Bigger and bolder is the direction Solana Beach is heading for its art installation at the fire station on Lomas Santa Fe Drive.
Solana Beach’s city council last week authorized expanding the project’s $70,000 by an unspecified amount.
Arguably the city’s premier spot available for public art—perched at the beach-facing crest of Solana Beach’s busiest east-west corridor—the installation’s focal point is a wall of multi-colored glass wrapped in a wire cage and set a-glow by internal LED lighting. Dubbed “Fire Wall,” Del Mar artist Betsy Schulz’s design is meant to evoke a narrative on wildfire, the emergency responders who fight it and the landscape in which that battle is waged. The sculpture will be surrounded by succulents, perennials and drought-resistant native plants arranged to resemble flames. Even the glass itself—forged in fire to hues of orange, red and yellow—connects back to the installation’s theme.
Schulz—whose resume includes the southern entry of the Coastal Rail Trail, the mosaic mural at Fletcher Cove Park, the donor wall at the Del Mar Lifeguard station and an installation at Carlsbad Firestation 3—is teaming up with Solana Beach-based Van Dyke Landscape Architects, whose forthcoming projects include the La Colonia skate park expected to break ground later this year.
The design, submitted last year to fit a $70,000 budget, would allow for the wall to be between 9 and 11 feet tall, 4 feet wide and one or two feet thick. It beat out eight other proposals, with the city council choosing Fire Wall on a 4-0 vote in April—albeit with less enthusiasm than they would have liked. The project’s mandatory 45-day public comment period opened in November. Twenty-three comments were submitted, 14 of which expressed concerns or opposition ranging from driver distraction to complicated maintenance to aesthetic grievances.
For Schulz’s design to turn out as well as it did under such a small budget was a “miracle,” Nellie High—a former member of Solana Beach’s Public Arts Commission (PAC)—said during the project’s Jan. 24 hearing before the city council.
“Just the plants and the soils is $75,000, in my opinion,” she told the council.
She and two other artists asked the city to start over and issue a new request for proposals. Asserting “tremendous admiration” for Schulz’s work, Cindy Neptune—one of two PAC members who voted against Fire Wall—said other artists had told her they didn’t bid because of the difficulty of fitting the artwork and landscaping into a $70,000 budget.
“I don’t think this is the best we can do for this site,” she said.
But Councilman Mike Nichols didn’t want to go that far. Nichols, who immediately spotted Fire Wall as his favorite of the nine original submissions, didn’t think a new RFP process was needed given that the piece can be improved with “an insignificant amount of money.”
Schulz acknowledged that the $70,000 limit had constrained her original vision for the site, and said she could accomplish substantially more even with an extra $10,000.
“It would be better. It would be much better,” she said. “I do think it should be more 3D and more budget would accomplish that.”
Councilman Dave Zito, after noting the split in critiques that the design is too big versus complaints it is too small, seconded Nichols’ motion to expand the budget—just as long as the installation doesn’t become too much of a distraction at an already “troublesome” intersection. He also called on city engineers to be sure the project fits in with ongoing construction along Lomas Santa Fe.
“I wouldn’t want it to get too much taller or too much bigger overall, maybe just more noticeable,” he said. “… There are a lot of kids that cross going to Earl Warren and there are an amazing number of vehicles that don’t pay attention to kids in that crosswalk.”
Schulz will spend the next few weeks hunkered down in her studio—a converted greenhouse behind her Del Mar home—reworking the design into something more substantial, along the lines of what she had envisioned before the realities of the $70,000 budget took hold.
The hope is to present her redesign and its projected cost to the council next month. Once the council signs off, city officials expect construction and landscaping to take up to a year to complete.