SOLANA BEACH — With a rare split vote at the April 8 meeting, City Council approved the installation of a controversial piece of art at the entrance to Fletcher Cove Park.
Where to install a seagull sculpture donated by residents Peter House and Carol Childs was first discussed at length during the Feb. 25 meeting. Councilmen Tom Campbell and Joe Kellejian agreed with a recommendation from staff and the Public Arts Advisory Commission, or PAAC, to place the piece at the Fletcher Cove entrance.
Mayor Mike Nichols and Councilwoman Lesa Heebner liked the sculpture but not the location. Councilman Dave Roberts said he couldn’t make an informed decision because he believed photographs that were presented with the gull superimposed at the site were not to scale.
So on March 10, the 400-pound bird with its 6-foot wingspan was brought to the proposed location and installed on a 10-foot pole. The demonstration confirmed Roberts’ assertion that the enhanced photos were disproportionate.
“It was a good thing to go look at it,” Roberts said. “Seeing it I realized it did fit the location.”
Roberts made a motion at the April 8 meeting to install the piece at the Fletcher Cove entrance. Heebner then offered an alternate motion to have the arts commission reconsider the original suggestion to place the sculpture at Fletcher Cove Community Center.
“I feel really strongly about this because I really don’t feel that the PAAC was given the right direction,” said Heebner, who went back and watched the video from the March 26, 2008, meeting when the gull was accepted into the city’s art collection.
“What it basically said is that we’re supposed to be handing this to the PAAC to look at the community center as a location,” she said. “Not only was that clear at the time but we switched the subcommittee.”
The item was originally assigned to the council’s Public Arts Committee, but it was almost immediately reassigned to the ad hoc Fletcher Cove Community Center Committee, which at the time included Heebner and Campbell.
Heebner said when she and Campbell looked at the Fletcher Cove entrance as a possible location for the gull, Campbell described it as “OK, too,” but she opposed it. At that point, Heebner said, the community center was no longer considered an option.
She said a sentence in the April 8 staff report stating the ad hoc subcommittee “recommended a location near the entrance to Fletcher Cove Park” is not accurate, and she asked that it be corrected, but it never was.
“I feel … the process has been not followed properly as it’s been outlined, and I really believe that this should go back to the PAAC to consider what we had originally stated, which was to look at the community center for locating this piece of art,” Heebner said.
The minutes of the 2008 meeting state, “Council discussed support for the donation, considering placement at the community center on Fletcher Cove, and asking the Public Arts Advisory Commission to review and recommend a location.”
With a motion and a second on the floor at the April 8 meeting, the city attorney said council was obligated to vote before considering Heebner’s alternate motion unless Roberts agreed to withdraw his motion. Roberts called for what was ultimately a 3-2 vote, with Heebner and Nichols opposed.
After reviewing the municipal code, Heebner said the council could have considered her alternate motion first.
“We shouldn’t have voted,” she said.
Roberts, who represented the deciding vote, said although he values Heebner’s opinion, he would not have supported her alternate motion had council voted on it first.
“Artwork needs to fit its surroundings,” Roberts said. “I think it blends in and enhances the park. I didn’t want to lose the opportunity to place this piece of art.” Roberts said he also had concerns about installing the gull at the community center because of bluff erosion issues at the site.
Although there were no speakers at the meeting, there was no shortage of public opinion. About 70 residents provided input during an extended review period last summer. Nearly 60 percent of the comments were negative.
“It’s really a shame,” Heebner said. “It divided the community.”
Heebner said although the issue “has been a source of great frustration” for her, she likely will not pursue it further.