Percent for art program moves forward

Policy and Services Committee voices both support and concern about public art in private development

A program that would require private developers to contribute one percent of construction costs to public art won the unanimous support of a city committee Tuesday night, though members also expressed concerns about the program's complexity.

The percent for art in private development requirement would apply to any new commercial development that is more than 10,000 square feet and costs $200,000 or more. Developers can commission a piece of on-site art or choose to pay an in-lieu fee, which is pooled in a public art fund meant to support larger art projects.

"I love the whole idea," said Councilmember Liz Kniss during Tuesday's Policy and Services Committee meeting. But, she said, "I don't want to in any way not acknowledge the complexity of moving into this particular area."

Other council members echoed this sentiment about the program, which won a 4-0 vote, raising questions in particular about the program's in-lieu option.

Councilmember Gail Price spoke to the need for having larger, more impactful public art in Palo Alto, which ideally the in-lieu avenue would support.

"I think one of the things that many cities suffer from, especially smaller cities, is sometimes the artwork tends to suffer from punyism," she said. "And because of the diminutive nature of some of these art pieces, they really aren't making the kinds of statements that may be appropriate."

But having a pool of in-lieu funds also means saddling the city with the difficult choice of selecting larger, more visible artwork that will almost certainly not please all Palo Altans.

Kniss cited a piece of Palo Alto public art history to make this point: "Foreign Friends," a wooden sculpture installed at the corner of Embarcadero Road and Waverley Street in 1989. The 11-foot piece -- a gift from Palo Alto's Swedish sister city, Linkoping --depicted a couple sitting together on a bench, a blue street lamp behind them and a small dog at their feet. Some deemed the statue endearingly picturesque; others, a total eyesore. The couple was vandalized in various ways -- twice beheaded -- and eventually relocated.

"My point being … art and its acceptance and so forth is always going to be judged," Kniss said. "It's in the eye of the beholder."

This also applies to private developers commissioning on-site art, which they can choose to do on their own or with city assistance. Councilmember Karen Holman said with developers desiring a broad definition of art, she's more supportive of the in-lieu option.

"It's a delicate dance," she said of defining what is and isn't art. "I don't want to preclude the other opportunity (privately commissioned artworks), but I think it's challenging. I think it's very challenging."

The Committee also approved an amendment to the staff report, eliminating an incentive option that would lower developers' contributions from one to 0.95 percent if they chose the in-lieu route. A 0.05 percent break was deemed too small an incentive by the Committee.

Though council members also discussed the possibility of asking developers to chip in more or less than one percent -- many other cities, such as Santa Monica and Sacramento, require a two percent contribution -- the Committee recommended to keep the status quo at one percent.

Price also recommended that staff look at various transit authorities' art programs, such as the Metropolitan Transportation Authority in New York City or the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority. Though different animals, examining their processes could prove helpful moving forward, she said.

The City Council will consider the committee's recommendations this fall or winter, with the hope of staff implementing and embarking on a community engagement process in 2014.


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Posted by 35 year resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 9, 2013 at 11:21 am

The problem with this is the art itself. Who chooses this stuff? I realize that art is totally subjective, but c'mon, some of the "art" around town is plain junk.

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Posted by bwdsongs
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 9, 2013 at 11:34 am

This ordinance doesn't go far enough. The money raised from a percent for the arts should go for more than just public art but for school based arts programs and performances as well. Palo Alto sits in the shadow of Stanford where for the first time in their history, real progress is being made in expanding their dollar commitment to the arts. Palo Alto should follow suit.

Public art funding is essential and the percent for the arts is just the beginning. I encourage all Palo Alto staff and elected officials to support this effort.

Bruce Davis

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Posted by Gethin
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 9, 2013 at 1:50 pm

Is there any estimate out there on how much this 1% will generate?

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Posted by neighbor
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 9, 2013 at 3:53 pm

A nice idea. However, much of the art/sculpture that has been chosen in the past leaves quite a bit to be desired. The suggestion of funding arts in the schools is spot on; it would help to encourage art creation and appreciation at an early age. Alternatively, parks and open spaces within the city might benefit. My personal choice would be to require these builders to use this money creating green space around their buildings, rather than having walls right up to the sidewalks.

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Posted by wrong approach
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 9, 2013 at 5:51 pm

The focus is wrong here to start with. If the goal is to beautify the
City then the City first needs to look at what it is doing in terms of sign
clutter,street markings,sign control,approval of out-of-scale, ugly and
poorly designed buildings. All of this "ugliness" now defines Palo Alto
and its streetscapes and overwhelms, dwarfs any public art program in
its impact.

The City's public art program and art incorporated in private
development as part of PC's has been a failure. The Go Mama sculpture
is proof that the process for selecting art is deeply flawed. So until
the process is completely revamped no more money should be made available
because the results are likely to produce more ugliness in Palo Alto on
top of what we are already getting.

The City needs to rethink everything it is doing. The results make that abundantly clear.

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Posted by Moronic
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 9, 2013 at 7:33 pm

This is absolutely the least intelligent, most corrupt, most unreasonable city council we have had in the 25 years that. I have lived here! They have no common sense and no sense of priorities. Vote them ALL out!

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Posted by SuperD
a resident of Community Center
on Oct 10, 2013 at 5:26 pm

35 Year Resident, there are regular public meetings at City Hall where citizens can express their comments on proposed public art projects. Feel free to attend and comment.

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Posted by JQPublic
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 11, 2013 at 5:46 am

The 1% is a sop to marginal artists, plain and simple. Who doubts an arts committee will direct it to their pals?

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Posted by sunshine
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 16, 2013 at 9:47 am

Why force developers to pay for public art? Placements on California Ave are terrible. Instead of forcing developers to waste money on public art, move things such as Go Mama, the giant corkscrew, and the redesigned fountain that was actually voted down by residents to other sites such as Rinconada Park or downtown. California Ave still needs a new fountain, but we want one like what the original one--a basic fountain type, bowl with water cascading into it.
Instead of more bad art, insist that developers put that money into more on site parking, better landscaping, ending the sheer walls right at sidewalk edge, and at least 5% of any downtown or business area site provided as low income housing.

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Posted by Let us vote
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 16, 2013 at 10:49 am

The public does not trust the decisions made by the city. Someone suggested putting 3 possible items up for the public to vote on. Leave them out for 2 or 3 months. Then have an online ballot.
This would draw public attention to the art and avoid some of the bad decisions made by the Art Commission. Alas, poor California Avenue.

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Posted by Public Decision
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 16, 2013 at 11:14 am

Let us Vote is right....the Palo Alto public is the decision maker here, or should be. We are the ones who have to look at it and endure criticism for the city's poor choices.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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