Town Council appears to take restroom mural hubbub in stride
by Tony De Garate
Published - 10/04/12 - 02:42 PM | 8217 views | 0 0 comments | 20 20 recommendations | email to a friend | print
What would you think if you knew the ceiling of the new beach restrooms at the foot of Brighton Avenue contained phrases like “blatant killing of a known homeless man,” “anger expressed on Newport Avenue will translate to violence,” and “Don’t Feed the Bums”?

At a discussion Sept. 26 hosted by the Ocean Beach Town Council’s board of directors, at least, some raised their eyebrows while others shrugged their shoulders — but none of the members seemed fired up to change anything.

The Town Council scheduled the discussion after receiving a file of research from local resident Jeff Russell, who was dismayed by what he described as the inappropriate and overly negative nature of the text appearing in the restrooms. The restrooms opened July 2 — about three years after the city tore down the previous building because of safety concerns.

Russell said residents were led to believe the mural would portray an overall review of history in Ocean Beach, which is commemorating its 125th anniversary this year. Instead, the entirety of the lower-case text on the mural excerpts seven articles — all published in the last four years from the OB Rag, the local online newspaper, Russell said.

Topics of these articles include a 10-year anniversary of the protest over a local Starbucks, a poll among OB Rag readers about the Afghan war and the use of deadly force during a confrontation with a homeless man. Some of the snippets of text, Russell said, even referred to the selection process of the artist himself — Shinpei Takeda, co-founder and creative director of The AjA Project, based in San Diego.

“None of the history of the first 115 years of Ocean Beach is even mentioned,” Russell said. “These are things nobody’s aware of. I’m trying to bring it to everyone’s attention and see if there’s anything we want to do about it.”

Board member Dave Martin said he appreciated Russell’s research, but said the community had worked too long and hard over the last three years getting the restrooms built to be fazed by the artwork.

“The points you bring up about the negativity, you’ve got some good points there,” Martin said. “I think what I’m hearing is, ‘Damn, we should have seen it (the phrases), but it’s really a nice-looking bathroom.’ ”

Some residents who spoke said they couldn’t make out the text, much of which overlaps or appears in circles to emulate the ripples formed by dropping a pebble in waters. Some defended the phrases; still others said they never noticed.

“The fact that he took quotes from the Rag and they’re not all positive, I have no problem with that,” said resident Kristoffer Newsom. “The nature of art is not always positive. When you look at art, you can’t expect it to be a rosy picture.”

Mercy Baron, a resident and freelance writer, said she interviewed two dozen or so people on their way out of the Bright Street restrooms.

“My first question was, ‘Did you look up at the ceiling?’ …One hundred percent said, ‘No,’” she said. “All they could say was how beautiful the restrooms are. I just don’t think it’s a concern.”

Denny Knox, executive director of the Ocean Beach MainStreet Association, said another mural-creating opportunity could arise when the restrooms at the lifeguard tower on Abbot Street are eventually replaced, and the artist could be given more explicit instructions about reflecting community history.

“Maybe that’s the remedy,” Knox said.

In other matters

• Three new board members were seated for their first meeting following recent elections: Steve Grosch, Dave Cieslak and Heather Richards.

• County Supervisor Ron Roberts will address the board at next month’s regular meeting on Oct. 24 at 7 p.m. at the Point Loma Masonic Lodge, 1711 Sunset Cliffs Blvd., according to new Roberts aide Sterling McHale. A 2009 graduate of Point Loma Nazarene University, McHale grew up in Valley Center and now resides in Loma Portal.

• As the 2012 fiscal year ended Sept. 30, the Town Council treasury contained a total of nearly $8,000 among its four different accounts, said OBTC treasurer Melinda Therkalsen.
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