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Peace pole sparks disagreement


A portion of the $150,000 Walnut Park renovation project that is focused on bringing a vision of worldwide peace to Petaluma has been anything but peaceful after several members of the Petaluma Service Club Alliance voiced objections this week about a recommendation adopted last August by the city’s Recreation, Music and Parks Commission.

A three-sided granite and steel Peace Pole was installed in Walnut Park early last month with only a single expression of “Peace” spelled out in English. Steel plaques with peace spelled out in several other languages were initially tooled and had been awaiting installation. But that came to a halt just over a year ago after two commissioners questioned the choice of languages used on the pole, as well as the way that the languages would be displayed.

This led to the formation of an ad hoc subcommittee, which recommended adoption of the Peace Pole with the single English language spelling of peace and proposed using the already tooled steel plaques that had the word spelled out phonetically in other languages to be spread around a children’s playground that is to be built at a later date. The matter was voted on and approved on Aug. 20.

Maureen Frances, a key Walnut Park restoration organizer, member of the Rotary Club of Petaluma and founding member of the Petaluma Service Club Alliance, says she hopes that the city will revisit the original request to have the languages added to the Peace Pole — spelled out phonetically in western lettering as the group originally proposed.

“The message to the children in the park would be to learn how to pronounce that word,” not the actual Chinese symbols, said Frances. “Can you pronounce (a symbol)? Probably not. But you can pronounce ‘Hépíng’ ‘Shalom’ and “Paz” — other pronunciations of peace. It gets people thinking of peace in new ways.”

The controversy started at a February 2014 meeting of the Recreation, Music and Parks Commission, where members of the Service Club Alliance had come seeking final approval of the project.

They were stymied, however, after commissioners Teresa Barrett and Beverly Schorr both expressed discomfort that certain languages were represented while others were not, as well as with the appropriate display of wording.

“Are you going to have everything written in western Roman letters, or are you going to have peace written in Hebrew letters, peace written in whatever (the) Swahili writes it in, and Arab letters for the Arab ‘peace,’ and Japanese,” Barrett asked, also noting that the Mandarin Chinese interpretation had been left off of the pole.

“I don’t know how Bulgaria and Bosnia got their language in here, but we don’t have Chinese in there, or Hindi, and those are huge portions of the world. I don’t know how these were all selected. It makes me a little uncomfortable,” Barrett said at the time.

“I don’t think that the languages are inappropriate,” Schorr said. “I think that there are perhaps some languages that might be more appropriate, and more representative of the greater community. But I think the other point is an aesthetic point, that if these words are in the language, rather than in Roman letters, I think that has more meaning.”

Barrett and Schorr also groused in February about not having seen a rendering of the Peace Pole, something that Barrett said is common on any public project.

The Peace Pole portion of the Walnut Park restoration project was temporarily removed from consideration at a March 19, 2014 commission meeting and was not on the agenda again until August.

The granite and steel obelisk is an addition to the existing $150,000 renovation of Walnut Park that has been paid for by the service clubs alliance together with individual and corporate donations.

Materials and construction of the Peace Pole obelisk was donated by Marble World and sheet metal fabricator J&M Precision Manufacturing, and is estimated to cost in the $17,000 range.

Alicia Cerruti, president of Petaluma Sunrise Rotary, concurred with Frances. “If (peace) is written in Chinese, I wouldn’t be able to understand it. If it’s written in English, but with the proper pronunciation, everyone will be able to understand it.

“What we feel is happening, and at least from my perspective, is that things went bad once bureaucracy got involved.”

Petaluma Assistant City Manager, Scott Brodhun, said that the Walnut Park renovation project originally proposed by the Petaluma Service Club Alliance included the walkway, benches, and bricks — and that the Peace Pole was initially a minimal part of the plan.

“The commission asked them to put (a design) together and come back with a final plan,” Brodhun said. “In February of 2014 the final piece was the pole design. There were some questions: ‘How should the wording be designed?’

Brodhun added that in the course of the project a playground component emerged, and that the ad hoc subcommittee and service groups decided that the plaques with peace spelled out in various languages should be included as part of the playground project.

“They agreed, the city agreed, and that’s how this was approved,” Brodhun said. “When the playground gets going, that will be the time to talk about the plaques.”

In spite of the rancor between the service clubs and the city, Frances said that she still hopes for a peaceful outcome.

“I am hoping that we can move forward — and for a peaceful solution,” she said “We need to get the message of peace out to the children.”

(Contact Alex Horvath at argus@arguscourier.com)