Mayor’s Public Art Cuts Not Yet Public

Mayor Jerry Sanders said recently he wants the city to stop funding public art projects. His spokesman, Alex Roth, told me then that city Chief Operating Officer Jay Goldstone would be compiling a list over a couple of weeks of what projects would be affected and how much money it would save.

It’d had been two weeks so I checked in with Roth.

“We’re essentially at the same place we were a couple weeks ago,” he told me today. Goldstone is going through the projects in the pipeline to figure out what money’s already been spent and what will be spent, Roth said.

The Mayor’s Office is still at least “a few weeks” away from announcing which projects are affected, he said.

I asked why the mayor is even suggesting this cut if it’s so unclear how many projects would be affected and how much money it would save the city. Roth said it’s not too soon to announce the cut, and it won’t be the only cut as the city confronts its money troubles.

“We need to save every penny,” he said. “We’re talking about a $72 million budget deficit.”

Initially, the mayor’s memo suggested cutting art on city building projects like fire stations and libraries. Here’s a list of that kind of public art projects that are currently underway.

What’s still unclear is whether these are the only projects that would be affected by the mayor’s suggested cut.

Eva Vargas, who lives in the southeastern San Diego neighborhood of Shelltown, got an email from the city about a week ago, cancelling a community meeting that had been scheduled to discuss the public art for a new park, Southcrest Trails Park, which is supposed to open in three years.

The email linked to my blog post on the mayor’s announcement, and said, “Until these proposed changes are resolved, the status of our public art projects remains in a state of suspension.”

I hadn’t known about the park before, but Vargas filled in a few of the details for me. You can read an overview of the park saga in the call the city put out for artists to submit ideas for the area.

Nutshell version: About 40 years ago, the state started condemning and piecing together parcels of land to build a freeway along Chollas Creek. The residents of Southcrest got together, fought against and defeated the freeway.

The land fell to the city, 16 years after the state had begun to gather the parcels. But that transfer from the state to the city happened “only after seizing and destroying 280 homes, leaving a 66‐acre scar through the center of Southcrest” and leaving that corridor where the freeway was supposed to go “decimated, blighted, non‐productive real estate and a major obstacle to the area’s revitalization,” according to the city’s call for artists.

(This document has a few pictures of the park location.)

Now that the park is underway, after years of sitting as a dumping ground, Vargas is worried about anything that would stall the construction of any piece of it — even the public art.

“We fought to have the city put a park in this area and we finally won, we got our park,” Vargas said.

“I’m afraid that if [the mayor] can change his mind about this policy, sometime down the line he’s going to change his mind about the park.”

Bonus coverage: My colleague Adrian Florido talked to Vargas for this post about three new murals in Shelltown.

Please contact Kelly Bennett directly at kelly.bennett@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.325.0531 and follow her on Twitter: @kellyrbennett.

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Kelly Bennett

Kelly Bennett

Kelly Bennett is a freelance contributor to Voice of San Diego. You can reach her directly at kelly@vosd.org.

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