A mural project to honor the late singer Teena Marie took a step further toward fruition last month due to a provision in city enforcement policy where no sanctions will be issued for fine art paintings during the reworking of the law distinguishing art and commercial speech.

Venice videographer Tony Vera, who is championing the project, told The Argonaut that he is looking forward to having the planning process for the mural expedited as soon as possible. “I’m very happy that this is moving forward,” Vera said.

Marie, who was born Mary Christine Brockert, was raised in the Oakwood neighborhood of Venice and graduated from Venice High School. Within a few years she became an R&B singer and had several hit singles in the 1980s, including “I Need Your Lovin’” and “Lover Girl.”

She passed away Dec. 26, 2010 of natural causes at 54.

Marie’s high school classmate, Alan Sarlo, owns the building at 1902 Pacific Ave. in Venice where the Marie mural will be painted and confirmed that he has given Vera the green light to pursue the project.

The City Council’s Planning and Land Use Committee requested in 2008 that the Department of Building and Safety refrain from issuing citations to comply with mural ordinances until the city creates a permiting process for murals on private property.

Vera is contributing $10,000 to the mural project, which he has been planning for several years but picked up speed last year. Initially, he wanted the famed muralist Rip Kronk to paint Marie’s image, but recently Kronk decided to go in another direction following a dispute over how the mural should look.

“Rip said that he didn’t want to do what we wanted, so we gave it to another guy (to paint the mural),” Vera said.

Kronk, who has painted iconic murals in Venice such as Morning Shot and last year’s Venice Kinesis, did not return calls for comment.

The new artist is Jordan Nice, who has worked in Venice as a fine arts painter and muralist.

Nice said he has known about Vera’s plans to pay homage to Marie and is happy to be part of the project.

“I know that she was a local celebrity and that Tony was really dedicated to making this happen,” he said. “I knew that when she passed away there were a lot of people who wanted to see something done (to honor her).

“I knew that Rip was working on it, but when that fell through and Tony asked me, I was happy to do it.”

The push by Vera to have the Teena Marie mural painted is taking place against the backdrop of a larger citywide discussion about art in public spaces and how the city interprets it.

Last summer, Los Angeles Councilman Bill Rosendahl, who represents Venice, submitted a motion to the council that would expressly define murals as art. Los Angeles currently equates murals with advertising.

“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 council.

The current definition for 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 city Planning 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.

City officials from the Departments of Building and Safety, Planning and Cultural Affairs are reviewing a potential ordinance specifically for murals.

The City Council’s Planning and Land Use Committee directed the Planning Commission in October to examine how the city can preserve and protect existing murals as well as facilitate the creation of new murals.

City planner Tanner Blackman said he recently made a presentation update on the mural ordinance to the Cultural Affairs Commission on March 15. “I’m still hoping to keep an April 12 date on the city Planning Commission advance calendar,” he said.

Like many artists, Nice feels that there is no comparison between art and advertising.

“I think there is a very basic difference,” the artist said. “It’s not a very complex situation.”

Sarlo also credited Vera with helping to move the project forward. “This wouldn’t have happened without Tony,” he said. “He’s been pushing this with (Rosendahl) for a long time.”

In its current form, a portion of the mural – Marie’s guitar – would hang over the side of the building. Because the building is within the coastal zone, it may require a coastal permit as well.

“In most cases, if (a property owner) has to add on to a structure, it might need a permit,”

said Charles Posner, an analyst with the California Coastal Commission.

Nice, who has recently completed a mural inside a structure on Pacific Avenue and 17th Street in Venice as well as a landscaping project, said he is willing to work within Vera’s guidelines and vision for the mural.

“Tony has something in mind that is very specific, and I’m just trying to draw within the lines of his vision,” he said. “I’m really grateful to be involved in a project in an area of town that I really love.”