Special Reports

Luxury spa says it could lose thousands to city over art piece

Prominent valley businesswoman in a stan

PALM DESERT, Calif. - A local business owner is going toe to toe with the city of Palm Desert over thousands of dollars out of which she says she's being cheated, but the city says it's not true. 

Lindi Biggi is the owner of Venus De Fido, a luxury spa for people and their pets. The spa opened last summer after three years of development. Now that everything is up and running, she says she's owed thousands of dollars for a deposit she paid the city of Palm Desert under the Art in Public Places ordinance. 

"If I wanted a building permit, I had to give them $17,500 to get my building permit as a guarantee that I would put up something that was beautiful in the way of art, and of course, as you can see, this whole place is beautiful," said Biggi.

The city said the ordinance has been in place since 1976 and was designed to encourage property owners to display art on their developments.

Owners must pay a fee in order to start building and can take one of two courses of action: they can approve an art piece with the city before purchasing and installing it to be eligible for a refund, or should the property owner choose not to have art on their property, the city will take the fee and use it toward placing art somewhere else. 

Biggi had planned to take the first course of action after installing a Renaissance-inspired fountain in the front of the building, but according to the city, she didn't follow proper procedures. 

"I saw it. I loved it. I bought it," said Biggi, but that's when she ran into trouble. She did not receive prior approval from the city before purchasing and installing the statue, making her potentially ineligible for her $17,500 reimbursement.

When she went to the city to fight it, she learned the art piece likely wouldn't have been approved in the first place. In an effort to keep art in the city exclusive, the city said it will approve art pieces for reimbursement only when there are fewer than 20 editions in existence. There is some discrepancy Biggi's statue could be one of 50. 

But Biggi said she and other valley business owners are facing a much bigger problem. 

"I personally think she has a legal case, and I think everyone building in Palm Desert has a legal case regarding this ordinance," said C.J. Westrick-Bomar, a friend of Biggi's and a retired attorney, "It shouldn't be a private citizen's responsibility (who) is building something to be the person that bares the burden and the cost of this."

After researching similar cases in California, Westrick-Bomar said she believes the Art in Public Places ordinance is unconstitutional, saying the city should have no right to expect business owners to pay for art that they select.

CBS Local 2 brought the concerns to Ryan Stendell, Palm Desert's director of community development, who feels confident in the city's stance.

"I do believe that our fee has been tested in the courts, and we're on solid ground," Stendell said.

Biggi is considering filing suit. 

"Them not giving it back to me, when I did my share, I did what I said I was going to do, and from them it's just an insult. It's not really even the money. It's just the insult," said Biggi. 

"What is my job is to implement policy that is fair and consistent, so we're not doing for one that we wouldn't do for somebody else," said Stendell, "We're not saying the art needs to go anywhere. It's a wonderful piece that she enjoys on her property; unfortunately, as far as the policy goes though, we have to implement that the same with everyone we deal with."

But Biggi believes she has done her part in providing public art.

"I've been begging the city for a long time now, 'Please sit down and read the ordinances,'" she said. "Some of them are unreasonable. Some of them are fantastic, but I can't seem to get anybody's attention so hopefully this will."

Biggi has so far collected more than 200 signatures on a petition she plans to bring with her to the upcoming Palm Desert City Council meeting on Thursday, March 23. 

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