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Ceramic tile to replace Califia’s water feature
Downtown property owner may seek sculpture’s removal
The water feature in Califia, the 14-foot fountain sculpture that stands on the corner of Main and Market streets, will soon be replaced with ceramic tile due to continued damage due to calcium build-up and the costly treatments to repair it (KRISTINA HACKER/The Journal).

While Califia — the 14-foot fountain statue that stands on the corner of Main and Market streets— will continue to welcome visitors to Turlock’s downtown core, she will soon be losing her water feature following a decision by the Turlock City Council on Tuesday.

The sculpture, which is now going on 14 years old, has developed hard water stains over the years from the water that flows out of Califia’s fingers. The water, which is recycled through the basin, has been regularly treated with chlorine for health reasons and this has created a calcium build-up. In July the city authorized a thorough cleaning of the sculpture, which removed the stains. For the city to continue to maintain the water feature it could cost up to $4,000 a year for the chlorine treatments and $3,200 every time the calcium build-up has to be cleaned off.

In September, the Parks, Arts and Recreation Commission considered three options for the future maintenance of Califia: Remove the water feature and turn the space into a flower bed; remove the water feature and have a tile covering placed over it, with the tile done in a style the coordinates with original design; or have the city continue to pay for treatments on a yearly basis.

The PARC recommended the second option, with the original artist having the first right of refusal to do the work, and it was presented to the City Council on Tuesday.

The City Council voted 4-0 (with the District 4 seat still open) to approve the PARC’s recommendation, with the caveat that work not actually begin on the statue for 30 days.

The delay in work commencing on the statue was included after attorney George Petrulakis, representing local developer Matt Swanson, requested the City Council table the discussion on Califia entirely for another month. Petrulakis said that Swanson, who owns the Enterprise Building that sits directly behind Califia, is in talks with individuals on bringing a restaurant into the space at the western tip of the pie-shaped building and might request the statue be removed from that area.

The statue — a bronze and ceramic sculpture/fountain — was created by Davis artist Donna Billick and was unveiled in June 2005. The public art piece was part of the Downtown Revitalization Plan, which saw the City of Turlock invest $7.5 million into transforming the rundown business district into the picturesque downtown area it is today complete with old-fashioned lampposts, park benches and planter boxes brimming with flowers. The Main and Market location was identified as the gateway to the downtown and the best place for the statue.

In 2012, the Turlock Arts Commission considered a number of alternate locations for the statue following a request by Swanson who had just purchased the Enterprise Building. Swanson told the City at that time he felt the statue’s size overwhelms the building and draws attention away from potential businesses that might locate there.

The Arts Commission ultimately voted to recommend the statue not be relocated.

“The art piece Califia located on Main Street in downtown Turlock should stay in its original location as it was intended,” wrote TAC members in their 2012 recommendation.  “We feel that yielding to a property owner’s request could subject public art to the discretion of individual property owners’ tastes and desires, and would erode the original purpose and goals of the Downtown Plan.”

Lisa McDermott, current director of the Carnegie Arts Center and former City of Turlock Arts Facilitator when Califia was installed in 2004-05, urged the Council on Tuesday to continue with the renovation of the statue and talk about possibly relocating it when a formal request comes before the body, if it ever does.

“The recommendation that’s there is to remove the live water feature and replace it with a ceramic tile feature…it has nothing to do with moving the sculpture. You could move forward with the plans to replace the water feature without beginning to talk about whether the sculpture is going to be moved. That could be a whole separate discussion. I just think putting off any decision on what happens now that the water is turned off is pointless,” McDermott said.

The Council decided to move forward with contacting the original artist about doing the ceramic tile work and seeking grants and private donations to fund the project — as no General Fund dollars will be used for the renovation — but to hold off on actually beginning work on the sculpture to allow for a potential discussion on moving it.