110119 Espinoza mural public art

Passersby look at a mural titled “Nuestro Corazón,” or “Our Hearts,” created by artist Ruben Espinoza on the wall of a building at 601 W. Main St. in Santa Maria on Nov. 1. The Santa Maria City Council on Tuesday will consider adopting a public art master plan and establishing a special city fund for public art.

The Santa Maria City Council on Tuesday will consider approving a master public art plan and the creation of a city art fund, two years after a similar plan stalled due to objections from local developers. 

Work on the master plan, which establishes guidelines for the development of new art in the city, was started more than four years ago by the Recreation and Parks Department. 

The plan aims to encourage the development of art in the city, build a sense of neighborhood and community pride, beautify the city’s public spaces, encourage a more walkable city and create opportunities for local and regional artists. 

In October 2017, the City Council considered a similar plan but declined to adopt it over concerns about the funding source for the city art fund. 

At the time, the Planning Commission’s recommended fee structure called for a half-percent fee on all building permits. 

Instead, council members asked that a special committee made up of representatives of local arts organizations, developers and government officials be formed to analyze and refine the plan. 

The new fee structure recommended by the committee calls for: 

  • a quarter-percent of development costs from municipal projects to be contributed to the city art fund;
  • developers to provide an art project with a minimum value of $1,000 for permits valued between $50,000 and $400,000 or, alternatively, pay a quarter-percent of development costs into the city art fund;
  • all other development projects to devote at least a quarter-percent of development costs up to $2 million toward the acquisition and installation of public art on the development site;
  • in lieu of establishing art at the development site, any developer also could choose to pay a quarter-percent of development costs into the city art fund.

The city art fund would serve as a funding source for projects like memorials, historical monuments, murals, sculptures, mosaics and other artwork.

As of Monday, two people had submitted letters in support of adopting the plan.

Corby Kilmer, a transportation art coordinator with the California Department of Transportation, and the board of directors for Coastal Voices Community Choir both wrote to encourage the council to adopt the plan, touting the importance of public art for enriching a community.

Letters opposing the plan came from the Santa Maria Valley Chamber of Commerce and land use consultant and Urban Planning Concepts CEO Laurie Tamura, who is often hired by local developers to guide projects through city review.

Tamura said the fees as proposed would be more onerous to developers than the fees charged by other nearby cities for the development of public art. 

Chamber CEO Glenn Morris wrote to the council expressing concern that the proposed plan would introduce more barriers to the construction of much-needed housing projects. 

A successful public art program could be financed through grants and voluntary contributions, Morris said. 

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Razi Syed covers Santa Maria City Government for Lee Central Coast Newspapers.  Follow him on Twitter @razisyed