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Buffed Out Street Art a Case Study for Mural Ordinance

Early Monday morning a graff-style piece was buffed out despite the building owner granting permission for the piece to be created.

The building fits in a triangle parcel at South Main Street , and East Third Street in Downtown Los Angeles, between a parking structure and the St. George Hotel. It houses a small wholesale business.

Unfortunately for property owners and management -- and the artists -- the parking structure is also home to the LAPD Motor Transport Division and its motor pool facility, one block away from LAPD Headquarters.

The owner gave permission to artists, according to Daniel Lahoda of L.A. Freewalls, but has been told by LAPD that placing a mural or graff piece is illegal.

As of now, with the City of Los Angeles mural ordinance in process of being drafted, new works are not illegal and may be grandfathered protection as Vintage Murals.

The building owner has been through this commission-and-elimination process several times before, and clearly weary of dealing with LAPD. When contacted, he stated "I don't want anything to do with this anymore" before hanging up.

It is common, as seen in previous reports on LAPD and LA County Sheriff's response to work that appears to be in the street style of graffiti, to directly inform property owners that they face potential fines and legal trouble for allowing something "gang-related" on their building.

It is the very issue that the new mural ordinance is supposed to solve. The new ordinance is about enabling property owners to commission works, as much as it is about artists creating them.

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In this case LAPD contradicts what the building owner was informally told by the city. "It's a direct agenda [of LAPD]," said Lahoda this morning, after visiting the site and speaking to the building owner. "The city is not acting in the best interest of the community."

Calls to a Downtown Center Business Improvement District (DCBID) maintenance supervisor prompted them to make a quick visit to the site. Soon after, they referred all questions to operations management, which were not returned at the time of this post. (A call to LAPD Central Division Community Relations was also placed this morning, and not returned.)

The piece was to be a collaboration between Los Angeles based Sand and working partner Vyal, and New York based Cope2. In its early stage, it does appear like the abstract typography of random tags in the city, but was was taken down before the other artists completed the piece.

Keeping a clear line between City Departments, and warding off property owners from being threatened by law enforcement, is the heavy lifting expected to be handled by the mural ordinance, which is being designed to streamline a process of obtaining permits for new works to be installed.

That also includes informing what work is going where, and ensure that all City Hall departments are communicating with each other: LAPD, City Planning, Cultural Affairs, Building and Safety.

The location of the building is in a part of Council District 9 that was recently reassigned to Council District 14.

It may also require that artists and property owners do a community survey, but not yet determined how State, Federal, or City government buildings will be considered part of that process.

Later in the morning, City Planner Tanner Blackman tweeted, "Today shows why we need clarity on mural regulations."

The expected release of the final mural ordinance is forthcoming, assures Blackman; an approval path that may be delayed by City Hall distracted with city budget and redistricting negotiations.

No doubt the tricky gray areas of street art and graffiti, and murals in general, were vulnerable to aesthetic interpretation. The ordinance's real impact will be shown only if all parties, city departments, artists, building owners, communicate with each other before a project begins.

As for this piece, just painted out, City Hall and local BIDS are not talking this morning.

Follow the ongoing conversation on the mural ordinance in our archives.

Top: Photo by Jason Wawro

About the Author

Ed Fuentes is an arts journalist, photographer, graphic designer, and digital muralist who covers a variety of topics and geographies in Southern California for KCET.
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