An art installation honoring Redwood City’s commitment to racial equity and inclusion was moved forward Monday after the City Council unanimously backed a project work plan detailing how the city should approach establishing the piece.
“I really believe that this is going to set the stage for other meaningful change that will be coming down the pike,” said Councilman Michael Smith during Monday’s virtual City Council meeting.
Within the work plan, the commission proposed the city establish a diverse steering committee of Redwood City and Bay Area residents committed to advancing racial equity through art. After appointments to the committee by February, community engagement, including hosting virtual community meetings and distributing a survey, would begin in March with the piece completed by the fall.
While the council approved of the work plan, some questioned if the recommendation could be more expansive. Smith suggested the project budget of $42,000 to $50,000 be doubled, referencing a $100,000 mural honoring Harriet Tubman being erected by the Bay Area Rapid Transit District in Millbrae. Smith serves on a steering committee for the project.
Hale and Councilwoman Diana Reddy shared support for Smith’s suggestion. Reddy noted the various symbols waved during the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol breach, adding “this is an opportunity for us to scream the opposite.”
Hale noted upcoming development could complicate the search for a mural location and questioned if an increased budget would allow the commission to select a different art form or “artist of a different stature” and recommended looking for public donations. Arts Commissioner Erin Ashford said the city could establish an “extraordinary” display with additional funds such as multiple installations or a mixed-media project.
“I’d be very interested in this not being just a one-time occurrence and more like a series of dialogue sessions through art,” said Ashford.
Support for the artwork and in making equity a focus of city policy was spurred by community outrage toward national police killings of Black individuals and local racial inequities which gained traction in May of 2020. While making a formal declaration that “Black Lives Matter” in August, the council also directed the city’s Arts Commission to develop a work plan, reaffirming the city’s commitment to racial equity.
Public commenters during Monday’s meeting questioned the city’s interest in installing an art piece, calling the move a symbolic gesture and suggesting the council focus on substantive changes. Similar concerns were expressed during equity focused listening sessions hosted by the city between late July and early September.
Councilwoman Alicia Aguirre said the discussions around an art piece are important for understanding what the community looks like and Smith highlighted the importance of symbols, art and literature during the Civil Rights movement of the ’60s. Hale said the city could invest time in multiple efforts that highlight the city’s commitment to equity.
“What we’re having here is an ‘and’ conversation and not an ‘or’ conversation,” said Hale. “We can be one of the only cities of our size that’s added a Diversity and Inclusion officer and we can make this important symbolic gesture about an incredibly historic time that is presently unfolding in front of us.”
In other business, the council unanimously accepted a Financial Feasibility Study and Cost-benefit and Economic Impact Analysis for the development of a public ferry terminal connecting the city to San Francisco and the East Bay. The routes would be an expansion of the Water Emergency Transportation Authority system which opened a terminal in South San Francisco in 2019.
Many concerns for the ferry system were raised during the meeting by both councilmembers and the public including equitable fare costs, the effect of a COVID-19 recovery on revenue, threats to natural habitats and the potential for transit-oriented development coming to the commercially zoned area in the future.
The council approved the measure, noting many concerns will be addressed in future studies, but required that an equity study be included in a Redwood City Ferry Business Plan, the next step for the project to be led by the Port Commission.
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