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December 8, 2019
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City sets guidelines for public art

WATSONVILLE — The Watsonville City Council on Tuesday unanimously approved guidelines for murals and other public art, but rejected the idea of a $200 application processing fee.

The city council instead gave the Parks and Recreation Commission the power to determine the specifics of the application fee. Everything from the final price to what the proceeds of the fee will be used for will be up to the commission.

Commissioner Paul De Worken, who could not attend Tuesday’s council meeting but followed along online, said the decision was a win for both artists and the city.

“I’m pretty happy about that because it gives us a chance to really talk about what goes up in Watsonville,” said De Worken, the owner of Monterey Bay Murals who has multiple artworks plastered around the city. “The more public input on projects the better.”

Councilwoman Trina Coffman-Gomez first proposed a motion to send both the guidelines and application fee back to the Parks and Recreation Commission for further input, but the council voted down that motion after City Manager Matt Huffaker suggested they push forward the guidelines to help streamline the creation of “Watsonville Brillante,” a $1.5 million mosaic from local artist Kathleen Crocetti that will cover the six-story garage attached to the Civic Plaza. 

“We do have a large project on this building that’s moving forward, and having a more clear and transparent process for collecting input would be helpful,” Huffaker said. 

The guidelines, officially called the Public Art Program Community Initiated Public Art Guidelines, sets a new structure for the approval of art projects in the city. Anyone looking to create a mural would have to submit an application to Parks and Community Services, and then the Parks and Recreation Commission would serve as the approving body.

Any appeals to decisions from the commission would be sent to the city council.

The guidelines will be implemented in two phases. The first phase will cover community initiated public art projects, and the second would cover art projects initiated by the City.

“I think it would be good for us to take one step back and allow our Parks and Recreation Commission to give input on this, and give an opportunity for our community to give input, to have a say,” said councilman Aurelio Gonzalez.

Watsonville has not had an approving body for art projects since 2012, according to city staff. 

Whenever De Worken wanted to create a public piece of art he said he would go door-to-door to each businesses surrounding a proposed area, ask each business or resident for permission and get a letter of approval for City records.

The process was informal, but the simplicity allowed murals to move quickly and transform some areas of Watsonville, De Worken said.

“This might take a little longer, but we’ll get more input on what the people think is right,” De Worken said. “I think that’s important.”

The fee, however, was a point of contention for all council members, one of which used a curse word in shock when city staff said the fee would apply to all public art no matter the size.

“It’s pretty steep, especially for artists,” De Worken said. “That’s a lot of money. That’s a lot of cans and bottles.”

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