Last Tuesday, the City Council voted to subsidize the free summer Twilight Dance Series on the Santa Monica Pier by raising ticket prices for the famous carousel.

The TDS has been hit because sponsors have withdrawn support in tough economic times. According to Pier Restoration Corp. Executive Director Ben Franz-Knight, the PRC (the City Council-appointed entity that governs the pier and is responsible for the TDS) raised about $30,000 in sponsorships last year as opposed to $140,000 the year before. Ten TDS concerts cost $360,000 in 2009.

Without sponsorship support, 2010 PRC funds were limited to $116,500, yet the PRC voted to produce seven concerts budgeted at $208,650. Then they voted to ask City Council for financial support and approved a city staff recommendation to raise carousel prices for the extra money needed to fully fund the series.

Staff suggested boosting carousel ride prices for persons over 14 from $1 to $2. Children between 6 and 14 went from 50 cents to $1. Children from 3 to 5, who previously rode for free, will pay $1.

Carousel rules say children under 5 must be accompanied by a paying adult, therefore a family will pay $2 for the adult to ride with a 2 and under child (instead of $1 under the old rates) and $3 with a child 3 to 5 ($2 for the adult, $1 for the child instead of $1 for the adult under the old rate). The new pricing would cover deficits in the carousel’s operation and yield an extra $50,000 to help pay for the 2010 TDS.

The PRC ignored another option from CBS Radio Stations. CBS proposed producing nine “top-talent” concerts, allowing the PRC to stay within its $116,500 budget. CBS even promised to find co-sponsors. PRC member Ellen Brennan wrote in a letter, “This proposal would give the PRC and the public the nine concerts with no funds needed from the city and no donations needed from the public.”

The PRC turned down the offer to partner with CBS and is staying with TDS’s original and current promoter, King & Company. Obviously, politics are at work here. Producer Katharine King has loyal friends on the City Council and in the Santa Monicans for Renter’s Rights political group that controls the council. The fix was in.

Council committed $35,000 to the series on March 9 and suggested raising $30,000 more through public donations. Councilman Richard Bloom told the Daily Press, “The radio stations will be presenting more commercially oriented acts that will, for obvious reasons, be more important to their bottom line, whereas the series in the past has been designed to be strictly a community benefit.”

What? City Council would rather pay $208,650 for seven “eclectic” concerts and decline nine, free “commercially oriented” concerts because CBS might profit in some way? Clearly, Bloom knows nothing about the concert business and apparently little about business, period.

At last Tuesday’s council meeting concerning carousel ride pricing, Councilman Kevin McKeown stated, “The carousel has to be made self-sustaining. Unfortunately, that was conflicted with the TDS because they were both put in the same staff report, I fully understand why people felt that children were being asked to subsidize the adults … . That’s not what’s happening here.”

Sorry Kevin, it is what’s happening here. Little kids will subsidize the TDS.

Councilman Terry O’Day views the pier as a public park with amenities. “The carousel itself is a very important one of that suite of amenities on the pier. (It’s) not a material impact on what is budgeted — $800,000 deficit annually in the pier fund or in the city’s general fund — at all.”

Councilman Bobby Shriver agreed and recommended studying fare increases in future budget study sessions. “The concept of a free park is a great one, and I’m all for keeping the fares down,” he stated.

Councilwoman Gleam Davis countered, “We cannot afford to have the city’s general fund subsidize some of these wonderful amenities we have in the city, they must become self-sustaining.” She continued, “The radio station’s (proposal) are the Plan B and in many minds an inferior Plan B … .”

However, the council never saw a specific CBS proposal, so how could Davis and others call it “inferior?” Politics, remember?

Council members spoke glowingly of the TDS, but in all the talk of being unable (unwilling?) to subsidize the carousel, they had no problem subsidizing the dance series. I guess, it’s all about priorities.

For the record, McKeown, Pam O’Connor, Bloom and Davis voted “Yes.” Shriver and O’Day voted “No.” Bob Holbrook was absent. Bottom line: promoting free “adult” concerts on the backs of children riding the carousel is just wrong.

The budget for the TDS has expanded annually with bigger names, larger crowds and more problems. Has the TDS grown “too big?” Maybe it’s time to rethink the TDS. This may be the perfect opportunity to come back down to Earth and stop trying to compete with big, money-making venues like the Nokia and Greek theaters and Gibson Amphitheater.

Bill can be reached at mr.bilbau@gmail.com