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Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on December 10th, 2019, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 20, Issue 41 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 20, Issue 41

Santa Maria moves forward with art plan but rejects measure to pay for it


Increasing the number of public art pieces in Santa Maria could make the city more beautiful and walkable, encapsulate its rich heritage, and boost the city’s economic vitality, according to the city’s public art master plan. But it’s hard to do any of that without funding.

At its meeting on Dec. 3, the Santa Maria City Council approved the public art plan but nixed a proposal that would have paid for it through a permit fee on development projects. In a 4-1 vote, the majority of the council said it would like to see more art in the city but that it’s unfair to put the onus of paying for art on developers. 

“It’s not that we don’t want to fund it; I just don’t see how we fiscally can,” Mayor Alice Patino said. 

This meeting was the culmination of years of conversations regarding the city’s art plan and a way to pay for it. In 2017, staff presented the City Council with a proposal to charge developers and homebuilders 1 percent of however much a project is valued on its permit. At the time, City Council directed staff to form a committee, which included developers and members of the art community, to refine this proposal. 

At the recent December meeting, staff brought back a new proposal with a reduced fee of 0.25 percent. Recreation and Parks Director Alex Posada said developers on the plan’s committee agreed that this fee likely wouldn’t deter new development. Instead, this fee would help fund art projects as the city continues to grow, he said.

“Based on the projections we’re hearing, Santa Maria is going to be growing leaps and bounds over the next few years,” Posada said. “It would be important to have in place a program like this so that we can make sure there is art available throughout the community.” 

During the meeting, Dennis Smitherman, management analyst with the city’s Recreation and Parks Department, used a real example of what this fee would have looked like on a property that sold within the city in October. The building, valued at $293,998, was charged with $27,362 in city fees. The art fee would have added $735 to this.  

Santa Maria Valley Chamber of Commerce President Glenn Morris acknowledged that developers probably aren’t going to be adamantly opposed to paying this fee. However, he said there are other ideas the city can look to instead, such as a voluntary program that somehow gives developers incentives to add art components to their projects.

“The easy thing is to point at one particular slice of our community and say, ‘You pay for it,’” Morris said. “The right solution is to figure out a mechanism that the entire community … helps to fund it.”

Putting the sole responsibility of funding this plan on developers was an issue for Councilmember Etta Waterfield as well. She said the city should do what it can to limit the costs of development as state regulations already make building residential and commercial properties an expensive endeavor.

“They just mandate and mandate and mandate costs to developers, to everybody in the state, that we don’t have any control over,” Waterfield said. “This particular project, we do have control over if we want to add costs to developers, to people who want to build their homes.”

As the lone vote against the council’s decision to adopt the plan without a fee, Councilmember Gloria Soto argued against council’s view of the fee as a burden. 

“Rather than seeing it as an additional cost, as another fee, we need to see it as an investment and what we’re going to be getting in return,” Soto said.

Artist Ruben Espinoza, who has painted murals throughout Southern California, made a similar point while speaking at the meeting. He said additional art in the city could help encourage tourism and attract people to new developments, especially in the age of social media where people take and post photos of places they visit.

Despite pleadings from Espinoza, members of the Santa Maria Arts Council, and other residents, the City Council rejected the fee. Instead, the council adopted the plan and directed staff to try to find alternative funding opportunities, including striking up a partnership with a nonprofit. Staff is expected to report back to council on its progress in a few months.

By not approving a dedicated funding source for this project, Soto said the council failed to act in the best interest of the city. 

“It is our duty as council members to look out for the future of Santa Maria, to look out for future revenue, and by us halting this plan, we’re not doing our job,” Soto said. 

Reach Staff Writer Zac Ezzone at

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