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By Toni Nelson, Capistrano Beach
In response to the full-page article in the Dana Point Times (Aug. 21-Aug. 27 issue) and many letters to the editor concerning the public and business outcry over the demise of IlluminOcean, I’d like to offer a different view point. I agree whole heartedly that this was a wonderful holiday event that showcased Dana Point, enhanced sales for Harbor businesses, and was great fun for local families and tourists. It was also very expensive. After $1 million for a 2014 light show made up of metal infrastructure that, according to the article and much to everyone’s chagrin, has turned out to be virtually unusable, a repeat performance is expected to cost another $1 million.
Last year’s show was funded 100 percent by Dana Point’s Tourism Business Improvement District (TBID) using funds that are solely contributed by the four major resorts in our town. The resorts are not compelled to contribute these funds for TBID purposes; rather, they voluntarily assess themselves these amounts each year, in order to promote the city of Dana Point as a destination tourism location. By the way, these four resorts are also responsible for generating the transient occupancy tax (TOT) that pays for more than one-third of Dana Point’s annual expenditures. Instead of criticizing their business judgment, we should be thanking them for their substantial contribution to the city’s economic well-being and our quality of life.
And to what extent did the city benefit financially from sales tax that was reportedly earned by IlluminOcean-related sales increases described by local businesses? Not much, if at all. First, it is apparent that the city of Dana Point realizes only a small portion of the sales tax generated in the Harbor, which is administered by the County of Orange. A cursory examination of the city’s current budget report shows that the entire sales tax revenue for all parts of the city for the entire year was projected to be up only $305,000 in 2015. Even in the unlikely event that all of that increase was attributable to IlluminOcean, it is difficult to imagine how such a large expenditure could be justified economically.
This doesn’t mean that IlluminOcean was not profitable for local businesses—and if it was really that amazingly profitable, those same businesses should be in a good position to fund it themselves this year. Instead, those businesses may be asking the city to fund the next IlluminOcean because the TBID has declined.
This brings up a serious policy question. Does the city have a duty to pay the marketing and promotion costs of local businesses? I think not. And is the city responsible for hosting a large holiday event for locals and tourists if it cannot be supported by its budget? It would be great fun, but no, not really. The city’s first duty is to provide for public safety, infrastructure, roads, parks, landscaping and other essential municipal services. If the city is so flush with cash that it can afford such extravagances, then sure! Bring it on. We’ll all enjoy it and we’ll be happy to share it with our visitors. At this point in its history, however, with reserves lowered by a $24 million investment in Town Center and the Doheny Village Plan and revitalization just getting started, the city simply can’t afford it. IlluminOcean is lovely but it’s adding glitter and glamor while a significant portion of our community is still in rags. Let’s set aside sufficient funding to complete desperately needed infrastructure throughout the entire city before we spend up to $1million on a luxury we can’t afford.
Capo Cares—a community forum for residents, businesses and organizations that reside in and love Capistrano Beach—is committed to seeing Doheny Village revitalized and we think the city is too. This week’s four-day charrette with the Opticos Design team was a great start and we’re very grateful that the plan is moving forward. However, we all know this dream has no chance of becoming reality unless and until sufficient funding is committed, preferably by creating specific reserve accounts allocated exclusively for the Doheny Village project. The city’s expenditures in Town Center have lowered reserves significantly. We now have only $15 million in total reserves (projected June 30, 2015 budget) compared to $45 million in total reserves in 2008. Please understand that while we’d all like to see a repeat performance of last year’s wonderful light show, the businesses that benefit should pay for it themselves. The city has many more important priorities for its limited financial resources.