Richmond art fee proposal stalls after local biz left out of talks

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A proposal to mandate a 1-percent public art fee on certain privately-funded development projects in Richmond stalled in the Finance Committee last week after Councilmember Jim Rogers questioned whether the business community had been consulted.

Rogers, who supports a public art fee, successfully argued for inclusion after learning groups such as the Richmond Chamber of Commerce, Council of Industries and officials with the planned Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory development had not been consulted about the proposal (watch the discussion by visiting here, at 33:25 mark).

But Rogers faced firm resistance from Vice Mayor Jovanka Beckles, who said “certain interest groups” would only spoil the process.

“The policies we create in our city is to benefit us, that’s who we should be benefiting, our community. We are looking for approval from the community, not certain interest groups,” said Beckles, who chairs the Finance Committee.

City arts officials said they’ve been working on the art fee concept for years. On Thursday, a proposed amendment to the ordinance came before the Finance Committee. The ordinance would require certain privately-funded commercial and residential developments exceeding $500,000 to allocate 1-percent of the total construction budget to public art. Developments over $200 million would have to allocate .5 percent. The public art would be vetted by the city. Developments with no planned public art would pay the 1-percent into the city’s public art fund.

The fee would be added with an existing resolution charging a 1.5-percent public art fee on certain capital projects over $300,000.

Similar fees are imposed in large and mid-sized cities across the U.S., and Rogers says he likes the idea.

Rogers said he stalled the proposal not to slow down the process but to speed it up. Bringing all parties to the table early in the process helps stave off unnecessary animosity, he said.

“We routinely get into this thing where we have ordinances coming forward, and we as councilmembers get calls from people who are really annoyed,” Rogers said. “Why didn’t you talk to me? Why didn’t you show it to me? Sometimes it is stuff where frankly I’m not sure they would have opposed it originally if they had been brought in the loop…but it becomes confrontational.”

That statement didn’t sit right with Beckles. The vice mayor argued the proposed ordinance change should not be delayed because it would still require approval from City Council. She said the proposal could be vetted with the business community after the Finance Committee vote and before the City Council vote.

“I don’t see why we need to stall the process; it seems like they’ve done a lot of outreach already,” Beckles said.

However, Michele Seville, the city’s Arts & Culture manager, admitted the proposal had not been viewed by the Chamber of Commerce.

“We have not gone to them recently to discuss it,” Seville said, adding they had floated the idea in the past to various groups and received support.

Katy Curl, director of library and cultural services, agreed with Rogers’ assessment that it was best to avoid upsetting people. Curl added that the vetting process with the business community would take a few weeks.

“I would second that,” Seville said. “This is so long in coming that I would really like to do it right.”

The item will likely next return to the Finance Committee on Oct. 3.