Mayor Jerry Sanders has painted his proposed suspension of city spending on public art in stark terms: At a time when the city face deep cuts in public safety, it shouldn’t spend money on art.

But suspending the program for this budget year and the next might not necessarily mean the city can just take the money it would use for sculptures and artwork and apply all of it to its day-to-day budget shortfall.

That question and others bubbled up in a budget meeting Wednesday when the city’s chief operating officer, Jay Goldstone, brought a proposal to suspend 15 projects. The proposal marked the first details the mayor has released publicly since announcing in September he wanted to halt the program.

The three City Council members in the Budget and Finance Committee meeting directed Goldstone and the Mayor’s Office to answer a few questions before they bring the proposal before the full City Council:

What money would actually be saved, and from what pots? The Mayor’s Office proposal identified how much total money could be saved through suspending city public art projects. But that doesn’t necessarily reflect money the city could turn around and spend on public safety or other day-to-day expenses, because the project budgets might include funds that have restricted uses. That means the savings to the city’s overall operating budget might be different than the savings the proposal identifies.

“So given the variety of sources, it’s not necessarily guaranteed that suspending this program is going to do anything to put another firefighter on the street or another police officer on the beat,” said Councilman Todd Gloria in Wednesday’s meeting.

The committee asked for a breakdown of the actual savings to the city’s day-to-day operations budget. The committee also wants the Arts and Culture Commission to review on the public art policy.

(Watch video of this discussion by going to item 7.)

Other impacts of cutting public art from projects? Councilwoman Sherri Lightner asked whether the suspension would knock any of the construction projects out of compliance with the city’s contracting requirements for hiring women- and minority-owned firms.

Impact to budget for central library? Because the company building the new central library has committed to doing so for a fixed price, Councilman Carl DeMaio wondered whether waiving the public art requirement would allow the contractor to do less work but get the same amount of money. A representative from the City Attorney’s Office in the meeting said the city could potentially negotiate a lower total price with the contractor because the scope of the project would change if it no longer had to build and install the public art that’s been planned.

Which made me wonder: What is the public art that’s been planned for the new central library?

I’ll have more in another post.

I’m the arts editor for VOSD. You can contact me directly at or 619.325.0531 and follow me on Twitter: @kellyrbennett.

Kelly Bennett is a former staff writer for Voice of San Diego.

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