Council may spend $719,000 on art for new police station

Artist Peter Wegner designed this abstract illustration made of red map tacks that will be placed in the new Palo Alto police station.

Daily Post Correspondent

The Palo Alto City Council will vote tonight (June 24) on a $719,000 contract with an artist who will create three pieces of art for the new police station in the California Avenue district.

The contract, with El Cerrito artist Peter Wegner, includes a base amount of $620,000 plus $96,000 in potential add-ons. The funds would come from money the city sets aside for public art. The item is on the council’s consent calendar, in which several items are typically voted on at the same time without council discussion.

Two pieces of Wegner’s artwork would be mounted on walls inside the new police station.

‘100,000 Decisions’ is the title of this art work proposed to be mounted inside the new police station.
‘100,000 Decisions’ is the title of this art work that is proposed to be mounted inside the new police station.

One of them would incorporate thin black and white plastic panels in an arrangement reminiscent of barcodes, set within a roughly 10-foot square red metal frame. The piece is called “100,000 Decisions” in reference to the minute-by-minute decisions made by emergency first responders.

In a second piece, called “Chance Impression,” the artist would create a large, abstract fingerprint using red map tacks.

A third piece of art would be installed on the outside of the police station, facing Birch Street. It would include about 400 aluminum disks featuring maps of the historic Mayfield area and Palo Alto.

A fourth artwork had been planned for a wall of the parking structure that will sit next to the police station on Sherman Avenue. That art would have incorporated LED lights that could be programmed to change colors. But that part of the project was canceled due to budgetary constraints and the construction timeline for the garage, the city said.

Construction of the Sherman Avenue parking garage is now under way. Construction of the police station is expected to be finished in late 2020.

Wegner was selected for the police station project from a pool of 63 artists who responded to the city’s request for proposals. His concept was presented during a community meeting on Dec. 6 and approved by the city’s Public Art Commission later that month.

Artist’s research efforts

In doing research for the artwork, Wegner hung out at the police department and with firefighters, and even rode in a fire truck and went on a police ride-along, according to a report to the City Council for tonight’s meeting. He also spent time on California Avenue getting to know merchants and others in the area.

This artwork by Peter Wegner features about 400 aluminum disks, each with a portion of a map of Palo Alto’s Mayfield neighborhood. If approved by council, this would be installed on an exterior wall of the police station facing Birch Street.

A city ordinance requires Palo Alto to set aside for public art 1% of its budget for capital improvement projects, such as its new, $92.2 million police station and parking garage. The funds from different projects can be pooled to pay for a single art project. The city also has a public-art requirement for private development.

Palo Alto has about 100 pieces of permanently-sited artwork in its collection, according to the city website, in addition to temporary projects.

The public art projects have included colorful crosswalks painted last summer at Louis Road and Fielding Drive, and a series of six silver owls at the Mitchell Park Community Center.

Last year, a temporary art project involved painting trees blue in King Plaza in front of City Hall.

Controversial art

But the public art program is not without controversy.

Last year, the city removed from Lytton Plaza an egg-shaped sculpture called “Digital DNA.” The Palo Alto Public Art Commission voted to remove it, saying it was deteriorating and unsafe, and maintenance was too expensive.

The 7-foot-tall, 300-pound egg, made of computer circuit boards and steel, had drawn mixed feelings from the public. The egg’s artist, Adriana Varella, vigorously protested the removal.

A Harvard Business School graduate living in Silicon Valley bought the piece for an undisclosed sum and donated it to his alma mater.

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  1. Well this expenditure beats the multi-million-dollar “wayfinding” system the council approved for the FIRST FLOOR of City Hall which must be the most expensive single story in all of Palo Alto.

  2. How absurd. You could buy some art work from a Prison Reform group which would be a lot less expensive and the funds could assist with rehabilitation efforts.

  3. This is emblematic of a town with too much money. Palo Alto is home to a number of artists who could offer a local perspective to this important new building. The art being proposed looks great but why not support and celebrate local artists who would offer up great work at what would probably turn out to be a fraction of the price.

  4. The city of Palo Alto has $900 million in unfunded (too generous?) pension liabilities to its unionized public employees. Think maybe the city should pay that liability down instead of spending $700k on art? And maybe it should stop giving public employees raises?

  5. There isn’t a Palo Alto artist who could produce art works for the police station? Thanks, city council, for not supporting local artists.

  6. The Palo Alto City Council needs to be replaced with adults. We only have two qualified people who are not in service to developers and/or bicyclists. We spent millions of dollars on a bike boulevard that was stopped by thousands of citizens protesting the waste of money. We are still spending money erecting barriers to traffic, again in service to a practically non-existent bicycle community. We can’t have decent cell-service because the council bowed to non-scientific fears of radiation. You can’t make all this up!

  7. Thanks Daily Post for reporting this story. We residents rely on the Post to shed light on excesses in local government like this. The other paper wouldn’t touch a story like this unless they could spin it to put their friends on City Council in a good light. Thank you for your fearless reporting.

  8. The artwork is made of red map tacks? They wouldn’t be plastic map tacks, would they? Why is council allowing for plastic to be apart of this art! If we’re banning grocery check-out bags and drinking straws because they’re plastic, there should be ABSOLUTELY NO PLASTIC in any of the art the city is buying. I urge council to put off approving this item until it can be proven that this art will not contain plastic.

  9. and how is the value of that art (including time, labor, materials and markup) calculated) is that the best 700k can by in art today ?

  10. with all that money the artist will be able to (just about be able to afford) eating lunch at Whole Food every day. wow – America is becoming such a fair, non-greedy place after all.

  11. What a waste of money. Why don’t they use that money to help the RV problem. (homeless displaced by high rents) Why would you waste that money??? How about donating to child burn victims. I really hope they don’t do this. Total BS.

  12. They will pick some favorite with a stellar rich background. I mean who cares about suffering artists or their programs or school loans anyway.

  13. OMFG you have people living in the streets and you want to spend a million bucks on artwork for the police station? A pox on your city!

  14. OMFG people live homeless in the streets and you want to spend a million bucks on artwork for the police station? A pox on your city!

  15. It’s precisely because we cannot feel art that we permit the least among us to live on the streets. There is a correlation. We are Cartesian zombies.

    Further, many among us cannot distinguish between art and those quizzes that ask us to click on every box that includes a crosswalk. i.e. we are robots, or becoming such.

  16. The artwork you are proposing for the police station is insulting at best. A red image of a fingerprint? A perfect reflection of a surveillance society. What about art designed to remind these officers each day they come to work that they are part of a society they were hired to protect and serve.

    • Totally agree with Onyx, very insulting. Also this money could be spent for various good causes in the community. Please vote NO!

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