City Takes Steps Toward Lifting Mural Ban

A new ordinance, co-drafted by local Councilman Ed Reyes, would once again allow murals to be painted on private property.

The Los Angles City Council on Wednesday took a small step toward once again legalizing murals on private property.

Though commonly referred to as "The Mural Capital of the World," Los Angeles since 2002 has prohibited the painting of murals on private property as a stipulation of its overarching sign ordinance.

Spurred by a motion co-drafted by local Councilman Ed Reyes--along with Westside representative Bill Rosendahl--the council unanimously passed a motion to begin the process exempting murals under the sign ordinance.

"We want to define murals as something other than signs and create a process for permitting murals," Rosendahl said.  "There's a difference between a sign and a mural: One is marketing, and one is art."

The motion directs the city attorney's office, in coordination with the planning department and department of cultural affairs, to get down to brass tacks on creating a comprehensive mural ordinance.

The conflict between signs and murals

For artists living in Los Angeles--a metropolis long recognized as "The Mural Capital of the World"--there has for years existed a glaring disconnect between the city's ordinances regarding public art and the cultural realities.

Tanner Blackman, of the department of city planning code studies section, explained that the city's 1986 sign ordinance exempted murals until a lawsuit brought by the outdoor advertising industry in the early 2000s prompted the city to eliminate the distinction between signs and public art.

"To comply with the Constitution, we had to be equally unfair to everyone," Blackman said.

As it stands, murals are only allowed to be painted on public property if commissioned by the city, or on private property if they existed with a specified zoning area. No such private property murals have been permitted since 2007, according to Blackman.

However, Blackman said that with the city of Portland's recent passage of a comprehensive mural ordinance, Los Angeles now has a framework they can work within to once again permit murals on private property.

(Both the city of Portland's mural ordinance, as well as the city council agenda with links to several motions to be considered in the Los Angeles mural ordinance can be downloaded from the media box above.)

"The city of Portland has created the framework that shows us how to work within those restraints," Blackman said.

Arts community asks for greater role

While Rosendahl's and Reyes' calls to separate murals from the sign ordinance drew cheers from a group of artists who attended Wednesday's meeting, there was also some concern among speakers who felt that artists had not been given enough of a stake in drafting the mural ordinance.

Elizabeth Espinoza, a community art historian from the United Painters of Public Art, said she could not support the motion because muralists from across the city were not involved in the mural working group.

"They have not been invited to cultural affairs meetings. This item deletes the voice of the community muralist and we don't appreciate that," Espinoza said.

Blackman stressed, however, that many more community meetings were to come as the city attorney's office worked to prepare the final draft of the mural ordinance.

"There is no ordinance language in front of council today. What happened last week was the green light to begin the process, now the workshops can begin in earnest," Blackman said, referring to a presentation he gave about the mural ordinance before a joint City Council committee meeting last week.

"I'm happy to speak to constituents as we go forward, so help me set up those meetings," Blackman continued, addressing the city council members.

Amnesty for muralists

Councilman José Huizar said that, while the city works to design its mural ordinance, some artists in Los Angeles face fines following the institution of the 2002 ban.

He told the city council that he's asked the City Attorney to hold off on enforcing fines on muralists while the ordinance is drafted.

"I've asked city attorney's office to ease off on them until we get a final solution," he said.

The mural ordinance could also potentially roll in motions previously submitted by council members that would grandfather in murals created post-2002, while also requiring the name and contact information of the persons responsible for maintaining the mural be submitted to the city and requiring any graffiti tagging to be removed and anti-graffiti coating to be applied.

Shawn Richardson October 20, 2011 at 03:23 PM
So murals are art but signs are not. That's going to be a shock to all my graphic designer friends since according to that limited understanding they aren't artists since they don't make art. Maybe it's that one is art that some people like and the other is art they don't like. Yeah that seems like a just reason to regulate a persons use of their private property.
Tina Gulotta-Miller October 20, 2011 at 04:48 PM
Art can be commercial, obscure, regional, marketable, ordinary, unordinary and it can be junk. Sometimes I imagine that our fearless leaders will have an epiphany and discover a deeper dialogue among themselves and with its public regarding aesthetics. But then I have a cup of tea and realize it's still only 2011.
Shawn Richardson October 21, 2011 at 01:33 AM
I'll forgo the dialogue in favor on a halt to legislating aesthetics.
Susan R October 22, 2011 at 03:07 PM
There are a FEW good murals. The rest are junk. Our city already looks horrible. If this is passes anyone can put up whatever they want and make the city look like a slum. Take that back, the city already looks like a slum in many areas. This will make it worse.
Nimby pimp October 22, 2011 at 05:08 PM
NELA looks like a slum mostly as a result of the unregulated development that proliferated during the long and regrettable tenure of city councilman Art Snyder. This period of growth favored high density and low cost construction at the expense of the historic character and open spaces of the area.
David Fonseca (Editor) October 22, 2011 at 08:26 PM
"If this is passes anyone can put up whatever they want and make the city look like a slum." That is ... factually bankrupt.


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