Will Palo Alto's wave of developments usher in a public-art Renaissance?
City officials certainly hope so, and on Monday night they took a step toward making it happen. After a brief discussion, the council voted unanimously to pursue a dramatic expansion of the Percent for the Art Program, which currently sets aside one percent of construction funds for municipal projects for art. Last week, Mayor Greg Scharff and council members Pat Burt, Gail Price and Greg Schmid issued a memo recommending that the program be extended to all major private developments, as well.
"Great cities have great art and Palo Alto is a great city," Scharff said Monday night. "And I think this is really gonna enhance the public art and the perception throughout our community of of public art."
The council's action directed staff to design an expanded Percent for Art program and to bring it back for review by the council's Policy and Services Committee and ultimately the full council. The memo specified that under the redesigned program, a developer would have to either commission art or contribute an in-lieu fee for art. The applicant would also be responsible for maintenance of art, with staff reviewing the maintenance plan. Furthermore, this artwork would not be "demolished, removed or destroyed without City approval," the memo states.
The memo also calls for the city to adopt a fee system to support maintenance of existing public art, which currently gets funded through the General Fund.
"The goal should be a transition to a self-sustaining robust program that does not rely on general fund contributions," the memo states.
Council members agreed that the city would benefit from a more robust public-arts program, which Price said is a "means to celebrate the ways in which people can express themselves." Their only concerns were with the details. Councilwoman Liz Kniss agreed but suggested that different rules should apply to different projects. Should the city, for example, demand art the affordable-housing project currently in construction at 800 Alma St. or the expanding Stanford Hospital and Clinics?
"We have lots of buildings that I think we may indicate they should probably be looked at in a different light," Kniss said.
Councilman Larry Klein agreed and pointed to some of the city's "megaprojects," including Stanford Hospital and VMWare's campus expansion. Applying the "one percent" formula to these would require extracting many millions of dollars of public art, he said. He suggested that religious and nonprofit organizations be exempt from the requirement, a recommendation that his colleagues accepted with no debate.
The memo from the council members cites various other cities, including Emeryville, Sunnyvale, San Jose and San Francisco, that apply percent-for-art policies to private development. It argued that it's time for Palo Alto to do same.
"Palo Alto has fallen behind other cities in fostering public art and providing a dedicated funding sources for maintenance of our public art collection," the memo states. "It's time for Palo Alto to take the modest step of extending its Percent for Art Policy to private developments and to provide for a dedicated source for maintenance and administration of our public-art collection."