In a Californian coastal idyll known for harboring creative types like Ansel Adams, Jack London and onetime mayor Clint Eastwood, the latest public nuisance is also the city's very soul--art. With 120 art galleries in a town of 4,058 people, or one gallery for every 34 residents, the city council of Carmel-by-the-Sea voted last month to limit the number of new galleries moving into town. Carmel's leaders decided that the city, which earns no sales-tax revenue when out-of-state tourists snap up a watercolor, has reached aesthetic overkill.
Carmel's artistic community is canvas-shredding mad. "The art galleries bring a lot of people to town. They are going to kill the goose that lays the golden egg," says Linda Miller, who runs a gallery with her husband Jim, a painter, on Ocean Avenue, the city's main drag. Mayor Sue McCloud is unmoved. "We need a more diverse economy," she says.
In the past, Carmel has preserved its bohemian charm through ordinances banning streetlights, neon signs and, at one stage, ice cream cones (Eastwood reversed that one in 1986). But the 1-sq.-mi. city has become a victim of its own success, as three-bedroom houses sell for $2 million and the high rents that gallery owners are willing to pay force out mom-and-pop stores. Oldtimers shrug at the city's latest dirigiste maneuver. "This is still paradise," says Wilda Northrop of the Carmel Art Association. "No matter what happens on Ocean Avenue, there's always the beautiful ocean at the end of the street." By Terry McCarthy