SOLANA BEACH — Public art can be a hot-button topic and a piece proposed for installation in front of the fire station on Lomas Santa Fe Drive proved to be no different.
With lukewarm community support, council members at the Jan. 24 meeting unanimously approved “Fire Wall,” but agreed the sculpture should be modified to address concerns.
The piece by local artist Betsy Schulz, who teamed with Van Dyke Landscape Architects, was one of nine submitted in response to a request for qualifications/proposals released in April 2016. The list was later narrowed to three finalists.
As proposed, “Fire Wall” will be 9 to 11 feet tall, 4 feet wide and about 1 to 2 feet deep on a 1- to 2-foot concrete base.
It will feature chunks of red, yellow and other fire-colored glass arranged into a mosaic behind metal mesh and be internally lit by LED lights.
The landscaping plan, which was a requirement of the RFQ/P, will replace the existing turf with drought-tolerant, native plants.
Based on community input, the sculpture will be made larger, as will possibly the base, and its location could be slightly modified to avoid pine needles from nearby trees collecting inside the mesh.
During a 45-day public review that began Dec. 1, 2017, the city received 24 comments. Nine supported the project, four didn’t and the others liked the piece but had concerns.
Most said it was too small for the area, maintenance could be problematic and it could distract drivers in the already dangerous intersection.
Some who submitted comments also spoke at the meeting and shared additional concerns.
“I am not an artist. I do not have a background in art but I do have an opinion,” resident Mary Jane Boyd said. “I think that the full amount of money should go into the art project and the amount of money for landscaping should come from another budget.
“Betsy is an extremely talented artist and I think she should be given a budget that would create the proper size for this … and not try to skimp on the amount of money,” Boyd added.
Naomi Nussbaum, an art consultant and one of the first members of the city’s Public Arts Commission, said she found the RFQ/P “terribly confusing and very, very unclear.”
She said she admires Schulz’s work and loves the piece, but it is not appropriate for the site. She said a sculpture in that location should be dynamic and welcoming with a more organic feel.
“Start completely all over … and rethink RFP process,” Nussbaum said.
Irene de Watteville, also an artist and former PAC member, said it should be bolder and not an invitation for climbing.
“This piece is not strong enough for there,” she said. “Something needs to be boom when you drive by and see it.”
She said the city should increase the $70,000 budget and issue a new RFQ/P.
Nellie High, also a PAC member, agreed.
“Betsy was very constrained with the budget,” she said. “This was a very challenging thing because it was not clear what we were asking for. … I hope we can rethink it and ask again … for artists.”
Schulz said she appreciates the input and agreed she could do more with a bigger budget.
“I do think they have very good comments,” she said. “I want to make sure that whatever’s on that site is the best possible solution for everybody here. I wouldn’t feel comfortable working on something that people weren’t really satisfied (with).
“I do think it should be more 3-D and more budget would accomplish that,” she added. “I want to do the best thing because I love Solana Beach. … I’m here for whatever works.”
She also said power washing “Fire Wall” will not be a problem and changing the interior lights, which should be long-lasting, will not be difficult because of the system she is using.
Councilman Mike Nichols, a landscape architect, agreed the art piece could be bigger but didn’t support reissuing the RFQ/P.
“The RFQ was very clear in my opinion,” he said. “I like this a lot. … I think it can only be made better with more money. It’s just a matter of finding that money.”
Council agreed to add another $10,000 to $15,000 to the budget to address some of the concerns because enlarging the piece will require more money.
Public art projects are funded by the transient occupancy tax. There is currently $153,680 in the reserve account, although some of the money is needed for other projects.
“Art is so subjective,” Mayor Ginger Marshall said. “You’re never going to get 100 percent approval or rejection.
“To me it’s a very unique piece,” she added. “The fact that it is sort of fire and water by the fire station makes it unique and hopefully the additional monies in the budget can just make it that much bigger and better.”