WATSONVILLE—Watsonville City Council on Tuesday approved a $200 fee for community initiated public art on privately owned commercial property.
The fee will be used to defray the cost of city staff preparing reports on proposed public art for presentation to the Parks & Recreation Commission, which has final say on art allowed in public spaces.
The fee does not guarantee the project’s approval.
It was passed 4-3 with Mayor Francisco Estrada, Mayor Pro-Tem Rebecca Garcia and councilman Felipe Hernandez dissenting.
Supporters of the fee said the City does not have the money to fund art on commercial spaces, and saw it as a typical “cost of doing business” for property owners looking to hire artists.
But critics said that cost would be taken out of the artist’s pocket and limit the type of artists that would be able to showcase their work.
“I think the $200 fee is a barrier,” Hernandez said. “At best it’ll limit the art in our community and at worst it’ll whitewash the art in our community.”
The fee has been a hotly-debated topic of discussion for the Council, Commission and artist community over the last few months.
The Council passed the guidelines for Phase 1 of the Public Art Program, which laid out the rules for community initiated public art on private commercial spaces, but sent the processing fee to the Commission for a recommendation.
The fee initially came to the Commission in early August but was tabled for further discussion.
The Commission reconvened in mid-September but the topic was pushed again to Oct. 7 after commissioner Paul De Worken recused himself, causing a lack of quorum.
De Worken, a local artist and muralist, said he talked to a representative from the California Fair Political Practices Commission before the meeting earlier this month, who told him he did not need to recuse himself from the discussion or vote.
He joined the other commissioners in unanimously recommending the Council turn down the fee.
“We want to make sure this application is open and equally opportunistic for everybody of all ages,” De Worken said at Tuesday night’s meeting. “That’s what’s written in these chambers. Opportunity through diversity. Unity through cooperation.”
Phase 2 of the plan will come to the Council at a future date. That phase will determine how the City will treat public art projects that are fully or partially funded by the City.
Parks & Community Services Director Nick Calubaquib said through that phase the City will make a push to support local artists with funding and outreach.
“As we get into Phase 2 we’ll talk more about funding and especially the way that the city helps to financially support art in the county,” Calubaquib said. “We as a city can play a larger part in working together with our local art organizations to move that forward.”
About a half-dozen artists asked the Council to nix the fee. Some said it is already tough to find business owners willing to invest money into public art projects, and that it would further bottleneck the amount of art in the city. Others said the City should be working closer with local artists to transform areas of the city through art.
“I love going to San Francisco and hitting up Mission Street because I feel so connected to it,” said Gabe Medina, a local filmmaker and senior program manager for Digital Nest. “We really have a chance to make Watsonville an amazing, vibrant and beautiful place by investing in local art.”