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LAGUNA BEACH : City Council Rejects AIDS Memorial Art

September 24, 1993|LESLIE EARNEST

A proposal to create a work of art memorializing how AIDS has affected this city was rejected by the City Council this week after an emotional public hearing during which most speakers said the city should "celebrate life" instead.

Councilman Robert F. Gentry had suggested the city should pursue creation of a piece of public art that would signify "the AIDS experience" in this community.

Laguna Beach has by far the highest per capita incidence of AIDS in the county and one of the highest in the nation. As of June 30, 211 of this city's residents had succumbed to the disease.

"There's no other experience this community has had in hundreds of years that has been like this experience," Gentry said, "not one."

Gentry, whose longtime companion died of AIDS several years ago, had suggested the artwork be created as an "art in public places" project when the city renovates what it considers its "village entrance" at the southern tip of Laguna Canyon Road.

But most who spoke out on the issue Monday argued that the city should not highlight the fatalities from a particular disease and said that public revenue should not pay for such a project. Some indicated such a display could discourage visitors.

After listening to such comments, Councilman Wayne L. Peterson said that "the community is not ready to embrace this at this time."

Lacking the support of his colleagues, Gentry joined the three other council members present in agreeing not to move forward with such a project. Councilwoman Ann Christoph was absent.

In another issue some felt was too closely tied to death, the council voted 4 to 0 not to continue providing benches that residents can earmark for plaques commemorating the passing of a loved one.

It has become a popular custom in Laguna Beach for residents to pay as much as $700 to have a plaque with a relative's name inset on a city bench. However, all benches at Heisler and Main Beach parks have now been spoken for.

The council considered whether to allow plaques to be installed on benches in other city parks, but not all residents thought that was a good idea. One told council members that people do not want to "sit on tombstones" to view the ocean or a sunset.

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