City Panel Takes Steps to Legalize Murals in Los Angeles

Cover image of a city report on murals presented Wednesday | Photo courtesy City of LA Planning Department
Cover image of a city report on murals presented Wednesday | Photo courtesy City of LA Planning Department

By the city's count, there are 1,614 murals in Los Angeles, once known as the mural capital of the world. But some 400 have been painted over and the rest are found on a myriad of different places like schools (424 murals), city property (261 murals) and privately-owned walls (369 murals). That number on private properties, like businesses and homes, could swell, thanks to a recent step by city council members.

A decade-old ban of murals, which when on private property are considered commercial signs under broad city codes, is likely headed for change after a city panel Wednesday approved moving forward with crafting a number of new mural ordinances that would preserve existing works while creating opportunities for new ones.

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"We need to put the city back in this rightful place," said Debra Padilla, Executive Director of the Social and Public Art Resource Center (SPARC), the institution that recently rededicated their signature piece, The Great Wall of Los Angeles. "We owe the next generation the chance to paint their history and their story."

Elizabeth Blaney of Union de Vecinos, a grassroots community organization from Boyle Heights, offered their "community perspective" by stating that "murals are the transformation of public spaces." She added that property owners have been waiting, some up to ten years, to allow artists to paint their walls.

Daniel Lahoda of L.A. Freewalls Project pointed to the popularity of his curated wheat-paste installations in the Arts District as a demonstration of the public demand for large-scale works. "I think the project helped to get people fired up to create new policy," he said after the meeting.

Firing up the mood at the meeting was the graffitti artist known as Saber, who introduced his "End Mural Moratorium: Art Is Not A Crime" petition that has gathered 6,000 local and national signatures.

Wayne Healy, a founding member of East Los Streetscapers and who has been active in previous attempts to restore a mural production process in the last decade of council motions, recanted the power of storytelling in community. He said murals are part of the early Chicano Art movement, a featured subject in Pacific Standard Time's regional survey of L.A. Art Movements from 1945 to 1980.

In all, four proposals were green-lit to move forward. Two of them, the Vintage Mural Permit and the Time/Place/Manner Permit, were sent to the City Attorney's office to be drafted into ordinances that would be put before the city council for adoption.

The Vintage program would create a process to retroactively permit murals placed on private property during the ban. And known in Portland as Original Art Murals, the Time/Place/Manner Permit program would allow "hand-produced works of visual art"--painted by hand, tiled, or possibly silk screened--effectively creating the opportunity for new and smaller murals across the city.

The remaining two proposals will be further explored in workshops. The idea behind a Public Art Easement Permit would allow private building owners to "donate" a wall to the city for purposes of a mural that would last at least five years. The last idea could create districts within the city, each one supporting different styles of murals.

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