The city of San Leandro no longer has a commission dedicated exclusively to the arts and some fear that may lead to the arts falling by the wayside.
However, city staff assured the San Leandro City Council at its Nov. 21 meeting that combining the Library-Historical Commission and the Arts Commission into a new Arts, Culture and Library Commission is in the city’s best interest. The council voted, 6-1, to pass an ordinance that, among other things, combined the commissions with 2nd District Councilmember Bryan Azevedo opposed.
“I’m hearing from some of the arts commissioners, and my arts commissioner, that they’re concerned about the arts,” Azevedo said. “The problem with the quorum is that the councilmembers need to appoint people that are actually going to show up to the meetings.”
City staff said the decision can be revisited in the near future if it turns out not to be working.
Brian Simons, San Leandro’s library director, spent the beginning of his presentation to the council explaining the importance of arts generally, but also to the city as expressed in the City of San Leandro Public Art Master Plan, which includes 16 recommendations for how to enhance public art in the city.
“The Arts Commission really has made some progress working toward achieving the visions, themes and recommendations expressed in this arts master plan,” Simons said, pointing to the commission of Mildred Howard’s Curiosity Sculpture.
Yet there are also impediments to achieving the vision laid out in the master plan, including: a constrained annual arts budget, issues finding viable sites for public art, lack of nonprofit fundraising partners like Friends of the San Leandro Library, and lack of maintenance practices for the public art that’s already here, he said.
Attendance and meeting cancellations have been issues for both commissions, and filling seats has been difficult, Simons said. That was a bigger issue for the Library-Historical Commission and the excess energy from the Arts Commission could help balance the two, he said.
“A merger of the commissions provides more frequent, meaningful and substantive agendas and action items, which promote commission meeting attendance, reduces cause for meeting cancellations and facilitates filling commissioner seats,” Simons said.
In addition to merging the two commissions, the council’s vote also shifted the duties of landmark designation and architectural historic preservation from the Library-Historical Commission to the Planning Commission and Community Development Department.
Separating out that function was important because neither the Library-Historical Commission members nor library staff have expertise in architectural and historic preservation review for permitting purposes, Simons said.
“The library has a bit stronger bench,” Simons said, “we have more staff and a lot of that staff does have experience with the arts with the programming we do.”
However, Arts Commission Chair Erika Garcia said the city deserves a dedicated commission for the arts and the commissioners “were just getting started” before the pandemic.
“It’s in its infancy really,” Garcia said.
She said if the council does move forward with the decision, it’s important to ensure that the arts are prioritized and don’t get lost.