Category Archives: Benicia’s Budget Crisis


Two local artists share why we must protect arts & culture in Benicia. Here’s how to add your voice to theirs

Photo by “My Life Through A Lens” on Unsplash.
By Nathalie Christian, June 5, 2023

City Council will vote on the future of arts and culture in Benicia this Tuesday, June 6, at the City Council meeting starting at 6 pm.

In light of Benicia’s budget crisis, City staff have apparently recommended that Benicia’s Arts & Culture Commission’s already modest budget be reduced to zero.

Gutting the commission’s budget so drastically will negatively impact Benicia both materially and immaterially. There are so many essential arts, music, dance and theater programs in Benicia that, while supported by our community, also rely on City funding to fully serve residents and visitors. Such funding reaches highly respected organizations like Arts Benicia, Benicia Old Town Theatre Group, Benicia Performing Arts Foundation and Benicia Ballet through modest grants carefully considered by and disbursed through the Arts & Culture Commission.

This move by City staff arose from the need to address Benicia’s budget issues, but it is also short-sighted. The reduction and threatened total cessation of the wonderful programs, exhibits and performances Benicia has traditionally been able to offer its residents and visitors will certainly have a negative impact on Benicia’s appeal, leading to additional decreases in Benicia’s growth and revenue.

And that impact is nothing compared to the threatened cost to the mind, body and soul of our small but mighty city; the tangible and intangible things that make Benicia Benicia.

To protect Benicia’s future as both a home to and destination for the arts, performance and cultural exploration, your voice is needed, urgently. Please prepare to act today. Just a few minutes is all it will take to be heard.

Here is important information regarding the urgent timeline:

  • You have until 2 pm Tuesday, June 6 to email a public comment in support of the Arts & Culture Commission’s future.
  • You can also live-Zoom or live-call in to the City Council’s 6 pm meeting to share your comment.
  • Best yet, you can attend this City Council meeting in person to share your comment face-to-face with those who will be making this decision.

Looking for inspiration on what to write?

Two amazing local artists, Larnie Fox and Lisa Reinertson, were kind enough to share excerpts from their letters defending the Arts & Culture Commission’s budget. The letters make excellent cases for both the public and personal costs of gutting our budget. Please feel free to draw from these letters as inspiration when you write your own or prepare your public comment. (I have.)

Scroll all the way down to view their letters.

How to write and email a public comment

Members of the public may provide public comment via email to the City Clerk by email at Any comment submitted to the City Clerk should indicate to which item of the agenda the comment relates. (WE ARE ITEM 22.C – PROPOSED FISCAL YEARS 2024 & 2025 BUDGETS.)

– Comments received by 2:00 pm on the day of the meeting will be electronically forwarded to the City Council and posted on the City’s website.

– Comments received after 2:00 pm, but before the start time of the meeting will be electronically forwarded to the City Council but will not be posted on the City’s website.

In your email, put the item number in your subject line (e.g., “Public comment re. Item 22.C”).

In your email body, share why you support keeping arts and culture alive and well in Benicia. Scroll down to see sample letters.

How to view the meeting and/or make a live public comment

You can participate in the meeting in one of four ways: 

1) Attend in person at Council Chambers
2) Cable T.V. Broadcast – Check with your cable provider for your local government broadcast channel.
3) Livestream online at
4) Zoom Meeting (link below)

The public may view and participate (via computer or phone) link:
  • If prompted for a password, enter 449303.
  • Use participant option to “raise hand” during the public comment period for the item you wish to speak on. Please note, your electronic device must have microphone capability. Once unmuted, you will have up to 5 minutes to speak.
  • Dial in with phone:
    Before the start of the item you wish to comment on, call any of the numbers below. If one is busy, try the next one.

        • 1 669 900 9128
        • 1 346 248 7799
        • 1 253 215 8782
        • 1 646 558 8656
        • 1 301 715 8592
        • 1 312 626 6799

•  Enter the meeting ID number: 885 0804 7557 (*please note this is an updated ID number*.)

Say the item you wish to speak on. (THE PROPOSED BUDGET CUTS ARE ITEM 22.C.)

Once unmuted, you will have up to 5 minutes to speak.

Enter password: 449303

When prompted for a Participant ID, press #.

Press *9 on your phone to “raise your hand” when the Mayor calls for public comment.

Any member of the public who needs accommodations should email City Clerk Lisa Wolfe at, who will use her best efforts to provide as much accessibility as possible while also maintaining public safety. 

‘What should I say?’ Two amazing Benicia artists share their thoughts

Two local artists were kind enough to share excerpts from their letters defending the Arts & Culture Commission’s budget. Please feel free to draw from them as inspiration when you write your own or prepare your public comment.

Larnie Fox

Larnie Fox is a prominent local visual and sound artist and hyper-connector. He is the director of the Crank Ensemble, a group that performs on hand-cranked instruments built by Larnie. As the former director of Arts Benicia (among several leadership roles in arts organizations serving both youth and adults), he is well positioned to speak to the value of arts in education, expression and beyond. (His wife Bodil is also an amazing artist and connector, by the way!)

Dear Council Members, Mayor and Interim City Manager ~ 

The arts are not a frill! 

This past year, I taught Arts Benicia STEAM drawing classes for all the fifth graders at Joe Henderson Elementary School. […] Doing this work I saw again how very important it is for our kids to learn a few basic skills that enable them to express themselves non-verbally; to make their own decisions and take responsibility for them; to learn to think creatively; how much it empowers them, and how much pride they take in their work.

This program is a small slice of Arts Benicia’s children’s art outreach, which in turn is a small slice of what Arts Benicia does for our community. Add that to what Benicia Ballet, Benicia Literary Arts, Benicia Theatre Group, Benicia State Parks Association, and VOENA bring to the table and you can see that by spending $78,000, Benicia is getting a tremendous amount of “bang for the buck”. This is a drop in the bucket for the City, whose annual budget is roughly $54.5 million. 

A 2017 Americans for the Arts study conducted by the Arts and Culture Commision in Benicia concluded:

“Arts & Economic Prosperity 5 provides evidence that the nonprofit arts and culture sector is a significant industry in the City of Benicia—one that generates $4.7 million in total economic activity. This spending—$2.9 million by nonprofit arts and cultural organizations and an additional $1.8 million in event-related spending by their audiences—supports 149 full-time equivalent jobs, generates $2.7 million in household income to local residents, and delivers $414,000 in local and state government revenue. This economic impact study sends a strong signal that when we support the arts, we not only enhance our quality of life, but we also invest in the City of Benicia’s economic well-being.”

Just by the economics alone, without considering all the cultural and human benefits, it is short-sighted to cut arts funding.

I appreciate that this is a difficult time for the City, but our local arts groups are already stretched thin. They do so much with so little.

I urge you to leave the Arts and Culture Commission’s very modest budget alone, and look for cuts elsewhere.


Larnie Fox

Lisa Reinertson

Lisa Reinertson is a Benicia artist whose figurative ceramic and bronze public sculptures have been stationed across the state and country, as well as on Benicia’s own waterfront (she’s the artist behind Neptune’s Daughter!). Lisa has drawn from her personal experience  as a struggling artist to explain why we must look beyond the bottom line to really understand what tremendous value the Arts & Culture Commission adds to Benicia through its modest but highly effective grant disbursements.

Dear Mayor, City Council and Staff,
I am writing in regards to the funding of the Arts in Benicia. I would like you to consider what makes this town a desirable place to live and to visit, and how we value the vibrant cultural aspects of our community.
Imagine Benicia without Arts Benicia, with its rich diversity of art exhibitions bringing both local and national artworks to our community. As a cultural hub where both adults and children can take classes that enrich their lives and stimulate ideas and imagination, Arts Benicia gives back so much more that the bottom line of dollars can measure.
The City gives just a small amount of support to the arts as it is. But that support multiplies in the hands of our dedicated arts leaders in this community; bringing choirs, theater, dance and visual arts into full blossom here.
If you want to look solely at the bottom line of dollars, I think it is easily argued that the small investment pays off in huge ways in money spent in our town which is known for having a vibrant art community and presence.
At one time in my life, as I was struggling as a single parent artist between teaching jobs and public commissions, I was advised by a frugal ( and indifferent) family member to move into an apartment and get a job at McDonald’s. Instead, I took out a loan on my house and invested back into myself to keep my studio going. I made it through that rough spot and was able to continue making public art and teach at college art departments and pay off the loan in short time.
Let’s not make short sighted foolish decisions that would snuff out our thriving culturally rich community. Let’s look at the long view and understand that the crucial value of the arts in our community may not be obvious to value in dollars alone, but it is a value that is so much greater than that; to keep Benicia a place we want to live and thrive in.
Thank you,
Lisa Reinertson

Stephen Golub: Despite Its Problems, Benicians (Mostly) Really Like Benicia

Despite Its Problems, Benicians (Mostly) Really Like Benicia

Benicia’s Capitol State Historic Park. | Uncredited image.

By Stephen Golub, posted June 2, 2023

Benicia resident and author Stephen Golub, A Promised Land

If you’ve been following Benicia news and social media lately, you’d probably think that our city has a number of serious problems to contend with. And you’d be absolutely right. But there’s good news as well.

First, though, the bad news:

The Budget Challenge. It entails painful cuts and revenue-raising measures in order to balance our books. There have been City Council and other meetings on this in recent months. There doubtless will be more in the months to come.

The ‘La Migra’ Challenge. Named for a slang term applied to the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, it’s a game that’s been played by Benicia high school students annually for years. But the very name has clear racist connotations. And while some students may play willingly, not all do so. Even worse, there have been reliable reports – including in the May 12 Benicia Herald and more recently on the Benicia Independent – of minority students being harassed and even subjected to attack. For a  discussion of the problem (including TV links), go to Sheri Leigh’s superb Benicia Independent post, which was also shared on Nextdoor. A couple of useful comments suggest that the “game” was somewhat limited this year due to police and school actions this year, but it remains a horrid pastime.

The Environmental Challenge. For one thing, there was the Thanksgiving release by the Martinez Refining Company of a toxic plume that drifted over parts of Benicia. The nature and danger of the residues in Martinez and here are now being tested. On a more regular basis, there are repeated violations by Valero, including but by no means limited to pouring toxic chemicals into our air for at least fifteen years without telling us. Valero has been compounding these actions, in a sense, by pouring many hundreds of thousands of dollars into our city council and mayoral elections in recent years (though unsuccessfully in 2020 and 2022), presumably to help elect Republican and Democratic candidates it finds favorable. Though we appreciate the jobs and donations Valero provides, being a good neighbor does not include polluting our skies, politics and perhaps even health.

So why the cheery title for this column, despite these challenges? Because Benicia has the community strength, resilience and pride to hopefully overcome or at least mitigate them, as suggested by a recent survey of Benicians’ attitudes and experiences, as part of the National Community Survey (NCS). Both Mayor Young and City Manager Giuliani have recently reported on the study. I’m here to supplement their efforts by summarizing some of its results.

For a link to the NCS methodology and findings, here’s Steve Young’s very useful Nextdoor post on the topic.

The survey focused on hundreds of communities across the country. It was conducted here in Benicia from January 20 to March 3 of this year.

Overall, the NCS found a good deal of satisfaction with our city’s “livability.” That all-purpose term includes survey results for numerous different categories of life here, including Economy; Mobility; Community Design; Parks and Recreation; Education, Arts and Culture; and Inclusivity and Engagement.

Benicia came out quite well, in many respects scoring at least 10 percent higher than the national “benchmarks” – basically the national average, though the study’s Methodology section does not make that clear.

For instance, “Over 9 in 10 residents favorably evaluated the overall quality of life in Benicia (95% excellent or good), Benicia as a place to live (96%), and Benicia as a place to raise children (94%); each of these ratings were higher than the national comparisons.” The same applies to the 95% who would recommend Benicia as a place to live. Eighty-eight percent plan to remain here for the next five years.

More from the report: “About 9 in 10 respondents were pleased with the city’s overall appearance, surpassing comparison communities around the country. In addition, 8 in 10 offered above-average reviews for both the preservation of the historical or cultural character of the community and Benicia’s public places where people want to spend time. Cleanliness (92%), water resources (80%), Benicia’s open space (87%), preservation of natural areas (86%), and the availability of paths and walking trails (84%) all received ratings that were higher than the national benchmarks.”

A smattering of other results:

  • In a result that obviously spans generations, Benicia scored at least 10% higher than the national benchmarks as a place to raise children (94% positive survey replies, ranking 51 out of 378 communities asked a similar question) and to retire (78% positive, ranking 59 out of 374).
  • Benicia is a happening, hopping place! (Well, at least in some ways.) We ranked at least 10 percent higher than the benchmarks regarding vibrancy of the downtown/commercial area (71% positive, ranking 65 out of 291), opportunities to participate in social events and activities (78% positive, ranking 37 out of 311), opportunities to attend special events and festivals (83% positive, ranking 18 out of 308) and community support for the arts (80% positive, ranking 22 out of 212).
  • For the many information-oriented folks among us, the library gets good ratings too (89% positive, ranking 109 out of 332). Though it’s interesting that only 24% of us share our opinions online (ranking 173 out of 211).
  • Benicia is a great place to drive! (At least according to the survey.) Traffic flow on major streets had an 83 percent positive response, ranking 6 (!) out of 341.
  • It’s fair to note that for the majority of the approximately 150 categories, Benicia was rated similarly to other cities. Still, the categories for which it was rated 10 percent higher than other communities greatly outnumbered the six categories for which it was rated 10 percent lower.
  • The leading negative category? You guessed it: street repair (26% positive, ranking 311 out of 357 -ouch!). Also, air quality (60% positive, ranking 271 out of 302 – wheeze! – which brings us back to the environmental challenge).
  • The other four negative categories? Utility billing, garbage collection and (for results that probably don’t reflect on Benicia itself) health care costs and preventive health services.

Finally, I should note that while I’m providing comparisons to national results here, Benicia scores similarly well when compared to other Western states’ cities with populations of 15,000 to 40,000.

Having said all this, I’m not saying that we’ll solve our problems simply by virtue of liking our city. And I’m certainly not saying that our financial, racial and environmental challenges become any less severe because, for many of us, Benicia is a fine place to live.

Quite the contrary: Cities inevitably change. We lose it if we don’t improve it. It’s up to us to address the problems that plague Benicia, precisely in order to make our catchphrase, “A Great Day by the Bay,” something to honor and preserve.

Benicia resident Stephen Golub offers excellent perspective on his blog, A Promised Land:  Politics. Policy. America as a Developing Country.

To access his other posts or subscribe, please go to his blog site, A Promised Land.


Largaespada letter ‘A Distortion of Truth’

[BenIndy Contributor Nathalie Christian — On April 19, 2023, the Benicia Herald published a letter penned by former City Council Member Lionel Largaespada. In his letter, Mr. Largaespada expressed “shock” that Benicia will realize a large deficit this fiscal year. Wednesday, April 26’s edition of the Herald featured a response from Benicia’s former Finance Director and current Assistant City Manager, Bret Prebula. In it, Mr. Prebula highlights our former Council Member’s many “distortions of truth” and notes that Mr. Largaespada conveniently avoids taking responsibility for some of the deficit spending he railed about. For Benicia to maintain its services and community benefits, “new tax revenue is a must, [and] that is a factual reality.” We must spurn politically motivated, distorted narratives about Benicia’s budget crisis and instead pledge to work together toward a common goal: Benicia’s financial sustainability. And with it, our future. — N.C.]

Former Benicia City Council Member Lionel Largaespada grimaces as he considers his position.
Former Benicia City Council Member Lionel Largaespada, pictured at a 2022 candidate forum in Benicia, CA.

Distortion of the Truth

by Bret Prebula, April 26, 2023, originally posted in the Benicia Herald.

The letter sent by former City Councilmember Largaespada is a distortion of the truth. Mr. Largaespada makes accusations of some lack of professional ability or structure to oversee and manage the City’s budget, that is frankly just untrue. In fact, the finance department has over the past two years transitioned into a professional and higher performing department. The City had a history of poor financial leadership and in just two years we have not fixed all the sins of the past, but we are a long way from the past poor performance with a vision of continuing to improve.

Mr. Largaespada speaks of this “discrepancy” from the April 2022 5-year forecast discussion to the March 2023 FY 2022/23 mid-year budget review. What Mr. Largaespada fails to mention is that his comparison is like comparing apples and oranges. The 5-year forecast is exactly that, a forecast, to provide the council, staff, and the community an awareness under current revenue and expense trends what financial health the City is predicting and what is the sensitivity to changes in the system, i.e., revenue decreases or expense increases. The summary of that exercise was that the city has a clear structural deficit. The amount of surplus or deficit of the projection within the 5-year forecast is to achieve a trend to assist in policy decision making as actual fiscal years can have specific changes that could not be considered in a projection. (Which is what happened in FY 22/23- current fiscal year).

Mr. Largaespada wants to paint a picture that the current deficit was something new, while in fact Mr. Largaespada was on the City Council and approved the FY 2022 & FY 2023 budget, at that time the budget clearly was approved with deficit spending. The current estimated deficit was in fact not shocking since the Council knew it had approved a deficit budget when the budgets were adopted in June 2021 (inclusive of Mr. Largaespada). The additional level of deficit was due to some approved changes in Public Works salaries and other operating costs throughout the City for which Mr. Largaespada was supportive.

Our City is going through a difficult fiscal time, that is a clear truth, but this fiscal issue has been looming for a long time. We are now making sure our community knows the issue is realized and no longer just a theory. We will and have to make some operational reductions/efficiency changes, but new tax revenue is a must, that is a factual reality. The only other outcome without revenue is to dramatically change the services and community benefits (such as parks, library hours, level of public safety support) we can provide. 

It is important that we all come together at this time to solve our citywide issues not distort information to further a narrative. We need to focus on our common interest that bind us together, we need to trust the staff that have shown in the past two years they are willing and capable to lead the City through this time, and trust our council (asking question genuinely to achieve information). As a citizen, I look forward to those interactions and discussions.

With hope,

Bret Prebula, Resident and Assistant City Manager

While you’re here…

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