Downtown mural changes approved

The Arts Commission on Monday unanimously approved changes from the original proposal for the sculptured mural on the wall of Hobie Sports, taking into account public safety from protruding images and concerns about the quality of the piece.

Sculptor Randy Morgan was instructed to fill in spaces behind some of the 3-D images that commissioners thought could be handy for people to grab at and possibly injure themselves, and to reduce the projection of a surfboard that sticks out from the "Waterman's Wall." All other revisions were approved.

Morgan and investors in the project urged approval of the revisions.

"I met Randy in late summer of 2012 and I saw a sketch [of the proposed mural] on a napkin," said Clay Berryhill, one of four speakers supporting the changes at the meeting. "My dad was an artist and I saw the same spark in Randy.

"I talked to [Hobie Sports owner] Mark [Christy] and he said he had donated the side of the building, so I'm in as a primary investor."

Berryhill said the changes came about when it became apparent that space was available in the mural for more sculptures of more people.

Support for the mural also came in the form of a letter from the Surfing Heritage Foundation, lauding in particular the contributions to the surfing culture by Hobie Alter, for whom Christy's store is named.

Foundation Executive Director and former Laguna Art Museum Director Bolton Colburn opined that including a portrait of Alter in the mural would be appropriate.

Commissioner Donna Olsen Ballard said the accusation that the mural is actually a sign for the store is not merited.

Mural sponsor Dave Mariner said he hoped that a plaque honoring sponsors could be added to the mural. One suggestion was to put the plaque on a flat section of the depiction of Laguna's iconic Lifeguard Tower, which would never be allowed on the real tower.

The plaque must be considered separately. Cultural Arts Manager Sian Poeschl advised the commission that because the original design of the privately funded mural had been approved by the city in 2010, only the changes to the design could be considered at the hearing.

"We have never had changes to a mural before," Poeschl said. "The council will be informed of the decision. If any of them have an issue, they can request a hearing by the Planning Commission."

The Planning Commission recommendation would be subject to council approval.

"A lot of affection has been shown for the project," said Commissioner Ken Auster, chair of the Mural Committee, who was not on the commission when the project was first approved in 2010. "No one can argue with the idea or the sentiment."

However, Auster was less impressed with the actual work. He said on close inspection, pieces on the mural are "amateurish," but he did not support the notion of removing it or making material change — the last thing he wanted to see was the sculptor taking a hammer and saw to the mural.

"It is what it is," Auster said. "To start futzing around with it will neither add nor detract from it."

Commissioners unanimously agreed with Auster's comments.

Commissioner Nick Hernandez, a figurative sculptor, said he would like to see Morgan do some work on some portions of the mural.

"The idea is genius, but the execution is sub-par," Hernandez said.

Hernandez also expressed concern about a crack that has appeared in the mural, which is only a couple of months old, but was assured by Morgan that it was easily repaired.

Mike England was the only person from the audience to speak against the mural. "This wall is appalling," he said "I like the sentiment, but the rendering is horrendous."

Morgan was instructed to fill in the space behind some of the 3-D elements to reduce the potential of injuries, although the mural is on private property and the city would not be liable.

He said he plans to begin working next week.

Opponents of the project have 14 calendar days from Monday to file an appeal of the commission's decision, although city officials could recall no appeals ever being filed.

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