When 16 artists painted the words "Black Lives Matter" along Hamilton Avenue, in front of Palo Alto City Hall, on June 30, the act was intended to engage the community in conversation about race and signal the city's commitment to equity and inclusion.
Since then, the City Council has advanced with its plans to revise police use-of-force policies, the Human Relations Commission has moved ahead with developing a history of the city's Black community and the Public Art Commission engaged the artists involved in the mural in a conversation about the artwork.
Now, the city is moving ahead with a plan to replace the mural with a more lasting statement. On Tuesday, Public Works crews removed the colorful letters off of Hamilton Avenue. According to an update that City Manager Ed Shikada provided earlier this month, the city is decommissioning the mural "due to the anticipated shift in weather and concerns over public safety and traffic impacts."
"This allows the City to schedule the road work needed by an experienced crew in advance of seasonal rainy weather," Shikada's Nov. 2 report states. "Staff also expects an increase in traffic as more business activities are allowed locally with the relaxing of COVID-19 restrictions set by the State Public Health Officer and Santa Clara County Public Health Officer."
The report notes that the mural was intended to be a temporary installation. The city had initially planned to decommission the mural by September, or by the end of the year as the mural faded, according to the report.
The City Council approved the new mural on June 15 as part of its multipronged response to nationwide protests in the aftermath of George Floyd's killing by a police officer in Minnesota. The Public Art Commission followed suit by inviting 16 artists to each paint a letter of the mural, which stretched along Hamilton Avenue, between Ramona and Bryant streets.
The mural stoked some controversy after a lobbying group called National Police Association criticized the depiction of Joanne Chesimard, better known as Assata Shakur, in the second "E" in the mural. Chesimard is a civil rights activist and member of Black Liberation Army who escaped to Cuba after being convicted of killing a New Jersey state trooper in 1977.
In August, the council agreed that it's time for the city to shift its focus toward permanent art at the plaza in front of City Hall, which is named after civil rights leaders Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King.
"We rushed to do it as a temporary art. It came out great, really served its purpose," Vice Mayor Tom DuBois said at the Aug. 25 meeting. "The purpose was to show our solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement and to pull our community together — the residents, the police force and really everybody. It was unfortunate that art can also be divisive and parts of it were divisive."
"We really don't have anything on King Plaza that honors the Kings," he said. "I'd support permanent artwork on King Plaza itself."
The rest of the council agreed and directed the Public Art Commission on Nov. 2 to develop agreed a permanent art installation at King Plaza to recognize the city's priorities on race and equity.