City wants unauthorized artwork removed from park

When Merced Heights residents living near Brooks Park installed artwork to improve the park, they did not realize they would be under threat of being fined.

Seven sculptures, ranging from a giant hand that catches fog drip to an even bigger wind chime, were installed in the park, located at the intersection of Shields and Ramsell streets, without The City’s permission. After granting a three-month reprieve, the Recreation and Park Department sent a letter to residents in July saying the pieces needed to be removed by this Sunday, or the department would remove them and residents could be possibly fined.

“All of a sudden we wake up one day, and lo and behold, there is all this artwork at Brooks Park,” Recreation and Park Department spokeswoman Rose Marie Dennis said, adding liability issues are the biggest concern. “The reality is there’s rules.”

Dennis also added that the department has no intention of fining any residents.

Before art can be installed in a park, two commissions — Art and the Recreation and Park — must approve of the work. Both commissions require there be significant proof, including letters and in-person testimonies, that the community supports the project as well.

Peter Vaernet, who organized the art project in collaboration with San Francisco State University art students, said residents did not follow the proper procedure because they did not know one existed. For years residents have made several improvements to the seven-acre hilltop site, such as planting trees, installing pingpong tables and hold tai chi classes, without The City’s permission, according to Vaernet.

“Based on that experience, I just went for it and tried to make the park beautiful,” he said, adding that the community regrets upsetting city officials.

While the letter says Vaernet would be responsible for covering the costs of removal the department doesn’t plan to issue fines, according to Dennis. She said hopefully “we can work out something to get this thing done retroactively.”

Vaernet said he also hopes that the Planning Commission will discuss the issue and decide to allow the installations to stay because the art has instilled a sense of pride in the community.

However, if the order stands to remove the work, the community will go through the proper avenues for approval, according to Vaernet.

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