Town Square

Palo Alto to revamp public-art program

Original post made on Apr 9, 2013

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.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Tuesday, April 9, 2013, 8:50 AM


Posted by Strong-Arming-Developers-For-Public-Art-Is-Wrong!, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 9, 2013 at 9:26 am

This is just another example of how governments steal from the public--driving up construction costs, while providing nothing in return.

Wasn't it Greg Scharff that claimed "the building is the benefit", just a few months ago. So, why is he trying to strong arm developers for money to buy more crappy art.

Art's value is in the eye of the beholder. And it's pretty clear that no one on the City Council's of our collective past has had any sense of what good art is, much less great art.

Moreover, art is simply not in the purview of the essential services that Palo Alto should be spending its time being concerned. Public safety, infrastructure, and cost controls/municipal mergers and reorganizations are far more important as we go forward.

It's amazing that Greg Scharff seems to have plent of time addressing the lack of public art--while he has yet to acknowledge the lack of public safety. What a totally superficial individual. Let's hope that he finds himself voted off the Council at the next election--he certainly has proven himself to be less that meaningful as a Council memeber.

Posted by resident, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 9, 2013 at 10:04 am

We enjoy the public art. I think it makes drab business districts a lot more attractive to passersby. Lets face it, most buildings in Palo Alto are not architecture highlights. A side benefit is that many of the sculptures are on brick pedestals along the curb, so they protect pedestrians on the sidewalk from reckless drivers.

If you like exploring cities on foot, Google has a nice smartphone app for locating and learning about public art.

Posted by Elizabeth, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 9, 2013 at 10:26 am

Just what we need. More hideous, freaky, weird public art. Either fire the Art Commission and get new members that have taste, or, better yet, how about using the money to repair our infrastructure.
This is another example of how the City Council is out of touch with the desires of Palo Alto residents.

Posted by Green Bean, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 9, 2013 at 11:22 am

Please be careful....One person's "ART" is another person's clutter. A new building can be enhanced by artwork on or near it (as on Lytton Ave.) But our green parks don't need to be invaded by someone else's ego trip.

Posted by Green Bean, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 9, 2013 at 11:25 am

Please be careful...One person's "ART" is another person's clutter. A new building can be enhanced with art work when it is on ore near the building(as on Lytton Ave.) But our green parks don't need to be invaded by someone else's ego trip.

Posted by jerry99, a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 9, 2013 at 11:25 am

More wasted money. Stop the new development so we can find a parking place in downtown Palo Alto. I have to look at least 20 minutes for a parking place now because of all the new development and construction and development.

Posted by Green Bean, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 9, 2013 at 11:28 am

Finally I get to say that the most offensive public art for me is the running girl with a face on her belly on California Ave. I use my energy to get past her as fast as I can!

Posted by Kim S., a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 9, 2013 at 11:41 am

Maybe the "art" will detract from the New Urbanism springing up throughout the city.

Posted by Wasteful Art, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 9, 2013 at 11:44 am

The City has a lot of unplaced art stashed in the Municipal Yard, why don't they use that art first before buying a whole lot more?

Posted by palo alto parent, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Apr 9, 2013 at 12:09 pm

The kind of public "art" I would love to have in our City is made of smooth, black asphalt.

Posted by Fix the streets, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 9, 2013 at 12:17 pm

Please, fix the streets.

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 9, 2013 at 1:00 pm

I loved the Friends art which was vandalized several times.

We don't deserve art if we allow the good stuff to be vandalized and destroyed.

Art should move us emotionally and if it does that, then it has succeeded. But moving us to be vandals is not the intention.

Posted by Richard C. Placone, a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 9, 2013 at 1:27 pm

"....Palo Alto is a great city." Sorry, but I don't think so. Paris, London, Rome, Athens, even Istanbul are great cities, all of which I've toured and all of which have great and varied public art. As for requiring Stanford to provide 1% of its medical center expansion funds for this new art program (after the fact of the project's approval), Stanford already provides world class public art all over its campus. Indeed, to lend any credence at all to the mayor's hyperbole, it is Stanford's greatness that lends reflected glory to Palo Alto. Without Stanford, we would just be another South Peninsula town. I agree with other posters here who lobby for better infrastructure, a better balanced budget and improved general city services, before we dictate more public art from private developers. Further I suggest that any art purchased with public or private funds, meant for public display, be submitted to a public hearing and vote before it is installed.

Posted by Elizabeth, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 9, 2013 at 1:43 pm

As an artist, I appreciate the idea, but as usual, Palo Alto City Council is populated by fools.

Personally, I find that gliding down a smooth road, is a more artful experience than looking at the atrocities that these bozos refer to as art.

There is a time and a place and first we need to take care of that which we already have.

I cringe every time I drive north on Alma across the tracks and proceed on El Camino. That stretch of road seems like it hasn't been paved in the 35 years I've lived here. And it's just as bad heading south from Menlo Park into Palo Alto on El Camino. (might as well post a sign that says "Welcome to Palo Alto! Our city council only cares for their own personal agendas."

They'll happily repave short stretches of residential roads in front of incredibly affluent homes, but of course we know that's only a coincidence, right?

There are many other heavy transit roads (like Lytton) that are in equally poor shape.

It only took them, what? 18+ years to get around to paving the south end of Alma after resurfacing the north end.

Posted by Wasteful Art, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 9, 2013 at 2:02 pm

You have to live in North Palo Alto to get your roads resurfaced and your utility wires under grounded.

Posted by Gail, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 9, 2013 at 5:42 pm

Where would they place the "public art" that supposedly would be placed near commercial buildings? The new commercial buildings are built right up to the sidewalk. There isn't room for art!

Posted by common sense, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 9, 2013 at 5:46 pm

The city council should devote the 1% tax to infrastructure, not art. So much for a focus on infrastructure.

And if they change the comp plan to provide setbacks, instead of the "New Urbanism" approach to building design, they wouldn't need the art to hide the ugly buildings.

The council this year has focused on plastic bag bans, flying a rainbow flag, and now public art; no focus on infrastructure, parking problems or the armed robberies.

Posted by Not an issue, a resident of Community Center
on Apr 9, 2013 at 6:01 pm

Well said Mr Placone and common sense. Palo alto has delusions of grandeur, but in which greeat city cannotyou not shop for the essentials? If the Weekly wasn't in bed with the council, they would be reporting that the mayor, just a few weeks outlined what he planned to do this year and has instead focused on the foolishness described above.

Posted by More $ than sense, a resident of Greater Miranda
on Apr 9, 2013 at 6:50 pm

Is Stanford has to contribute to the art projects of Palo Alto, do they get to pick the art that gets installed? I should certainly hope so!

At the same time, after years of claiming poverty, if Palo Alto has the dough to waste on procuring art, why not prioritize first, and fix all that is broken? There is plenty of infrastructure in need of fixing. The streets and roads are an embarrassment!

I don't think it is fair to say that the Weekly is in bed with the city council. it would be more correct to say that the city council members, who are sworn to serve this community in its best interest, are in bed with the enemy. is that not a form of treason?
Gee, is treason still a capital offense?

Posted by anonymous, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 9, 2013 at 8:49 pm

The picture that accompanies the article shows a sculpture that always reminds me of a missile ready for launching.Happy indeed (not).
Can't we select something, anything more attractive and pls also avoid anything resembling the dreadful "Go Mama."

Posted by Mr.Recycle, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 9, 2013 at 9:26 pm

The public art in Palo Alto reeks of small town wannabe, and largely ugly and embarrassing. Spend the money on another park, or cop, or teacher.

Posted by delusional, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 9, 2013 at 9:27 pm

Placone and Common Sense have it right.

Much more fun for council members to talk about art and greatness than to do the mundane work the city needs: good roads, maintaining public buildings, new development that fits the city's character.

They're delusional in their grandiose estimation of the city.

Figuring out what to do about infrastructure (isn't that a priority, or was that only a priority for ex-mayor Yeh?) is too big a challenge. The only thing the council can propose is a bond to take more money from taxpayers.

I hope voters remember this art nonsense when the bond issue appears on the ballot.

Posted by Eric, a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Apr 9, 2013 at 10:17 pm

While I'm also not a big fan of many of the public art projects that are erected as part of local developments, just a minor correction to Elizabeth - I believe El Camino Real is maintained by Caltrans. (See the wikipedia page on California State Route 82.)

Posted by JQPublic, a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 10, 2013 at 7:01 am

I travel the world. The public "art" here is appallingly bad.

Spend the money on paving the streets instead.

Posted by Linda, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Apr 10, 2013 at 8:23 am

I would love to see more art in Palo Alto. But- not the art that has been chosen in the past.

Posted by Confused?????, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 10, 2013 at 11:58 am

The kind of art I like is colorful flowers and shady trees. Not only are they beautiful.. they freshen our air. Lets see the hunks of rusting metal art do that.

Posted by Sometime Art Lover, a resident of South of Midtown
on Apr 10, 2013 at 4:54 pm

I think that most people enjoy the whimsical murals painted on some buildings downtown. I think that most people dislike, or at least roll their eyes at, the abstract mental monstrosities that have been erected all over town. There seem to be a lot more of the latter types of art around town than the former.

I don't support a levy on developers for public art, but I might be more kindly disposed to such a tax if I thought it would be used more thoughtfully. How about mini-galleries of photographs or paintings in publicly-accessible lobbies in new buildings? How about pocket parks in new developments with small-scale pieces, maybe with artistically-constructed benches or tables? How about kid-friendly structures in the playground areas of our parks, like the bear that kids climb on (or used to) in Mitchell Park?

I am tired of "public art" expenditures that seem to be sinecures for artists who do nonrepresentational large-scale metal pieces who happen to have an "in" with someone on the Art Commission or have a good reputation among local academics. If you absolutely must require public art, at least be creative about it!!

Posted by Ken, a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Apr 10, 2013 at 9:47 pm

The city thinks 1% for 'art' in exchange for: over developed commercial and residential lots, no new parking, and increased traffic is a good deal. I think that just about says it all. Our leaders are far more concerned with appearances than trying to ensure new developments actually enhance the city, rather than encumber it with more of the same recurring problems; traffic, parking, and overly developed space via variances for just about everything developers propose.

I agree with other posters, 1% is good, but definitely NOT for art. The city's public art commission has decades of atrocious, awful, horrible public art to show for it's collective bad taste and poor judgement. Wall murals are just about the only exception. How about fixing some of the tired infrastructure the city was whining about just a few weeks ago, even asking for suggestions what to fix.

Nah, city officials posing with bad art trumps any worthwhile boring useful infrastructure project.

Posted by Jeff, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 11, 2013 at 6:57 am

The city is moving aggressively towards resolving the infrastructure back log. The city has dedicated a lot more money for infrastructure and our roads are improving and will continue to improve as the City implements its plan to fix our roads. The law doesn't allow the council to have 1 percent for infrastructure, 1 percent for public safety etc. The law allows 1pwrcent for art. I for one while disliking some of the public art choices like others. A thoughtful discussion on this topic would address the legitimate concerns about having attractive and aesthetically pleasing art rather than provocative pieces such as the contoversial Go Mama price on California Ave. The question should be how should we choose the art. Should the city council have to approve the art commissions choices so they are accountable. Should their be citizens not artists on the public art commission. Should their be an online survey before choosing a price of art?

Posted by common sense, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 11, 2013 at 7:34 am


The council can pass or put before the voters a 1% fee for developments for infrastructure if they wanted. And they could do this instead of voting for a 1% fee for "art".

The council is "moving aggresively to address infrastructure" by trying to manipulate the voters into approving a bond, so that they continue to fund their pet projects from the city budget. They are spending money on polls, election consultants, etc. money that could have gone for infrastructure.

Posted by Jeff, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 11, 2013 at 8:11 am

Actually, I am not sure the Voters could impose a 1 percent for infrastructure on new developments, but assuming they could it would have to be a two thirds majority. The Council committe on infrastructure is considering a variety of options rather than a bond. They are polling to determine what sort of infrastructure projects the voters will support. The need for a bond seems to be primarily driven by the need for a new public safety building. However if Jay Paul pays for a new public safety building there probably is no need for a new bond. Not sure what you mean by their pet projects? The Council over the last 4 years has cut over 12 million dollars on a structural basis out of the budget without reducing services and has put a sustained 4 year emphasis on fixing infrastructure. They have also tackled pensions and benefits in a thoughtful and sustained manner. Though I admit there is a lot more to be done.

Posted by Palo Altan, a resident of Greendell/Walnut Grove
on Apr 11, 2013 at 8:44 am

Palo Alto has a long track record in spending our tax dollars on hideous 'art'. Who ever had a say in the awful worm sculpture in Mitchell Park needs to stay away from such decisions. Fine public art would be a wonderful addition and a great legacy for our city. The mural with the poppies on California avenue, and the egg on University are the only two I can think of that add anything meaningful or attractive to their sites. It appears there is nobody in a position to make these decisions who has the slightest sense of taste. Please do no more. At least repairing a road doesn't usually create an eyesore.

Posted by Juno, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 11, 2013 at 4:13 pm

I agree with those who are unimpressed by Palo Alto's public art, some of which I find insulting, if not embarrassing. I cannot think of a piece of Palo Alto public art that I actually like; only some that are "not offensive," or have other aspects that make them more positive than negative (e.g., the poetry wall in Midtown that displays poetry from the community).

But the Public Art Commission made a terrible decision when it nixed the community-voted winner for the California Ave. fountain design and chose another more expensive modernistic design, forcing the Commission's tastes onto a community that had a long-held and sentimental tie to the traditional fountain design.

I don't oppose the general concept of public art, but Palo Alto does a very poor job. It doesn't enhance the community, just spends money in a mostly wasteful way. (Remember that the Color of Palo Alto was a public art project).

I think we'd do better without" a Public Art Commission. Instead, I'd rather have a real and rigorous "design review" of the larger new buildings that get built in Palo Alto. The ARB is mostly hands off on building design, it just tweaks applicant plans a little here and there. And site standards need to be revisited to get us off the "3 or 4-story vertical wall at the sidewalk" concepts that have been incorporated into the municipal code.

Unfortunately, I don't expect any meaningful changes in the near future. The most that will happen is that it will be "studied" until any strong opposition fades away.

Posted by Palo Altan, a resident of Greendell/Walnut Grove
on Apr 11, 2013 at 5:46 pm

Juno, I agree. I found out today that what I believe is the awful new design for the CA avenue fountain is also by the sculptor who made the worm in Mitchell Park. Since his website contains illustrations of some decent looking work, I can only wonder whether he despises Palo Alto and submits these designs here because he knows our decision makers have awful taste, or he dumps these duds on Palo Alto for some other reason. Why would someone with the talent and skill to make something attractive continue to provide us with bad art? The CA ave fountain design he made looks like a chandelier from Vegas in the 1970s.