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Tuesday, March 26 , 2019, 2:18 am | Fair 48º

 
 
 
 

Santa Maria Public Art Plan Sparks Mixed Reviews

Planning Commission OKs proposal with funding tied to building permit fees, which developers oppose

The Santa Maria City Hall sculpture “Mother and Son” is one example of public art that city officials hope to spread throughout the community. Click to view larger
The Santa Maria City Hall sculpture “Mother and Son” is one example of public art that city officials hope to spread throughout the community. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

Public art could become plentiful in the city of Santa Maria under a plan making its way through the approval process, but the program's funding method, tied to building permits, sparked concern from the development community.

The Santa Maria Planning Commission voted 3-1 to recommend the City Council approve the Public Art Master Plan, with Commissioner Tom Lopez opposed. The fifth commissioner, Tim Seifert, abstained due to a possible conflict of interest.

“I believe the time is right and the time is now for bringing art to our community,” Chairman Robert Dickerson said. 

In the works for two years, the plan has eight goals to boost public art in the community, according to Dennis Smitherman from the Recreation and Parks Department.

“Public art really means works of art installed in the public right of way where the public has access to view,” Smitherman said, ticking off the lengthy example such as sculptures, paintings, photos, sand sculptures, graphics, mosaic tiles and even landscaping with topiaries or waterfalls. 

“Overall all we do not have a lot of city-owned public art,” Smitherman said, noting an interactive map on the city website that spells out locations and details.

The city also launched a program to turn ugly utility boxes into art canvases with five done and many more available to be painted.

For municipal construction projects, the plan would require 1 percent of the cost represented in public art, while anyone taking out a building permit would have to pay a .5-percent fee toward public art. If a developer chooses not to install the art, another option would be paying an art-in-lieu fee. 

Glenn Morris, CEO of the Santa Maria Valley Chamber of Commerce, applauded the plan’s goal but said he had concerns about the funding method.

Santa Maria Planning Commission Chairman Robert Dickerson and Commissioner Maribel Hernandez voted in favor of the Santa Maria Public Arts Master Plan. Click to view larger
Santa Maria Planning Commission Chairman Robert Dickerson and Commissioner Maribel Hernandez voted in favor of the Santa Maria Public Arts Master Plan. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

“That truly is the fatal flaw,” he said, suggesting a nonprofit arts consortium would be more appropriate than putting the burden on one subsection of the community.

Jeff Eckles, executive director of the Home Builders Association of the Central Coast, said the funding plan would have “severe and dire unintended economic consequences” if residential and commercial developers have to pay the fee.

“It is no secret that we are in the midst of a housing crisis throughout the state and here locally,” Eckles said. “Santa Maria has been known as one of the more affordable places to build. 

“By saddling new development with this fee you’re starting to chip away at that affordability and therein lies some of those negative economic consequences, the negative consequences, down the road.”

The arts fee costs would be passed along to the homebuyer, raising the price of entry-level homes, he added. 

Laurie Tamura, from Urban Planning Concepts, said the city of San Luis Obispo does not charge residential developers for public art. 

“This is an incomplete plan and I’m sorry to say, I am for the arts, I’m not for bureaucracy,” she said.

But several people spoke in favor of the plan in including Judy Garrett, who said she has lived in 10 communities in her 80 years.

The city of Santa Maria reccently launched a program to turn utility boxes into canvases for public art. The Public Art Master Plan would lead to more public art in the community, city officials said, but developers oppose the funding method. Click to view larger
The city of Santa Maria reccently launched a program to turn utility boxes into canvases for public art. The Public Art Master Plan would lead to more public art in the community, city officials said, but developers oppose the funding method. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

“I just think that communities that have visible public art are more pleasant places to live and more pleasant places to work,” she said. “And I think they probably do better economically.”

John Hood, Allan Hancock College Fine Arts Department chair, said public arts increases community pride, citing the changes seen in students, faculty and staff as the campus increased murals and sculptures.

“By adding public art to new and existing spaces, it sends a clear message that our community cares about culture and progress,” Hood said. 

Marti Fast, president of the Santa Maria Arts Council, said members unanimously support the program.

“Help us make Santa Maria a better place to live and grow up,” she said. 

Craig Shafer, a Santa Maria resident since 1979, also urged commissioners to say yes to art.

“This arts master plan will ensure that as the city grows and faces redevelopment, public art projects will become essential companion components of the cityscape,” Shafer said. 

Increased art will strengthen the local economy and attract visitors, he added.

“This is not a frill. Art enriches our lives in deep meaningful ways. Art is what defines us as being human beings.”

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

An art kiosk at the Santa Maria Town Center is one example of public art in the city. The Public Art Master Plan would help boost various types of art at public spaces. Click to view larger
An art kiosk at the Santa Maria Town Center is one example of public art in the city. The Public Art Master Plan would help boost various types of art at public spaces.  (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

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