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Imperial Beach Art Guild President Kelly Tracy stands next to a freshly painted utility box on the corner of Seacoast Drive and I.B. Blvd.



IIB Art Guild Spearheads Beautification Program

If Kelly Tracy has his way, you'll soon be able to view an art show just by driving through Imperial Beach.

Ten students from teacher Lucy Nash's Mar Vista High art class, along with members of the Imperial Beach Art Guild, will be covering at least 16 utility boxes with student-designed and executed paintings. Two of the boxes on Seacoast Drive are already under production a brilliant orange sun and a hammerhead shark. "I never really noticed them before, but once the idea started to take hold of me, Every time I drove anywhere I kept seeing these ugly gray-green boxes," Tracy grins. "They really could look a lot better."

Tracy, the current Imperial Beach Art Guild president, is working in collaboration with the I.B. Chamber of Commerce, the Imperial Beach Business Improvement District, Mar Vista High School, San Diego Gas and Electric and SBC, to improve the appearance of utility boxes on Seacoast Drive, Palm Avenue and 13th street.

But, as with most civic projects, bureaucracy has slowed things down a bit, and completion of the project is currently on hold until a city council vote gives the go-ahead to continue. Tracy says, "There are so many reasons to do this. It's a constructive, collaborative effort and it brings the community together. It adds art to the community. As kids grow up they will be able to see their imprint all around them. And there is also the opportunity for these kids to get exposure for their talent, which could lead to paid work. Some of the kids have already received jobs from painting these boxes. A member of the community came down to watch to the students paint and he hired the students to paint his bus / converted motor home. I am willing to do what ever it takes to see this project accomplished in a timely manner."

Tracy brings a passion for art, expertise in coatings, engineering, metal fabrication and a love for his new hometown. Kelly Tracy came to I.B. in the spring of 2004 and like a lot of people in San Diego, when he started looking for a place to buy; I.B. wasn’t an option at first. But then his Realtor found a great place that really met his needs. Tracy said he discovered that I.B. was changing in a positive direction. With new home owners in the community, existing residents and community organizations have really help improve the image of I.B.

Plunging into the local I.B. art scene, Tracy quickly became involved with the Imperial Beach Art Guild and the BID. Wile joining the IB Chamber of Commerce Tracy mentioned his desire to help reduce graffiti by painting the utility boxes. He discovered that IB Chamber of Commerce president Deb Janney had a similar desire to paint the utility boxes. Janney wanted to work with MVH art students and needed help to coordinate student painters.  BID member Jerry Brice had recently secured permission from SDG&E and SBC. With Kelly Tracy's enthusiasm, and Art Guild Vice President’s help, the first painting session was organized for Monday, Dec. 20.

At 9 am, MVH art students and I.B. Art Guild members gathered along various locations on Seacoast Drive and under careful directions by Kelly Tracy began painting. The 43-year-old artist explains in great detail the proper steps of the prep work on the boxes making sure the students preceded with the utmost care. "I come from a background of metal fabrication, composites, specialty coatings and paints, in the automotive, aircraft and marine industry”.

 I made sure the kids cleaned and taped over all the identifying information on the boxes before we started, and in spite of assurances that all official hurdles were cleared, around 2 pm, Assistant City Manager Tom Ritter arrived on the scene and asked the painting crews to stop work. Tracy says, "I went down to city hall to speak with Mr. Ritter and it seems that even though everyone has been talking about this project for a while, there was never an official city council vote to approve it. Ritter was very sympathetic to what we were doing and supportive of the idea, but said we had to wait until a vote and council approval at the first council meeting in January to continue with the project."

Later that evening, Tracy received a call from Ritter saying that a provisional go-ahead had been given to complete the boxes that had already been started, but the other boxes would still have to wait. Tracy informed the volunteers to be ready to resume painting the next day. On Tuesday, while students held brushes ready to resume painting, word came that SDG&E was asking the crews to stop until they could inspect the boxes to make sure they were being done according to SDG&E's requirements. "They were concerned that the weather proofing seals were being painted over. But we can't even get to those, as they are under the locked doors. I think they also might be concerned that we were painting over the numbered ID tags on the boxes, even though it's obvious that we have taken great care not to," says Tracy.

Re-scheduling the painting has been postponed due to weather concerns, but Tracy remains optimistic that the project will eventually get done and that it will be a positive improvement to the community.  "I've heard from other towns that have done similar projects, such as Ocean Beach, North Park and Chula Vista that after painting murals on there utility boxes graffiti is very rare” adds Tracy.

For more information on the Imperial Beach Art Guild and this project, contact Kelly Tracy at  (619) 423-7829 or go to www.ibartguild.com


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