Public art has become a flash point in San Diego, with budget hawks looking to suspend funding for 15 projects attached to city facilities. But it appears money for artwork at a new downtown fire station will be spared.
City policy requires that two-percent of a municipal construction project's budget go to public art. Facing another big budget deficit, Mayor Sanders wants the council to suspend the policy on grounds of looming fiscal shortfalls.
But there's an exception for redevelopment projects, including what's being called "The Ferrari of Firehouses".
"You have the 'Ferrari of Firehouses' while our neighborhoods have the Model T of basic services," says Councilman Carl DeMaio. "We need equity, a key priority in refining all our expenditures. It is simply not acceptable to be seeing these sorts of expenditures on this project."
The project in question: interactive public art costing $190,000 for the planned Bayside Fire Station, targeted for completion in 2013 on a small parcel along Pacific Highway in Little Italy, now occupied by Los Panchitos Mexican Seafood Cafe.
The station's entire price tag is upwards of $21 million.
But the budget for it comes out of redevelopment funds -- not city general funds.
So the mayor has excluded its artwork from a list of 15 other facilities whose public art funds, totaling $1.5 million, he wants suspended until mid-2012.
The family that owns and operates Los Panchitos, and sold the property to the city's redevelopment agency, is dubious about the public art expenditure.
"I don't think they should invest all that money; it's just a fire station, says Felipe Maldonado, a Los Panchitos staffer whose cousins own the cafe.
"They can put it somewhere else," Maldonado added. "How about streets, trees, the kids?"
In response to critics, public art advocate and Union Tribune Blogger Richard Gleaves sees the fire station art as emblematic of so many visual ventures that enhance the community not only for locals, but tourists.
"I've seen what public art can do, and I hope it can get done in San Diego," Gleaves said. "That is an investment. That's an investment in the experience of San Diego. It's going to have a monetary payoff."
City Arts and Culture Commissioners soon will have a say in all this, as the proposal to suspend the other facilities’ art budgets makes its way to the City Council.
Downtown advocates warn that unless the redevelopment money earmarked for the Bayside station art is spent, it could wind up being appropriated by 'Sacramento' to help close the state's budget deficit.