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Mural Ordinance Moves Forward, Will Reach City Council August 20

The mural ordinance became so splintered, two versions will be sent to City Council. At least it moved forward and scheduled to be heard August 20.

The proposed ordinance, which would allow murals to be created legally on private property, in part by being moved out from under sign laws by being identified as "original works of art," left the Planning & Land Use Management (PLUM) Committee on Tuesday with versions A and B.

The divide comes from a disagreement on R1 structures, aka single-family homes, being allowed to host public art. A allows it; B requires conditions to be met.

The ordinance moved on to City Council without a specific recommendation.

It became a sticking point during the last few rounds of PLUM meetings. Neighborhood councils and residents from areas that don't have a legacy of painted public art were not warming up to murals, specifically graffiti-based art, invading sight lines.

Representatives from Council District 4, which includes the Hollywood Hills, Toluca Lake, and Studio City, told the PLUM committee that Councilman Tom LaBonge would not vote to pass the ordinance if single-family homes were included. (LaBonge has been an advocate for murals that gave Los Angeles its original mural reputation).

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The recent mural by rapper Chris Brown at his Hollywood Hills home become a red flag for art that can generate complaints from neighbors. The rapper was defiant when fined by the city.

Yet, if the ordinance exempted single-family homes, it could make simple exterior trompe l'oeil details illegal, warned Willie Herrón, the Mural Conservancy restoration expert and artist that helped forge the Los Angeles mural movement.

"When I think of murals, I think of the bigger picture," said Herrón. "You're also opting on your decorative art."

The long debate over digital works versus painted works, community outreach, and registering current works reached enough compromise for the ordinance to move forward. There are still issues that will be handled on a case to case basis, said the committee, such as preventing commercial speech slipping in on works by commissioned artists.

Councilmember José Huizar, who has introduced 19 motions since late 2005, and who now chairs PLUM, made the ordinance a priority on Tuesday's agenda.

"Today's vote on the PLUM committee put us one step closer to allowing murals to once again flourish in the City of Los Angeles," said Huizar. He called for a full report on the pros and cons on including or excluding R-1 single-family homes in the mural ordinance to be presented to City Council August 20. Once approved, and signed-off by Mayor Eric Garcetti, artists can legally create murals on private property in the City of Los Angeles with the consent of property owners.

"It's been a long, hard road, but Huizar appreciates all the input that's been given to this issue, especially from the artists themselves," said District 14's Rick Coca. "We're as close as we've been in a long time."


Top: In South Los Angeles, a hand-painted mural with traditional iconography on a single-family residence may also be working as a commercial sign. June, 2012. Photo by Ed Fuentes.

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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