindled over the years, will be terminated at the end of December, according to Time Warner’s spokesperson Patricia Fregoso.
While the city will administer airings of local City Council and Planning Commission meetings on Channel 10, no specific plans have been made regarding what will happen to the rest of the channel’s airing time in 2009, according to city manager Jere Kersnar. Time Warner Cable will still provide the channel capacity on Channel 10, but the city is responsible for managing that. With little funding for such an operation, the city’s options are limited, added Kersnar.
AB 2987, the 2006 Digital Infrastructure and Competition Act had consequences unforeseen or overlooked by the legislators who passed it.
The 2006 bill, which proposed to equalize competition among cable providers by allowing them all to franchise with the state, instead of its cities, will result in wiping out a number of public access stations in California. It will take nothing short of a huge community effort to cooperate with the city and resurrect Ojai’s public access station, which has been minimizing services over the years, according to Carole McCartney, who coordinated Ojai’s station for many years before leaving her position in May 2007.
The new legislation, often referred to as DIVCA, offers a sweet deal to telephone companies and cable providers, allowing them to access new customers without having to deal with city officials. But, in turn, cities such as Ojai can no longer ask much of cable providers that serve them, according to Randy VanDalsen, vice president of the Buske Group, a telecommunications consulting firm.
Over the years Ojai’s public access station has diminished from a full studio with cameras and editing equipment for members of the public, to one Time Warner employee who transports DVDs and SVHS tapes to the public access station in Westlake Village.
Before Time Warner had the option of a state franchise agreement with the Public Utilities Commission, it would have had to create an agreement with the city of Ojai. City officials could then have the power to negotiate certain local services such as the maintenance of Ojai’s public access station. But with the new legislation, all Time Warner owes Ojai is 5 percent of its revenues, minus local costs, from Ojai customers, and an additional 1 percent of these profits to be used specifically toward public access.
Kersnar said that the city has been getting about $70,000 each year from Time Warner’s franchise fees. The additional 1 percent, or about $14,000 a year, won’t amount to much, and is certainly not enough to run a public access station.
Time Warner’s franchise agreement with the city, which has been extended time and again, expires in November. In January, Fregoso told an Ojai Valley News reporter that the company was still deciding whether or not to sign a franchise agreement with the city or the state. But now, with their new interpretation of the legislation, she says the company has no choice but to go with the state.
While cable companies can legally sign an agreement with a city, there is no reason why any of them would choose to do so, said VanDalsen. It’s much easier for large corporations not to deal with the financially burdensome local requirements of each California city if they can forge a simple agreement with the state. VanDalsen says he expects to see a number of California’s public access stations close in the coming years.
Lee Fitzgerald, who has been airing a local news show on Ojai’s public access station for about 14 years, said that while city officials knew about the legislation, local residents were kept in the dark.
William Roberts, president of the American Vedic Association, said he found out about the closure just recently when he brought his regular Vedas philosophy videos to the public access studio to be aired on Channel 10.
“I brought in six months’ worth of videos to be aired and I was told that they would only be showing them for the next three months,” he said. “After that they weren’t sure what was going to happen to Ojai’s public access.”
There certainly isn’t want for material on Ojai’s station. The local shows aired on Channel 10 include “Truth for Living” from Our Redeemer Lutheran Church in Ojai, the “Dr. Lee Fitzgerald Show” and a disaster preparedness program sponsored by the Rotary Club of Ojai-West, to name a few.
But Kersnar says that he is not even sure if the city will have the resources to manage a bulletin for local events without Time Warner’s public access station.
So anyone who wants to post an announcement or event on television might have to run their DVD all the way down to Time Warner’s station in Westlake Village, where the announcement will be aired on Channel 25, after Westlake Village runs its programs.
Kersnar said that decisions will be made at a discussion regarding the future of Ojai’s public access station scheduled for the City Council meeting on Oct. 28.
Nothing can be done unless the community rallies together and organizes their own station, said McCartney.
Fitzgerald also airs his show out of CAPS, a nonprofit-run public access station in Ventura. That station, which is equipped with state-of-the-art facilities and updated equipment is a nonprofit that partners with the city for public access television services in Ventura.
“It’s definitely possible to do the same thing in Ojai, we just have to have cooperation from city officials,” he said.
Fitzgerald said he plans to propose plans for such an endeavor at the Oct. 28 meeting.
Public Works director Mike Culver said that AT&T has also shown interest in breaking into Ojai’s market but with a state franchise agreement they won’t have to provide any public access television services to Ojai either.

21 comments:

Suza Francina said...

Regardless of the status of Ojai Public TV Access, the City of Ojai should get it's web site up to speed and have available live and archived City meetings. To see how this works, check out the City of Arcata web site: http://www.arcatacityhall.org/

Videos are arranged by date, with the most recent at the top of the list. You click the video link to watch the meeting with documents, or Agenda to see just the document. You can also search the archives by typing keywords into the convenient Search box provided on the City web site.

Note: On this same web site citizens can weigh-in on topics coming before the City Council; they can make a PUBLIC e-COMMENT - Council can receive ONLINE public testimony on agenda items. The e-COMMENTS link is included as part of the complete online agenda packet.

In other words, especially if we foresee that there might be a period of time where public tv access is interrupted, the City web site should make it possible for the public to view city council meetings (and planning commission and other public meetings now shown on local tv), and also for people to leave comments on-line, prior to the meeting. This is an important part of transparent, responsible government.

Anonymous said...

You are disrespectful.

Anonymous said...

the 1 percent fee under DIVCA is NOT limited to public access, but PEG (public, education, govnermental) Access capital purchases.

Anonymous said...

Yawn!

Like there was ever anything worth watching on it in the first place.

I'd rather watch re-runs on KDOC.

ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ. Your article put me to sleep. YAWN!!

Anonymous said...

How the hell can you say Suza's info is disrespectful? She is right. The City should be up to speed and have this available and not have to depend on the Access folks.

Suza can be out there at times, but she is right on this one.

Anonymous said...

How much money are the users and proponents of public access TV willing to kick in? When the skaters and their parents and friends wanted a skate park, they put out the time and effort it took to raise some cash. Should the proponents of public access expect to have to do any less to support their passion?

As for Ojai doing what other cities do, maybe Ojai can put in parking meters, just like other cities have done. After all, we want to be "up to speed" with everyone else, don't we? Maybe the parking fees could help defray the costs of running a public access channel.

Anonymous said...

That is a good idea! Maybe some of the money generated by the parking meters could help to pay for a traffic cop to monitor the crazy ways people park in this town. Wish I could count the times I've seen patrol cars drive right past cars parked in the red zones around the post office and in front of the thrift store next to Bonnie Lu's

Anonymous said...

Maybe the idiots that have their shows on the channel can pay for it.

Suza Francina said...

A note to comment #1

The City of Ventura web site now also provides live and archived public meetings.

http://cityofventura.granicus.com/ViewPublisher.php?view_id=2

City Council meeting videos are arranged by date, with the most recent at the top of the list.

Anonymous said...

I am curious to know how Arcata and Ventura fund their meeting coverage. It has been a few years since I have been to Arcata, but I do not recall seeing parking meters in Ventura recently.

Anonymous said...

For starters, Arcata's budget is over 3 times Ojai's and they have 120 full-time employees. Then consider Ventura's resources...

Anonymous said...

YOure a winer

Anonymous said...

Did you mean to say whiner? Nobody is whining here. The question about how Arcata and Ventura fund the airing of the meetings was a serious question.

Now, another totally serious question. I have been to Arcata a long time ago, and cannot remember what drives their town to enable it to have that type of budget. Is it a tourist town? Do they have industry? I am not being a smart-ass, I am interested. I recall it being the home of college students from Humboldt and that is about all I remember.

Anonymous said...

I recall it being the home of college students from Humboldt...

College of the Redwoods has a campus nearby, too.

Anonymous said...

Okay, you have impressed us with your knowledge of the schools in the area but what IS the big source of tax revenue for the area???????

Anonymous said...

Uhhhh....maybe STUDENTS, Mr. Snarkmeister?

Anonymous said...

I said BIG source of revenue. We all know college kids are just rolling in dough. ( Do they maybe tax the sales of marijuana up there? I have heard they grow some good stuff in them that woods.)

Anonymous said...

Hey....you know why you don't know that answer to your question and why you may NEVER know the answer to your question? Because you're asking your question HERE.

If you really wanted to know anything about Arcata, you'd go to Arcata's website, get a contact address, email the right person within the city's administration, and ask them.

Anonymous said...

Thought maybe Suza knew the answer!

Anonymous said...

Your all abunch of jerks

Anonymous said...

who cares about a bunch of low class funky local tv shows