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Santa Monica City Staff Reverses Position on “Chain Reaction”

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By Jason Islas
Staff Writer

December 31, 2013 -- Santa Monica's iconic “Chain Reaction” sculpture could stand for another two decades after City officials Tuesday reversed their recommendation to take down the structure.

City Manager Rod Gould told The Lookout that City officials would recommend that the City Council vote to fund nearly half a million dollars in repairs to the two-decade-old sculpture by Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Paul Conrad.

Gould said that City officials would reverse their official position, held during a two-year-long battle with activists, because of what he called a “strong showing” of support from the community, which raised about $40,000 since February.

“Based on our thoughts in the last two weeks,” Gould said, “if the number is between $35,000 and $40,000, that shows significant interest.”

Last February, City staff recommended to the Council that the 26-foot-tall facsimile of a mushroom cloud made from chains be removed because it was thought to be structurally unsound and the cost to repair it, estimated at $423,000 by the City, prohibitive.

At that meeting, “the City Council issued a challenge (to the community),” Gould said. The Council voted to give supporters a chance to raise the money to repair it, promising to contribute $50,000 if supporters neared the $423,000 goal.

With the February 2014 deadline about a month away, local activists have fallen far short of the City's repair estimates.

The City's change of heart is welcome news for those who have been vocal advocates for saving the sculpture from the beginning.

“Our City Manager has made a very positive, supportive, appropriate and respectful recommendation,” said local peace activist Jerry Rubin.

“It now feels like the City, the community and the Conrad family are involved more closely together in this important and timely effort to restore Paul Conrad's unique and creative sculpture,” he said.

Rubin has worked closely with Conrad's family and local grant writer, Abby Arnold, to help raise money for the cause over the past two years.

While the sculpture has enjoyed support from members of the community, it's future has been a controversial issue.

The Arts Commission originally recommended that no further City money be diverted to “Chain Reaction” so that scarce resources could fund other public art projects. That argument found resonance with others, including local artist and civic leader Bruria Finkel.

The Landmarks Commission, however, took steps to designate the sculpture -- and the land immediately surrounding it -- a landmark.

Once given landmark status, removing the sculpture became a more complicated process.

Despite staff's reversal, the future of “Chain Reaction” is far from certain. The matter will go before the City Council at its February 25 meeting.

If the Council votes to accept staff's recommendation, the City will pay the difference for ongoing tests to the sculpture that will determine the extent to which it is structural sound.

That, Gould said, could include removing the mushroom part of the mushroom cloud. Based on their findings, City officials would then move forward with developing plans -- and a budget -- for repairs “so that it can remain in place for the next 20 years,” Gould said.

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