L.A. Council Approves Much Anticipated Mural Ordinance

By Elizabeth Hsing-Huei Cho, City News Service

The Los Angeles City Council tentatively approved an ordinance Wednesday that would lift a decade-long prohibition on murals adorning privately owned buildings, a move that one council member said would restore the city’s reputation as the “mural capital of the world.”

The measure, which still must come back for final council approval, was approved on a 13-2 vote, with Paul Koretz and Bob Blumenfield dissenting.

The only sticking point in the ordinance was whether to allow murals on single-family homes. The ordinance given tentative approval would not allow murals on homes, but the council asked its staff to report back on a possible “opt-in” process for specific communities to allow them on single-family residences.

“The city of Los Angeles was known as a place where we supported the arts, where we had free expression on our walls,” according to Councilman Jose Huizar, who said he represents Eastside communities that have long embraced mural art.

The murals, often depicting images of cultural and historical figures not taught in schools, gave him an informal education growing up, he said.

Since the ban, which was put in place amid litigation over commercial advertising, city officials have been “grappling” with a way to bring murals back to the city, with efforts to reverse the ban dragging on for a decade, Huizar said.

“We said no to our artists for the last decade, and I truly think it’s time to say yes,” he said.

Huizar noted that relatively few murals – about 2 to 3 percent of those in the city – are painted on single-family homes.

Koretz, who represents a Westside district that includes Bel Air, said he opposed the ordinance because he “got no calls (from constituents) wantingthe murals in their community.”

Some critics of lifting the ban have raised concerns about people painting objectionable or offensive imagery, including hate speech and swastikas. But council members heard from a string of artists and well-known figures in the mural art world who implored the council to lift the ban.

Mural Conservancy Executive Isabel Rojas-Williams, flanked by “legendary mural artist” Kent Twitchell and the niece of celebrated Mexican muralist David Alfaro Siqueiros, told the council “the mural community stands united before you to ask that you put an end to the dark ages of muralism in Los Angeles.”

The conservancy participates in a variety of public mural restoration projects, including restoration of several iconic freeway murals that were commissioned by former Mayor Tom Bradley for the 1984 Summer Olympics.

One muralist, in beseeching the council to approve the mural ordinance, said, “I’m ready to paint. I would love it if you would pass it.”

Huizar, chairman of the council’s Planning and Land Use Management Committee, said lifting the ban would re-establish Los Angeles as the “mural capital of the world.”

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August 29, 2013  Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.

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