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Divided council authorizes public art for San Clemente utility boxes

by Orange County Register

Next spring, five utility boxes you probably never noticed before along Avenida Pico and El Camino Real will be transformed into works of art.

On Tuesday, the San Clemente City Council approved a pilot program, part of a growing movement in California to decorate electrical boxes along public streets with public art. Many cities are doing it, but San Clemente officials haven’t found another city in Orange County that is doing it yet, Community Development Director Jim Holloway said.

The plan drew a decidedly mixed reaction among City Council members, winning approval on a 3-2 vote.

“This is really cool,” Mayor Lori Donchak commented as she and Councilmen Tim Brown and Jim Evert supported the program.

Councilmen Bob Baker and Jim Dahl voted no. Baker, pointing out that utility boxes today are unobtrusive along streets, showed off some pictures he had found of bright, boldly painted utility boxes in San Diego. “This is the stuff they are proud of,” Baker said. “We could say one man’s art is another man’s graffiti.”

Holloway showed off a series of examples of varying tastes from other cities.

Dahl wondered if the decorated utility boxes would spawn more graffiti as graffiti artists see the decor as intruding on their turf. Donchak said San Diego found that decorating the boxes reduced graffiti.

In San Clemente, owners of the Bank of America/Starbucks building downtown found that painting a mural on a trash-enclosure wall in the parking lot solved what had been a chronic graffiti problem, City Manager George Scarborough told the council.

The city selected five utility-box locations outside the downtown and pier areas, where public art already exists, so the utility-box art won’t compete with public art in those locations, Holloway said.

The locations along Avenida Pico are at the entrance to Rancho San Clemente Business Park, in front of San Clemente High School and at Calle de los Molinos. On El Camino Real, the locations are at San Clemente Art Supply and at El Portal.

The council approved a $4,500 budget for the pilot project to solicit artists for a fee and to provide art supplies and an artists reception. The San Clemente Art Association will provide an art jury, with a city representative on it.

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