ENCINITAS, Calif. -- City leaders decided that the Surfing Madonna must come down off a public wall, but they hope to remove it in such a way that it can be put up somewhere else.

 The Encinitas City Council voted to spend nearly $2,000 to have a Los Angeles-based art conservation firm explore ways to take down the mosaic without destroying it in the process.

"It's a beautiful piece.  It's a miracle. We're so happy to have it here," said Dody Crawford, the executive director of the Downtown Encinitas/Main Street Association. "I wish it could stay there, but I understand the dilemma the city.  It's a religious piece, and the fact that it's unauthorized art --  that's a real dilemma."

"It's like someone gifting you a St. Bernard puppy for your studio apartment," said Mayor James Bond. 

"Regardless of the beauty and the craftsmanship, we have to put that aside.  The fact of the matter is it arrived to us in an illegal fashion," said Councilwoman Kristin Gaspar.

The Surfing Madonna was put up under the Encinitas Boulevard train underpass over a weekend in late April.  The polychrome mosaic was not sanctioned by the City of Encinitas, nor has anybody taken responsibility for it.  Even so, the Surfing Madonna has many supporters in this environmentally-conscious beach community.   But  there are also those who want it taken down.

"It's offensive that you would actually pay money to preserve something that's vandalism," said Amy Seis, an Encinitas resident, at Wednesday's council meeting. "I think it's arrogant for people of one religion to put something up on public property and assume that everyone else agrees with it."

Most of the public comments at the meeting supported the Surfing Madonna.  Some community organizations expressed interest in having the mosaic relocated to private property.  The owner of the Moonlight 7/11 said he'd gladly show it on the building wall facing the PCH.

"It's actually brought the community together mostly, except for a couple disgruntled people," said Crawford.