Solana Beach art policy stirs up controversy

SOLANA BEACH — “Public art, by its nature, will always be controversial.” So, too, can be the policy that governs its selection. City Council discovered that during the Dec. 9 meeting, when members attempted to once again revise the city’s master art policy, which includes the opening quote.
The document was created to enhance Solana Beach’s identity as an artistic community and distinguish the city as a destination for public art. In September 2007, City Council revised the policy to recommend guidelines for funding and acquiring public art and clarify its definition.
After using the revised guidelines to process two public art projects — including the gull sculpture for the entrance at Fletcher Cover Park — city officials learned the policy required additional clarifications.
Art projects, whether purchased or donated, must now be reviewed by the Public Arts Advisory Committee, which will make recommendations to City Council, which will have final say on acceptance of any public artwork. The policy differs slightly for donated art if a specific site for placement of the piece is requested.
All projects are subject to a 45-day public review period. Residents had requested anonymity when making comments during that time. City Manager David Ott said confidentiality would ensure no “undue influence within the process,” while Councilman Mike Nichols said it would allow residents to provide honest comments.
“There’s a proposal under consideration right now, and there were people from the public who didn’t feel comfortable commenting negatively because they knew … the person that was involved with the art,” Nichols said.
But following a discussion prompted by Councilman Tom Campbell, who said he had “some real difficulties with that,” council learned anonymity cannot be guaranteed. Johanna Canlas, the city attorney, said names must be disclosed within 10 days of a Public Records Act request, even if the request is made during the 45-day review period.
Canlas said residents can submit comments anonymously, but in other cities, they generally carry less weight in the review process.
Council directed staff to present the item again at a future meeting with additional changes and clarifications, including those that govern memorials. Residents may comment on the policy at that time.
The art policy can be viewed on the Web site at www.ci.solana-beach.ca.us.

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