By a 6-1 vote, the City Council today approved the mayor’s proposed suspension of a policy requiring spending money on public art for city building projects through the end of the 2012 budget year.

Suspending the policy, which obliges the city to set aside 2 percent of a project’s construction costs for art, won’t save any money directly from the city’s day-to-day operating budget and will not help balance its books for the upcoming year, said Tom Haynes, an analyst with the city’s independent budget analyst.

But Haynes and mayoral staff told the council that about $634,000 set aside for art could possibly be spent on other infrastructure projects like fixing streets and sidewalks or finishing fire stations.

Councilman Carl DeMaio supported the plan, but said it didn’t go far enough because it makes exceptions for some projects already underway.

“Funding public art at the level that we’re funding it right now is simply not defensible” at a time when the city has to make major budget cuts, he said.

Councilman Todd Gloria was the only one to oppose the suspension, saying the proposal doesn’t help solve the city’s pressing budget problems like proposed cuts to library hours.

“Ostensibly we’re here because we have a budget issue, but we’re not solving that today with this action,” he said.

And the suspension conflicts with the council’s goal of creating jobs, he said.

“I think oftentimes people have ideas of folks in helmets and hardhats and that kind of thing, but I also, in my district, see a lot of people who earn a living with paintbrushes and with sculpture,” Gloria said. “And those people deserve work, too.”

Gloria said Hillcrest residents weren’t going to be happy that a city project to overhaul a fire station at 9th and University avenues now wouldn’t include art and wouldn’t be pretty.

“Mr. Gloria says his residents want to see a pretty fire station,” DeMaio said. “Well, the prettiest fire station is an open fire station.”

In approving the mayor’s proposal, the council didn’t exclude the central library’s art, which is supposed to be paid for with $700,000 in private donations and thus wouldn’t be the city’s to save or divert. The council did ask the city’s Commission for Arts and Culture to reexamine the policy that requires the city to set aside money from city building projects for public art.

Kelly Bennett is the arts editor for VOSD. You can reach her directly at or 619.325.0531. Or you can keep up with her on Twitter @kellyrbennett or on Facebook.

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

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