Last October, when L.A. City Hall started drafting an ordinance that would lift the city's oppressive mural moratorium, we tried to be patient. Even though it had taken the City Council over a decade to get the ball rolling, we said, hey — better late than never. We set aside our skepticism. We gave innumerable pats on the back to Department of City Planning staffer Tanner Blackman and his drafting team for getting so many members of the public involved…
… as well as high-profile street artists like Saber and Shepard Fairey. Public policy was cool again! Never had City Hall hearings so closely resembled hip gallery openings on Fairfax.
But after today's Planning Commission meeting, we're convinced: This much-hyped ordinance is going nowhere, fast.
According to attendees of today's meeting, the debate was long and messy. After two hours of squawking, the Planning Commission agreed to revisit the item two months from now, on September 13 — almost a year after the process began. So there goes street art for summer! And after that, the ordinance will still need to pass through the Planning and Land Use Committee before making its way to council floor.
Ironically, it seems the sheer quantity of input has turned a once-hopeful document into a big ball of red tape that'll be impossible for your average street artist to pick apart. (Except street artists with lawyers. Ahem, Fairey.)
“Let it be said it was muralists who delayed the mural ordinance from moving forward this time around,” Tweeted arts blogger Ed Fuentes after the meeting.
In a long-winded post on the KCET website today, Fuentes writes about all the seemingly arbitrary rules and definitions that have made their way into the ordinance, whether because that's how Portland did it (our city has largely modeled its document after theirs) or because one of myriad city employees/public commenters suggested it at some point along this arduous journey.
Among the ridiculous regulations buried in the most recent draft:
• Residential buildings must have more than five units to qualify for a mural.
• Artists/patrons must pay up to $100 for a mural permit.
• Artists/patrons must hold a neighborhood hearing before they can start their mural.
• Murals cannot be taller than 100 feet.
• A mural is only considered a mural if it's made of paint (which rules out wheat-paste works).
If the ordinance continues in this direction, it will only make the daily graf harder for L.A.'s outdoor artists. Sure, everything they do is illegal now, but the LAPD only bothers to enforce the mural moratorium when some grumpy neighbor complains — and sometimes legal gray area is preferable to an exhaustive play-by-play of what not to do.
David Diaz, an urban-planning professor at Cal State Northridge who's been following the drafting process, tells KCET that the ordinance has strayed from its “building blocks” after so many months of back-and-forth. He adds the L.A. City Planning Department has “no rational reverence to public art.”
Should we even try to get this thing passed anymore? Do we really want to let L.A. city politicians — the same ones who got us into this First Amendment-fueled moratorium in the first place, by canoodling with billboard billionaires — decide what legal art should look like?