An abstract, vertical fountain designed by local artist Michael Szabo will replace the aged fountain at the end of California Avenue, the Palo Alto Public Art Commission decided by a 5-1 vote Thursday night.
The decision went against an online opinion poll in which a traditional design was favored by Palo Alto residents who voted, by 130 votes to 208.
Commission members voted for the more sculptural Szabo proposal, with commissioner Michael Smit dissenting and Nancy Coleman absent.
Speaking during the oral-communications period of the meeting prior to the vote, former Mayor Jack Morton urged commissioners to trust their own expertise in making the decision at their meeting.
"It's your artistic sense the Council appointed you to use. ... Trust your artistic sense, trust yourself. It's not entirely a popularity contest," he said.
Earlier estimates showed the design proposed by artists Jennifer Madden and Jeffrey Reed, which would reuse material and design elements from the existing fountain, would cost more than $10,000 less than the Szabo fountain.
However, Art Commission Manager Elise DeMarzo said that when taking the necessity of creating a new water basin into consideration, which the Szabo design included in its budget where the Madden and Reed proposal did not, the projected costs of the two fountains were roughly equivalent, around $40,000 each. The project has a $50,000 limit.
Commissioner Ally Richter added that funding for the fountain project comes out of the $185,000 that was raised by a previous art commission to fund the (ultimately rejected) Bruce Beasley fountain proposed for the site.
Because the Szabo fountain will cost under $50,000, "the remaining funds allows the Commission to apply an additional $100,000 of those funds toward art installations for the Mitchell Park Library art proposals," she said.
With the costs of the Szabo and Madden Reed fountain designs being roughly equal, she said, the decision came down to a choice between the contemporary and the traditional. Richter, an engineer, also voiced concern that the Madden and Reed design was not structurally sound.
"I have more confidence in that design," she said of the Szabo fountain.
Despite the Madden and Reed proposal winning the most votes in an online advisory poll this week, commissioners said it was the comments on the Szabo design that struck them as most insightful and enthusiastic.
Commissioner Trish Collins said the Szabo piece would make a "great statement" for the city and be an iconic piece of art for the community, calling it "intelligent, intriguing, interesting."
In the sole dissenting vote, Commissioner Michael Smit said he felt the more traditional design would be the best fit for the area.
Commissioner Douglass Brown, who said he had leaned toward the Madden and Reed proposal prior to the meeting, said after the discussion he was convinced the Szabo piece would "serve a better purpose for Palo Alto in the future."
No timeline for the project has yet been set. The entire fountain plaza will be redesigned to be ADA compliant, DeMarzo said. The plaza and fountain redesigns will be one of several planned changes to California Avenue by the city.