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Revision Will Make Mural Ordinance Less Confusing for Property Owners

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A segment based on this story was produced for KCET's award-winning TV show "SoCal Connected." Watch it here now.

A mural that graced a wall came down because of a clumsy notice.

Installed on a wall at La Reyna Restaurant at Seventh and Mateo Streets last year, the mural by David Choe and Aryz, with Retna and Critter Fleming, was painted over by the property owner after he received "Notices of Noncompliance" by the city.

It was sent by the city's Department of Building and Safety, responding to a complaint they received from from within the Arts District.

After the property owner followed up to see what it would take to get a mural up to code, it became clear that it was up to him to make sure the mural is registered with the city -- so up went the paint.

Ultimately it's the property owner, not artist, curator, or landlord, who signs off on paperwork. It also means that they are left to maintain the paperwork if it wasn't completed, whether they commissioned the work or simply gave the O.K. for an artist or curator to use a wall.

When Choe's mural was painted over, the process for which began with that compliance notice from Building and Safety, officials from City Council District 14 saw that the notice didn't make it clear what options are available for the property owner.

That paint-out led to the quick drafting of an amendment to the mural ordinance, which will lessen the confusion for "both new Original Art Murals that were in-process for registration with the Department of Cultural Affairs and existing, grandfathered murals that were created prior to the date of adoption of the Mural Ordinance."

Drafted May 9, the motion was sent to Planning Land Use Management for approval to revise "the format and content" of notices so that they also "inform property owners of the protections" and "process for registering murals," and how to initiate mural registration with the Department of Cultural Affairs (DCA).

Grandfather protection means that murals that went up before the ordinance was passed have more ways to stay up. Choe's mural did qualify, but the evolving mural(s) on Third and Main, and some smaller works at Seventh and Mateo, have changed out since the mural ordinance passed in October, 2013. Those works may be on the same walls, and some done by the same artists, but murals painted after the ordinance was adopted surrender that grandfathering. The infamous "Foster the People" mural and Ron English mural were already confirmed as having incomplete paperwork.

They are just a few of several recent murals that have not been registered, or had permits completed, or even filed. If they are not registered as a mural through DCA, then it defaults as a sign, under the jurisdiction of the Department of Building and Safety. If the general public files a complaint, then it's acted on by Building and Safety (who only have two people covering all non-compliance issues, not just murals).

"We have the responsibility to ensure the Mural Ordinance is administered correctly, as directed by City Council," said Felicia Filer, Public Art Division for DCA, when asked in March about the policy, which was jointly authored by artists and the city. At the time they were catching up with the nuances of the ordinance.

Now it's time for non-compliance notices to catch up with policy.

Photo: Street Art News

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