City peeved over 'Color of Palo Alto' Palo Alto Issues, posted by Editor, Palo Alto Online, on Feb 19, 2013 at 10:12 am
The artist of a popular piece of temporary art has come under fire from City of Palo Alto staff for failing to provide a database of images from the project that could help public safety officials and city planners.
Read the full story here Web Link posted Tuesday, February 19, 2013, 9:54 AM
Posted by Marrol, a resident of the Embarcadero Oaks/Leland neighborhood, on Feb 19, 2013 at 10:12 am
Sadly, even pathetically, another example of a frivolous, non-essential use of public funds. Expenditures like this add up over time. Public finances were well into the downturn during this time period, and yet our city leaders somehow justified spending $75,000 on a public art project.
Again, we have to set some sound financial priorities and follow through with the plan. Until our house is in order, the city budget is balanced, and our essential infrastructure needs are met without another tax increase, then no spending on projects like this one.
Posted by Neighbor, a resident of the Old Palo Alto neighborhood, on Feb 19, 2013 at 10:20 am
Stop wasting public money on junk art. Either work with reliable, responsible people on projects Palo Altans won't mock, or put money back into the community schools/parks/libraries. At least those recipients have to report how they use the funds and are held accountable.
Posted by Dan, a resident of the Downtown North neighborhood, on Feb 19, 2013 at 10:35 am
I remember this guy. What a gig! He set up a little art shack in front of City Hall and was scoping chicks all day. He was actually being paid for that!?! I saw the resultant PA medium color; it was kind of olive drab.
Posted by Marrol, a resident of the Embarcadero Oaks/Leland neighborhood, on Feb 19, 2013 at 10:35 am
And you identified one of the root problems Neighbor. There is little or no accountability. Our city leaders and elected officials spend far too much time catering to special interests, niche groups, and vocal minorities. It is beyond belief how they can even give a second thought to projects like this when we have failed to balance the budget for many years running, and are incapable of funding vital needs in infrastructure and public safety. Perhaps the only thing that's even more unbelievable is they have the gall to float the idea of another bond measure and tax increase to pay for those needs. After many, many years of poor planning, frivolous spending, and fiscal irresponsibility, that's their solution? What an insult.
Posted by Crescent park , a resident of the Crescent Park neighborhood, on Feb 19, 2013 at 10:50 am
I bet he never even took all the photos and probably didn't keep perfect record of each address. Doing all that would be so time consuming and if the city paid someone to so that it would cost more than that. $100 bucks he didn't even complete all photos and son of the ones up in the installation were duplicates- did anyone check?
If the city wants house pictures used google street view for goodness sake.
Posted by Katherine, a resident of the Old Palo Alto neighborhood, on Feb 19, 2013 at 11:07 am
What a stupid waste on money on a ridiculous project. The city will never get the database. Wish the city would spend money wisely and use funds to repair the horrible sidewalks and streets in town. The infrastructure of Palo Alto is in a shambles. Shame on the city representatives who approved this crazy project.
Posted by Kingston, a resident of the College Terrace neighborhood, on Feb 19, 2013 at 11:08 am
Has the City of Palo Alto learned a lesson here? If it costs 7K to teach the city that this sort of frivolity with public funds isn't a good idea, then its money well spent. If not, simply more money down the drain going forward.
Posted by Member, a resident of the Adobe-Meadows neighborhood, on Feb 19, 2013 at 11:25 am
Thanks to the PA Weekly Staff writer for this reporting. I am an art lover but even a few years back I had questions about the stated objectives of the so-called public art project. If one of the objectives was to create "The Color of Palo Alto" by photographing residential homes, knowing how much construction there have been (and are going on and will be), as well as roof changing and house painting (with or without real estate transactions), one really questioned the approach and outcome. Now it seemed there may be additional objectives of this project we did not know about. How did such a proposal get funded?
Posted by Elizabeth, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Feb 19, 2013 at 11:34 am
Can't say as I'm surprised. I worked with the City Utilities for a year and saw a 'travesty of performance' as the norm. So many people who could never make it in private industry.
I'm an artist who cares very much for our town and I have to say, it makes me crazy when I see the city invest our money in art exhibits, etc. before the very important basic infrastructures... like roads!
It's not my idea of a wise investment to drive down pitted & patched main thoroughfares while driving past something arbitrarily described as "art."
Posted by moi, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Feb 19, 2013 at 12:06 pm
I love the visual arts!
I have taken a dozen art history classes, and I have been to some truly amazing museums.
This debacle, however, reaffirms my opinion that there are times when government-funded art is not appropriate.
The ridiculous unresolved financial situation reminds me of the time I dealt with my first house painter. At the end of the job, the only thing left to be done was to spray paint my custom closet doors. The arrangement we made was that (1) I would pay him the balance due except for withholding $100, (2) he would take my custom closet doors with him in order to paint them at his place.
And if I never heard from him again? Nothing like being prepared to negotiate from a position of power. . . .
Posted by litebug, a resident of another community, on Feb 19, 2013 at 1:02 pm
(Former resident 1970-2008)
I'm a liberal,a supporter and defender of artistic expression and public art, and an amateur artist myself. In all the fights about public art through the years I always supported the art and the artist.
But from the outset I thought the "Color of Palo Alto" project was a stupid, pointless waste of taxpayer money, taking forever, producing nothing worthwhile. I predicted that a mushy green/brown color would be the probable result and of what use was knowing this in the first place? Was there an intent to start using paint in that color on public buildings? Was the city going to start selling "color of Palo Alto" paint as a fund-raiser? Who knows? It made no sense from the start but I had to give kudos to the "artist" who was able to sell this loony idea and pocket $75K in the process. He may fall short as an artist but he is a success as an entrepreneur!
Posted by heartfulart, a resident of Mountain View, on Feb 19, 2013 at 1:12 pm
I'm an artist myself, and it amazes me what passes for art and what people are willing to pay for it! I agree - most artists don't have a great business sense, but this one sure did - $75,000??? Unbelievable! Talk about gullible people in power...he must have written an amazing proposal! Take a look at his website and you'll really wonder what they were thinking when they hired him!
Posted by Not an issue, a resident of the Community Center neighborhood, on Feb 19, 2013 at 3:33 pm
I remember when this was proposed and the council was ecstatic over the idea. The people who said it was a waste of money were ignored (as usual) .
And once again, we see the end result. Also note that all the council members supporting this idea had gotten the hearty endorsement of the weekly. Draw your own conclusions as to the usefulness of the weekly and our council
Posted by Wow, a resident of the Adobe-Meadows neighborhood, on Feb 19, 2013 at 3:47 pm
Just so I have this right, our police department had positions cut but the city does have money to deal with this stuff? You can argue that private funds were used to pay for this but it's still public funds that pay for the city staffers who have to manage it. Seems like a skewed priority to me.
Posted by Marrol, a resident of the Embarcadero Oaks/Leland neighborhood, on Feb 19, 2013 at 4:07 pm
You are correct Wow in Adobe-Meadows. Our city leaders and elected officials lose considerable credibility when they cry poor when it comes to funding our vital infrastructure and public safety needs, but yet continue to spend frivolously on projects like this. The lament the poor economy, inability to balance the budget, and current financial crisis, yet are seemingly void of the courage to stand up to the special interest and niche groups. Business as usual in our town.
Posted by Robert Smith, a resident of the Duveneck/St. Francis neighborhood, on Feb 19, 2013 at 4:41 pm
It seems that the artist does not want to give up his "creation." While we would have to see the contracts and other correspondence, it seems likely that he was required to hand over the files but decided that he wants to retain control. In contracts of this kind, it is better to have terms that require handoffs along the way. For example, he could have been required to hand over the files periodically, and certainly before the bulk of the monies were paid. If he handed a copy to the city but then asked for it back, the city should have hung onto it. P.S. I have done "work for hire" software development and I know how hard it is to hand over the code and copyright to your creation, but if that is the deal, then it is the deal. No sympathy for the artist, and certainly no sympathy for the city.
Posted by again and again, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Feb 19, 2013 at 5:21 pm
Recall "Conduits" performance during the 100th anniversary. I think the "color of Palo Alto" is in keeping with what the city does. This is type of mistake we repeat over and over. Failure is only of value if you learn from it. I can hardly wait to see the 1/2 million dollar rock slabs it was so important the city buy even before the library was designed. Now if they can only finish the new library. Ready, fire, aim.
Posted by No more Art Commission, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Feb 19, 2013 at 5:31 pm
If there is one commission that needs disbanding in this City, it is the Art Commission, they waste more money than I have. The City is full of ugly metal objects, like the digital egg that we don't need. Every year these people are given a huge budget to waste, and yet they are given more and more money year after year, when will it end.
Posted by bill g , a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Feb 19, 2013 at 9:43 pm
We lucked out. Only $35,000 came (or will come) from City funds. The article said $40,000 came from HP.
I agree with all those who thought this was one of the dumbest ideas from our City Council none, I believe, are no longer in office so there is no accountability for another waste of taxpayer money.
There are more projects gleaming in the eyes of City staff or Council that will waste our money. The argument is that "it's mostly grant money", but neglect to mention the balance is City - taxpayer - money.
Posted by Cedric de La Beaujardiere, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Feb 20, 2013 at 1:08 pm Cedric de La Beaujardiere is a member (registered user) of Palo Alto Online
"Crescent Park" wrote "I bet he never even took all the photos and probably didn't keep perfect record of each address."
That is incorrect. you can see the project here: Web Link and scroll around the map to find your property and click on it to pull up your address and see the color averages of your property. Maybe with this database issue there is some bug, or maybe the site is getting more traffic right now than it can handle, because the image of the property shows up in the thumbnail on the map, but is a question mark when I click on the property. But it was working before and I saved copies of the images of the houses I called home.
You can also get the average for your street, or your house number (like all #123's in PA), your neighborhood, etc. The exhibit up on city hall was pretty neat too, with a telescope by Hamilton so you could see properties that were way up high on the building.
My guess is that the city's art budget is separate from its paving budget, so you can't just say no more art until the streets are all smooth as a baby's butt. For instance, in SF, there is a tax on certain development activities that is dedicated specifically for art.
For people who complain about pot holes, try visiting a third world country for a while, it will blow your mind, and you'll never complain about a PA street again. In one African country I visited, many "potholes" were as big and deep as a car, and there seemed to be more potholes than smooth road. I agree there are serious infrastructure needs in the city to be addressed, but I would bet that most of the people vocally complaining about art expenditures also would complain of taxes to pay for infrastructure.
Posted by enough is enough, a resident of Stanford, on Feb 20, 2013 at 1:47 pm
Well, Cedric, we are not in a third world country-we are in the Silicon Valley. ANd the fact that you visited Africa and saw large potholes is irrelevant to the discussion.
The issue is our council WASTING money on nonsense like Color of Palo Alto--as someone else stated you start adding together all these "small" costs and they add up. Too much time and emphasis on feel good projects by the city and little to know effort on our serious problems. And, actually, I believe we can say no more art until infrastructure issues are addressed.
Who knows how much money will be spent on Holman's dream bridge over 101 and Peter's folly in Byxbee Park.
Too much time, effort and money is spent catering to the environmental and biking lobbies in the city.
Posted by Social Butterfly, a resident of the Green Acres neighborhood, on Feb 21, 2013 at 4:03 am
Ah, back when he was hired to do the photographing, the buzz word was "GREEN"..."KEEP PALO ALTO GREEN"...."GREEN WASTE"..GREEN THIS- AND GREEN- THAT... Yup, Palo Alto, bite the bullet now...
As I see it, if and when Palo Alto ever retains what originally was to be for the public good, the items shall be shelved to be gawked at in possibly the years 2090 or so as a reference to how our town looked in 2008...Not a complete loss. History has a place for everything and this is one example.....
Posted by anonymous, a resident of the Duveneck/St. Francis neighborhood, on Feb 21, 2013 at 9:02 am
This morning KTVU Channel 2 News did a story on this. I didn't see it, but the theme they pitched for the news story appeared to be that besides not receiving what was due, the price had gone up!! I hope this isn't the case.
Mr. Recycle is hilarious...and I agree with his views.
Posted by Sandy, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Feb 21, 2013 at 9:41 am
Here we go again - another waste of our money for something the stupid City should have followed up on during the course of the contract. So we have no art that we paid for. Really! I feel that the City should be audited - every inch of it - to see what other monies are being wasted.
Posted by Cedric de La Beaujardiere, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Feb 21, 2013 at 1:29 pm Cedric de La Beaujardiere is a member (registered user) of Palo Alto Online
@Sandy, actually we DO have the art (Web Link), what we don't have is the database of images to be integrated into the city's GIS. I just reported, to the artist and his technical help, the bug from the website which I described in my posting above. The site used to work fully and I saved copies of properties I was interested in.
Posted by Not an issue, a resident of the Community Center neighborhood, on Feb 21, 2013 at 4:01 pm
Cedric-- read Diana diamonds article in today's paper. I think it is, IMHO, a fairly accurate summary of this fiasco. I am not sure why you are making excuses for the (con) artist, other than this is the kind of touchy feely project tht you and your ilk love ( with money never being an object)
Posted by Mike, a resident of the Crescent Park neighborhood, on Feb 21, 2013 at 6:58 pm
Maybe there is still time to solicit his help to create an artistic treatment for the proposed gym the city wants to build by the Baylands while they are redoing the golf course and building new paying fields and....
Posted by duh, a resident of the Crescent Park neighborhood, on Feb 21, 2013 at 10:14 pm
This was one of the dumbest 'art' projects funded by the city, the digital egg and a few others are neck and neck in that contest.
Clearly, the art commission who lavished funds for this project has no clue about mixing colors. It is a forgone conclusion that when you mix enough earth tone colors colors up, the color of many homes, you end up with some muddy green-brown color, and low and behold, that is exactly what this 'artist' concluded after the city squandered thousands of our tax dollars on this stupid project.
The city has no business wasting our tax dollars on this ****, please stop.
Posted by Cedric de La Beaujardiere, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Feb 22, 2013 at 2:12 am Cedric de La Beaujardiere is a member (registered user) of Palo Alto Online
Several people have mentioned that the city could have just used Google Street View, which today would be a great idea, but they forget that Street View didn't even exist yet at the time that this project was undertaken.
According to the article, the art project payments were made from 2003 - 2006, and it was on display between 2007 - 2008. Google Street View was first introduced on May 25, 2007 (Web Link), and of course even then took time to be rolled out all over. It is unclear when Palo Alto first got it, but it certainly didn't exist at the time that the city thought it would be a good idea to link photos of houses to their GIS system.
So, $35K for such a database (not to mention the art itself), when no such thing existed at the time, yeah, I'd say that was a good use of money. I'll bet you that Google has spent more than that to create and maintain just Palo Alto's portion of Street View.
I just tonight distinctly remembered that Street View didn't exist at the time of the project, because I had then been contemplating a rebuild of a house my parents owned. I had walked all around the block, taking a photo of each house, with the aim of mounting them like billboards within the CAD program, so as to get a sense of how my design would fit within the neighborhood. Shortly after, I heard about the Color of Palo Alto project, talked to the artist, and learned of the plans to integrate the photos to the city's GIS. I was struck that we'd both had this good idea, and I think I even offered him my help. It was clearly a good idea, given Google's great success with Street View and its immense popularity.
Posted by Marrol, a resident of the Embarcadero Oaks/Leland neighborhood, on Feb 22, 2013 at 9:01 am
Cedric, with all due respect, I find it difficult to justify and agree that this public art project "was a good use of money" as you put it. Not when the city is incapable of balancing the budget for many years running. Not when deep cuts have been made in public safety. And not when vital infrastructure needs remain unfunded at the projected tune of 50 million dollars.
Our city leaders have ignored these critical issues for many years now. The problem is not going away. In my opinion they look frivolous, out of touch, and irresponsible when they spend even a second mulling over non-essential, feel good, niche projects such as these. It's precisely that mentality that got us into this financial mess, and it's exactly what's going to keep us mired in it if our city leaders fail to set and follow through with some sound financial priorities.
Posted by noartist, a resident of the Downtown North neighborhood, on Feb 23, 2013 at 11:53 am
Never seen any work of public art as wasteful and incompetent as that brown eyesore plastered on City Hall (to name another eyesore). I can't believe it cost $75K. We need public art, but we need oversight by a group of experienced and committed artists, and we need it to cost a whole lot less. What a scam and what a scammer.
Posted by lazlo, a resident of the Palo Alto Hills neighborhood, on Feb 23, 2013 at 4:43 pm
The total cost for this misuse of city funds is actually closer to or exceeding $300,000. The $75,000 only covered the "artist fee" and not the construction of the Plaza Shed (which was abandoned/condemed and removed at considerable city expense after several years and taken to the dump), the scooter bought by the city and never returned by the "artist", the horrific art piece covering the front of City Hall and eventually taken to the dump, attorney fees, city staff time, etc... The "artist" costs were actually to be much less but the city council and Mayor Klein , who authorized additional public funds, were swindled after the project turned into a cash cow for the "artist". If one ever wonders why the city has continuing deficit budgets, it is because of city council sponsered projects like this and the blatant authorization and misuse of public funds.
Posted by Mark Weiss, a resident of the Downtown North neighborhood, on Mar 6, 2013 at 5:35 pm
The relative value of public art is debatable, but let's keep in mind our budget here is about $50,000 of $150,000,000, or around a dollar per capita. While I generally hate corporate-creep into civic affairs, in this case I think the sponsor who underwrote the second phase was acceptable; Sam Yates shed' both mocks and honors the famous site at 467 Addison.
This story does a disservice to the case. See the follow up or watch this 30 minute excerpt from the Feb. 21 PAPAC meeting.
The gist of the matter is that the artist's contract says he has copyright and now we are trying to negotiate a licensing agreement for use of the photos he owns, something that was discussed but never agreed to. That members of PAHA and PAST complain is really looking a gift horse in the mouth, to say the least. (i.e. he finished the project long ago but has been working pro bono to add this bonus feature but not being nice enough fast enough for those two people whose squeaky wheels provoked the recent discussion).
I like the piece and to the extent that it is or was temporary, abstract, and process-oriented, at least it gets it beyond the fate of the sculptural work that one of the comment-makes abhors.
Posted by Mark Weiss, a resident of the Downtown North neighborhood, on Mar 20, 2013 at 5:57 pm
"Artist was paid $75,000 by city for public installation but hasn't completed work"
I would state further that the headline or sub-head (generally not written by reporters, in this case Eric Van Susteren, or I mean not him) is inaccurate in at least two ways and possibly libelous. That the follow-up story was slightly more accurate (although still incendiary and biased), and that the Weekly's error is based on mis-statements in the staff report do not excuse the matter.
1) The project was budgeted, all in, for $75,000 but only $68,000 was spent.
2) Yates' fee or stipend was closer to $15,000 not the whole $75,000.
3) He did complete the work, per his contract. It's a debatable point or currently under negotiation the terms of us licensing the database from him, or how quickly we expect him to work (pro bono) to get that data or property ready. (That the PAST member made the same false accusations in her letter is another matter, separate from what the community expects from a newspaper).
Libel is defined as false, defamatory and harmful statements in writing based on things provably true. I'm not sure whether Sam Yates being a artist is the same as the Sullivan V. New York Times doctrine for public figures in which to be libeled by the Weekly the paper would have to show a reckless disregard for the truth ("actual malice"), and not just these three errors of fact.
It seems that the $7,000 due is a bonus that was promised to Yates either orally or in writing by Linda Craighead of staff; the figure represents that Yates was able to get things donated or discounted and did not spend all the money; it came in under-budget and he was promised that money, the surplus.
I don't think staff's suggestion to withhold the money is best-practice. We should make good and hope Yates continues to do likewise.
There should be an update on this at Thursday's PAPAC meeting, I hope to attend and may speak along these lines.
(I haven't studied journalism since my undergrad days, but I do wonder if newspapers are liable for the truth in the comments section by readers -- maybe they should delete the ones or at least annote them, the ones that are mis-statements of fact: for instance, Carl Yeats is NOT related to Sam Yates, despite what one poster seems to believe...imho)