Los Angeles city planning officials are slated to soon present an ordinance that would finally treat murals as art as opposed to being equated with signs.

The city’s Planning Commission will review the proposal Thursday, July 12 that would address the protection of murals on public property as well as on private property.

“The proposed ordinance sets forth clear requirements and regulations for declaring and registering a proposed piece of art as an original mural or public art installation and the proper registration requirements for declaring an existing piece of art as an existing original mural art or public art installation,” the proposed ordinance states.

“In doing so, the ordinance will exempt such works from a number of stringent requirements applied to signage in the city in recognition of the fact that there are clear and positive public benefits to street level mural art and other public art.”

The current definition of a mural is a sign that is painted on or applied to and made integral with the wall, a written message of which does not exceed 3 percent of the total area of the sign.

According to the commission, murals can be permitted under limited conditions on city, county, state and federal property pursuant to a legally adopted specific plan, supplemental use district or development agreement. The guidelines for private property are much less stringent.

The ordinance recommends three proposals that would address questions and concerns surrounding murals on private property, where the majority of the city’s artworks are located: issue vintage mural permits; time, place and manner permits; and public art easement permits.

Owners of private property would be required to donate their property in the form of an easement to the city before a mural could be painted.

Tony Vera, a Venice Beach videographer, is the driving force behind a mural in Venice that is being painted of his favorite rhythm and blues singer, former Oakwood Neighborhood resident Teena Marie. Vera began his quest last year to have an artistic monument to Marie built.

The mural, which is in the process of being painted, is on the side of a building owned by Allen Sarlo and Alan Ruzicka on Pacific Avenue, two blocks from the beach.

“I love the idea of the city’s proposal to create a mural ordinance that will not include signs,” Vera said. “It should have been done a long time ago.”

Marie, who attended Venice High School, had several hits, including “I Need Your Lovin’” and “Lover Girl.” She passed away in 2010.

Venice has long been a haven for artists, especially muralists, since the 1970s. Several artworks by Rip Kronk, Emily Winters and many other renowned Venice muralists adorn the sides and backs of buildings throughout Venice.

Kronk’s Venice Kinesis was the most recent substantial mural painted in Venice. A smaller mural was painted at Westside Leadership Magnet School near the Venice-Marina del Rey border last year.

Like the Westside Leadership Magnet painting, murals are also permitted on the Venice Art Walls and at Metro stations.

Vera, who is paying for the Teena Marie mural, joined others throughout the city in taking advantage of a lull in enforcement on murals by city officials while the city is considering the new law.

Judy Baca, the founder and executive director of the Social and Public Art Resource Center (SPARC), said the ordinance is markedly better than previous efforts. “I think this will get us there,” she said.

The ordinance includes a new clear distinction that defines original murals as “hand-painted, hand-tiled or digitally printed images on the exterior wall of a building that does not contain any commercial message.” That definition is one that Baca and others have long advocated for over several years.

“What we’re looking at is a definition that is closer to the VARA Act,” she said.

The Visual Artist Rights Act (VARA) is the first federal copyright law that grants artists moral rights over their artworks. Enacted in 1990, the law allows artists the right to prevent distortion, mutilation, or modification of an artwork.

City Councilman Bill Rosendahl submitted a motion last year for planning officials to craft an ordinance that considers murals as art and does not include them in the city’s new sign ordinance.

“I’m putting this motion in because I strongly believe in separating art from commercial advertising,” the councilman told The Argonaut the day before he submitted his motion. “(Murals) are artistic expressions that are often intertwined with culture and history, and they deserve to be viewed separately from commercial signage.”

The Venice Neighborhood Council unanimously backed a resolution in May last year to encourage Rosendahl to submit the motion to the City Council.

Rosendahl said many of his constituents, especially in Venice, have been waiting for the ordinance so that current and budding artists can begin working on new murals as well as preserving the existing artworks.

“What I’m thrilled about is this is on track with the deadlines and timetables that we wanted,” he said. “I’m very happy with the flexibility that (planning officials) have shown on this.”

Baca, who has painted some of Los Angeles’ most memorable murals as well as artworks that have been and are still displayed around the nation, is concerned with some of the regulations required under the proposed original art mural provision of the law. They regulate height, width and do not allow mural art for which compensation has been given.

“I’ve never been in support of limiting what an artist can do creatively,” she said.

Rosendahl said Venice-based artists in particular stand to benefit from the new provisions of the ordinance due to the community’s longtime association with creative, eclectic art.

“Venice has been a historic, iconic community for a long time. (Murals) are part of its fabric and are in many ways the roots of Venice,” he said. “Its artistic history has reverberated around the nation and with its murals, you can feel the connection of different cultures and different periods of time.”

The Planning, Building and Safety, and Cultural Affairs departments were involved in the review and construction of the mural ordinance.

The proposed ordinance will come before the council probably by August, according to Rosendahl.

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