Los Angeles is poised to kill its murals, past, present, and future
I.C.U. Art Response to Revised Sign Ordinance Proposal of 2/12/09
The second version of the Proposed Sign Ordinance was posted on 2/12/09. My comments are below. This ordinance is posted at the following link:
Public Hearing for the Presentation of the Revised Proposed Sign Ordinance
The public hearing on this issue will take place as a Special Meeting of the Planning Commission at 8:30AM on Thursday morning February 19th in Room 350 at City Hall, 200 S. Spring Street, Los Angeles, CA 90012. Speakers will most likely have only one minute to speak. I encourage people to submit comments in writing in advance in addition to speaking. The meeting will most likely take several hours. The earlier you arrive and submit your speaker card, the early you will speak.
Letters of Support and Contact Info
If you cannot get to the meeting, you can send a letter of two pages or less to the Commission Secretariat, 200 North Spring Street, Room 532, Los Angeles, CA 90012 phone 1-(213) 978-1300. If you cannot get a letter to the Secretariat before the meeting, you may bring it to the actual meeting. You must included 15 copies and the agenda item number. I also encourage you to contact the Mayor as well as any City Councilmembers as well as members of the public who will be impacted by this proposed ordinance so that they may work to influence the content of this poorly conceived of plan.
You can send me letters. Please include your address, and please sign the letter. You can mail letters to Stash Maleski, ICU Art, 2554 Lincoln Blvd #162 Venice, CA 90291 USA or fax them to +1 (310) 414-9932 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
CAC Plan Rejected
On 2/11/09 the Cultural Affairs Commission (CAC), working with the Cultural Affairs Department (DCA) presented their plan for how they feel that murals should be treated. I helped to develop this plan, and I feel it is a worthy plan to support. Although the plan is not perfect, I believe it is a good compromise under the circumstances. The letter from CAC with this plan is attached.
Since none of the Cultural Affairs Commission (CAC) recommendations from 2/9/09 were incorporated into the new proposal, I was hoping to hear that the reason for this was because Planning did not have enough time to evaluate the new CAC Plan. Unfortunately that is not the case. Alan bell in Planning told me that Planning did evaluate the CAC plan and decided that it would only be used by commercial advertisers.
Planning believes the only viable avenue for fine art murals of any size is through a public easement program. Planning felt that because a building owner would get more money from a commercial advertiser than a fine art muralist for this 300 sq ft. mural set-aside space ? this space would only be used by commercial advertisers. This is regardless of the constraints of the CAC plan that require a mural to be hand-painted, unique, not to cover a window, include no more than 15% text, and have a mural maintenance program. Planning?s logic breaks down when pressed on this issue as I point out below.
Planning Allows for Fine Art Murals as Part of the Regular Allotment of Signage
Under the new proposal, Planning feels that it is allowing for fine art murals to be put up as part of the allotted space for on-premise signage, which uses a ratio of 2.5:1. This formula basically allows for 2.5 sq ft of signage for every 1 foot of linear street frontage for that building. The problem is that this includes all of the on-premise signage and off-premise advertising. The Planning Department recommends a ?content neutral? approach to signage that would not distinguish between on or off-premise signage. Thus, all or none of the allotted signage could be used for off-premise advertising. If you have a building that has 50 linear feet of street frontage, than you would get 125 square feet of allowable signage to use for whatever you like. You could use it for on-premise signage, you could use it to advertise off-premise products or you could use it for a fine art mural. This is unacceptable for several reasons.
This entire allowance of sign area will be maxed-out by on-premise signage. Any remaining square footage of allowable signage could be sold to a commercial advertiser ? with no limits on text and no requirement that it be hand painted. So using the Planning Departments own logic ? that space would be sold to the highest commercial bidder ? not a fine art muralist. Most likely the signage would not be hand-painted. There would be no restriction against digitally printed signage on vinyl for example.
The 2.5:1 ratio is a reduction from the current regulations which allowed for up to 4 sq ft or sign area for every linear foot of street frontage (4:1). Even under the current 4:1 ratio, this formula did not allow enough square footage that would allow an artist to create something in-scale that could really be considered a mural. Primarily this is because most buildings have more than enough existing on-premise signage to use up the entire allotment. Thus, the reduction to 2.5:1 will hinder mural production under the nomenclature of a ?sign?, even more.
Must Be A Set-Aside for Murals ? CAC Plan
There has to be a set-aside for murals that is in addition to on-premise signage. The CAC plan was a fair compromise. The majority of the muralists who attended the Artist Meeting on ?Murals and the New Sign Ordinance? at Crewest Gallery on 2/11/09, support the CAC plan. Although artists generally feel that 300 sq ft is small for a mural, and that they have some concerns, they were willing to back the plan as an acceptable compromise with the condition that artists help craft the details of the Mural Easement Plan for murals over 300 sq ft.
Improper CEQA Findings and Fines for Murals
The Planning Department states in this new proposal that it revisited CEQA findings for this revised ordinance and saw no reason to change any of its findings. I strongly disagree with this assessment. With the new proposal the situation has gotten much worse. With the new proposal, enforcement and fines for any sign found out of compliance have been greatly increased with no respect for VARA or CAPA laws. Since murals of any sort are being defined simply as a type of sign, murals will be greatly affected. This is because most murals are very large ? and the new fine structure has greater fines for larger signs. With the new ordinance there will be more inspectors with greater resources going around citing signs that are out of compliance. Any fine art mural that did not get a permit from DCA will be cited as an illegal sign. If the mural is 300 square feet (which is a relatively small mural) it would be assessed with a $6,000 per day fine. Much more for larger murals- up to $12,000 a day for the first violation for a sign over 750 sq ft. Property owners and occupants within a 600-foot radius of a sign in violation of the sign regulations would also be allowed a ?private right of action? whereby they would have the right to bring civil action against and collect damages from the party cited. The only remedy to contest the citation would be an appeal ? which would cost $3,434 just to file. This sum would apparently not be returned even if the artist won the appeal. In fact, even those murals that were issued a DCA mural permit from 2002 to 2007 would be out of compliance and could be cited, as there is no language in this ordinance that would protect them.
Proper CEQA Findings
The proposed ordinance would jeopardize the existence of a large number of important fine art murals throughout the City of Los Angeles that were painted by important, well known and culturally significant artists. Many of these murals are larger than the maximum area allowed by the proposed ordinance and would therefore be considered illegal.
Many of these murals never received formal city permits, but are clearly protected by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. These murals are also protected by VARA and CAPA laws which require 90 days notice before a mural can be removed. In the past, citations for out-of-compliance signage (aka murals) have allowed only 10 days for compliance.
Just because a fine art mural did not get an actual permit does not effect whether it is a Cultural Resource or an important work of art. This is especially true since no permit for a fine art mural has been available since 2002 according to Planning.
The actual section of CEQA that covers this issue is as follows,
?CEQA - 15064.5. Determining the Significance of Impacts to Archeological and Historical Resources
(A) Is associated with events that have made a significant contribution to the broad patterns of California's history and cultural heritage;
(B) Is associated with the lives of persons important in our past;
(C) Embodies the distinctive characteristics of a type, period, region, or method of construction, or represents the work of an important creative individual, or possesses high artistic values;?
The CEQA Initial Study for this sign code should have stated that there could be ?Potentially Significant Impacts? in sections ?Ib and Ic? under ?Aesthetics? and in section ?Va? under ?Cultural Resources.? An Environmental Impact Report may be required for this ordinance.
Concessions this Round to all Parties Except Muralists
The revised Sign Ordinance proposal has made a large number of concessions that allow for more pervasive signage of many sorts, yet does not give up anything to muralists. There continues to be no definition of a mural. Any issue related to murals is pushed off, to be dealt with at a later date through the easement process modeled after Portland. This is a big mistake because murals need to be incorporated into the sign ordinance now as an important piece of this complex puzzle.
For example, Planning removed the 35 foot height restriction on signs. A sign just has to be below the building roofline. Now they are allowing large identification signs above 100 feet for high rises, and they have increased the amount of allowable on-premise signage from the 100 sq ft. maximum to a sliding scale based on the amount of linear street frontage. Pole Sign heights are increased. Restrictions on the SUD Sign Districts- which in the previous draft insisted that there be a minimum of 5 separate owners within a single Sign District and that the Sign District include a minimum of 10,000 linear feet of street frontage- have all been changed in a way that favors the large commercial sign companies ? but does nothing to open up these districts to fine art muralists.
In conclusion, I see no other option at this point then to rally all our resources to fight the passage of this proposed ordinance. All channels of influence must be utilized to force the Planning Department to reconsider their approach, and to recognize the value of murals to the cultural and economic life of this city.
ICU Art - In Creative Unity
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