Last Tuesday, City Council voted to fully fund repairs for “Chain Reaction” — the controversial sculpture in the Santa Monica Civic Center that looks like an atomic mushroom cloud made out of chains.
My hat is off ‚Äî way off ‚Äî to Robert Holbrook, the only councilperson with enough sense to vote against the give-away of close to a half million dollars in taxpayer money to restore the politically themed piece and install a landscaped barrier around its base to prevent children from climbing on it.
City Council had given preservationists a year to raise the estimated $400,000 needed for engineering and structural work to rebuild the 20-year old sculpture designed by noted Los Angeles Times political cartoonist, the late Paul Conrad. Supporters struggled to raise a little over $100,000 ‚Äî far short of the amount needed for engineering and repair.
This newspaper reported last Thursday, that “between the newly approved $75,000 in testing, the $80,000 previously spent on repairs and testing, and the estimated costs, City Hall stands to spend between $255,000 and $455,000 on total maintenance after the public‚Äôs donations.” (“City Council agrees to save ‚ÄòChain Reaction,‚Äô” Feb. 26, 2014, Pg. 1).
Councilwoman Gleam Davis told preservationists, “We threw down a challenge and you met the challenge. The community outpouring for it shows that it‚Äôs well-loved.” Come again? A handful of supporters including Conrad‚Äôs son David could only raise one hundred grand or a quarter of what was needed?
In my book, they fell way short of “meeting the challenge.” And while I realize it‚Äôs anecdotal, most people I know and have talked to hate the sculpture and think it should be relegated to a landfill or, to be more politically correct, recycled.
When City Hall was offered the 26-foot-tall, anti-nuclear sculpture in 1991, it generated much controversy. A public poll came in 730-392 against the work. Nevertheless, then as now, politicians ignored the public and gave their blessings to the piece.
Despite numerous statements from City Hall honchos that municipal money was not available and preservation funding would have to come from private sources, City Manager Rod Gould reversed course in December and signaled that City Hall would ante-up for repair costs not covered by private sources.
I guess that means the city of Santa Monica is in great fiscal shape despite rumors of pending multi-million-dollar deficits due to increased payroll, retirement and benefit costs.
Of course, there‚Äôll be no need for any new tax measures (such as a possible increase in the property transfer tax) or fee increases on services because if City Hall has enough cash to pour down a “Chain Reaction” rat hole, it doesn‚Äôt need to raise taxes or fees.
Or, look at it this way, a quarter to a half-million bucks is a lot of money that could have been used to encourage local artists and develop meaningful art projects. Pity it‚Äôs being wasted on this.
I also think the Landmarks Commission seriously erred when they declared this 20-year-old work a “landmark” in July of 2012. Two decades is not an adequate test of time. But, I think the Landmarks Commission errors in many of its designations.
It‚Äôs also interesting to note that when it comes to public art, Santa Monica usually trips, stumbles and falls on its face. Who could forget the “Solar Web” that art supporters envisioned for the beach near the Venice borderline?
In addition to being an “interactive jungle gym,” the piece by the late Nancy Holt was also designed to mark the summer and winter solstices ‚Äî an original concept, no doubt.
The $270,000 sculpture would be made from black steel pipe. It was 16 feet tall, 52 feet wide and 72 feet long and unlike “Chain Reaction,” people could climb on this sculpture.
The concept for “Solar Web” was approved by City Council in May of 1989.
Despite heavy support from the arts community, “Solar Web” was reviled and ridiculed by many in the community. The Recreation and Parks Commission unanimously rejected placement of “Solar Web” on the proposed beach site. Commissioners said that open space on the beach should be reserved for recreational use ‚Äî not a sculpture garden.
The debate raged on and on over the years, City Council finally reconsidered. On Sept. 28, 1999, they vetoed “Solar Web.” and ended a 15-year controversy.
Sign, sign, sign
There‚Äôs one week left to sign the Residocracy.org referendum petition. It would recall City Council‚Äôs recent approval of the development agreement for the massive Bergamot Transit Village ‚Äî a 766,000-square-foot mixed-use, traffic generating development proposed for 26th Street and Olympic Boulevard.
Between 6,100 and 6,500 valid registered Santa Monica voter signatures are needed by March 12.
If the petition is successful, City Council will be required by law to repeal the Bergamot development agreement or to place it on the ballot for the November election and let Santa Monica voters decide whether the development will be built as presented. It will also send a strong message about who is really in charge.
Petitioners I‚Äôve talked to are optimistic they‚Äôll collect more than enough valid signatures, but the heavy weekend rains didn‚Äôt make the process any easier. Time is growing short and every signature counts.
If you haven‚Äôt signed or you want to grab a petition and collect signatures from your neighbors, drop by the Coldwell-Banker offices at 1608 Montana Ave. during normal business hours. Or, call Kate Bransfeld at (310) 395-1133 for information and go online at Residocracy.org
Bill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.