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Before skywriting took mural anarchy to the masses and artists huddled to plan public comment strategy, Councilmember Ed P. Reyes looked for ways to restore the Los Angeles mural tradition in District 1, where he was elected to serve in 2001. He was one of the first elected officials to spearhead a city mural revival, and as chair of Planning Land Use Management (PLUM) committee, Reyes monitored the progress of the mural ordinance.
Last Thursday, in the final month of three terms, he held court at Avenue 50 Studio's gallery space in Highland Park, a visit that came by way of an invitation by the Mural Conservancy of Los Angeles to provide an update on the ordinance. The room was filled with muralists and stakeholders who came ready with questions. With a hoarse voice that had a slight resignation, he updated the audience on the status of the ordinance.
It may not sweep through city council, warned Reyes. While all the councilmembers, and the city-at-large, are eager to have the mural ordinance go through, some Districts have vocal members of their constituency not comfortable with the details.
The topics that will hang up some councilmembers are the same points artists have been lobbying for. Foremost is the restriction of allowing art on single-family homes. Some neighborhood advocates are worried that it will allow artists, once they have permission of property owners, to paint whatever they want in public view with no community outreach. Artists argue that a broad city ruling that blocks art on single-family homes takes away from the intent and tradition of murals.
"Will a 'no-vote' council members realize that their iron hand over us will also forbid them from painting the decorative art they love," said Kent Twitchell, clarifying Willie Herrón's protest of the limit. The two muralists pointed out that exterior tromp l'oeil will be an ordinance causality for some high-priced neighborhoods.
Reyes counted the councilmembers on board for moving the ordinance forward, including José Huizar, the District 14 councilmember who has also led the charge for murals to be legal.
There was a quiet gasp when it was revealed that Tom LaBonge, District 4 Councilman, was not an automatic "yes" vote, even as he led a different wave of meetings and motions in 2008 to get the mural tradition back on walls. "I have always been an advocate for murals," LaBonge said a few days after the meeting, and stated he less worried about single-family homes having a mural, but thinks something should be written to limit one style per home, rather than having multiple artists install works on a single property.
Then again, his district is where Chris Brown's street art-style mural is, which raised complaints and prompted the city to impose a fine.
He just wants clarification on the ordinance, said LaBonge, but not where it will hold up the mural ordinance more than it has to. "I want it done right," he said. "But don't want this to go on for another year. We have to get it through."
At the meeting, Reyes attempted to point out that passing the ordinance is what's needed. As to what is art, where is funding, what is the aesthetic of each neighborhood, are details that can be defined after the mural ordinance serves its main purpose: to move art out from under the rules of signs, and be administered in Cultural Affairs, not Building and Safety.
"It's to find a process to allow people to create on their own property," recanted Tanner Blackman, who authored the ordinance.
"We need to move forward with an ordinance that we worked so hard for," said Isabel Rojas-Williams, Executive Director of MCLA, who was moderating the meeting and herding questions.
The public meeting was held in anticipation of the mural ordinance being presented to City Council. It's in the queue, so to speak, waiting to be listed on the agenda after being signed off and transmitted by the City Attorney's office. It's closer than ever.
But not so fast there, mural-nistas.
One day after the meeting the mural ordinance was bumped again. The earliest it will be heard is July, confirmed Monica Valencia, press deputy for Reyes. It will not be scheduled for the City Council agenda in June since the proposed $60 permit fee -- for artists, or whomever commissions a work, to put up a mural on privately owned building -- requires a 10-day posting period.
"From July 1st and onward, it will be a coordinated effort between the new PLUM committee chair and Council President to schedule the ordinance after it meets the notice
requirements," wrote MCLA in a statement.
Reyes will be termed out on June 30, so the mural ordinance will not pass during his watch. But he wants the artists to act up. Not about aesthetics, but to "help us to get 8 votes."
Top: David Botello and Kent Twitchell outside Avenue 50 Studio after the mural ordinance update. Photo: Ed Fuentes.
[Updated 6/19 4:30 p.m.: An updated version of the mural ordinance, released on 6/14, can be seen here. Also this post has been edited to clarify that Councilman Reyes was invited by The MCLA to provide an update on the Mural Ordinance. See below comment.]