The Art of Regulation: “Legal Walls”

All photos by Paula Lauren Gibson/AfroPix

What started as a legal battle over billboard advertising has drawn into question the regulation of public murals.  As stated by the court in World Wide Rush, LLC v. City of Los Angeles, 606 F. 3d 676 (9th Cir. 2010):

Courts have “often faced the problem of applying the broad principles of the First Amendment to unique forms of expression. . . . Each method of communicating ideas is a law unto itself and that law must reflect the differing natures, values, abuses and dangers of each method.”

The premiere street art gallery, LAB ART Los Angeles, hosted a Question and Answer public panel on the draft mural ordinance. The panelists were Street Artists and Activists Daniel Lahoda, Lydia Emily, and Jonathan Paul, along with City of Los Angeles Planner, Tanner Blackman.  Blackman, known as “Tanner the Planner”, gave a slide presentation.

Last year the LA City Council instructed the Department of City Planning (DCP) to prepare an ordinance to create a “time/place/manner” “administrative permit” system to allow for the creation of new fine art murals throughout the City as well as a “vintage mural permit” to protect and preserve the City’s existing fine art murals.  In addition to various requirements, the ordinance would include a fee for the permit – currently $199 for “Original Art Mural Permit or Building Permit Sign-off for minor Projects.” “minor Projects” is not defined in the ordinance and presumably would be addressed by additional administrative regulation. Existing city ordinances make it illegal to create murals on the vast majority of private properties! See also, Deciphering Los Angeles’s Billboard Laws.

The basic requirements for Original Art Murals in order to satisfy the permit requirement are as follows:

(1) The mural must remain in place and be maintained for 5 years with limited exceptions;

(2) The mural can be larger than height to the structure to which it is applied;

(3) The mural can not extend more than 6 inches from the flat side (plane) of the wall to which it is applied;

(4)  Murals on properties subject to other community plan requirements must comply with the requirements of that zone, district or overlay;

(5) Murals on properties in Historical Property Overlay Zones (HPOZs) may be subjected to additional review by the Office of Historic Resources;

(6) Murals on properties listed or eligible to be listed in the National Register or California Register of Historic properties are subjected to additional review by the Office of Historic Resources;

(7) Compensation for Mural cannot be given or received;

(8)  Murals that would result in a property becoming out of compliance with Code provisions, other ordinance provisions or zoning requirements for the property are prohibited.

Members of the public are invited to submit comments on the proposed ordinance.  The Q&A regarding the mural ordinance is here.

The next mural ordinance outreach event will be on February 7th at LALA gallery.


The only specific requirement for public comments is that they are submitted before the February 8, 2012 deadline. It helps to briefly explain who you are and your interests, state your concerns in an objective manner, comment only on issues related to the ordinance.

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About Afropix

When my father gave me a Kodak Brownie as a child, I fell in love with photography. I have been shooting pictures ever since. I am also an avid genealogist and can trace one of my family lines back to 1620! Check out my photography at!
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