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Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on October 11th, 2017, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 18, Issue 32 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 18, Issue 32

The art of funding

Santa Maria City Council sends Public Arts Master Plan back for revisions


One stipulation of the Public Art Master Plan would require developers to pay a percentage on building permit fees toward a fund for public art, or to install art on the property in view of the public, which some local developers have said would be an unnecessary burden.

The Santa Maria City Council is in agreement for the need of a public arts master plan. What council members cannot agree on is how to fund it.

“That’s what it really is about,” Councilmember Mike Cordero told the Sun. “It’s gotta be paid for. The trick is, who pays?”

On Oct. 3, council members weighed passing one of two ordinances to fund the public arts plan: The first would have established a one-half percent fee on all the city’s building permits and an additional 
1 percent fee on public works projects valued at more than $50,000, while the second would have solely targeted all building permits worth more than $50,000 with a one-quarter percent fee.

The latter option also included stipulations for permits valued at more than $400,000 to provide approved art projects on site within public view and a one-half percent fee on all public works projects more than $50,000—excluding right-of-ways or utility system work.

After nearly three hours of discussion, public comment, and deliberation, the City Council voted 4-1 to move the Public Art Master Plan to a committee consisting of one council member, two recreation and parks commissioners, two planning commissioners, and two business leaders.

The decision came as a disappointment to most of the 30-plus people in attendance hoping to see the passage of an ordinance adopting the plan. According to Santa Maria Management Analyst Dennis Smitherman, the plan’s current iteration has been in development for more than two years.

The plan comes at a time when the city is facing a $5 million annual structural deficit due to California’s Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS).

At the Oct. 3 meeting, several business developers and owners spoke against the proposed permit fees, arguing that they would stifle growth and curb profits.

“We pay enough,” Ernest Armenta told the council that night. “I think we give enough to the city as a property owner and a taxpayer. ... If you want art, you guys start funding it yourself. If [Director of Recreation and Parks Alexander] Posada doesn’t have the budget, then find the budget, make some cuts in his own department, and then he can fund the art program.”

Dan Blough, who owns a construction company in Santa Maria, also spoke against the building permit fees.

“My real problem is the way they are currently funding it,” he said.

Blough proposed permit fees be applied to only large commercial projects instead.

“I get it,” he said. “You build a 50,000-square-foot commercial building, they’re not particularly attractive, and to put a piece of art in front of that in a public place sort of mitigates the size, bulk, and scale of that building.”

Blough added that he believed Smitherman had brought forth previously unseen material on the art plan for his presentation to the council on Oct. 3, in violation of the Brown Act.

During that same comment section, Santa Maria resident David Dennis, like many before and after him, argued for the plan to pass in one of the proposed forms.

“When you take a piece of property and add artwork to it, it gives a feel that it’s a special place,” he said. “Developers should also play a role in this and create public art because it’s beneficial in attracting customers, tourists, and employees to that city and to that business because in the long run that contribution will create a more unique and valuable property that will benefit the city’s residents and the entire business community.”

Councilmember Jack Boyson told the Sun on Oct. 5 that the move to send the arts plan back to committee was nothing more than a delaying tactic that could yield few results.

“This is just kicking this can down the road,” he said. “I feel that we should’ve just taken action and made a decision one way or the other at the council meeting. If the committee can come up with a fee structure that is acceptable not only to the arts community but also the development community, more power to them. I hope they are successful with that and it would great.

“Hopefully in the next six to nine months we’ll be able to get some clarity on that,” he added.

If enacted, the Public Art Master Plan would pay for citywide projects like painted utility boxes, murals, and art education, which proponents say would attract tourism, business, and help beautify Santa Maria.

Craig Shafer with the Santa Maria Arts Council called the decision a disappointment. In a letter to several newspapers and posted on the Arts Council’s website, Shafer derided the council for its inaction and accused Blough of high-fiving city staff after the vote to send the plan to committee.

When asked by the Sun about the alleged exchange, councilmembers Boyson and Cordero denied witnessing it.

“I’ve known Dan Blough for 35 years and cannot see Dan Blough high-fiving public staff in a meeting like that,” Boyson said.

Cordero echoed his colleague’s comments.

“I know that if I would have seen it, I would have recalled that,” he said.

Cordero noted the argument between the arts and business community ultimately came down to how much financial burden developers —rather than the city’s homeowners—should have to shoulder for the sake of public art.

“We might have to share it equally with the businesses,” Cordero said. “If we are going to have a program—whether it’s voluntarily funded through a tax, or fee, or whatever, it’s gotta be paid for—this stuff is not just going to materialize out of thin air.

“I think if [the plan] gets done in the near future, that’s the only way it will get by,” he added.

Staff Writer Spencer Cole can be reached at

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