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New ordinance would end artistic mural ban in L.A.

December 7, 2011 |  9:13 am

Valley Village mural

City of L.A. draft mural ordinance A proposed new ordinance would allow artists to create murals legally on private property across Los Angeles as long as the property owners agree. If approved, the ordinance would end a controversial prohibition on murals that has left city officials and artists grappling over what is legal.

Councilman José Huizar will join muralists and art conservationists Wednesday morning in the Boyle Heights Arts District to unveil the draft local law. It essentially would legalize murals when property owners and artists agree to maintain them for five years and no money is exchanged.

Huizar, whose district includes the Downtown Arts District and Eastside, where many of the best-known murals exist, said the draft language is a major step forward in creating a mural ordinance that will allow artists to create murals legally on private property.

PHOTOS: Los Angeles murals

Since 2002, much of this artwork has been done illicitly. City ordinances make it illegal to create murals on the vast majority of private properties.

Officials estimate that more than 300 murals have been painted over in the last several years, frustrating artists as well as property owners who commission the murals. Until now, city laws have equated murals with commercial signs, the legacy of lawsuits brought by billboard companies trying to preserve their right to place ads on businesses' walls. The city views any mural on private property as commercial signage even if it's purely artistic in nature.

Huizar and others say the city needs to make a better distinction between art, which should be protected under the 1st Amendment, and commerce, which should be covered by the sign ordinance.

Over the years, some of Los Angeles' most famous murals on public and private property have been destroyed. Early this year, artist Saber blasted city leaders on Twitter and gathered more than 6,500 signatures on a petition to legalize murals and garnered celebrity support. He even took his fight to the skies over City Hall, recently hiring skywriters to leave a smoke trail of words demanding an end to the mural moratorium. "Art is not a crime," one message read.

The new mural ordinance will identifying murals as something other than signs, with a focus on murals as "original works of art."

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-- Richard Winton

Photo: Artist Ivan Salinas covers a section of a mural he painted in Valley Village. Credit: Al Seib / Los Angeles Times

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