LA's Draft Mural Ordinance

Tanner Blackman




Tanner Blackman on L.A.’s Draft Mural Ordinance

One of the ordinance's authors writes on why artists should support a time/place/manner approach to permitting murals and advocate for more.





On October 19, 2011, the LA City Council instructed  the Department of City Planning (DCP) to prepare an ordinance to create a “time/place/manner” administrative permitting system to allow for the creation of new fine art murals on private property as well as a “vintage mural permit” to protect and preserve the City’s existing fine art murals.  In response, DCP released a mural ordinance discussion draft on December 7, 2011 for a 60-day public comment period, ending February 8, 2012.

These efforts did not begin in October of last year.  Since 2008, the City Council – informed by multiple City agencies, non-profits, advocacy groups, individual muralists and artists, and interested stakeholders – has been discussing ways out of the current ban on new murals on private property.  A broad and diverse collection of Angelenos has self-organized to guide the creation of new policy for murals and public art.  A Citywide discussion is occurring – in City Hall, in the media, in galleries, on the corner – with rumblings that LA may reclaim the title of “Mural Capital of the World.”  We may be on the verge of another flowering of the mural movement, but we should not congratulate ourselves too soon.  First, we must do the actual work of policymaking.  There’s a long way to go in that process.  And, the mural ordinance is only part of a broader discussion. 

DCP urges all interested parties to read the discussion draft and provide written letters of commentary, critique, or support during the current comment period.  All such letters will be included in the public record and considered by the decision-makers.  Your participation is vital to this important effort.

All comments are welcome.  Targeted, specific comments are more helpful.  It is important that stakeholders who wish to be effective consider that the discussion draft is not a public art ordinance; it is a land use ordinance.  The discussion draft only amends the zoning code, not other sections of the municipal code or the City’s budget.  It will not change existing programs.  It will not redirect current funds for art or graffiti abatement.

DCP is attempting to address a very narrow policy issue: how to let people paint on their own walls (while maintaining regulations on outdoor advertising).  That’s it.  This ordinance will not solve all of Los Angeles’ public art woes.  It is, however, what DCP may offer under the framework of what is possible to regulate through the zoning code.

To implement goals of the general plan, the zoning code regulates the use and development of private property.  For instance, specific zones may regulate the use of a property (e.g. residential, commercial, industrial), density of dwelling units on a property, height limits and required setbacks of structures, parking requirements for specific uses, landscaping, etc.  Such parameters only include aspects of the physical built environment.  The zoning code does not regulate economic activity between individuals.  Other local, state, and federal laws do that.  A zoning-based permitting system for murals on private property must, therefore, only concern itself with “time/place/manner” approaches, as does the current discussion draft.

There is plenty to like in the discussion draft of the mural ordinance.  As much as possible, while still maintaining protections against outdoor advertising, City policymakers aim to get out of the way and “let art happen.”  The permitting process will be simple and accessible.  The City will not regulate artists’ content.  The new definition and permitting system will provide clarity for many of the enforcement issues artists and property owners have faced in recent years. 

Of course, there is much more for which artists should advocate.  The numerous public meetings recently arranged by arts organizations, galleries, council offices, and emergent groups of individual artists have generated wonderful ideas and fierce discourse on the state of Los Angeles’ art in the streets and the power of art in place-making and community-building.  City Hall is listening.  Please support the current effort in drafting a mural ordinance while continuing to fight for more.

Submit comments to [email protected] by February 8, 2012.



Read Arts for LA's previous article on the mural ordinances & upcoming meetings.

Tanner Blackman is a planner for the Code Studies Section of the City of LA’s Department of City Planning and an adjunct professor of urban planning at USC’s Price School of Public Policy.  He has taught in the Future Initiatives Program (SCIFI) at the Southern California Institute of Architecture.  He co-chairs the AIA|Civics Committee of the American Institute of Architects|LA.

Photo by Ed Fuentes | Viewfromaloft.