Comments on the Proposed Solar Calendar

While it is very easy to support this proposal at the conceptual stage, there are several foreseeable problem areas that may become critical as the project evolves.

The first and most obvious is cost and funding. Consider that it now costs about a quarter of a million dollars to build a new bathroom in the Marina, six million to build a pedestrian overpass, and over $200,000/year to keep the educational program going at the Nature Center in Shorebird Park. The solar calendar proposal mentions an initial cost of only $500,000, followed by $75,000/year for the educational program. These estimates appear to be very optimistic for the level of development shown and the scope of programmatic activity discussed.

Funding sources may turn up, and educational programs can scale up or down depending on budgets and demand. But it seems likely from the proposed scale that there is much more than the initial $500,000 at stake here. What exactly will the initial phase buy? Should the proposal be scaled back, or should the cost estimates be adjusted? Art is important, but is this really the best way to spend that amount of money on the waterfront?

There are also issues of competing uses. Friction has already developed between the promoters of the solar calendar and the advocates of the off-leash dog park which now includes part of the proposed site.

It is not clear why these two uses have to conflict. There is no compelling reason to exclude the solar calendar from the dog park, especially considering the very occasional use of the calendar for organized group activities.

If, however, the solar calendar advocates insist on reducing the size of the existing dog park to make room for the calendar, then we may have a problem. In the eyes of the dog park users, cutting back on a popular existing use for an expensive work of conceptual art makes little sense.

There is a subtext here involving class conflict, recreational elitism, and desecration of sacred ground. These are not the real issues, and the debate should not dwell on them. The discussion will be far more productive if it centers around two issues: 1) How to pay for the solar calendar in ways that don't detract from funding from water-related projects; and 2) How to keep that area of the park as inclusive as possible, for the widest variety of users.