As California's newly redesigned "Whale Tail" license plate was unveiled Tuesday in Santa Monica, California Coastal Commission and Department of Motor Vehicle representatives have been all smiles, but one local organization isn't pleased.
While California has had a special Whale Tail license eco-plate since 1997, the new plate design was prompted after the artist who created the original asked for a 20 percent royalty from sales of the plates, according to the California Coastal Commission.
Nevertheless, a foundation created by the artist, who is known only as Wyland, reached out to Patch to say that's untrue.
"[Our] side of the story seems to be continually overshadowed by the Coastal Commission PR machine," said Steve Creech, a representative for the nonprofit Wyland Foundation.
The foundation, incepted by Wyland in 1993, promotes environmentalism through public art, education programs and community events.
Locally, Wyland is probably most known for the on the . At the city's , he kicked the .
Creech said that Wyland wasn't asking the commission for royalties from sales of the plates for himself. Instead, he was asking for proceeds to help fund his foundation's efforts.
"After nearly 20 years of loaning the image to the state of California, Wyland asked the coastal commission [for] Whale Tail proceeds to help fund environmental education programs through his Wyland Foundation on an ongoing basis," Creech said.
"These were exactly the type of programs the Whale Tail plate was designed to fund," he continued. "We know the state of California is suffering from numerous environmental problems—rampant overdevelopment along our coast, non-point pollution, etc.—and are working to raise awareness about those problems."
Over the 14 years since California rolled out Wyland's Whale Tail license plate, 200,000 Whale Tail plates have been sold, drumming up $60.2 million for coastal conservation and environmental efforts. The money has also been used to fund 433 Whale Tail grants, which go to programs implemented in every coastal county in the state.
"We really appreciate the donation of the original whale tail," said California Coastal Commission Spokeswoman Chris Parry . "It has served us really well. We're nothing but appreciative at this point."
In 2008, when the economy collapsed, Wyland "was doing what any responsible foundation president was doing in a downturn—he was looking for ways to continue his foundation's environmental outreach programs during a particularly tough economic period," Creech said.
The California Coastal Commission held a contest to find new artists to design the new ecoplate, and the commission this week revealed the winning design by Elizabeth Robinette Tyndall of Bethel Island and graphic designer Bill Atkins of Laguna Beach.
Each artist reportedly received a money prize. And this time around, the artists were required to sign releases, Parry said.
In his comments to Patch, Creech said some people are criticizing the design of the new Whale Tail plate, but "whether we, like many others, think the new image is a poor imitation of a Wyland artwork is beside the point," he said.
Despite the Wyland Foundation's displeasure with the California Coastal Commission and the new plate, Creech said the artist is still "grateful" for having been involved in the Whale Tail initiative.
"In keeping with his conservation mission, Wyland is grateful that the artwork that he loaned to the Whale Tail plate program for almost 20 years has been able to provide assistance to so many worthwhile environmental organizations throughout California," Creech said.
On July 12, the California Coastal Commission issued a genial statement toward Wyland, giving him a Declaration of Appreciation.
"While we are grateful to Wyland for his donation over many years, we opted to retire the plate," said the commission's Executive Director Peter Douglas. "This presented an exciting opportunity to freshen the look of the license plate, inspire new interest, and get the public involved."