Encinitas council withdraws Surfing Madonna permit issue from agenda
Decision appears to end city’s relationship with charity that owns popular mosaic
The city of Encinitas and the charity in charge of the popular Surfing Madonna mosaic appear to have formally parted ways.
After weeks of acrimony that began with a dispute over lifeguard fees, the City Council has withdrawn consideration of any future permits for beach runs hosted by the Surfing Madonna Oceans Project, the nonprofit that owns the 10-foot artwork.
The decision, announced late Tuesday, Feb. 11, by city spokesman Paul Brencick, means next month’s Encinitas Half-Marathon & 5K will be the last event the Surfing Madonna Oceans Project will sponsor in the beachside community.
The City Council was scheduled to consider a recommendation from city staff to cut all ties with the charity due to the alleged behavior of Chairman Robert Nichols.
In a public report issued late last week, City Manager Karen Brust and several department heads accused Nichols of engaging in a years-long pattern of abusing city employees.
Nichols declined to discuss the behavior outlined in the staff report with The San Diego Union-Tribune.
The Surfing Madonna mosaic is a heavy 10-foot piece of art featuring the Virgin Mary riding a surfboard with the message “Save the Ocean” along the side.
It was mysteriously installed without permission under an overpass in 2011. After officials said it must be moved, artist Mark Patterson acknowledged he created the mosaic. It eventually found a home on an exterior restaurant wall on Encinitas Boulevard.
Patterson and Nichols established the Surfing Madonna Oceans Project to raise money to support the artwork and to promote environmental causes. The charity hosted beach runs that raised hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.
The Union-Tribune reported last month that Nichols and his wife collected more than 30 percent of charity revenues in personal salaries in 2018 at the same time grants to city and community groups declined by tens of thousands of dollars.
Encinitas staff said the popular beach runs are likely to continue as city-hosted events.
Nichols recently said the Surfing Madonna mosaic would be removed and placed into storage if the city no longer permits the charity to host the beach runs, although it is unclear if or when that might happen.
—Jeff McDonald is a reporter for The San Diego Union-Tribune
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