Sunday, April 11, 2010
Riding to the rescue
(Above: Councilman De La Fuente)
If Ignacio De La Fuente isn't careful, he's going to give politicians a good name.
The Oakland city councilman has a reputation as a hard-nosed political operative, but to the folks at Children's Fairyland he's Robin Hood, King Arthur and Prince Charming, all rolled into one.
Last week, Fairyland's executive director, C.J. Hirschfield, heard that the Oakland City Council was going to cut its contribution to Fairland by 25 percent at its meeting the next day.
That comes to $25,000, which is a tiny fraction of the city's budget. But to Fairyland, which already has slashed its own expenditures to the bone, it means everything.
Hirschfield and her staff are working for much less than they could earn anywhere else. And they've left no stone unturned searching for new revenues, including renting the theater, Aesop's Playhouse, to performing arts groups and offering the park itself for catered birthday parties and other special events.
At the council meeting, Fairyland got a temporary stay of execution when the lawmakers put off the decision until April 29. But with Oakland scrambling to pay its own bills, they held out little hope they would change their minds.
That's when De La Fuente jumped in. He discovered two overlooked potential sources of income - $150,000 per year from an existing billboard and an annual rental savings of $384,000 by moving a Public Works Agency service center to a city-owned site.
That would be enough to restore not only the cuts to Fairyland, but also the city's cultural arts programs, which were slated for the chopping block, too.
"Here's this guy who has this tough guy image," says Hirschfield. "But when we opened our Wild West Junction and the curtain parted, what did people see? Ignacio on a horse. The 'tough guy' really cares about this place."
Mind you, this is no done deal. De La Fuente still has to convince at least four of his colleagues to go along with him, and all of them have worthy projects in their own districts.
That's always been part of the problem in Oakland: Everybody is so busy protecting their own constituents that nobody can look beyond their district boundaries and think of the best interests of the city as a whole.
Nobody but De La Fuente, that is. Fairyland isn't even in his district, but he was able to see the big picture. Here's hoping his colleagues follow his example. We'll find out April 29.
P.S. Fairyland has a new four-footed resident: Heidi the hamster. Heidi has been living at Fairyland for the last month - she was rescued after somebody dumped her by a creek in San Leandro - and she's already become a favorite with the little kids.
She can look forward to a long life. All the animals at Fairyland outlast their normal life expectancy because of the TLC they get. But all those carrots, apples, hay, oats and mealworms - a treat for Henry the rooster - don't come cheap.
So Fairyland has launched an Adopt An Animal program. For anywhere from $30 to $500, you can "adopt" Twinkle the sheep, Puddles the duck, Dori the pony, Juan the Alpaca, Mini the rabbit, Tina the goat, Mr. Bean the goat, Jewel the cat or Gideon and Tommy, the miniature donkeys. Find out more at www.fairyland.org or call 510-452-2259.