Councilman critical of art purchase for new police station

Palo Alto Councilman Greg Tanaka. File photo.

Daily Post Staff Writer

A Palo Alto councilman criticized spending $719,000 on a contract with an artist who will create three art works for the new police station that will be built in the California Avenue district.

“We have a lot of other needs — animal shelters, housing — and to spend the public’s money like this, and to go above the budget, seems to me inappropriate,” Councilman Greg Tanaka said at Monday’s council meeting.

Tanaka said the council rarely gets emails about expenditures, but this time, the council received at least a dozen emails from upset residents.

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

However, council approved a contract with El Cerrito artist Peter Wegner for a base amount of $620,000 plus $96,000 in potential add-ons. Tanaka cast the lone vote against the contract.

A city ordinance requires developers — including the city — to set aside 1% of a project’s cost for art.

The $719,000 is .7% of the police station’s current $106 million budget.

But Tanaka said that the contract was over the 1% budget allocation, citing the report from Interim Community Services Director Monique Ziesenhenne.

When the city began looking for artists, the estimated cost of the building was $55.5 million, meaning $550,000 should be spent on art under the 1% rule, Ziesenhenne wrote in her report.

But since then, the cost of the police station has ballooned to $106 million.

Construction of the police station at 250 Sherman Ave. is scheduled to start in the summer of 2020 after the 636-space parking structure in the neighboring block at 350 Sherman is completed.

It should take 21 months to build the new police station, meaning it would open early in 2022.

Two of Wegner’s works will be mounted inside the new police station.

‘100,000 Decisions’

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.

Fourth artwork canceled

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.


  1. $700,000 is ridiculously to much to funds to be allocated for one art . The City can best spend the money on other projects. I’d rather spend that type of money on homeless issues than spending it on on art.

  2. I don’t know what this ordinance is that “requires developers — including the city — to set aside 1% of a project’s cost for art,’ but we need to change it. The City has far more pressing needs for $700K.

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