Pressured by veterans, the Napa City Council made the wrong choice on the location of a memorial sculpture honoring six Napa County service members who died in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to several candidates for city office and one incumbent.
"I think it was completely wrong" to place the monument at its current location instead of further inside Veterans Memorial Park, said council member Peter Mott, who is challenging incumbent mayor Jill Techel in next month's election.
The military-themed sculpture, ordered from a catalog, is "out of scale for that pedestal," Mott said during a candidates forum at the Napa County Historical Society Tuesday night.
The memorial representing a "battle cross," composed of a soldier's boots, rifle and helmet, was dedicated last month at the corner of Main and Third streets atop a pedestal that had formerly held downtown's most popular public sculpture, "Fish On" by Terrence Martin.
The decision to place the memorial there was a controversial one because it required the city to break its agreement with Martin to display his monumental sculpture at that location until 2013. (The city has since purchased "Fish On" for a spot along the river a block south of the park.)
"It's a rough choice," said council candidate Alex Pader. "I'm definitely 100 percent in support of having a memorial there, but I don’t support breaking our promises."
If people don't trust local government to keep its agreements, Pader said, they will wind up mistrusting all government.
"It's a terrible place to reflect"
Several candidates also said the busy streetcorner was the wrong location for a memorial intended to induce contemplation.
"It's a terrible place to reflect on the sacrifice of soldiers," Mott said.
Conceived by a former Napa High School student as her senior project, the memorial includes an interactive component allowing spectators with smartphones to view video tributes to the fallen service members.
But "at this point it’s even hard to hear what the videos are," said council candidate Doris Gentry at Tuesday's forum. "There’s so much traffic at this intersection and there’s always people talking."
Gentry and Mott both favored a location further inside the park. "I hope it gets moved someday," Mott said.
"The process produced the incorrect outcome," said council candidate Alfredo Pedroza. People driving by the memorial "don't connect," he added.
Pedroza, Mott and Gentry also suggested that the aesthetics of the sculpture fall short of the city's standard for public art.
"It's an off-the-shelf piece of artwork," Mott said.
A monument "custom-tailored" for the city might have been a better choice, Gentry said: "We won a (North Bay) Bohemian award for our Art on First street in 2012. This is world class art."
"You have to make sure that art is adding value today and into the future," Pedroza said.
Council candidate Scott Sedgley had no aesthetic criticism, calling the memorial sculpture "a valued piece of art."
But, Sedgley said, the council erred in overriding city staff's recommendation to place the memorial further inside the park.
A former member of the city parks and recreation commission, Sedgley said that privately-funded amenities, such as memorial benches, are often provided to the city, but that their donors do not normally have the right to specify where they will be placed.
"(The) Parks and Rec (department) has the final decision and the council should have supported staff on that decision," Sedgley said. "It has nothing to do with the value of the piece."
"I made a commitment"
Techel and council incumbent Jim Krider, who voted with council member Mark Van Gorder in favor of the current location, defended their decision.
"For me this was about Veterans Memorial Park," said Techel, adding that Napa County veterans had asked for the current location.
Krider acknowledged that it wouldn't have been his first choice, but that "I made a commitment to the veterans."
Another public art pedestal is being installed across the street, Krider said: "We haven't lost anything; we have gained."
Council candidate and former city manager Bill Bopf supported the council decision, saying he would have voted with the majority.
"It may not be the ideal place," Bopf said, but the memorial gets "a lot of attention and a lot of respect" there.
Council candidate Charlie Rose, a veteran and attorney, also supported the current location.
Siting the memorial elsewhere "would have been a broken promise to the veterans," said Rose, who also said he had reviewed the contract with Martin and didn't see an "issue" with ending it early.
However, Rose said, the matter raises another topic: "I think we need to set a vision" for Veterans Memorial Park.
The candidates and incumbents made their remarks before a crowd of about 30 listeners during an "arts town hall" forum at the Napa County Historical Society.
Do you think the council made the right decision? Tell us in the comments.
For more about this story, please see:
- Council Approves New War Memorial
- Teen's War Memorial to Displace Fish in Park
- Napa War Memorial Dedicated Saturday