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Cable access fight could lead to funding cuts 

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# San Luis Obispo's public access cable channel is experiencing some strong internal static and could soon find itself without city funding which could result in the programming on Charter Cable's Channel 2 cueing out for good.

Though not all the facts are clear in this emotion-soaked debate, it appears there are two divided and divisive groups fighting for power of the station.

The matter will get a public airing Tuesday, July 3, when the SLO City Council will review the Channel 2 annual report and funding on its consent agenda.

One group supports the Bearce family, which is led by Ron and Leslie. In recent years they have been involved in a commanding amount of shows on Channel 2. The Bearces stress that they were assisting minorities with their shows ultimately making for a more diverse station.

Those on the other side, however, say the Bearces were hogging the station's time slots.

Those concerns led to the holding of new elections for the San Luis Obispo County Public Access Board. None of the Bearces or their supporters were elected. In a follow-up meeting, things got out of control and law enforcement officials were called in to intervene. As a result of the meeting's madness, Ron Bearce and several of his supporters received 90-day suspensions from the channel for their actions.

The Bearces and their supporters are claiming unfair treatment and have been voicing their disapproval for the newly elected board loudly and publicly. They say the newly appointed board has been violating several bylaws and is ruining the station.

The other side claims the opposite.

"They're anarchists," SLOCOPA board member Justin Purchin said of the Bearces. "If it's not their baby, they're going to destroy it. They're trying to block the channel from getting funding from the city."

He added, "The problem was the old-timers like the Bearces were taking all the time with their people and dominating the schedule. You can't dominate time slots for years. Our goal has been to open up the scheduling. We're doing everything we can to open it up. We're giving a fair crack at the schedule."

In essence, the new board members say they are trying to break up what has been monopoly control of the channel.

"Basically what's going on is the board has implemented some new policies and procedures and we're enforcing them," said newly elected SLOCOPA board member Monique Matta. "The board passed a new rule limiting an organization, which includes a family, to only two shows. Whereas the old rule said each individual is allowed two shows."

According to Matta, the Bearce family had seven shows so "they were obviously affected and upset by the rules."

The Bearce family submitted a DVD to New Times of a recent public access board meeting where former Channel 2 treasurer who favors the new board Cinthea Coleman became irate and gave the opposing side the middle finger.

According to Patrick Germany, a black producer, members of the new board also referred to some minority producers as too dangerous to be allowed at meetings.

"What's going on in the videotape is borderline racist it's scary stuff," San Luis Obispo City Councilmember Paul Brown said of one of the meetings he reviewed. "I was in shock I didn't think meetings like that occurred. To me it's reminiscent of stuff that happens in other countries, not here."

Brown said the conduct makes him question whether city funding should continue. "What adult does that?" he asked.

In an e-mail, Coleman wrote, "In my 'defense', the portion [of] the video where I'm flipping off [someone] was while we were taking a break, after he set up a P.A. system which was NOT asked for in an acoustically perfect room. These tapes were asked for many times. Instead of giving up a copy, they chose to edit the tapes and air them as 'How not to run a nonprofit.' This show [was] edited by Christina (Bearce) for Jason Reed and was pulled immediately."

According to Coleman, the meeting was videotaped without permission and edited with a biased slant by Christina Bearce Ron's daughter. A New Times writer who viewed the tape did observe numerous cuts, but it was also clear that Coleman was cursing and making profane gestures during the meeting.

Coleman said the video was given to SLO City Clerk Audrey Hooper, who she said subsequently got attorneys involved and has been withholding monies, while the matter is investigated.

Meanwhile, Anthony Bolin, the former chair of the channel's program review committee and producer of "The Underground", a show dedicated to the local music scene, said new board members have been playing shows in wrong time periods and tampering with tapes.

According to Bolin, 11 shows have been taken off air since Jan. 31 when the new board was assembled. He says the independently created shows have been replaced with such fare as infomercials, self-promotional shows, and episodes of The Three Stooges.

Matta, of the new board, said she expects the council meeting to run smoothly. "There should be no real discussion," she said. "Their (the Bearces) complaints are a dead issue."

Maybe not.

"Public access should be about diversity and it seems they should be encouraging diversity," Brown said. "But it seems like [the new board] limits their agenda and they personally want to promote their views."



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