By Jason Islas
August 31, 2012 -- A prominent local land use attorney is contesting the City's recommendation that the “Chain Reaction” sculpture designed by the late political cartoonist Paul Conrad should be removed.
In his 11-page letter sent to the City Council Tuesday, land-use attorney Ken Kutcher -- representing David Conrad, the son of Paul Condrad -- claimed, among other things, that the 26-foot-tall sculpture does not pose a safety threat.
Kutcher, a partner in the law firm of Harding Larmore Kutcher & Kozal, said that the City had overstaed the cost of repairs and failed to perform maintenance during the sculpture's 21-year lifespan.
“To date, the Cìty's testing has not revealed any significant danger to public safety from the sculpture -- only speculation as to possible risks,” Kutcher wrote in the letter.
The letter quotes extensively from the City's findings.
Kutcher's letter cites City staff's report to the Arts Commission and Public Arts Committee dated February 1: “The copper links were tested to determine strength and failure thresholds. The results were favorable in contìrming that the welded seams would not fail under nominal pressure.”
The letter goes on to say that "here is no evidence" that the City "has performed any periodic maintenance" of the $250,000 sculpture given to the City in 1991.
“The Staff Reports make no mention of the City’s duty to maintain this public sculpture,” Kutcher wrote.
“However, Paragraph 7 of Agreement Number 5657 (CCS) dated March 18, 1991, provides that after the first year, '[T]he City shall be responsible for the ordinary maintenance of the [sculpture] including ail repairs of the [sculpture] necessitated by ordinary wear and tear.'”
Cultural Affairs Manager Jessica Cusick disagrees.
“The City acted in good faith with the artist when he was alive,” said Cusick, adding that the City has performed maintenance on the structure.
But, she added, that periodic maintenance would not have been able to address fundamental structural problems, such as the erosion of the fiber glass frame.
The City, she said, is waiting for a final report that would determine just how eroded the fiber glass frame is.
The costs to repair the sculpture, Cusick said, could vary from $227,372 to $423,172, depending on the extent of the damage, but those numbers also include landscaping costs, money for future testing and money for unforeseen expenses.
“The cost of conservation is estimated to be $52,000-$65,000. So the cost of repair and conservation could actually be as low as $120,000, using the City’s estimates," Kutcher wrote. "This would be less than half the cost of the sculpture in 1990 dollars.”
The City Council in March voted to give the Conrad family and its supporters until November 15 to raise the necessary funds to save the sculpture.
Kutcher's letter also addressed the fact that on July 9, the Landmarks Commission voted to designate the sculpture a landmark.
The designation means that the work “cannot be removed, relocated or destroyed without approval of an application for certificate of appropriateness or certificate of economic hardship that must be processed through the Landmarks Commission,” Kutcher wrote.
With the loss of RDA money, Cusick said, and with the City struggling to fund major capital projects, finding money to rehabilitate “Chain Reaction” may prove difficult, Cusick warned.
Kutcher told The Lookout that his letter was intended to help “inform the Council and help keep the sculpture where it is.”
But ultimately, he said, “the City Council gets to make the decision.”
Cusick said that the City has made no official reply to the letter yet but that one is forthcoming.