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Much of the contention over the bold paint jobs an artist recently gave several Sonoma Valley businesses centered around a building shared by a consignment store and ice cream shop.

Soon after Sebastopol artist Rico Martin put on the first coat of paint three months ago, irate residents started storming into Plain Jane’s Consignments off Highway 12 to express their horror over the bright colors, said store owner Janie Raymond. She even talked to her landlord about whether to repaint.

The discourse has changed, though.

Raymond said she’s now inundated with supporters who stop by to tell her how much they like changes in the area known as The Springs, and the neon-orange paint with yellow, lime green, pink and purple motifs that cover the building she shares with Teresita Fernandez, the owner of La Michoacana ice cream store.

“Most people who come in now to rave about the color,” said Raymond, adding that the colors will remain. “Because of the wonderful response we’ve gotten, she (the landlord) has decided to stand behind Teresita and I.”

Raymond said she was shocked that hundreds of people showed up to a July 27 meeting, put on by the Springs Community Alliance in collaboration with Supervisor Susan Gorin’s office, to discuss Martin’s work.

The meeting was held after residents took their complaints to social media, concerned that the changes did not follow the design guidelines created in the community more than two decades ago. They called the paint jobs tacky, over the top and ill-fitting for the trio of towns — Agua Caliente, Fetters Hot Springs and Boyes Hot Springs — at the gateway to one of Sonoma County’s premier Wine Country destinations.

At the meeting, though, the majority of residents seemed to be in support of the work being done by Martin, who Fernandez previously hired to update the interior of the Sonoma Valley ice cream store and design her second shop in Novato.

Among the supporters was Delaney Gold-Diamond, a 19-year-old El Verano resident who started an online petition backing the makeovers. She said she did so after coming across a petition created to stop the work. A link to that petition had been posted on the page of a Facebook friend of Gold-Diamond’s who doesn’t live in the area, she said.

Gold-Diamond said she liked the paint work — particularly on Armando’s Auto Center, which was painted bright orange with accents modeled after Mexican craft designs — and felt the need to defend it.

“It was an impulse,” she said about the petition. “I wasn’t expecting it to explode.”

Within two weeks, nearly 350 people signed her petition — about the same number of people who signed the other petition that argued there was no community input into the painting process despite the use of local tax dollars.

County officials said businesses are not required to do a design review when repainting an existing building and that the design guidelines created in the 1990s only apply to new construction.

Fernandez and Raymond secured about $20,000 from the county’s facade improvement loan program to pay for the work. Their building is one of several that Martin is repainting using money from the county program.

Overall, he has eight projects along the busy highway, where more than 30,000 vehicles pass daily. He’s also doing a video documentary on the work and launched a website, wONEder.org, to encourage others to bring more color to blighted communities.

Read the latest plan for the Southeast Greenway here

Martin has already started stripping paint from El Brinquito market, known for its grilled chicken, in preparation for painting next month. He will add a large piñata-style metal chicken sculpture above the store — a plan that stirred much controversy.

He said he was drawn to the diversity of The Springs, once a resort destination just outside Sonoma that has endured as a more affordable community, especially for low-income and Latino residents. However, Martin said it also is a community in disrepair.

“The whole purpose of the project was to bring up the economy of these particular businesses and the entire region,” he said. “It’s doing that.”

Raymond agreed. She said she has watched her business grow by 25 percent, despite residents’ initial complaints about the colors.

“My business has gone through the roof since this all started,” she said.

You can reach Staff Writer Eloísa Ruano González at 521-5458 or eloisa.gonzalez@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @eloisanews.

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