L.A. mural ordinance passes, includes ‘opt out’ provision for neighborhoods
By Gary Walker
After 11 years of being exiled from the city that once embraced them with passion, murals will no longer take a back seat to commercial signage and can legally become part of Los Angeles’ visual landscape.
The Los Angeles City Council, after postponing a vote on a mural ordinance for over a week, finally voted in favor of ending a moratorium on new murals Aug. 28. The 13-2 vote will allow artists who pay $60 to the city the ability to create their own artistic vision without having their murals equated as commercial speech.
The passage of the ordinance now allows the city to begin its journey back to becoming the “mural capital of the world.”
Communities such as Venice on the Westside and Boyle Heights and Silver Lake in eastern Los Angeles have been waiting eagerly for a new municipal law that will permit digital as well as printed art works in their neighborhoods, as these communities share a long history and acceptance of murals.
East Los Angeles is home to countless mural projects, many led by Venice muralist Judith Baca, while Venice is famous for its art from noted muralists such as Rip Cronk and Emily Winters, among others.
Venice Neighborhood Council Arts Committee Co-Chair Cynthia Rogers said having an ordinance that now specifically regulates murals as art without ambiguity is one of the most important components of the new citywide law.
“I’d say the number-one benefit is clarity. Our communities are screaming for clarity,” Rogers said. “With the passing of this ordinance we will be one step closer to putting in a workable framework by which current and future artists will be able to commission their works and with that a greater likelihood to advance the proliferation of murals in Los Angeles.
“This is a huge win for all.”
City Councilman José Huizar, one of the ordinance’s most outspoken supporters, said the colorful and often historically based artworks have been part of the fabric of Los Angeles for years, especially in Latino neighborhoods.
“Murals are one of the things that define our unique and diverse city,” Huizar said in a prepared statement. “(On Aug. 28), we as a city decided to embrace our history and re-affirm our commitment to supporting the arts, community building and beautifying our neighborhoods through murals.”
Two neighborhood councils within The Argonaut coverage area, the Mar Vista Community Council and the Neighborhood Council of Westchester-Playa, both passed resolutions asking the City Council to allow individual neighborhoods to determine whether they would like to have murals in certain areas, including residential neighborhoods.
In its resolution, Westchester-Playa wants murals excluded from apartment buildings and single-family homes. The board also wants funding for enforcement mechanisms and procedures, as well as the prohibition of digitally printed murals, a request that mural advocates resisted.
Mar Vista wanted the requirement that neighborhoods that support the art form in residential zones apply for permission from the city and exceptions for R1 and/or all other residential zones. The Mar Vista board additionally asked to limit murals in residential zones to areas that are not visible from the public right of way, among other conditions.
“It still needs work,” replied Mar Vista resident Steve Wallace, when asked what he thought of the final version of the ordinance. “Some council members wanted to rush it through by the looks of it, when in fact it still needs work.”
The City Council approved a version that honored Westchester-Playa’s, Mar Vista’s and like-minded communities’ wishes regarding residential zones, but Huizar, who represents Council District 14, added an amendment where neighborhoods that welcome murals – like Venice – can “opt in” to allowing the art forms in residential neighborhoods by petitioning city officials.
Wallace, who helped craft his community council’s resolution, thinks communities that enjoy murals should be required to go before neighborhood councils and homeowner groups before they are created.
“If people feel strongly about putting up a mural, they should go speak with their neighbors and try to convince them,” he said.
Twelve organizations, including the Mural Conservancy of Los Angeles, the Venice-based Social and Public Art Resource Center (SPARC) and Venice Arts Council, sent a letter to all City Council members imploring them to let communities that want murals allow for them to be created.
“For those council districts that want a mural free zone, we believe an overlay zone would be appropriate. The majority of communities that have supported murals in their districts for decades should not be penalized for those few districts that oppose murals,” the letter states.
“Our streets and neighborhoods are our museums. We owe the next generation an opportunity to contribute to and learn from the rich mural legacy that once made Los Angeles the ‘mural capital of the world.’
“Let’s regain this title by passing an ordinance that sends a message that the city of Los Angeles is a mural-friendly city once again,” the letter continues. “The mural community has worked hard to help shape a mural policy that we all believe to be fair and just.”
Wallace, a co-chair of the Mar Vista Community Council’s Land Use and Planning Committee, said he was opposed to having murals of any sort on a single family home, despite the opt-out option.
“I still believe that a mural does not belong on the front or side of a single family home or multi-family home without 100 percent neighbor support first,” he said.
City Councilman Mike Bonin, who represents Council District 11, which includes Venice, voted in favor of the ordinance.