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PDO committee rules on murals, forwards decision to planners

McLaren mural
The McLaren car ‘mural’ over the McLaren car dealership
(Light File)

After months of requests from the La Jolla Community Planning Association, the La Jolla Planned District Ordinance (PDO) committee finally discussed — and voted — on controversial installations around town.

The images in question were 1) a marquee depicting a McLaren car over a McLaren dealership that was once illuminated at night, and 2) a panorama with renderings of the Conrad Performing Arts Center on the back of a building at 1111 Prospect St. (The Conrad itself is at 7600 Fay Ave.)

The committee decided during its June 10 meeting that the installations in place are acceptable, and that they would subject any future questionable “murals” to the terms of the PDO, La Jolla’s blueprint for development.

The committee’s efforts to reach its decision were not taken lightly. Members discussed the issue for almost an hour, hashing out how to avoid being art critics, but still respecting the needs of the community; when something should come before the board for action; what its purview is; potential processes and changes to the PDO; and whether it makes a difference if a “mural” is painted on the wall or printed on a canvas and hung.

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The Background

PDO chair Deborah Marengo explained the presence of murals in The Village goes back to 2010, when the Murals of La Jolla program was launched under the auspices of the La Jolla Community Foundation to take blank walls around town and place murals upon them. (The program is now run by the Athenaeum Music & Arts Library.) 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.

The artists and works chosen for the murals program are selected by an art committee, and rotate out every few years. These murals are all accompanied by an informational plaque.

However, with the success of the program, and following the model of some landmark businesses, some retailers painted murals where they once had blank walls. Notable examples include the 910 Restaurant within the Grande Colonial Hotel, which features a small mural including the number 910 on the side of the building; and the Branding Iron silk screening shop/Marco Polo service shop, which features the business name and phone number within the mural.

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Recently, The Shoal Hotel painted a mural on the side of its building depicting a beach, with the words “The Shoal” embedded in it; whereas the Cruisers sandwich shop painted an image of a woman, with no mention of sandwiches or the name Cruisers.

“So where do you draw the line?” Marengo asked? “It’s a difficult thing.”

The issue arose with the McLaren image late last year, when residents complained because they considered it an advertisement and not art, arguing it depicted what is sold below and was illuminated at night. A City Code Compliance complaint was filed, and the image was considered to be in “involuntary compliance” — meaning it’s in compliance after a remedy was issued, in this case, the lighting was cancelled.

Further, the Community Planning Association expressed concern about renderings of The Conrad Performing Arts Center on a property on Herschel Avenue (not on The Conrad property) for similar reasons.

The Discussion

In codifying “signs,” the San Diego Municipal Code states: “Painted graphics that are murals, mosaics, or any type of graphic art that are painted on a wall or fence and do 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.” Some La Jolla “murals” meet in the middle, by making references to the services provided in the building or name of the company, but are painted on the walls.

The La Jolla Sign District sub-section of the Municipal Code and the La Jolla PDO have regulations based on the size and placement of the image, but not its content.

As such, trustee Gail Forbes suggested the PDO committee limit its scope to what is within the PDO. “I don’t think we should get into the details about what is art,” she said. “The PDO should have some purview over things, such as lighting or location, so it does not interfere with surrounding neighbors. Our purview is signs, not murals, we are not empowered in any way to control art in La Jolla. We monitor signs. If a mural comes before us that could be construed as a sign, then we will respond.”

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The Specifics

Speaking to the murals the PDO was tasked with reviewing, trustee Joe Pitrofsky said the McLaren image “does not have any wording on it” and therefore does not register as a sign or ad to him; and The Conrad panorama is not an issue because it is not on the Conrad property. He added if the business has the name or services offered, but no additional advertising information such as prices, “would we rather see that or a blank wall?”

After much discussion, the committee was unable to decide upon any procedural changes they could make or any rules to set for what falls under the “sign” versus “mural” categories. As such, members opted to limit their motion to the McLaren and The Conrad images, which they approved.

With the vote, LJCPA now has findings with which to ratify or discuss the matter further. LJCPA will meet July 18.

Pending items to review, the PDO Planned District Ordinance committee will next meet 4 p.m. Monday, July 8 at the Rec Center, 615 Prospect St. lajollacpa.org


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