SOLANA BEACH — A piece appropriately named “Fire Wall” was selected at the April 26 City Council meeting as the permanent public art that will be installed in front of the Solana Beach Fire Station on Lomas Santa Fe Drive.
“Our project is a combination of the art element … and an interpretive landscape that makes use of plant types and plant textures and colors to tell the story of the fire danger to structures and the built environment in the Southern California region,” said Mitch Fillippe, president of Van Dyke Landscape Architects Inc., which partnered with local artist Betsy Schulz on the design.
“Fire Wall” is a 10-foot-high weathering, corrosion-resistant steel wirework container, also called a gabion, filled with red, yellow and blue-green tumbled glass chunks.
Thick fused-glass panels will be integrated into the front of the wall frame and, if desired, backlit at night, to provide interactive elements representing fire danger levels. They will include images and words relating to fire danger.
The complementary landscaping will feature fire-retardant plants that “echo the theme, with various colorful succulents and perennials forming flames that dance and flicker in the background,” according to Van Dyke’s project description.
With the existing turf removed, the new plantings will provide opportunities for education and interpretive exhibits that demonstrate the dos and don’ts of landscape design for defensible space.
“We want to tell the story of how selective thinning of native plant material happens in the natural environment, such as on slopes, so that fires are less likely to engulf structures when there’s a wildfire,” Fillippe said.
A gentle slope with boulders for seating provides an informal gathering area for Fire Department demonstrations and presentations for schoolchildren and the general public.
The design could feature a small amphitheater, however, that would put the project $27,000 over the $70,000 budget.
Jane Morton, the only resident to address council during the presentation, said she had concerns that the piece might obstruct views.
Council members agreed.
“I like the colors,” Ginger Marshall said. “I just thought it seemed a little tall. … I would hate to see it impair traffic.”
“I don’t want us to install something too tall,” Jewel Edson added. “I’d like to see a little bit of visual demonstration.”
Schulz said she designed a solid feature because the existing poles and utility boxes create a lot of “visual noise.” She said she can lower the height of the wall and provide a mockup of the project before it goes out for a 45-day public review and comment period.
Because of its prominent location, the fire station was approved for a permanent, rather than temporary, art installation last year. There were nine responses to a request for proposals released in June 2016. However, one that many on the various committees liked did not include a landscape plan so it was deemed “nonresponsive,” City Manager Greg Wade said.
The RFP was “very specific in its request to submit a proposal that combined landscaping and art,” he said, noting that staff doesn’t have the discretion to allow bidders to resubmit after a deadline.
The Public Arts Commission narrowed its preferred choices to three, then ranked them. “Fire Wall” came out on top, with the final decision left to City Council.
“One of the hardest things we do up here is public art because everybody’s got an opinion about it,” Mayor Mike Nichols said, noting that while his preference was “Fire Wall,” he liked many of the other designs as well, including the art piece in the nonresponsive proposal.
“There are a lot of other temporary spots for art in this community that have been identified,” he said. “Those could end up somewhere else.
“I hope they don’t go away and they find their home somewhere,” he added. “This seems like the most logical one for this spot.”
But the decision, which wasn’t unanimous, still isn’t set in stone. Nichols said if, at the end of the 45-day public comment period, residents say “it’s crazy, we just stop and we start over.”
Councilwoman Judy Hegenauer abstained from the 4-0 vote.
“I drive by that corner a zillion times a day,” she said. “To me it shouted out for something simple and dramatic. … I would be in favor of starting over.”