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Play to the City’s Hot Buttons: Public Art

In episode two of my one-thousand part series on tactics to win over city staff, planners, planning commissioners and city council members, I present a new tidbit to keep in the hopper. Cities love public art! The City of Rio Vista, California charges a fee of 1% of the project cost for “public art,” which has cost me more than $100,000 this year alone. This is non-negotiable and supported by nearly every staff person or city official on payroll – embrace it!

As discussed in my first episode of this new dramatic series, I recently received approvals for a 200,000 square-foot Class-A covered RV and boat storage facility in Pittsburg, California, which caused me immense anxiety wondering if I was going to receive the majority thumbs up or get kicked down the street to appeal to a city council hearing. My worry spiked as I watched in shock as the application before me was going down like the Titanic. Droves of community members, neighbors and business-owners were voicing opposition as the owner of an existing gas station and convenience store was asking simply to expand, enhance and modernize his operation. I sat in fear for my project as I witnessed the planning commissioners beat up the other proposal. They stated numerous times that it would hurt the local market adjacent to the gas station. The project got voted down in a 2-to-4 vote and I was up next!

Now, in my opinion, the property had rights to redevelop. The sole reasoning to vote down the project seemed to be “competition with the market next door,” which is absolutely against the law. Did that matter? No. Did I agree. No. Does it matter? No. It got voted down. Cue: Time Delays!

My project came up next and I was met with absolute praise as discussed before about providing community benefit for local, covered storage options to reduce demand on code enforcement. One other selling point presented to me by the Planning Commission for my benefit was “community art.” Where did this stem from?

Pittsburg, California and nearly all jurisdictions I have worked in have an overreaching code that requires bike racks to be installed on all commercial projects. Do people ride their bikes to the RV and boat storage facility to get ready for a trip? No. So I thought in my witty and sarcastic wisdom to have some fun with this requirement. I reached out to a local brewery with a long-time presence in Pittsburg, EJ Phair Brewery, to develop a unique beer-themed bike rack.

While visiting family in San Luis Obispo, I saw that Firestone Brewery had these unique bike racks welded out of pony kegs and thought this would be a fun solution. Having been a home brewer for 20 years, I also relished the beer nostalgia.

Well, let me tell you right now the planning commissioners embraced my fun, selfish, sarcastic bike design as “community art” and made a stark comparison to my “community embraced project, which demands unanimous support” versus the project before me, which “didn’t consider the local community at all.” My head just continued to nod up and down with a wide smile. “Tell me more how pretty I am!” is all that continued to go through my head.

In conclusion and adding on to episode one, find the hot buttons at a jurisdiction, planning commission or city council and focus energy on those items as top priority! The staff is trying to present a project they support that they know the commission or council will support. If you check off the easy boxes, your project will be leaps and bounds ahead of other salmon stubbornly swimming upstream.

Play to the City’s Hot Buttons: Public Art

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