August 20, 2013
President, City Council
City of Los Angeles
Dear Council President Wesson and City Council Members,
I generally support a majority of the provisions contained in the Mural Ordinance approved with the leadership of Council Member Ed Reyes, Chair of the Planning Land Use and Management Committee in winter 2013.
1. Support Version A, which places NO RESTRICTIONS on property type of valuation in relation which households in the city can benefit from the intersection of art, personal rights and urban revitalization
The Mural Ordinance adopted at that meeting rectified a number of issues between the citywide alliance of public artists, urban planners, community leaders and others interested in restoring Los Angeles’ legacy in public art. The version before the city council represents a consensus on a wide range of issues that were debated during a twenty month public hearing process and formal meetings with the Cultural Affairs Commission, the Central City Planning Commission and the PLUM committee.
The numerous revisions reflect what the public art community has advocated, it is a basic ordinance that works for the entire city, and is not complicated with niche language that would hinder the production and support for public art in the future.
A guiding principle for the artistic community was ordinance text that did not complicate nor frustrate the production of public art. In addition, grand fathering in Vintage Public Art is an enlightened aspect of public policy on this matter.
Implementing a fee structure that recognizes the financial realities of muralists if fair because of the relatively modest fees they often receive is low in relation to what they create.
There apparently remains on key debate, restriction solely based on property characteristic, a provision which I and virtually the entire citywide artistic community oppose. PLUM, at this particular meeting, was correct in adopting an ordinance with no class nor property based restrictions in relation to public art. I address this specific issue within these comments to the council.
2. Opposition to Any Restrictions related to Property Characteristics or Value
If version B is selected the following council districts will either have to cease current community revitalization projects the incorporate single family homes and public art.
District 9 Specifically the Green Alley’s Project sponsored by the students and teachers at Jefferson HS.
District 10 one of the most historic zones of public art in US
District 8 current public art alley revitalization sponsored solely by homeowners
Normandie and Jefferson
District 4 location of influential art institutions and galleries
District 2 location of influential media and cultural resources
District 1 one of the most historic zones of public art in US
District 14 one of the most historic zones of public art in US
District 5 location of influential art institutions and galleries
District 6 influential area of minority public art
District 11 one of the most historic zones of public art in US
District 13 one of the most historic zones of public art in US
District 15 influential area of multi-cultural public art
District 7 influential area of minority public art
Class and ethnic segregation in relation to which type of property owners will be allowed to benefit and appreciate public art, and should NOT be contained in any version of the Mural Ordinance.
This is a sad commentary of the status of this city, that in the 21st century some council members are advocating class and ethnic segregation in terms of which category of property owners will be specifically excluded from enjoying public art as a private property right.
Eliminate Public Art and Urban Revitalization Projects and Programs if Unconstitutional Restrictions are Imposed.
Specifically, one regressive impact of this proposal will result in the termination of the Green Alleys Project at Jefferson High School, of which I’m a sponsor. It will end a community revitalization project focused on alley restoration that involves students, teachers, administrators, parents, community members, and the pro-bono efforts landscape architects, city planners, architects and others who have supported this innovative urban renovation strategy.
The City should be embarrassed to even consider incorporating ordinance language that specifically and unconstitutionally will eliminate any homeowner in this section of South Central Los Angeles, who have only one home on their lot, from any further participation in the Green Alley’s Project, or face penalties imposed by the city in relation to the specific language contained in this text.
No city department has yet to either provide extensive written and/or verbal justification as to why this is essential nor why advocating class and ethnic segregation in public art is a pro-active public policy for the long term future of this city.
This provision will DEVASTATE any community revitalization strategy that links public art with community participation in renovating their respective neighborhoods.
There is no question that is highly regressive, class and ethnic based segregation. In the 21st century, in this city, it is stunning that the vision within some segments of this city, has sunk to this depth.
Denying single family owners the ability to beautify their property is not legitimate public policy.
A ‘one size fits all provision’, is an antithesis to the entire public hearing process toward developing an ordinance that is not restrictive and works for the entire city. A majority of communities in this city are ‘culturally enlightened’ in relation to art in public and private spaces.
In addition, any type or form of art would be banned on all single family residential properties if language to this effect were to be adopted by the council. This provision does NOT SOLELY address art, but any types of decorative artistic expression on single family units.
This is counter productive and bad public policy.
3. SOLUTION: Adopt an Anti-Cultural and Public Art Overlay Zone
For those neighborhoods that wish to assume a different vision of public art, (Conversely, which is now celebrated in every city, worldwide), the council can add a, “Anti-Cultural and Public Art Overlay Zone” provision into the ordinance. This would allow any community the ability to ban public art in their respective neighborhood. Thus, the ordinance would not deny the rights for those areas of Los Angeles that have celebrated public art and murals for over SIX DECADES.
Any arbitrary, specious, irrational and unconstitutional limitations solely based on property, specifically defending the rights of multi-unit property owners over all others, especially those in lower income minority communities will be vigorously challenged in court.
4. The Councilmember Englander Contradiction
Councilmember Englander is directly responsible for the ‘manufactured controversy’ over restricting the income of homeowner and home type in relation to whom in the city will benefit and who will be totally excluded if Version B is adopted. He is also manipulating the fears of Neighborhood Councils over the specter of public artists and their cultural visions. He has played a hallow role in fanning a logic that community standards can dictate freedom of expression.
The city attorney directly contradicted Englander and this perspective at the PLUM meeting in relation to fundamental U.S. Supreme Court rulings on this matter..
This is from a republican who purported believes in less government intervention over private property and maximum individual freedom. His positions on the Mural Ordinance are nothing less than bald face hypocrisy.
The city under version B, will impose the ‘Most Draconian State Control’ over single homeowner property rights in the modern history of this city. The only comparable control is the basic land use zoning code. No other ordinance has ever proposed Absolute Control over every single family homeowner in this city in my participation in city policy dating to the late 1970s.
I do acknowledge that the most strident socialists would actively applaud Mr. Englander for his advocacy of strong state powers over every single, single unit home in this city.
In relation to artistic content. This is a shallow veneer to scare Neighborhood Council’s on this issue. The most fundamental reality, NC’s have absolutely NO structural power in city governance. They are only advisory. I authored the major report on NC’s for the Elected Charter Commission of the City of Los Angeles (a reminder, there were two commissions– don’t ask, only LA). I was a senior consultant to this commission with responsibilities over city governance and planning issues at that time.
Thus, NC’s have no structural role in determining the contours of public art. Their only role, is to frighten the council into an irrational decision to make class and property type citywide policy.
This version is both unconstitutional and bad public policy.
Englander and future of City Policy
In the future, the city council will address fundamental policy issues in which taxation, salary structure, zoning, union rights, and other city matters will be addressed. It is highly likely that Mr. Englander will stridently criticize his colleagues for ‘government intrusion in the market place’, placing unfair restrictions on individual rights, irrationally imposing city policy on private sector considerations, and/or opposing dignity for the city labor force, for instance a living wage across the city.
I sincerely hope that the councilmembers respectfully remind their colleague that he has already advocated to the most comprehensive state mandates over private property in the city’s modern history. Mr. Englander also actively supports state intervention over personal expression. In addition, by imposing fees he acknowledges an important state role in taxation at every level.
He is either a doctrinaire republican or an ideological hypocrite. If he pretends to be both, he really is a shallow political figure, who emulates his predecessors from that sector of the city.
He has refused to ‘listen to the public art community’ which has advocated an anti-art and culture overlay zone as a reasonable compromise.
Approximately twenty months ago, visioning this very debate, artists recognized that some sectors of the city do not appreciate the historical legacy of public murals in Los Angeles. I, personally, also projected that the areas of Porter Ranch, Chatsworth, Northridge and Granada Hills would attempt to dictate to the entire city what an enlightened mural ordinance SHOULD NOT CONTAIN. We give ourselves credit on accurately predicting this aspect of the debate over mural policy almost two years ago.
5. Support Grand fathering Vintage Murals into the ordinance.
During the public hearing process there exists citywide consensus for incorporating specific language recognizing Vintage Murals as a distinct and important category. They are different. These murals have established Los Angeles as a national and international center of public art.
Vintage Murals also have historic and cultural value, to the immediate and surrounding community, distinct from other public art, from any era, 1960s to the current period. They definite art styles, artistic movements, reflect important historical events, and they recognize the essential culture of communities.
Vintage Murals also deserve specific attention since they have received national and/or international acclaim.
In addition, vintage designation is a direct benefit to tourism and the economy of art patrons regionally and nationally.
6. Sensitive approach toward any Fee Structure
The City Council should incorporate a fee waiver for any mural and/or public art project that is on a educational site, utilizes apprenticeships for the local community or is implemented on a pro-bono basis (with the exception of supply costs).
In addition, all fees collected, which will be relatively modest in scope, should be utilized to enhance the legacy of public art, not solely for administrative purposes.
I generally support a majority of the provisions contained in this Mural Ordinance and urge the City Council to support the PLUM committee’s Version A without any fundamental changes.
In relation to the issue of arbitrary ethnic and class discrimination in relation to any restrictions on property rights, the Council can adopt a provision, tentatively labeled, ‘Anti-Cultural and Art Overlay District’, in which communities can eliminate any cultural elements to residential units in their respective neighborhood. (In similar fashion to Historic Preservation Districts, in relation to local architectural character).
In addition, rest assured that if the City of Los Angeles adopts a Mural Ordinance that endorses specious, arbitrary and unconstitutional ethnic and class based segregation in relation to which classes of property owners are allowed to benefit directly from public art, I commit that I will be in state and/or federal court in opposition to the City’s action on this aspect of the mural ordinance.
Dr. David R. Diaz
Urban Studies Program
CSU Los Angeles
M.C.R.P. Masters in City and Regional Planning, UC Berkeley, 1976
Ph.D. Urban Planning, UCLA, 1994
cc: Los Angeles City Council Members