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Gnomes On Oakland Utility Poles May Get New Home

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A gnome painting affixed to a utility pole in Oakland. (CBS)

A gnome painting affixed to a utility pole in Oakland. (CBS)

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OAKLAND (CBS SF) — Whimsical gnomes that have been sprinkled around Oakland’s Lake Merritt will continue to brighten residents’ days for now, but may be moving sometime soon.

The gnomes are hand-painted by a local artist on small pieces of wood that are then screwed onto the bottom of PG&E utility poles and other objects in the neighborhood.

The small bearded men have brought smiles to residents’ faces, but are potentially problematic for the utility company, spokesman Jason King said.

The roughly 6-inch wood pieces could threaten the integrity of the poles or possibly block crews’ access, King said.

The utility has agreed not to destroy the gnomes, and instead plans to work with the city and local businesses to find the little men a new home, “because they can’t live on our poles,” King said.

However, until a suitable new place to display the gnomes is found, they’ll be allowed to remain on the poles.

PG&E officials were first made aware of the gnomes on Friday after a news story about the art was published, King said.

The utility has received feedback over the weekend about the gnomes—all positive, King said.

“There is a widespread love for the gnomes,” he said. “Everyone wants to see them remain.”

Oakland resident Guillermo Hayes, 30, who lives on Wayne Avenue, just off Lakeshore Avenue, is a fan.

He noticed roughly 20 gnomes on poles and fences on his block when he moved to Oakland in November 2011.

Hayes sees them as good luck, calling them the “guardians of Lake Merritt.”

“A lot of crime that does happen to our neighborhood doesn’t happen where the gnomes are posted up,” he said.

He believes the gnomes help create a sense of community.

“Being from Oakland, we don’t have much to be happy and proud of,”

he said.

The artist, who asked to remain anonymous, lives in the Lake Merritt area and said he started installing the gnomes more than a year ago as a lighthearted project. He said he collects pieces of wood from old fences to use as his canvases.

He said there are now about 2,200 gnomes sprinkled around Oakland—mostly near Lake Merritt—and two in San Francisco.

The San Francisco gnomes reside at Grove and Baker streets across from the Pacific Primary school, and on Stanyan Street between Haight and Page streets.

King said he hopes crews can collect the gnomes and establish an installation area somewhere in Oakland. He was mulling the idea of getting the community and local businesses involved in creating a “home” for the street art to reside permanently.

A staff member from the office of Oakland City Councilwoman Lynette Gibson-McElhaney, whose district encompasses Lake Merritt, said the artist called the office this morning and expressed a desire to preserve the gnomes, which he sees as a public benefit to the community.

He told the councilwoman’s office he is flexible about where the street art goes, as long as the public can continue to be entertained and amused by the little men in red hats.

As for Gibson-McElhaney, the staffer said she supports public art and beautifying the neighborhood.

She plans to work with PG&E to find a way to keep the popular gnomes in the area without encroaching on the privately owned poles.

A Facebook page, “Save the Lake Merritt Gnomes,” was created Sunday, and as of late this afternoon had 146 “likes.”

Among the snapshots of the gnomes and posts of what they mean to Oakland residents and beyond, PG&E officials have posted on the site, acknowledging the gnomes’ popularity.

Utility officials have pledged to come up with a community-oriented solution to where the painted little guys should be relocated.

(Copyright 2013 by CBS San Francisco and Bay City News Service. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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