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Joan Leon

One important benefit of having cable TV is that we have access to PEG — public, education and government channels.

The public can create programs and show them on TV Channel 25. School districts can present programs about educating our children. The county Board of Supervisors meetings are shown live on Channel 20, and Santa Maria City Council meetings are on Channel 23. City Council meetings are also shown on Thursday at 9 a.m. the week of the meeting, and on the following Tuesday at 7 p.m.

Unless you want to speak at these meetings, watching on TV is the next best thing. You can see elected representatives discussing issues, their body language, facial expressions, tone of voice, interaction with the public, staff and each other.

Public-access TV is part of the city’s contract with Comcast. The city allows Comcast to use city rights of way in streets and utility easements to install the cable system, and pays the city a franchise fee for that use. The 5-percent franchise fee is based on Comcast’s gross revenues.

Those who subscribe to Comcast pay for the PEG public access channels as listed on the back of the Comcast bill. Comcast collects the PEG fees all year, then annually grants the city money for the cablecast of city government meetings.

There is a PEG building near the Elwin Mussel Senior Center, where students from Hancock College and members of the public who join PEG can produce programs. An appointed board of three members helps guide PEG operations, with one city staff member.

There is a new law that allocates PEG funds only for capital expenses, not for operations — a cost to the city of some $235,000 a year. The city can now charge the cost of producing programs to be shown on public-access TV. These include staff hours spent on planning, developing and creating training videos, educational shows about city programs and services, and government meetings. These are costs that result in programs, thus a capital expense.

The city should purchase updated cameras and sound equipment, much-needed to improve the sound and pictures of council meetings. There is also the opportunity to have Planning and Recreation and Parks commission meetings, and programs at the library, shown on public-access TV.

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The city plans to invite local public agencies to use PEG channels to show their meetings and programs, with fees for services. That can help generate funds to keep PEG operations going.

A nonprofit organization can join PEG for $25 a year, allowing opportunities to produce programs of public interest. This also allows students from Hancock College to gain experience in TV production.

People who have satellite dishes cannot get PEG programs, since they are not on cable. Maybe if people realized the benefits of having our local government meetings shown, they might be enticed to subscribe to cable TV. Few people actually attend these meetings, unless there is some highly controversial issue. But there could be a big audience watching at home. Elected representatives should be aware the voting public has opportunities to see them in action.

Some cities have had to drop PEG programming due to lack of funds. That is a huge loss to those communities. Maybe we are not motivated to attend government meetings, but at least we can keep informed about what goes on in government by tuning in to the PEG channels.

Along with newspapers, there is more opportunity for people to be informed about our local government.

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Joan Leon is a local resident. She can be reached at joanleon@verizon.net. Looking Forward runs every Friday, providing a progressive viewpoint on local issues.

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