A work of public art or an attractive nuisance? Cops want the brick bench moved; artist says, “Preposterous.”

Paul Wellman

A work of public art or an attractive nuisance? Cops want the brick bench moved; artist says, “Preposterous.”

Cops Take Aim at Public Art Piece

State Street Sculpture Cited for Attracting Aggressive Street People

Thursday, April 11, 2013
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Frank Mannix, assistant police chief for the City of Santa Barbara, announced Tuesday morning that his department would be seeking the removal of a sprawling brick street sculpture ​— ​Crescent Crossing ​— ​located on the 600 block of State Street in front of The Habit because it’s become a popular spot for younger, more aggressive street people to congregate. Mannix made his remarks at the monthly board meeting of the Downtown Organization.

The police have long contended that these younger street people ​— ​dubbed by some “travelers” or “young urban vagabonds” ​— ​are decidedly more volatile and confrontational in their attitude and have been the cause of stepped-up enforcement activities. About a month earlier, Officer Kasi Beutel ​— ​the downtown beat coordinator ​— ​and Councilmember Randy Rowse addressed the same concerns in front of the City Arts Commission, the organization that had the art piece that doubles as a public bench installed in 2003.

“The vibe is definitely ‘You got it, and I want it,’” said Rowse, former head of the Downtown Organization and owner of a popular downtown restaurant. The sculpture ​— ​originally intended to serve as a public bench for the MTD downtown shuttle ​— ​acts as a pinch point, Rowse said, forcing pedestrians and passersby to “have to get closer to people they’d rather not get close to.” Compounding the issue, he said, the crews occupying the brick bench are at times unruly and insulting and appear to delight in the discomfort they cause. “We don’t have enough cops to make sure everybody plays nice in the sandbox,” Rowse said. “We’re not going to enforce our way out of this.” His suggestion was that the piece be moved elsewhere, as was done a few years ago with some State Street benches.

County arts czar Ginny Brush said City Hall should exhaust all efforts to modify or change the urban art bench before removing it. “Removal of the bench should be the last resort,” she said. Brush suggested that it could be cordoned off or have planter boxes installed on it. Others have suggested that the bench could use a good cleaning, a process that could take time and keep the popular roosting spot off-limits to anyone for a while.

Brush noted that the art bench ​— ​an inviting, sprawling perch that mimics the brick sidewalks that were then being installed throughout downtown ​— ​has been a huge success. It was installed as part of a wholesale change of street furniture designed to make downtown a more open and inviting pedestrian experience. The art bench ​— ​designed by noted Santa Barbara sculptor Donald W. Davis ​— ​replaced a forbidding tile planter box about four feet high that blocked sight lines and impeded a sense of shared open space.

“Isn’t that shoving the problem under the rug?” he asked. “Doesn’t that become someone else’s problem two doors down?”

Davis termed the proposal to remove his bench “preposterous,” and vowed to fight it. “Isn’t that shoving the problem under the rug?” he asked. “Doesn’t that become someone else’s problem two doors down?” Davis said the money required to move his work would be better spent dealing with the actual problem.

Until two years ago, the Davis bench had functioned effectively as a place for shuttle riders to wait. But since successive waves of young “travelers” have claimed that spot, MTD drivers no longer use it as a place for passengers to get on or off. The bench clearly occupies a high-traffic zone, located close to the entrance of Parking Lot 10 and even closer to The Habit, with its loud and bustling outdoor lunch crowd. According to police statistics, the 600 block of State Street has generated 312 police contacts in the past year. Only the 500 block of State Street ​— ​which boasts considerably more bars and nightclubs ​— ​has more. By contrast, the 800 block ​— ​popular with an older, frailer, less belligerent homeless population ​— ​generated only 139.

Last week, the police department issued three press releases highlighting violent offenses associated with the crowd congregating near The Habit. One detailed how Trevor Ruggles panhandled passersby on the 500 block of State Street while tossing a 22-inch machete into the air. “Give me your (expletive) money,” the press release quoted Ruggles saying to witnesses. The day before, a 32-year-old transient was booked for felony assault after beating another street person ​— ​on the 600 block of State Street ​— ​over the head with a guitar neck with sufficient force “to cause the tuning machines attached to headstock to break off.” And the same day, the owner of a store on the 700 block was punched in the face by a younger street person after coming to the aid of two young women who sought the owner’s help from the assailant.

Brush acknowledged there’s an aggressive, intimidating vibe from the people now claiming the bench, but she suggested “that energy will only bubble up somewhere else” if the bench were removed. The public review process for installing public art is very careful and deliberative, she noted. So too, she added, is the process of having a piece removed or altered. And according to state and federal law, any changes to the piece would have to be approved by the artist.


Independent Discussion Guidelines

Don’t blame it on the art. Don’t fight symptoms but the cause. Or do we want to play the game of removing everything where the "unwanted" congregate, next a planter, next a bench, and then the curb?

jnm99 (anonymous profile)
April 11, 2013 at 6:54 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Removing this art bench will not solve the youch problem by the Habit, Parking Lot 10. They will go elsewhere such as under the Tonic overhang which gives sun and rain protection.

We need a better plan for making life more pleasant downtown for tax-paying citizens and families of this town. So many of us long time locals don't go downtown much anymore due to the hassle factor.

Some of them have large dogs, pit bulls that they get from shelters and that they can't safely control. I fear for my little dog's safety these days. She's been aggressively rushed by youch dogs.

sez_me (anonymous profile)
April 11, 2013 at 7:04 a.m. (Suggest removal)

I hate to say it but I always thought it was a bench! Still, there's many elderly people who live here (as well as visit) and a place for them to sit is at the very least a courteous item to maintain.

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
April 11, 2013 at 8:44 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Mannix would have better luck "banning" "pit bull" dogs, whatever they are. Cleaning the sculpture would require frequent blasts of high pressure water hoses. 'Nuff said.

John_Adams (anonymous profile)
April 11, 2013 at 9:03 a.m. (Suggest removal)

But the more pressing question is, why should the public at large be punished because the police aren't able to maintain any decorum at the Art Bench? Do we just start stripping all public amenities like benches and garbage cans because some may misuse them or people we don't like might avail themselves?
But then again cold and heartless would be in keeping with the current corporatist trend of State St.

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
April 11, 2013 at 9:33 a.m. (Suggest removal) Jimmy we love and will mis you RIP

avolition (anonymous profile)
April 11, 2013 at 9:40 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Just put a SBPD kiosk there. Or park a cop there every day.

The kids will wander elsewhere...

iamsomeguyinsb (anonymous profile)
April 11, 2013 at 10:14 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Absolutely ridiculous that the PD would take aim at this. "...don't have enough cops"?! What about the SEVEN they just swore in within the last month? ...or the NEW officer position currently being suggested/considered to act as a downtown beat enforcer?

Removal of the bench would be like banning motorcycles to prevent smog.

Why not simply invert every other brick to an upright position to give it a jagged edge, eliminating the sitting appeal? Geez--do I have to think of everything?

Vote MesaJim for City council!

MesaJim (anonymous profile)
April 11, 2013 at 1:15 p.m. (Suggest removal)

You've got my vote, MesaJim.

So the problem is an art work, created to perform additional duty as a bench, now needs to be removed because:

. . 1. it's working,


. . .. 2. "...pedestrians and passersby to “have to get closer to people they’d rather not get close to.” (said Randy Rowse).

Yikes. That is some bourgeois shizzle.

binky (anonymous profile)
April 11, 2013 at 1:35 p.m. (Suggest removal)

If you can't skate it, remove it!! And since you can't skate on State Street, then get it the hell out of the way. If I were and artist, and my art became a problem, I would just remove it, not relocate it. Save the money, just bulldoze the thing. People sit down way to much! Fat Americans!!

skaterspoint (anonymous profile)
April 11, 2013 at 1:44 p.m. (Suggest removal)

“We’re not going to enforce our way out of this.”

thanks for bending over on our behalf randy. time for you to leave.

lack of enforcement in the first place was the first mistake. leave the bench as is and remove the thug element. seems straightforward enough.

lawdy (anonymous profile)
April 11, 2013 at 2:39 p.m. (Suggest removal)

what's funny is that in the pic in this article there is an old guy resting, someone playing guitar. That's a pretty rare pic. Usually it's overflowing with 20-something bums sneaking hits off their hash pipes.

The problem is not bench art. The problem is bums. Old, young. They are everywhere and in plain sight. We use to have that dingy open area across from Palm Park to hide them. Or campers. They don't go away, they just keep moving.

Now they can only hide in plain sight and the problem is ugly. Ever go to Manhattan Beach? No bums there. How do they do it? I don't know but it'd be neat to find out.

someguy (anonymous profile)
April 11, 2013 at 2:41 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Not enough cops? What about the 4 cops I saw harassing a single homeless guy near the Post Office off Milpas? What about the 10 cops lined up in SWAT gear in front of the gun shop on State and Mission. (stupid formation, by the way, if there HAD been anyone in the shop with a weapon, the SWAT guys were all grouped together for easy pickin' - one is reminded of the losing strategy employed by the Brits during the Revolutionary War - line up and get mowed down). Or the 8 sheriff's deputies taking down one guy with a knife this AM. Too many cops? I don't think so.

JohnLocke (anonymous profile)
April 11, 2013 at 5:12 p.m. (Suggest removal)

I know of no other city that would even consider removing public art to ward off undesirables. SB 2 sidewalk lanes: 1 for the desirables and one for the undesirables.

As for planterizing: one sticks a plant on a file cabinet but not on a work of art.

weimaranerwench (anonymous profile)
April 11, 2013 at 7:24 p.m. (Suggest removal)

It's a Draconian if not barbaric response.

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
April 11, 2013 at 7:49 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Downtown S.B., a bomb wating to explode.

billclausen (anonymous profile)
April 11, 2013 at 8:12 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Yes Mr. Davis, it IS shoving the problem under the rug, but you are arguing logic with illogical people.

billclausen (anonymous profile)
April 11, 2013 at 8:14 p.m. (Suggest removal)

For years, I worked near State & Ortega, had a yearly parking permit for Lot 10, and ate lunch at The Habit every week. Guess I've walked past that brick thing 100's of times ... and never knew it was a piece of art!

Those "vagabonds" can get really unruly for sure. Never had a problem with one though.

EastBeach (anonymous profile)
April 12, 2013 at 12:57 a.m. (Suggest removal)

How about the the gross economic inequality and social /legal dysfunction that is sending people to the streets.

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
April 12, 2013 at 1:36 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Ken: Since you're a movie buff, I think I should mention that what I see happening downtown is reminding more and more of the Post-Apocalyptic dystopia of Soylant Green.

Of course, the approach to the poverty, homelessness, and mental illness we see downtown is to criminalize people, rather than step back and look at the *causes*.

As I said before, that area is like a powder keg waiting to blow--unless some logic prevails.

billclausen (anonymous profile)
April 12, 2013 at 2:56 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Maybe they should tear it down and build a Gallows have some public hangings. The Habit could sell Hambugers hot dogs beer sody pop..Go back to the old ways since all you beautiful people hate homeless and poor people so damn much..Hang em and make a show out of it might as well make money... The so called Real Americans, cowards. Hey Skaterspoint I'm a fat American a big one you know what it's like to run into a big fat guy on the sidewalk with a skateboard? It's like hitting a wall I won't be getting out of no skateboarders way on the sidewalk no more you might wanna tell you buddies to wear more gear.

Byrd (anonymous profile)
April 12, 2013 at 6:33 a.m. (Suggest removal)

It would be a public service for The Independent to run a comprehensive article on the laws that govern dealing with homeless, money solicitation, harassing, etc. With 90% of the citizens and 100% of the business owners asking for decades for a solution and action by the City Council and the cops, we should know what action is possible and what may be constrained by existing legislation.

It would also be good to ask each Council member and the Police Chief directly for his or her stance on what, if anything, should be done to address this issue. And publish their responses.

If it turns out that there is really little that can be done legally, it would be good to have that understood.

johnvasi (anonymous profile)
April 12, 2013 at 7:12 a.m. (Suggest removal)

My strategy for dealing with skaters (illegally) on the sidewalk is a good old-fashioned stiff-arm. Oops - sorry about that :-) - ran right into me dincha...

JohnLocke (anonymous profile)
April 12, 2013 at 9:28 a.m. (Suggest removal)

The brick pile is a gathering point for crusties. Sadly, moving it is a good idea. So is crafting a few blocking-the-sidewalk ordinances that will give the cops the legal authority to do something about the problems in our occupied downtown corridor. How about a little gumption from council/mayor? How much worse must it get? The police department's hands are largely tied until something serious happens, and the crusties well know it so they push the limits as far as they can. Cops get disrespected just like other citizens. That's become a game for the street urchins, and their sick sport is harming the State Street corridor badly and making it unpleasant for the rest of us - something they seem to relish.

anemonefish (anonymous profile)
April 12, 2013 at 12:18 p.m. (Suggest removal)

The police departments hands are only "tied" through the poor leadership of their Chief and the unwillingness of the Council to accept their responsibility as responsible for public safety and therefore MANAGEMENT of the police department.

And if the cops treated people with respect instead of arrogance, they might get more respect themselves. Again, a failure of leadership by Sanchez.

JohnLocke (anonymous profile)
April 12, 2013 at 3:03 p.m. (Suggest removal)

A couple of generations ago we'd solve this problem by having a dozen guys stop by with axe handles and baseball bats to suggest these guys might want to find a new place to hang out.

eightdolphins (anonymous profile)
April 12, 2013 at 4:21 p.m. (Suggest removal)

@eightdolphins: "A couple of generations ago we'd solve this problem..."

That makes me all misty-eyed, "eightdolphins": Don't forget the rope if they were the wrong color!

binky (anonymous profile)
April 12, 2013 at 5:13 p.m. (Suggest removal)

The great part is (sarcasm here for the not-so-perceptive) is that we have a whole generation of kids growing up in S.B. who have almost no chance of being able to stay there so when they have to leave home many of them will become homeless.

Yep, baseball bats, ropes, (sarcasm noted and appreciated in that case) gallows, injuctions, interdiction, curfews, no parking signs, and of course my favorite "no public restrooms". What a great job S.B. has done at managing itself. Oh yes, security guards in the downtown Ralphs. How long before they'll need 'em in the San Roque one?

billclausen (anonymous profile)
April 12, 2013 at 6:04 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Holier than thous deride people who live in RVs as lazy but I know of a successful merchant, a successful TV/movie composer, and a successful scientist all of whom prefer to live in an RV and travel.

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
April 12, 2013 at 6:09 p.m. (Suggest removal)

>>"That makes me all misty-eyed, "eightdolphins": Don't forget the rope if they were the wrong color!"<<

Ahhh, liberals. Is there ever a time you *can't* play the race card?

eightdolphins (anonymous profile)
April 13, 2013 at 11:48 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Here's an idea: Let's keep the hard-working and industrious undocumented immigrants and deport the young urban vagabond "travelers." This is a joke of course. But the larger point is that people are risking their lives to get into this country and when they do they quickly find productive work and work hard at it. Meanwhile, we have perfectly healthy young native born citizens who refuse to work and would rather hang out on the street and agressively beg for money. What is wrong with this picture?

Eckermann (anonymous profile)
April 13, 2013 at 11:54 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Actually Binky's comment was accurate, the thugs who beat the homeless in the 1980s were Nazi Skinheads, a Gang for all you gang injunction afficianados.
You'd have to be vastly uninformed of history or a Nazi yourself to wish that.

To answer Eckerman's post: jobs with a living wage. Did you know in many states service jobs (restaurants) the minimum wage is $2.13? That is slave labor.

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
April 13, 2013 at 1:48 p.m. (Suggest removal)

You know Ken Volok, I agree that we have a problem in this Country with good entry level jobs that provide a future for advancement. However, I don't agree that is the problem with the young bums who call themselves "travelers." They do not want to work at any job and even refuse to stay in school to better themselves and prepare themselves for well-paid and meaningful work. The immigrants who are digging holes, picking lemons, washing dishes, and mowing lawns may not be fairly compensated for their labor, but that is not stopping them from seeking work, finding it, and working hard at it. The "travelers" could learn a lesson from these hard-working immigrants, a lesson they obviously failed to learn from their parents.

Eckermann (anonymous profile)
April 13, 2013 at 4:06 p.m. (Suggest removal)

For what it's worth one will get in trouble for making ethnic jokes and gender jokes but making fun of the homeless is still common. Even the P.C. realm of late-night talk shows with their mufti-million dollar hosts will often take pot shots at homeless people. Disgusting.

billclausen (anonymous profile)
April 13, 2013 at 4:14 p.m. (Suggest removal)

You have excellent points Eckerman, especially regarding the hardworking, industrious immigrants legal or not who harcest our food and clean our facilities. But before we start assigning adult wisdom and judgement from our ivory keyboards, how many of homeless youth are not only under 18 but have left abusive family situations or have been kicked out and have embrace "travelers" as a probably a more healthy family situation than they've known.
A lot of "travelers" also do offer jewelery they've made or music etc. I think we might be getting confused with people who would be troublemakers and lazy if they had a million dollars or none. And in fact the only thing that really separates an alco/addict in Montecito and a homeless one on State St. is a bank account.
I guess in the end I'm saying while we can make generalizations about a group of people who seem to fit a defined term for brevity; but if you get down to the nitty gritty there is NO cookie cutter solution. I share people's disgust with the behavior of many of these people regarding sanitation and hygiene and attitude, but they aren't the whole homeless population.

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
April 13, 2013 at 4:15 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Again (sigh) homelessness and gang activies in the staggering numbers we see are symptoms of a sick culture. The same arguments go around and around like stock cars at the Daytona 500 but root causes are not addressed.

Meanwhile, people are being hassled, kids are lost to the gang life, and people are freezing to death in one of the wealthiest cities in the richest country on the planet.

billclausen (anonymous profile)
April 14, 2013 at 3:50 a.m. (Suggest removal)

If that snoozeworthy bench is a piece of "art", then I have a kitchen chair that's a masterpiece. Seriously, businesses might want to install surveillance cameras trained on the "art" to identify potential problem miscreants.

Draxor (anonymous profile)
April 14, 2013 at 11:23 a.m. (Suggest removal)

The city should acquire this statue of Jesus, homeless and sleeping on a bench to install on the bench.

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
April 14, 2013 at 1:20 p.m. (Suggest removal)

>>"Actually Binky's comment was accurate, the thugs who beat the homeless in the 1980s were Nazi Skinheads, a Gang for all you gang injunction afficianados."<<

Binky was actually making a reference to lynching.

eightdolphins (anonymous profile)
April 15, 2013 at 9:19 a.m. (Suggest removal)

That simple, tacky-looking brick wall is a "work of art?" Ye gawds! Talk about The Emperor's New Clothes!

RexOfSB (anonymous profile)
April 15, 2013 at 11:16 a.m. (Suggest removal)

I agree with Eckermann. The only immigrants sitting on a downtown wall are on Yanonali hoping for a job. I don't care if your parents were mean, it does not give you the right to harass passersby.

blackpoodles (anonymous profile)
April 15, 2013 at 11:09 p.m. (Suggest removal)

While I am not sure what illegal aliens have to do with this discussion(albeit can we start referring to "bank robbers" instead as "folks who accessed other folks money without permission"), I did walk downtown yesterday and looked at the "art/bench". It still looks like a nicely designed bench.

italiansurg (anonymous profile)
April 16, 2013 at 7:09 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Good one Ken. Let's force restaurants to pay their workers more and we'll eat at home.

Botany (anonymous profile)
April 16, 2013 at 7:26 a.m. (Suggest removal)

California's minumum wage for service workers is the same as all other professions; and paying service workers certainly hasn't hurt the restaurant biz in this state, we're number one. It is an issue that needs to be addressed in other sates because from other states they are coming.
The Nt'l Restaurant Assoc headed by Herman Cain is responsible for this gross inequality on the national scale.

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
April 16, 2013 at 12:38 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Randy Rowse is a consummate idiot. Go away and back to Culver City Randy.

mimi225 (anonymous profile)
May 2, 2013 at 9:05 a.m. (Suggest removal)

@Byrd I am not advocating skating on Skate Street.. i walk and give pedestrians the right of way.. my comment was talking about the heap of art that is creating problems.. if it was something worth skating on I would have a whole slew of skate buddies clearing out the riff raff bums so we could skate it.. btw.. I haven't met a fat guy that can handle my right hook to the face. now get out and jog!! I skate, work and respect the walking public foremost (i too enjoy walking without a skater running me over, but its really rare that it happens where i feel in danger, if so I will tell them skater to skater).

skaterspoint (anonymous profile)
June 18, 2013 at 4:14 p.m. (Suggest removal)

I advocate skateboarding on State St. in the bike lanes, it should be legal and encouraged.

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
June 18, 2013 at 4:19 p.m. (Suggest removal)

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