PDO planning board to review business ‘murals’ in La Jolla

The ‘mural’ over the McLaren car dealership; is is art or advertisement?
(Light File)

As promised, the La Jolla Planned District Ordinance (PDO) board took up the issue of murals in La Jolla, in light of one that’s troubling some residents. The board met Jan. 14 at La Jolla Rec Center to discuss the complex issue of whether something classifies as art or advertising.

The issue arose after complaints were generated about a decorative marquee installed (and illuminated) over the O’Gara Coach and McLaren car dealership at 7440 La Jolla Blvd. The image is of a McLaren car, which is sold in the showroom below, leading some to consider it an advertisement.

In discussing “signs,” the San Diego Municipal Code states: “Painted graphics that are murals, mosaics, or any type of graphic art that is painted on a wall or fence and does not contain copy, advertising symbols, lettering, trademarks or other references to the premises, products or services that are provided on the premises where the graphics are located — or any other premises — are not signs for the purposes of these regulations.”

By way of history, PDO chair Deborah Marengo told fellow board members that the Murals of La Jolla program started in 2010 under the auspices of the La Jolla Community Foundation to take blank walls around town and hoist murals upon them. The program was approved by the PDO committee, La Jolla’s Development Permit Review committee, La Jolla Town Council and La Jolla Community Planning Association. It was handed over to the Athenaeum Music & Arts Library in 2015.

However, when the program was approved, Marengo said: “There were never guidelines put in place. I said one day we are going to be in a situation where someone is going to have a problem with one of the murals in La Jolla. So we’re talking about that today.”

Addressing the McLaren mural, which was not commissioned for the Murals of La Jolla program, she added: “They put up a beautiful picture of an automobile. It was commissioned by an artist and was done carefully and very tastefully. All of a sudden, I start getting phone calls about how no one likes it and it is a billboard. I was told it was ‘glaring’ when you turn onto La Jolla Boulevard.”

Other trustees chimed in that they hadn’t noticed it. PDO board member Brett Murphy said it was brought to his attention through a complaint posted on

Other questionable works?

Marengo said she walked The Village to inventory the other murals in town, some commissioned for the Murals of La Jolla and others that were independently commissioned, that could just as easily toe the advertising line.

‘Tear Stains Be Gone’ was commissioned for the Murals of La Jolla program.
(Ashley Mackin-Solomon)

She cited Murals of La Jolla works “Tear Stains Be Gone” at 7661 Girard Ave., which looks similar to a poster for a cosmetic product; “Sexy Cash” at 7540 Fay Ave., a graffiti-inspired work that upon close inspection has writing that reads “sexy cash, we buy houses, ugly, nice, old, new” and a phone number; and The Conrad Performing Arts Center-inspired mural that hangs on the back side of 1111 Prospect St.

“The whole argument is that McLaren’s mural has a car and they are selling cars so it’s an advertisement,” Marengo said. “This Conrad mural is an artist’s rendering of the music facility’s event space and it says ‘The Conrad’ on it, so they (La Jolla Music Society) are actually promoting The Conrad with it.”

Other “murals” under discussion that were independently created and painted on local walls, include those next to Grater Grilled Cheese, which includes the words “making the world a greater place, one grilled cheese sandwich at a time”; the Marco Polo Independent BMW & Mini Service, which features a mural with painted cars; and the Nine-Ten restaurant, which has a mural on the side exterior wall that includes the numbers 9 and 10.

Marengo posed: “(How can I) go after McLaren, and say you cannot do that even if they meet the criteria for a mural, and then look at Nine-Ten restaurant, which is a big part of this community, and say ‘Your mural has to come down because it has a 9 and a 10 on it?’ ”

The mural recently painted along the alley of Grater Grilled Cheese
(Ashley Mackin-Solomon)

Trustee Joe Pitrofsky remarked: “This all falls under the art umbrella, and the problem is that art, as we all know, is subjective. If someone wanted to paint a picture of a urinal on a wall and call it art, a lot of people would say that is art. So how do we regulate this?”

Unsure of how to proceed, Marengo suggested arranging a meeting with representatives from the Art Committee of the Murals of La Jolla program to get a better understanding of who selects the art and how, and then proceed from there.

In other PDO news:

Gillispie School expansion: Despite some deviations from the PDO (La Jolla’s blueprint for development), an expansion project for the Gillispie School got unanimous board support.

The project involves Gillispie remodeling an acquired building adjacent its main campus at 7380 Girard Ave., for the purpose of housing new programs, new signage, and re-striping its parking lot to add 15 spaces. The 7,000 square-foot property (one building that previously housed the Art Shed studio space and Design Studio West) and 10,000-square-foot parking lot sit next to the school at 7420-7426 Girard Ave. The school purchased the building in March 2018.

At the meeting, applicant representative Joe LaCava went over the ways the project does and does not conform to the PDO: “On the plus side, the size and height of the building conforms; the façade renovation conforms because of the colors, materials and maintaining glass frontage; and while we are not talking about the signage (yet), the signage we are talking about conforms.

“However, the change of use is not consistent with the PDO, but we’re processing a Site Development Permit for that use change,” and the landscaping does not comply. All told, the PDO voted to lend its support to the project.

Collectively, this Gillispie space will be known as “The Sandbox,” and will house a performance and meeting area, music and recording studios, science lab and makerspace, library/media center, and a kitchen with outdoor seating.

Valley Farms grocery: Representatives from the in-development Nautilus Professional Building and planned Valley Farms grocery store, 6902 La Jolla Blvd., gave an information-only presentation.

Developer Russ Murfey said the team went through all the PDO line items to make sure the building is in conformance: no square footage was added from what was there previously, the parking requirement is being met, there is less than 40 percent glass, and other concerns.

“My brother Scott and I put our heart and soul into make this a reality to bring a better use to La Jolla. Valley Farms has been in Spring Valley since the 1950s. You hear people talk about Siesel’s, Cardiff Crack, and specialty markets up and down the coast, and La Jolla is going to have one for the first time. It will take up the whole ground floor, so it was retail before and it’s going to stay retail. It’s going to be something special.”

He added that the team is working on final permitting plans and that a “late summer-opening would be cautiously optimistic.”

Valley Farms La Jolla grocery owner Derek Marso said it would be similar to the Spring Valley operation, just smaller: “This isn’t going to be your conventional grocery store; I don’t foresee people coming in here to stock up on their weekly groceries. We’re trying to do something that has never been done before — a fast, causal approach to get you in and out with specialty products and grab-and-go items.”

Marengo called the plans “a great improvement for the area,” adding, “I’ve heard nothing but good things.”

La Jolla Planned District Ordinance board next meets (pending items to discuss), 4 p.m. Monday Feb. 11 at the Rec Center, 615 Prospect St.