City may buy community access TV station’s building

Daily Post Staff Writer

Palo Alto city leaders on Monday will consider buying the 9,700-square-foot building where the Midpeninsula Media Center is located at 900 San Antonio Road, where the nonprofit operates a video production and training facility.

Midpen Media Center broadcasts local government meetings for Palo Alto, Menlo Park and East Palo Alto and allows members of the public to produce TV shows. It operates five channels on the Comcast cable system and also streams its shows over the web.

A city audit in 2016 found that the media center was misusing Public, Education and Government fees — the 88 cents per month on AT&T and Comcast cable bills that fund local-access TV — for operating costs, when federal law restricts the fees to capital costs, such as equipment and buildings.

The fees have steadily increased from $336,000 in 2008 to $347,000 in 2014, but have been dropping since then to $313,000 in 2017. The city expects to pull in $315,000 in the fees for 2018.

Following the audit, $700,000 of those fees have been placed in an account managed by the media center while the two parties decide how to proceed.

The city has determined that the “most viable option” for the media center to continue operating is for the joint powers authority that authorizes it — which includes Palo Alto, East Palo Alto, Menlo Park, Atherton and portions of San Mateo and Santa Clara counties — to buy the building using the Public, Education and Government fees.

No agreement on price

The joint powers authority and the media center have not agreed on a purchase price.

The city is proposing that the joint powers authority pay the media center for the building over time and that the media center have exclusive possession of the building.

“We’re grateful to the city of Palo Alto for continuing to recognize the value that the Midpen Media Center provides to Palo Alto and surrounding communities and are encouraged that the city will be moving forward with supporting the organization,” Midpen Executive Director Keri Stokstad told the Post.

Stokstad said that about 90% of the center’s operating budget comes from the $10 million endowment of the Cable Co-op, which was sold to AT&T in 2000 and dissolved in 2003.

Midpen used $4 million of that to buy and upgrade the video production facility at 900 San Antonio Road to replace the Cable Co-op.

The other 10% comes from service charges, Stokstad said, such as when a nonprofit organization pays to produce a video.