Move to allow new L.A. murals advances at City Hall

Downtown artist Robert Vargas recently painted this mural at 6th and Spring downtown. Murals bring neighborhoods together, he says.
(Catherine Saillant / Los Angeles Times)

This post has been corrected. See the note at the bottom for details.

Ten years after Los Angeles officials imposed a moratorium on the creation of new murals, the City Council is being asked to vote on a law that would make them legal.

After hearing impassioned pleas from artists to eliminate the ban, the council’s Planning and Land use Management Committee agreed to send a draft ordinance to the full council for consideration.


The committee made no recommendation. There is still considerable disagreement on how to regulate new murals in neighborhoods zoned for single-family homes.

Councilman Mitchell Englander, representing suburban enclaves in the northwest San Fernando Valley, pushed for a law that continues to ban murals on single-family homes.

Newly seated Councilman Gil Cedillo backed another version of the proposed ordinance that would allow murals on virtually all privately owned properties but lets communities “opt out” if they choose.

Cedillo was raised in the mural-rich neighborhood of Boyle Heights and represents nearby communities. The time to reverse the ban has come, he said, because artists have been “repressed for too long.”

“I recognize that not one size fits all,” Cedillo said.

Murals currently are regulated under city sign laws. But new artworks have been banned since 2003, when the City Council began challenging sign companies that it said were sneaking in illegal commercial advertising as murals.

A vote by the full council is tentatively scheduled for Aug. 20.

Although many at the hearing were supportive of a looser law, a few speakers raised concerns. Barry Johnson of the Studio City Residents Assn. said neighborhoods need a clear way to “opt out” of the mural system if they want.


“Granted, there are neighborhoods where there are several murals,” he said. “But there are neighborhoods like mine that have virtually none at all.”

City muralists haven’t completely sat out the decadelong prohibition. City officials estimate there are 300 murals, both new and older, that would be grandfathered in as legal once an ordinance took effect.

Downtown artist Robert Vargas recently painted a large mural of a woman’s face and hands on a residential building at the corner of 6th and Spring streets. During the month it took to create the portrait, he said, residents, business owners and street people who didn’t often connect stopped to talk about it.

Lifting the ban will spark similar efforts in other communities, Vargas said. He has another mural planned for a space across the street from his recently completed piece.

“An artist has an ability to shape the way a city’s history is written,’’ Vargas said. “That’s what I intend to do.”

For the record, 9:40 p.m., July 30: An earlier version of this post incorrectly said that Councilman Gil Cedillo represents Boyle Heights. He does not.



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