By Gary Walker
Weeks before a long-awaited citywide ordinance that would definitively separate murals from commercial signage was scheduled to come before the Los Angeles City Council, the Mar Vista Community Council believes it should be sent back to the drawing board.
The City Council was slated to take action on the ordinance last month but the vote was postponed. Seven new members, including Mike Bonin, joined the council July 1 and will soon be casting one of their first important votes of their terms.
Bonin represents Mar Vista in the 11th District.
The local board got its wish of having the ordinance sent back to committee, which will occur after the City Council returns from recess, according to Bonin.
The community council voted unanimously on a resolution July 9 that asks officials on the City Council’s Planning Committee to reconsider the proposed mural law in its current form.
Since 2002, to the consternation of muralists, painters and other artists, the city has equated advertising and art as the same under its sign ordinance. Two years ago, then-Councilman Bill Rosendahl submitted a motion that would make a clear distinction between art and commercial speech, and various city departments have been working on a separate set of guidelines for public art.
Currently, 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.
Steve Wallace, a member of the Mar Vista council’s Planning and Land Use Committee, thinks there are certain places where murals should not be allowed.
“Murals belong in the right environment. I do not believe that a mural painted on the front or side of a residential-zoned single family home is the right place,” he said.
Among the concerns the local council wants the Land Use and Planning Committee to address before it comes before the council include whether there should be an exception for R1 and/or all other residential zones; whether murals in residential zones should be limited to areas that are not visible from the public right of way; and if communities that wish to have murals should be permitted to use existing land use tools such as overlay zones to allow murals in residential zones.
“I support artwork, it’s a wonderful thing, and I have seen some great murals. However murals belong in the right environment,” Wallace added.
“Neighbors should not be subject to waking up everyday to open the blinds and see a mural sprawled all over the front side of their neighbor’s home unless they are in favor of it.”
Bonin, who had a hand in creating the Venice Public Art Walls program on Venice Beach, said he supports allowing communities to decide for themselves, within reason, where they would like to have murals created.
“Our city is a city of neighborhoods, and a one-size- fits-all approach is not always the best thing,” the councilman said. “In communities like Venice, perhaps what can be done is to allow communities that embrace (public art murals) to allow them to exist where they want them and in places like Mar Vista to create a process that does not exclude them but allows for some restrictions.”
Stash Maleski, who runs Venice-based In Creativity Unity or ICU Art, an art organization that also helped to bring the Venice Art Walls to fruition, is hopeful that the new members of the City Council will take the time to review the proposed city law and exclude digital murals.
“I feel like the new council and Mayor Eric Garcetti should take another look at it because it does not express freedom of expression,” he asserted. “Murals should be defined as original art that is hand painted on location.”
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 Judy 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,” said Baca, the founder of and executive director of the Social and Public Art Resource Center (SPARC) in Venice and a world renowned muralist.
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.
In Venice, the reverence for murals is nearly as high as it is for surfing or skateboarding. Home to some of the most colorful and historic murals in Los Angeles, the beachside community welcomed a new mural on Pacific Avenue of R&B singer Teena Marie in November.
Some of the older noteworthy paintings in the area are Endangered Species and Jaya by muralist Emily Winters and muralist Rip Cronk’s Venice Reconstituted.
While she is not particularly overjoyed with the new ordinance, Baca thinks it has potential. “I think this will get us there,” she said in an earlier interview.
Bonin said the City Council will likely vote on the proposed ordinance later this summer.
Mar Vista: Mural ordinance sent back to L.A. Council committee for revisions
By Gary Walker