By Rosie Spinks
City on a Hill Press Reporter
Last week, Santa Cruz community members mobilized in a final successful effort to save both the Natural History Museum and the iconic Santa Cruz Surf Museum after the City Council voted to de-fund both facilities in early December.
The initial vote came amid the city’s fiscal crisis, which forced the council to cut funding to several facilities because of decreased tax revenues.
“The museums were included in the list of facilities that [were] being funded through the city’s Parks and Recreation Department,” Santa Cruz City Council member Lynn Robinson said.
But on Tuesday, the City Council received proposals from several local nonprofit groups that proposed ways to keep both museums open with private funding. Donations were also made by individuals — such as O’Neill Surfboards founder and Santa Cruz resident Jack O’Neill — to keep the museums open.
Museum director Jenifer Thompson said the decision to de-fund these facilities in the first place could have meant the closure of the museums.
“A lot of Parks and Recreation facilities are funded by what is called the city’s general fund,” she said. “The [museums] are most heavily subsidized by the general fund and don’t bring in as much revenue as the others.”
Nonprofit organizations and the City Council have now worked out a temporary solution.
The Santa Cruz Surf Club Preservation Society and the Santa Cruz Museum Association will take financial responsibility for the Surf Museum and Natural History Museum, respectively. The city will still own the buildings as well as take on minimum responsibilities such as insurance and basic maintenance, but the financial future of each museums depends solely on these organizations.
“These are stop-gap measures to keep these facilities operating until July 1, with the hope that more long-term solutions will come about,” Vice-Mayor Mike Rotkin said.
The historical value and cultural contribution that these museums give to the Santa Cruz community were never in question.
The Natural History Museum, which has been in its present location on East Cliff Drive in the Seabright neighborhood since 1954, sees about 12,000 visitors per year and reaches a total number of 58,000 people through educational outreach in classrooms and various community events such as the annual Fungus Fair, Thompson said. The Surf Museum, which opened its doors in 1986 as a satellite of the Natural History Museum, sees about 25,000 to 35,000 visitors annually.
Rotkin credits the museums’ salvation to a strong response from local citizens.
“This never would have happened without a massive outpouring of community support for these programs,” Rotkin said.
Harry Mayo, a longtime resident and original member of the Santa Cruz Surf Club, founded in the late 1930s, has worked tirelessly on behalf of the museum. Mayo is passionate about the Surf Museum remaining in its iconic spot in the Mark Abbot Memorial Lighthouse on West Cliff Drive.
“It simply has to be open,” Mayo said. “I think Jack O’Neill said it best: ‘Santa Cruz “Surf City” has to have a surf museum.’”