Why The Deaccession Of Chain Reaction Should Be Reconsidered: Letter To The Editor

Thursday, 17 Jan 2013, 8:36:00 AM

Letter To The Editor

Editor's Note: Santa Monica Arts Commissioners will tonight discuss the future of "Chain Reaction" starting at 6:30 p.m. at the Santa Monica Senior Center, 1450 Ocean Ave. This letter is submitted on behalf of Dave Conrad (the son of the late Paul Conrad who created the sculpture near Santa Monica Civic Auditorium). This letter comments on the recently-issued Staff Report concerning Chain Reaction.

Dear Commissioners:

• As eventually acknowledged on page 4 of the Staff Report, “rebuilding” Chain Reaction is not a viable option. As a City Landmark -- and as a work of art -- Chain Reaction must be repaired and maintained. (See Watts Towers http://www.lacma.org/art/watts-towers.) Landmarks are not re-built; they are repaired, maintained and restored. (Landmarks Ordinance § 9.36.190 (“All designated building or structures shall be preserved against such decay and be kept free from structural defects through the prompt repair”).) All such efforts are guided by The Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties with Guidelines for Preserving, Rehabilitating, Restoring & Reconstructing Historic Buildings, U.S. Dep’t of the Interior, National Park Service (1995) by Kay D. Weeks and Anne E. Grimmer (“Secretary Standards”). (http://www.nps.gov/hps/tps/standguide/ ) Rebuilding of Chain Reaction is neither necessary, nor would it be consistent with the applicable legal standards for this designated City Landmark. See Landmarks Ordinance § 9.36.140(g) (“The Secretary of Interior’s Standards shall be used by the Landmarks Commission in evaluating any proposed alteration, restoration, or construction, in whole or in part, of or to a Landmark, [or] Landmark Parcel”). To gain a better understanding of these matters, the Arts Commission should schedule a joint meeting with the Landmarks Commission, such as was held by the Parks and Recreation Commission and the Landmarks Commission with respect to Palisades Park, also a designated City Landmark.

• The City Council did not “approve the Arts Commission’s recommendation to remove Chain Reaction,” as asserted in the Staff Report in the first line of the second paragraph. Rather, Councilmember O’Connor (now Mayor O’Connor)’s motion (unanimously adopted by the City Council) was to “set the date of November 15th as the date when staff will return with a recommendation regarding funding, restoration, and/or de-acquisitioning.” (Emphasis added.) A copy of the City Council Minutes for March 20, 2012, is enclosed. (See the highlighted Minutes at the top of page 8.)

• Although the Staff Report references the “final report from the [City’s consultant] structural engineer in late summer,” it fails to include a copy of that final report from the City’s Structural engineering expert Melvyn Green. Curiously, the Staff Report only attached the City Building Officer Ron Takiguchi’s Memorandum and did not include Mr. Green’s Report. To ensure the Commission has a comprehensive presentation of the experts’ analysis, a copy of Mr. Green’s Structural Condition Report and Recommendations is enclosed. A comparison of Mr. Takiguchi’s Memorandum with Mr. Green’s Report shows a divergence of opinions and recommendations. Mr. Green, the City’s structural engineer expert, has concluded:

“Safety to persons around the sculpture is probably the critical consideration. In reviewing the basic calculations, test data, and reports, I am of the opinion that the sculpture is not an imminent hazard nor should it be considered dangerous.” Green Report, p. 6.

Mr. Takiguchi, on the other hand, apparently does not accept this assessment because of what he calls “unknown and indeterminate factors.” (Takiguchi Memo, p. 1.) This after the City has had at least three sets of experts (Lowinger & Associates, Twining, and Green & Associates) examine and test this sculpture for the past 14 months at a cost of $61,000. None of the City’s qualified experts over the past 14 months has identified any significant structural defect. And yet, the City’s Building Officer persists in the opinion that the sculpture is inherently unsafe based solely on his conjecture and without pointing to any documented structural flaw. There simply is no evidence to back up his postulated concern.

• The Staff Report asserts at page 2 that “the dome of the sculpture needs to be removed and either repaired or replaced.” The City’s structural engineering expert (Mr. Green) did not identify such a need. Instead, he recommends that climbing on the sculpture be prohibited (Green Report, p. 6); we agree.

• Despite Mr. Green’s favorable report, the City’s cost estimates for repairing (or rather “rebuilding”) Chain Reaction have now climbed to $555,000! We disagree. Steve Colton, who for 12 years worked for the City’s estimator (i.e., CarlsonArts), has reviewed the work program outlined by Mr. Green and has personally inspected the sculpture and viewed photographs of its assembly and installation. Mr. Colton is a highly qualified art conservator. He budgets $80,000 to $95,000 to repair Chain Reaction as recommended by Mr. Green. Copies of Mr. Colton’s estimate and his undeniable qualifications are enclosed. Mr. Colton’s entire budget would be covered by the City’s recommendation to allocate $85,000 from the Cultural Trust Fund, together with the $10,000 that has already been raised through voluntary contributions from the community.

• The Staff Rout touts “City staff has been providing assistance with the fundraising . . . primarily by allowing the use of the Santa Monica Foundation as a fiscal receiver for the project, at no cost.” We are unimpressed. The City is merely acting as a receiver for money to repair an object of public art that the City owns, that the City has a contractual duty to repair and maintain (Agreement # 5657, ¶15 (“the City shall be responsible for the ordinary maintenance of the Work including all repairs of the Work necessitated by ordinary wear and tear”)), and that is a City Landmark with a corresponding codified duty to repair and maintain. (SMMC § 9.36.190.) The City should be thankful for the funds that have been raised on its behalf, and should not begrudgingly suggest that it has waived receiver fees for depositing those voluntary contributions.

• The analogy to the historic Shotgun House is inapposite. I volunteered legal services on that project as well. It involves renovating a historic building that the Santa Monica Conservancy will occupy as its future headquarters for at least the next 20 years at a rental rate of $1 per year. It is a good project, but it is not analogous to Chain Reaction in any way.

• For the reasons stated in my letter to the Commission dated January 14, 2013, we disagree with the Staff Report’s assertion that “the work has been formally deaccessioned according to the City’s policies and procedures.” Those policies and procedures were not fully or carefully followed. The deaccessation should be revisited not only because of procedural and legal flaws, but because it was based on preliminary, and ultimately incorrect, assessments of the sculpture.

• At page 4, the Staff Report references a current balance in the Cultural Trust Fund of $174,443. But it neglects to note that the City is processing at least 34 development agreement applications for more than 3,550,000 square feet of floor area. (http://www.smgov.net/departments/council/agendas/2013/20130108/p20130108.pdf) Thus, pursuant to the private Developer Cultural Arts Requirement (SMMC part, the City’s Cultural Trust Fund can be expected to increase dramatically in the coming years.

• The Staff Report contends at page 4, “The engineers’ report clearly shows that the longevity of the fiberglass shell is a key issue, particularly in the area of the top of the ‘mushroom’ cloud or dome.” But, in truth, Mr. Green’s Report concludes: “We analyzed the structure under current building code loads and found that it remains compliance with current standards.” (Green Report, p. 6.) Moreover, because Chain Reactaion is now officially a City Landmark, the State Historical Building Code (Health & Safety Code §§ 18950-18961) could come into play. In this regard, Health and Safety Code Section 18951 provides:

“It is the purpose of this [State Historical Building Code] to provide alternative regulations and standards for the rehabilitation, preservation, restoration (including related reconstruction), or relocation of qualified historical buildings or structures . . . These alternative standards and regulations are intended to facilitate the rehabilitation, restoration, or change of occupancy so as to preserve their original or restored architectural elements and features, to encourage . . . a cost-effective approach to preservation, and to provide for the safety of the building occupants.” (Emphasis added.)


For the foregoing reasons, we urge the Commission to do all of the following:

• reconsider its vote to deaccession Chain Reaction given the conclusions of the City’s structural engineering expert;

• reach out to the Landmarks Commission to hold a joint study session concerning Chain Reaction;

• direct the Cultural Affairs staff to work cooperatively with the Conrad family, their grant writer, and the public supporters of Chain Reaction;

• direct the Cultural Affairs staff to fully explore all avenues to retain and repair of Chain Reaction;

• support the installation of signs that prohibit climbing on Chain Reaction;

• direct City Staff to immediately repair the vulnerable damage to Chain Reaction caused by the City’s expert’s invasive testing; and

• begin a discussion regarding design for a protective safety buffer around Chain Reaction that suitable to its location, design, messaging and landmark status.

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