A long awaited ordinance that will spell out in detail how murals and commercial advertising are separate could be heading to the Los Angeles City Council.
The Department of City Planning is slated to recommend moving its final draft mural ordinance to the council Thursday, Sept. 13 after completing a nearly yearlong process of crafting a new municipal law that will define artwork and make the distinction between art and advertising.
A staff report from Planning Director Michael LoGrande also recommends that the council adopt the ordinance that is being proposed.
Councilman Bill Rosendahl proposed creating a new ordinance for mural art last year after hearing from many of his constituents in Venice, Del Rey and Mar Vista who have been pressing for such a law.
The recommended ordinance would allow muralists to acquire city permits to paint or install their artworks and not be subjected to the regulation of the last decade.
“The proposed ordinance updates Chapter One of the Los Angeles Municipal Code to establish new definitions for ‘original art murals’ to replace the old definition of a mural sign,” planning officials wrote in a recent report. “In doing so, it exempts new and existing murals from a number of requirements and prohibitions, which apply to murals regulated as signs.
“New proposed administrative rule on original art murals to be implemented by the Department of Cultural Affairs sets forth clear and consistent procedures and requirements for applying for a permit to create an original art mural on private property,” the report continues. “These rules and regulations set forth are similar for applying for a permit to protect and maintain existing original art murals.
“These changes will remove unnecessary barriers for artists commissioned to express themselves and their work on private property.”
Under the new provisions, digital and painted mural artists would be required to register the art with the Department of Cultural Affairs. Digital art would be allowed for restoration purposes only.
All new fees would be set at $60.
For nearly a decade, new murals in Los Angeles have been banned but they are allowed on Los Angeles Unified School District campuses, at Metro rail stations and at the Venice Art Walls on the beach due to government free speech protections.
Once known as the “mural capital of the world,” Los Angeles faced legal actions by outdoor advertising companies that led to city officials equating signs with art, much to the chagrin of mural artists.
A court ruling 10 years ago banned outdoor advertising while creating legislation to establish sign districts to allow commercial advertising on billboards, and included in the ban were mural signs.
The City Council outlawed new digital signs in 2008 and after a series of court victories in 2010 upholding the city’s right to prohibit certain commercial advertising and striking down the earlier law against off-site signs, Rosendahl ordered planning officials to take another look at creating an ordinance that separates murals from advertising.
Venice muralist Emily Winters has been one of dozens of artists who have long taken issue with city policy that equates public art with commercial advertising.
“It’s long overdue, separating mural art from advertising,” said Winters, whose murals JAYA and Endangered Species adorn Venice.
Planning and Cultural Affairs representatives have been meeting with various communities on the recommended ordinance for nearly a year, and during that time some residents have moved forward to paint and construct murals during a city moratorium on fining building owners who allow murals to be painted on their properties.
Tony Vera, a locally known Venice videographer, pushed city officials for nearly two years for authorization to pay homage to one of his singing idols by having her image painted on a privately owned building at 1902 Pacific Ave. in Venice.
Vera commissioned a mural of former Venice resident Teena Marie, a recording star in the 1970s and 80s. The mural was finished last month but not to Vera’s expectations.
One organization that planning authorities met with is the Venice Arts Council, which is headed by Winters. They also met with various community groups as well as with some neighborhood councils.
“A mural ordinance will be a boon to young mural artists because it will separate real art from advertising billboards,” said Venice Neighborhood Council President Linda Lucks. “It is necessary because the moratorium on billboards has stopped muralists from doing their art.”
While she likes much of what is in the proposed new mural law, Winters takes issue with a provision in Section A under “change of ownership” that states, “upon a change of ownership to the property to which the mural is affixed, the new owner may deregister the mural with the Department of Cultural Affairs and terminate the covenant.”
Under the proposed ordinance, if the owner of the building where Vera’s Teena Marie mural was painted decides to sell the property, the new owner could have it removed after deregistering it.
“We’re very upset about that,” Winters said. “The VARA Act is in place to protect an artist’s work.”
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.
The 1990 law also may prohibit “intentional or grossly negligent destruction of a work.”
According to city planners, the proposed ordinance would not substantially alter Department of Building and Safety codes.
Lucks thinks an ordinance that will once again allow muralists to practice their crafts could eventually bring artists who might disagree on some language of the proposal together.
“There are still issues and tensions over some of the wording in the proposed ordinance, and I am hopeful it will be resolved to the point we can support a final version, as Venice has a rich tradition of murals to nourish,” the Venice council president said.
Winters hopes that some of the things in the proposed ordinance that she is at odds with can get worked out before the council approves it, but she is happy that it seems to be moving forward.
“We’ve been fighting for this for years,” she said. “It’s long over due.” ¤