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There’s an important distinction to Mayor Jerry Sanders’ plan to suspend paying for public art “at a time when our public safety goals cannot be adequately funded.”

Stopping the biggest art project included in that proposed suspension, the new central library, would have no bearing on the city’s public safety goals. None of the money planned for it comes from the city’s day-to-day operating fund. It’s not the city’s money to divert.

But the library’s public art price tags added heft to a plan showing the city wasn’t frittering away money on art while the city crumbles. The library’s art comprises about half of the $1.6 million savings included in the mayor’s plan.

The total approximate cost for the public art to be woven into the new central library is $830,000. Of that, about $130,000 has already been spent, said Dana Springs, the city’s public art program manager. The San Diego Public Library Foundation is responsible for the remaining $700,000, part of the nearly $30 million they have left to raise for the project.

A Mayor’s Office representative said the library was included in a list of suspensions for 15 projects because the mayor wanted to come up with a consistent approach to city spending on public art.

“There’s a number of different considerations, and we didn’t want to start treating each project differently based on what funding comes from what source,” said Ed Plank, the mayor’s liaison to the City Council.

But the memo does make some distinctions about where the money comes from. It says the proposed suspension applies to city-funded projects, and that public art projects funded by the Redevelopment Agency would be allowed to continue.

The memo does include a note that the library project “does not involve funding from the General Fund” and recommends pausing the public art until either the end of fiscal year 2012 or the fundraising goal is met, whichever comes first.

Mel Katz is helping spearhead the project for the Library Foundation. He hasn’t heard from the Mayor’s Office on this proposal, he said.

He did not welcome the mayor’s proposal as some kind of reprieve from raising the $700,000 factored in for the public art.

“To me, our thermometer is going to reach the very top. And it’s going to reach the very top with that $700,000,” Katz told me yesterday.

Library boosters still need to raise $32.5 million by next January. As of yesterday, they’ve got $2.7 million under their belt, Katz said.

My colleague Liam Dillon compiled a breakdown of the library costs and the fundraising progress last month.

The question about whose money would be saved under this proposed spending freeze came up when City Council members on a budget committee heard the proposal last week.

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

Kelly Bennett

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

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