Splashes of color in Sonoma Springs area prove polarizing
A local artist employing bright rainbow colors to revitalize a number of Sonoma Valley businesses, including a consignment store and ice cream shop, has set off a heated debate about the transformation underway in the diverse community north of tony Sonoma.
The fresh paint has been welcomed by some as a vibrant new look in the series of towns known as The Springs off Highway 12, the busy roadway that connects Santa Rosa to Sonoma. But others have derided the change as tacky, gaudy and ill-fitting for the gateway to one of Sonoma County’s premier Wine Country destinations.
The issue has become a political football for two women expected to face off for the second time in a bid for county supervisor next year.
The firestorm erupted this week amid the remodel of Plain Jane’s Consignments and La Michoacana ice cream shop, which have used a county facade improvement loan program to pay Sebastopol artist and designer Rico Martin to do a “facelift” on the building they share. The work, on a pair of highly visible businesses, started three weeks ago and was expected to wrap up this week.
The work added to other bright remodels Martin has recently done on a pair of other nearby businesses. He has four more shops he plans to work on.
With the work underway this month, Susan Gorin, chairwoman of the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors, has been taking hits from some residents as Martin covered the pale rose building housing the ice cream shop and consignment store in a bright orange base with yellow, lime green, pink and purple motifs, a design that has many residents seeing red.
Gorin said she has no control over the designs and was careful in an interview this week not to take sides on the issue. But one of her longtime political rivals, Gina Cuclis, has come out squarely against the look, suggesting the blame lies with the county and Gorin.
“This does not represent The Springs,” Cuclis said.
“It’s a big change that did not go through a big, full-on public process,” she said. “Should one designer from Sebastopol and a supervisor from Santa Rosa get to decide?”
Cuclis, a longtime Springs resident, wrote a recent column in a local newspaper, saying Martin did not follow design guidelines created in the community more than two decades ago.
Cuclis, who has filed paperwork stating her intention to run next year against Gorin, said her criticism has nothing to do with the 2016 election. Instead, she said, it’s about what residents want the area to look like in the future.
Gorin will meet with residents Monday to discuss the projects. She said the county has no control over the color palette. Under county rules, a business is not required to do a design review when repainting an existing building.
“It’s not up to me. It’s up to the property owners and designers to go through the process,” Gorin said this week, pointing out that the mural on the side of Broadway Market wasn’t required to seek approval either, even though the business also used money from the facade improvement program.
Gorin said she’s hearing both from people who like and hate Martin’s designs. Overall, the artist has eight projects along the busy highway, where more than 30,000 vehicles pass through daily.
The debate reflects a community grappling with how it revitalizes itself, including large infrastructure upgrades now underway, commercial remodels and other moves to make the area more attractive to residents and motorists. The Springs, once a resort destination just outside Sonoma, lost its shine over the decades but endured as a more affordable community, especially for low-income and Latino residents.
The remodel of Plain Jane’s and La Michoacana - one the artist acknowledges was meant to celebrate Latino culture - appears, however, to have hit a nerve.
Many critics took their complaints to social media in the past week, calling Martin’s designs an “eyesore” and “over the top.” The most biting comment compared it to a “tweaker Tijuana theme.”
Martin’s plan to add a large piñata-style chicken above El Brinquito, the Springs market known for its grilled chicken, has drawn vocal opposition. One resident started a petition to try to stop his work.
“That’s not their call,” said Martin, who complained the criticism was mean-spirited and politically motivated.
He started months ago at Armando’s Auto Center, painting it a bright orange and adding colorful Mexican papel picado art designs. He then moved on to the Tienda Y Panaderia Iniguez, covering the dim peach-colored market exterior earlier this year with a more vibrant sunflower yellow with white and seafoam green accents.