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City, 'Color of Palo Alto' artist may be close to a deal

Original post made on Feb 22, 2013

The city and Sam Yates, the creator of "The Color of Palo Alto" art project, may be close to reaching an agreement on the delivery of a database of 120,000 photos that Yates took of 17,860 Palo Alto properties, nearly five years after it was originally presented to the city.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Friday, February 22, 2013, 9:58 AM

Comments (23)

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Posted by Kate
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 22, 2013 at 10:13 am

Who was the mayor and the city council at the time this waste of money was approved?
Who was the city manager? OUR money means nothing to City Hall. $$$$ here, $$$$ there. PA Weekly, please post these names. And the money waste continues.

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Posted by neighbor
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 22, 2013 at 10:37 am

"reaching an agreement.."
Surely, there already was an agreement (the contract) and this guy is in breach of it.

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Posted by Rage
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Feb 22, 2013 at 11:04 am

$65000 to install photos???

Are you *****//? #$/ kidding me?!!

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Posted by Bill
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 22, 2013 at 11:09 am

Does the city realize there's this service called Google street view - i really don't think we need this database and the City certainly should spend 1 more dime on this project

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Posted by moi
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 22, 2013 at 11:18 am

Obviously, Andy Kaufman never died.

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Posted by Marrol
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Feb 22, 2013 at 12:00 pm

And forever to be a symbol of an epic failure of fiscal irresponsibility on the part of our city leaders and elected officials. Do they have any idea how idiotic and irresponsible they look when they squander public funds in this manner? We face ongoing budget deficits, are seemingly incapable of funding our vital civic needs, but let's spin our wheels planning and spending on public art, bike bridges, new playgrounds, commercial district make-overs, and gold course renovations. Unreal.

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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 22, 2013 at 12:33 pm

I like art and I don't mind art being innovative or quirky at times. But, our city has no idea of art. This is not art - even digital art. There is no way that any money should be spent on something as intangible as this.

If we want art, we need to be able to walk down the street or into a venue to see it displayed. I am not sure of the "legal" definition of art, but this does not come anywhere near what I perceive as art.

I didn't like it when it was on the city hall windows and I don't like it now. I don't like the cost and I don't like the underhandedness of the whole procedure.

Waste of money, big time.

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Posted by Cynthia
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 22, 2013 at 12:57 pm

Who were the people that approved this project to begin with? I'd like names. Their names should be published in the local newspapers. What a waste of taxpayers money.

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Posted by Who approved it?
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Feb 22, 2013 at 1:32 pm

Who approved this project? good question. Our city website makes it almost impossible to find 2003 documents. Best I could find are the names of some 2003 council members:
Mayor Dena Mossar, Vice Mayor Bern Beecham, Vic Ojakian, Jim Burch, Yoriko Kishimoto, Judy Kleinberg.
I cannot find any minutes or documents. Can anyone find more?
In 2009 Mayor Drekmeier issued a Proclamation thanking Mr Yates.The final paragraph of the Proclamation:
NOW, THEREFORE, I, Peter Drekmeier, Mayor of the City of Palo Alto, on behalf of the City Council do hereby proclaim that "The Color of Palo Alto" is either the Mode of Means (HSV 139, 74, 60), Mean of Means (HSV 106, 46, 46), Mean of Modes (HSV 108, 52, 37), or Mode of Modes (HSV 201, 100, 100), being the various averages of these 341,171,215,872 points of color data gathered by the artist from every parcel in Palo Alto.
Presented: December 14, 2009

Peter Drekmeier

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Posted by neighbor
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 22, 2013 at 2:57 pm

Someone let it slide - someone in the city who was supposed to have oversight of this project/contract. Who was that? - There seems to be little accountability for such oddball projects, and I likewise add to the chorus of refusing one more penny or concession to this dude.

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Posted by Not an issue
a resident of Community Center
on Feb 22, 2013 at 5:00 pm

Our city council routinely issues proclamations regardless of the circumstances. It is another feel good measure our council loves. Plus I am sure peter made no effort to see if this accolade was deserved.

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Posted by Bad Decisions
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 22, 2013 at 5:12 pm

What you folks don't seem to understand is that this was not the City Administration who wanted "The Color of Palo Alto", it was the Art Commission who recommended it, and was paid for through the Art Commission's budget.

I think it's time to disband the Art Commission or at the very least withdraw it's annual budget.

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Posted by I know
a resident of another community
on Feb 22, 2013 at 5:42 pm

This 'project' would have never existed if it were not for the fact that this artist's brother was the City's Finance Director during the time this absurd 'project' was approved by Council. Carl Yates helped to push this project through. Why else would Palo Alto even have been approached by this artist? He actually squatted on City Hall Plaza for a year or more in this absurd structure built on top of the round planter box near the entrance to City Hall. It did however, have solar was the end of the gravy train in PA. Just after this debacle, Yates retired, along with a few other old guard types and the economy went down the tubes, and for once, the City had to be accountable for their spending! What a nice story, huh? It's true-fact check it.

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Posted by I Know
a resident of another community
on Feb 22, 2013 at 6:11 pm

Here is a link to some initial reactions five years ago...very similar.
Web Link

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Posted by Janet
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 22, 2013 at 9:05 pm

The Palo Alto Art Commission has done damage to this city, both financially and aesthetically. I agree that the commission should be disbanded or its budget taken away.

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Posted by Cedric de La Beaujardiere
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 24, 2013 at 2:02 am

Cedric de La Beaujardiere is a registered user.

In the prior thread on this topic, several people 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 prior article (Web Link) , 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. Some of the thinking of its utility was that, for instance, if a fire station were responding to a fire, they could look up the photo, see that it's a two story house, and know they should roll out a ladder truck to rescue people upstairs.

I don't know how much the art project, purely as art, was worth, I'm not in the business of producing, procuring, or pricing art. As a point of reference, the planned water fountain for Cal Ave was budgeted at $50K, down from an earlier piece proposed at $185K (Web Link), though of course the fountain is more permanent and physically substantial. I always liked The Color of Palo Alto, feeling it was neat artistically and technically, and everyone to whom I showed the exhibit on the face of City Hall also liked it and had fun looking up their houses and spotting them with the telescope.

(The combination of all colors is not necessarily brown, by the way. That would be true for combining all your paint colors, but colors of light are additive and if evenly distributed should tend towards white.)

It could not have cost $65K to install, given $75K total, $10K for the artist to live off of, and the costs for the work space (a neat artistic piece in itself), the computer, the scooter, and electricity.

However one prices the monetary value of the art itself, there was also the value of the 120,000 photos of all Palo Alto properties to be integrated with the city's GIS, at a time when Google Street View didn't exist yet, photos spanning on the order of 500 miles of street frontage (Web Link). Given all of the above, and the combination of art and utility, I imagine the art commission figured they were getting a good deal for $35K.

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Posted by Cedric de La Beaujardiere
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 24, 2013 at 11:54 am

Cedric de La Beaujardiere is a registered user.

On the resultant color, the colors, whether pigments or light, were not added together, they were averaged, so the result would be neither brown (via pigments) nor white (via light), but simply the average, which turns out is not so simple as there are so many mathematical ways to calculating what a layman would call "average". The standardly-conceived of average is the arithmetic mean: the sum of all the values divided by the count of all the values, which was calculated by the project. It also calculated the mode: the value that appears most often in a set of data. See Web Link for a list of many other types of means that can be calculated.

The artist calculated the means and modes of each parcel and then had each parcel contribute its value to the calculation of the city as a whole (and also neighborhoods, streets, seasons, etc.). So the resultant "mode of means", "mean of means" and "mean of modes" were all shades of green, for which we can perhaps thank the high value we place on trees, and Canopy for helping plant and establish them. To see the color, click on "Vote" at Web Link

On the payment, of $35K over 3-4 years, that's $10K/year, a pretty small amount in the larger scheme of things. Somehow the artist lived off of either $10K or $30K depending on the quotes from the article. So most of that money would have gone back into our local economy in the form of restaurants, groceries, and supplies, so whatever percentage the city gets from sales tax would have come back to it. Plus, each dollar spent in a locally-owned business has been studied to recirculate 7 times through the local economy, with 45% of it eventually staying local, vs 15% staying local when spent at a non-locally-owned business (Some of the research summarized here Web Link but not done by these people). So you can think of the art commissions spending as local stimulus spending.

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Posted by Who approved it?
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Feb 24, 2013 at 3:39 pm

The idea of averaging colors is so dumb, it boggles the mind. A mathematician dabbling in a field he does not understand.
If the fashion was to have white houses with black trim, would the average be a gray? So what? No one would want gray. Dumb, dumb.

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Posted by palo alto mom
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Feb 24, 2013 at 4:10 pm

Why are we paying for art? Have a contest, solicit donations of art, have it underwritten by a philanthropist....

There is NO need to pay for art in Palo Alto.

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Posted by Deep Throat
a resident of another community
on Feb 25, 2013 at 4:37 pm

"This 'project' would have never existed if it were not for the fact that this artist's brother was the City's Finance Director during the time this absurd 'project' was approved by Council. Carl Yates helped to push this project through."

Did city employee Carl Yates change his name to Yeats? Or did artist Sam Yeats change his name to Yates? Are they brothers because their last names sound alike?

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Posted by Michelle
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Feb 28, 2013 at 10:49 pm

What a waste of money! So now we know Palo Alto is somewhere between green and brown. Is this a surprise and who cares?

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Posted by Mark Weiss
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 4, 2013 at 10:01 pm

Maybe rather than hassling or defaming the starving artist to get our $7,000-worth, we should claim that we and Samuel Yates invented what became "Google Street View" and dun that $270 Billion corporation for our fair share...The "neoliberal" mindset keeps saying government should act like a business but what they really do is kowtow to corporate power and treat the average citizens or Democratic ideals like so many little blots of ink or data points and blah blah blah blah blah

I wrote another 2,000 words on this on my blog:
Web Link

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Posted by Gloria Humble
a resident of Menlo Park
on Jul 1, 2013 at 2:47 pm

Consider this, the Color of Palo Alto project was one of 4 temporary installations on the Plaza. None of the other 3 are being debated... because there was nothing special or valuable to Palo Alto about them--nothing to debate. In those 3 cases, the artist plopped his work on the plaza then took it away--maybe kept it, maybe sold it to somebody else--nobody cares because none of them were custom designed and executed for Palo Alto and there was nothing of them or about them worth fighting for.

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