SOLANA BEACH — A proposal to turn the stump of a dead Torrey pine tree along the Coastal Rail Trail into a piece of art failed to take root at the Oct. 14 meeting.
The consensus among council members was to deny approval of the project primarily because it wasn’t going to cost the city any money.
“I have a problem with the donated art aspect (of) it,” said Councilman Dave Zito, who serves as a liaison to the Public Arts Commission. “I would much prefer if we felt this was a place … for really great art … we should invest in that.
“We should say we’re going to go out for a bid and … spend some real dollars and do something awesome here and skip the whole donation part because I think that just puts everybody in a weird spot,” he added.
Councilman Mike Nichols, his colleague on the PAC, agreed, recalling a similar controversy in 2009 when two Solana Beach residents offered to donate the gull sculpture now installed at Fletcher Cove.
“Donated art is a problem because people have a hard time saying no,” Nichols said. “I’m kind of surprised we’re here talking about this because in my memory … at the time (of the gull sculpture) it was like OK, we’re not doing donated art anymore.”
The Seaweeders gardening group, which is part of the Solana Beach Civic and Historical Society, offered to pay local woodcarving artist Tim Richards to transform the stump into an art piece that “reflects the unique local coastal marine life,” the staff report states.
Richards, who has done similar work in Encinitas and Del Mar, created a sketch of a pelican with fish and kelp. As required for all public art, the design was presented to the Public Arts Commission, which unanimously approved the project on June 23.
The tree stump proposal was available for a 30-day public review that ended Aug. 11, although the city’s master art policy states that “all proposals shall be subject to a minimum 45-day public review period.”
The city received 32 comments, 21 of which supported the project. Another 10 did not, and one resident requested more information.
After the review period ended additional concerns were raised about whether the process for public art had been followed. City staff met with Nichols and Zito, who shared those concerns, as well as the problems associated with donated art.
Staff then met with representative of the Seaweeders, who asked for a full council review.
Sandy Parish, the Seaweeders president, said her group met with the city manager to ensure the proper procedure was followed.
Those who support the structure said it will “fit in beautifully with” and “be a fantastic addition to” the Coastal Rail Trail.
Stan Bergum described it as a “very creative project which suits” Solana Beach. Allie Dixon said it will be “a piece of art that celebrates the natural beauty of our coastal environment.”
Residents such as Victoria Cypherd, Kelly Harless and Bridget Augusta opposed the project and asked council members to plant another tree, which would provide much-needed shade in the area.
They also said they did not care for the carving, calling it “amateurish” with an “awkward, ungraceful shape.” Others described it as “out-of-character” and “not a good fit” for the trail.
“I don’t think replacing a shade tree with a stark, rough looking carving is a good solution,” Jewel Edson wrote.
“It’s not special enough for the rail trail,” resident Gerri Retman said. “Plant the tree in the spot where the original tree was and call it a day.”
There was also some disagreement about whether permanent art is allowed on the Coastal Rail Trail.
According to the master art policy, “accepted artwork shall be a permanent, fixed asset to the property.” Regardless, Parish said, the carving would likely deteriorate in 10 years or less so it should be considered temporary art.
“Six or seven years is not temporary enough,” Mayor Lesa Heebner said, adding that she also opposed the project because “we’ve had a problem with (donated art) in the past” and the piece “is not up to the quality that we aspire to.”
While admittedly “not a huge fan of stump art,” Councilwoman Ginger Marshall said she would support the proposal because more people spoke in favor of it than against it.
“I could live with it … knowing that it would be gone in six to eight years,” she said.
The city’s master art policy notes that public art, “by its nature will always be controversial.”
“It is essential to understand that success in this pursuit will almost always be accompanied by those who complain, just as when the City of Florence, Italy, displayed Michelangelo’s David for the first time,” the policy states. “There will always be those who object to the subject matter, medium, media, and location; however, as in Florence, public art is and will be an important component of a vital, diverse, and successful community.”
It also states that proposals may be submitted by “those who wish to loan or donate art” and includes a section on donated art.
Council members agreed to discuss updating the policy at a future meeting.