LAFAYETTE (CBS SF) — At least two Lafayette residents think those small, colorful nesting boxes affixed to the backs of stop signs around town are for the birds. But probably not in the way their creator intended.
The Lafayette City Council on Monday will likely officially welcome the birdhouses as a donation of public art from artist Greg Moeller, the city’s 2013 Citizen of the Year, who built and painted at least a couple of hundred of the little homes for his feathered, fellow residents.
Moeller also affixed coveys of sculpted quail and squirrels to some of the signs.
The official action became necessary after residents Craig and Virginia Swayne sent a letter to the city, dated Dec. 27, stating ” our request for the city to remedy a situation that has been long out of control after ignoring, or by default allowing, acts that have been, and continue to be, in violation of that certain Lafayette ordinance (chap 6-26) governing public art.”
The Swaynes called the birdhouses “useless,” “controversial” and “tacky” and said they and “others despise them and demand they be removed.” They also misidentify the artist in the letter.
The letter lists two main reasons the city should remove the birdhouses: “The birdhouses serve no purpose.” The Swaynes also wrote that the boxes are too close to traffic and “constitute a risk to our local and migratory bird populations if inhabited.” They also wrote “thankfully, no birds have used them.”
An inspection of one of the boxes on Brook Street demonstrated at least one local bird occupied one of the boxes, though it flew away without comment.
The Swaynes also wrote that the artist failed to comply with Lafayette’s public art ordinance by installing the birdhouses “without applications, due process and approvals.”
“The city, possibly by default or demand, has chosen to allow the violations to continue without recourse. We believe the city would concur with its residents that not enforcing, or selective enforcement, of a city ordinance constitutes a precedent that is not in the best interests of the city, its management, and its residents. These violations are no exception.”
The Swaynes also wrote the city should remove the boxes and charge the misidentified artist, and the Happy Valley Improvement Association, with the cost of removal and disposal. They offered an alternative solution that may “thoughtfully and reasonably satisfy all Lafayette residents (and most importantly the birds)” by removing the boxes and giving them away to residents who could then install them on their private property.
Mark Dunaway, president of the Happy Valley Improvement Association — the neighborhood group overseeing an area in which many of the boxes reside — wrote a letter to the city, dated Feb. 15. Dunaway wrote the boxes are “real habitat for preserving the wild bird population common to our area.” He also wrote the box entrances are designed for “desirable” birds while excluding “invasive” birds.
He wrote “Please understand the birdhouses are thoughtfully designed, constructed, and installed,” adding that his association “bears full cost of creating, installing, and maintaining them.” Dunaway also wrote that Moeller is “a unique asset — we could stand by his example.”
Lafayette’s Public Art Commission went on record at its March 3 meeting as saying Moeller’s artwork conforms to the city’s municipal code and recommended the City Council officially accept the work as gifts of public art to the city.
The Lafayette City Council meets virtually at 6:30 p.m. Monday. To view or take part, go to the city’s YouTube channel, at https://bit.ly/3d63NbV
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