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Murals Continue to be Outlawed by Newly Proposed Sign Ordinance in City of L.A.

Murals Continue to be Outlawed by Newly Proposed Sign Ordinance in City of L.A.
The City of Los Angeles Planning Department has proposed a new sign ordinance. This ordinance is meant to address the unwanted proliferations of signs in the City of Los Angeles, but it has dramatic effects on murals. The proposed ordinance severely limits the size, scope and placement of murals of any kind. There is currently a moratorium against any signs or murals being erected on private property in the City of Los Angeles. In fact, murals on private property in the City of LA have been banned since June of 2007. The Planning Department believes murals have actually been outlawed since the year 2002. If this proposal passes as presented, it will severely limit any type of mural work on private property for many years to come.

This ordinance is posted at the following link: http://cityplanning.lacity.org/ on the www.lacity.org web site under “Plans & Ordinances” – “Proposed Ordinances”. This proposal was presented at the Planning Commission meeting on Thursday, January 22, 2009. Many different factions of the community spoke at this meeting about problems with various aspects of the proposed sign code. Based on this input and the input from the actual Planning Commissioners, the Planning Department is releasing a revised proposal on February 9th on the web site listed above. There will be another Planning Commission Hearing to discuss the new proposal on February 19th. I will be posting the time and location of this meeting as the information is released from the city. You can search for this information on the web as it is made available at www.lacity.org.

Artist Discussion on Murals at Crewest Gallery • Host by ICU Art and Crewest Wed. Feb. 11th, 7-9PM
ICU Art and Crewest Art Gallery are hosting an informal Artist Discussion to talk about the revised proposal shortly after it comes out, but before the next public hearing. Artists and concerned community members are invited to come to this discussion and contribute ideas and to help formulate a plan for the muralist community. The discussion will take place on Wednesday evening, February 11th from 7-9PM at the Crewest Gallery in Downtown Los Angeles. Crewest is located at 110 Winston St.
 Los Angeles, CA 90013
 just off of Main Street (213) 627-8272 phone 
(213) 559-0525 fax

 www.crewest.com info@crewest.com. Free street parking or $5 parking in the lot across the street. To RSVP for the meeting or to send letters of support, please contact Stash Maleski of ICU Art – In Creative Unity at phone (310) 309-7756, fax (310) 414-9932 icuart@aol.com. RSVP not required.

Below is what ICU Art proposes as a compromise to the current proposal that has been offered by the City of Los Angeles Planning Department. This is not an ideal or perfect plan, but is considered a workable compromise for the time being that will allow muralist to get back to work right away while addressing city and community issues regarding signage.

ICU Art – In Creative Unity Proposal • Submitted to the Planning Department
Murals must be included in the Sign Code Now
Murals must be incorporated into the sign code now. It is unacceptable that murals continue to be banned. Murals have been banned longer than signs and there has been irreparable harm done to the muralist community because of this. Muralists have been patient so far. We will not allow signs to go through this process without murals being dealt with.

Murals By Right up to 300 sq ft. – Use Zoning to Regulate Placement
Murals of up to 300 square feet in size would be allowed with a permit. This would be in addition to the 100 square feet or more of allowable on-premise signage. Murals of less than 300 sq ft do not have to go through the easement process. The city would not be able regulate the content of the mural due to recent court rulings related to the 1st Amendment if the U.S. Constitution. The City may be able to be content neutral and still limit the amount of text on a mural to say 15% of the total square footage. This would greatly discourage murals from becoming just commercial signage. The mural must be hand painted, one of a kind and must be in a district zoned for commercial or industrial use only. No murals on single-family homes and you cannot install lights on the mural. The city would be able to regulate the placement of the murals by not allowing murals on lot dividing lines or above 35 feet. All murals require a permit and must pay a fee. Murals must respect the existing architecture and cannot be obscene.

Mural Custodian and Maintenance Program
ALL murals require a designated Custodian be on file with current contact info. Custodian is responsible for the mural. All murals require a maintenance program be in place. Funding must be set a side to maintain the mural or a written commitment for in-kind services donated for the upkeep of the mural. Vandalism must be acknowledged by the mural custodian within one week of notification. Small sections of vandalism must be fixed within 3 days of acknowledgement of the problem by the Custodian. Larger instances of extensive vandalism can get a waiver for a more extensive period of time to fix the mural. Work must begin within one week of acknowledgement of a problem.

Murals over 300 sq ft Must Go Through CAC Review Process and/or Easement Process
Any mural greater than 300 sq ft in size must go through the City of L.A. Cultural Affairs Commission (CAC) for review. Murals would be reviewed by the Cultural Affairs Commission or by a panel appointed by the CAC to review murals on a timely basis. The program could be funded by mural permit fees. The CAC would review technical issues and require a mural to have a maintenance program. Murals would be permitted for a specific amount of time- for example 5 years. All mural proposals would have opportunity for community review and comment. Murals should be appropriate for the community, but the policy would have to be content neutral. Large murals would pay a higher fee than the smaller murals. All existing murals over 300 sq ft must be given an opportunity to get a permit.

City Must Honor Federal Law (VARA) & California State Laws (CAPA) Pertaining to Hand Painted Murals
The city of L.A. sign enforcement unit must observe all aspects of the Visual Artist Rights Act (VARA) and the California Art Preservation Act (CAPA) as it pertains to mural removal. The city must make a legitimate and documented attempt to notify an artist that their mural is scheduled for removal. The artist has 90 days to document and/or remove the mural before the city can fine a building owner or remove a mural.

Regulate Signs on Method of Production
The city would be able to regulate vinyl graphics, billboards and street posters by “Method of Production” and safety issues rather than content. It is simple and objective to distinguish whether an image has been painted directly onto a building or whether it was attached to a building. Attached signs or any sort of sign structure would be regulated based on physical characteristics or the affect on the environment. Billboards can be easily regulated through building permits as a physical structure. This is content neutral. Vinyls can present safety issues for emergency crews, they alter the light entering a building and worker views from inside the building. Vinyls can fall or catch fire. Street posters can be a fire hazard and get glue on city sidewalks. Electronic billboards can be regulated because they pose a traffic hazard, they create light trespass and they are unsustainable from an energy conservation standpoint. Fine art murals that are painted on canvas and attached to the wall would be allowed through the easement process.

By regulating the sign companies by method of production, you are not limiting their free speech because you are allowing them other legitimate avenues for expression. For example, the large billboard companies have thousands of existing billboards where they can change their content as often as they like. Thus, they have ample opportunity to express any particular view that they wish. The only thing the city would be limiting is the sign companies’ ability to expand their inventory of signs and to increase their profits, which is in no way protected by the 1st Amendment. Muralists on the other hand have no other means by which they can communicate directly with the public. Each mural is a unique artistic statement that can only be changed so often.

Easements for Muralist? Then Easements for Large Signs
If a muralist is required to get an easements for a mural over 300 sq ft, then the sign companies should have to get an easement for signs over 300 sq ft in a Supplemental Use District (SUD). The city cannot regulate the content of the muralists or require them to go through the easement process without requiring the sign companies to do the same. The 14th Amendment (Equal Protection Clause) governs this issue. This will allow the community to have some control over inappropriate content that is often part of large commercial signs.

Muralists Must Have Equal Access to Sign Districts (SUD)
Muralist must have equal access to any special sign districts. Under the current system, in order to put up a mural or sign in a sign district, you have to remove an existing billboard somewhere in that district for a one-to-one trade. No muralists have billboard permits – so only their free speech is being restricted in this case. Sign districts in their current state reward bad behavior by the sign companies and are a form of a monopoly.

Extend Sign Moratorium to Allow for Public Comment on Murals
The city should extend the signs moratorium by 45 day increments. This is allowed if Planning can show that they are working diligently on the issue. This will allow for almost 5 months from right now to get public input from the muralist community on the viability of these proposals.

Pilot Program
The city can test out more experimental aspects of this proposal with a Pilot Program. If the Pilot Program is partially funded by the City of LA, the City of LA will have total control over all aspects of the program and it can be terminated at any time. This way the city can experiment with an approach, but is not locked into it forever. For example – muralist could voluntarily agree to have their content regulated as part of a mural guild or a mural pilot program. This cannot be required- but if the muralists can voluntarily submit to the guidelines, such as: text must be no more than 5% of the total square footage or no logos over 3%, than it is not a violation of the 1st or 14th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

Political Murals
There should be no limit on how long a political mural stays up or how many political murals can go up on a wall each year.

Recognition of an Imperfect System
The city must come to terms with the fact that no system will be airtight. There will be occasional instances where a hand painted mural may be more like a sign. Although this may not be desirable, it is a more perfect and more acceptable option than banning murals all together. This is also a much better option than allowing other forms of signs to proliferate while only murals are banned. Murals can only be painted so fast and only on certain surfaces, ie. no windows. Through education and a campaign to publicize the intended goals of the program, the city can encourage muralists to adhere to program guidelines. In other words, muralists and business owners should not simply start painting large signs with huge logos and text. The sign companies may try to fight the city on several aspects of this proposal, but that is inevitable with any program that the city puts forward. The bottom line is that this system as proposed takes into account the most recent and most important judgments and opinions pertaining to murals and signs. This is the most defensible program possible. The most important thing to keep in mind about this proposed system is that it is in line with the 1st and 14th Amendments of the U.S. Constitution and can be defended in court. I believe that this program will be acceptable to the public and to most members of the active muralist community.

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