Council OK’s contract for Spreckels organist

City News Service

The San Diego City Council today approved a 10-year, $286,000 contract for civic organist Carol Williams, who performs concerts every Sunday afternoon at the Spreckels Organ Pavilion.

The contract for Williams became controversial when it was introduced a few months ago amid a furor over budget proposals that would have cut library and recreation center hours in half. Those facilities were fully funded when the budget was finalized.

The money for Williams, who will receive $23,865 this fiscal year, will come out of the general fund, despite requests by council members to find alternate funding sources. None of the alternatives worked out, according to Recreation Department officials.

The pipe organ and pavilion were a gift to San Diego from John and Adolph Spreckels for the 1915 Panama-California Exposition, and the city has paid for an organist since 1926. It’s one of the largest outdoor pipe organs in the world.

Williams, who also receives a salary from the Spreckels Organ Society, puts in about 30 hours per week preparing for the weekly shows.

Her position as civic organist “fulfills my life’s ambition of bringing the concert organ to a wider audience,’' she told the council.

Williams said when she travels around the world, she’s amazed at how many people know about the organ and have been to San Diego to hear it.

“This organ has a lot of friends,’' she said.

Councilman Todd Gloria called it “a civic treasure.’' Williams’ salary is a tiny portion of the Recreation Department’s budget, he said.

The vote was 8-0 to approve the contract, but Councilman Carl DeMaio said he objected to using money from the general fund while the city was in a fiscal crisis.

A request by the council’s Natural Resources and Culture Committee to explore alternative funding, especially from the Arts and Culture Commission, was “not respected’’ by city staff, he said.

Councilman David Alvarez said he was disappointed that “we did not get an adequate response’’ from staff.

Williams has been the civic organist since 2001. According to the Spreckels Organ Society, about 100,000 people attend organ concerts in the park each year.