Water Street 'bathtub art' decision appealed

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Multiple appeals have been filed in a rebuke of the Petaluma Public Art Committee’s recent decision to approve the final concept for “A Fine Balance,” the controversial art installation for the Water Street promenade that has faced significant opposition over the past year.

As of Wednesday, the City Clerk’s Office had received an appeal from Petaluma residents Michael Shockro and his wife, Deborah Tavis Shrockro, and a second from Patty Paula. Today is the deadline for filing an appeal, which means more could be submitted before the end of the city’s workweek.

The appellants could not be reached for comment on Wednesday.

The city council, which has discussed the $150,000 contract with San Francisco artist Brian Goggin twice, will now have to step in and make a decision on how to proceed. Planning Manager Heather Hines said the city has instructed Goggin to stop working until further notice.

“The council has lots of latitude under the appeal,” she said. “They could modify it, they could eliminate the contract, they could provide feedback to explore other sites — they have a lot of latitude.”

There’s no deadline for when the council has to discuss an appeal, only that it must be scheduled in a “timely manner,” Hines said.

The appeal of the PPAC decision marks the second in Petaluma over the last year. The planning commission’s narrow approval of the contentious Safeway gas station project in June drew the city’s first appeal in three years.

Goggin’s proposal for Petaluma’s first piece of commissioned art features five replicas of Victorian ball-and-claw bathtubs, held up by iron-like stilts. The city’s public art pursuits are funded by a fee charged to developers that elect not to install art on their project site.

So far, Goggin has used about $20,000 of the commission, he said.

In the letter from the Shockros, they referenced two individual memos to the city in advance of the PPAC’s meeting on Feb. 28, when a 4-2 vote was cast to approve the final concept and trigger the construction phase of the project.

Michael Shockro described the bathtubs as “an eyesore,” and called on city officials to halt an installation “that a vast majority of our neighbors find, simply said, inappropriate.”

In the couple’s appeal letter, due to its site within the historic district, they claimed the project requires additional public hearings and approvals from the Historic and Cultural Preservation Committee, the planning commission and city council.

Additionally, they believe it does not comply with several of the city’s guiding documents, and that the PPAC did not “carefully consider alternative locations for the project.”

Paula reiterated comments she made during the February hearing, writing that the “river is the art,” and that a more appropriate location should be considered if the city still wants to pursue the project.

When discussing the contract last summer, the city council added a clause that only allows a relocation after the sculptures have been installed. Moving at this stage of the process, which many residents have been calling for, raises new questions, Hines said.

The contract with Goggin is for a site-specific project that began searching for artists in 2014. He was selected in 2017 after the committee’s first search for a Water Street installation had resulted in several unexciting proposals.

Since renderings of his roving bathtubs went viral last April, residents have taken to social media in huge numbers, and packed committee meetings to voice their opinions, the majority of which are opposed to it.

An opposition group has raised $5,400 in a crowdfunding campaign to fight the installation, and more than 1,000 people have signed a Change.org petition since the PPAC’s most recent decision.

“We have to see what the council’s response is going to be,” said PPAC Chair Beverly Schor. “This is brand new territory for everyone.”

Goggin said he hopes Petalumans try to keep an open mind as the project navigates the latest twist in its long process to being realized.

“I wish that we would have a chance to have more of a conversation with each other to see if there was a way to better illustrate the project so that perhaps these folks might be able to open their minds to it,” he said. “I realize that they feel very strongly about it and I respect their opinions. I, however, will continue to focus on realizing the most beautiful and strongest art piece I possibly can.”

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

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