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New details in Petaluma’s bathtub art project

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To learn more about the project, visit the “Fine Blance” website at finebalance.art.

San Francisco artist Brian Goggin stood in front of a crowd at the Petaluma Community Center last week ready to give a progress report to an audience deeply divided over his bathtub art installation, “Fine Balance.”

In a candid moment, showing his own self-awareness of how inflamed the discussion over the Water Street installation has become, Goggin drew laughs as he gasped and shuddered to mirror the crowd’s groans in reaction to an aerial view of his initial concept.

His proposal, which features five Victorian ball-and-claw bathtubs on stilts, has been plagued by public outrage since drawings of the Petaluma Public Art Committee’s first commissioned project went viral in April.

Months later, after PPAC approval and an OK by the city council to continue, Goggin last Thursday presented a series of new images and an animation that demonstrated the ongoing adjustments being made with city officials. Since July, he’s been forming a final concept that addressed a spectrum of concerns regarding safety and access at the cherished waterfront site.

“I feel that the evolution that you took this project (through) is more than I could’ve imagined,” said committee member Heather Mackin. “I really thought, ‘Wow, (the public) is going to stump him somehow.’ And you’ve addressed it in such a beautiful way – all these changes – and I think it’s really made the project evolve to something so much better than I originally thought it was.”

Goggin has been meeting with the city’s development review committee, which is comprised of management-level staff from departments like planning, building and fire, to evaluate plans and hone in on designs that comply with local regulations. The DRC was formed in 2011 to help developers and businesses expedite permitting processes.

Through that ongoing collaboration, in addition to Goggin’s individual efforts, several adjustments came to light at last week’s meeting.

The tubs will now be separated into three different areas, spanning a single block on Water Street to accommodate events like the Petaluma River Craft Beer Festival. Based on the current plans, some of them will be partially visible from Petaluma Boulevard.

To comply with ADA standards, each tub will sit on a raised 6-inch cylinder. The angled, iron stilts will be two inches wide, propping up molds of tubs that are made with lightweight, ecopoxy fiber glass. The approximate height of the stilts will range from 22 feet to as high as 27 feet.

Each tub will be covered by a clear, false top to sheet-out rainfall accumulating higher than an inch, and any debris that might collect. Rain that does accumulate will appear to be resting in the tub, an optical illusion designed to delight anyone that views the installation from higher ground, Goggin said.

He plans to explore and review different color schemes to paint the tubs with the PPAC.

The nearby benches will be purposefully relocated as well.

At times, the tension between the PPAC and bathtub opponents rose to the surface. One attendant even stormed out, cursing the project as he exited – a move met with applause by some and scolds from others. Residents spoke out of turn and raised questions outside the public comment period on numerous occasions, forcing PPAC Chair Beverly Schor to slap the table in her own imitation of a gavel.

To learn more about the project, visit the “Fine Blance” website at finebalance.art.

Discussion on a small art project earlier in the meeting also became elongated by a resident that questioned the methodology for commissioning a piece that wasn’t site specific and could be altered conceptually – two of the main critiques of the Water Street project.

Multiple speakers alleged a conflict with federal guidelines for preserving historic districts like downtown Petaluma. Resident Linda Buffo cited the Secretary of the Interior’s standards for preservation, claiming the area would lose its historic designation if the project was completed.

“It is my personal opinion that this project does not belong in our downtown district, and that we would be better served by other public art projects, other than bathtubs on stilts,” Buffo said. “The Water Street area was designed specifically for outdoor activities. This obviously is an impediment to that because we’re going through such a process to move these things around to make it all work. Find another location inside the city outside our historic downtown district.”

However, those guidelines from the U.S. Department of the Interior also include practices designed for making new additions and alterations.

Planning commissioner Bill Wolpert spoke in support of the project, and refuted the notion that it would violate the city’s regulations.

“I think you’ve addressed a lot of the concerns that I’ve read and heard about,” he said to Goggin. “I love the fact that it’s going to be seen from the axis of the side streets overlooking the river. As an architect and planning commissioner, I like the idea that old and new can co-mingle. It creates contrast between the two. There is nothing in our codes that prevents contemporary buildings or artwork in our downtown.”

The public is invited to attend the next project update on Jan. 12, which has been set for the so-called “story pole event.” Goggin will be constructing and deconstructing replicas one at a time so residents can see how the piece might interact with the space.

His mother will be providing tea for any interested attendants, he said.

“I am looking for opportunities to improve the piece as we go, continuing to refine the details with an interest in what the site requests through the local input and the physicality (of the sculptures),” Goggin said. “It’s, after all, a balancing act.”

(Contact News Editor Yousef Baig at yousef.baig@arguscourier.com or 776-8461, and on Twitter @YousefBaig.)