La Jolla Community Planners find four Village ‘murals’ to be ‘signs’


The La Jolla Community Planning Association (LJCPA) decided at its July 18 meeting, in a 11-3-1 vote, that four installations in The Village are “signs” rather than “murals,” and asked the City of San Diego to regulate them in accordance with the La Jolla Planned District Ordinance.

It would be up to the Department of Code Compliance to determine whether the installations are in compliance with the applicable code, and what corrective action would need to be taken if they are not. The four are:
1) a marquee depicting a McLaren car over a McLaren dealership at 7440 La Jolla Blvd.
2) a panorama with renderings of The Conrad Prebys Performing Arts Center on the back side of a building at 1111 Prospect St.
3) the NINE-TEN Restaurant within the Grande Colonial Hotel, which features a small image including the number 910 on the side of the building at 910 Prospect St. and
4) the Branding Iron silk screening shop/Marco Polo service shop, which features its name within a painting at 7464 Draper Ave.

LJCPA has been discussing questionable murals since late last year, and asked its Planned District Ordinance sub-committee (PDO) to weigh in. The committee reviews projects for conformance to the La Jolla Planned District Ordinance, or blueprint for development.

After an ambiguous PDO committee vote in June that the murals in place are acceptable and the committee would subject any future questionable murals to the terms of the La Jolla Planned District Ordinance, LJCPA cast its own vote.

“The City cannot regulate whether someone puts a mural on their building if they want to, but they can regulate signs,” said LJCPA trustee Glen Rasmussen. “The Planned District Ordinance is the vehicle that limits the size of signs, and signs that are advertisements. Advertisements include the content of the image and if they make reference to the business within the building. These four are clearly signs and must conform to the Planned District Ordinance and therefore must be regulated accordingly.”

Found within the San Diego Municipal Code, the La Jolla Planned District Ordinance requires “development and redevelopment of land in the central core area, outlying neighborhood commercial centers, and the cultural and multi-family areas west and north of the village commercial core of La Jolla … in a manner that retains and enhances the economic, historical, architectural, educational, civic, social, cultural, and aesthetic values, and the overall quality of life within the community.”

The “La Jolla Commercial and Industrial Sign Control District” sub-section regulates the size and placement of signs in La Jolla, and Rasmussen argued if the City were to hold these murals up to those standards, they would not be deemed in compliance.

When is a mural really a mural?

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 hoist 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 LJCPA.

The artists and works are selected by an art committee, and the murals rotate out every few years. Murals installed through this program have an informational plaque near the image.

However, with the success of the program — and following the model of some landmark businesses — other retailers have painted murals where they once had blank walls. Due to this practice, some LJCPA members were concerned about becoming “art critics” of the works in place.

Trustee Nancy Manno opined: “The murals under the Murals of La Jolla program are decided by the Athenaeum art committee … and those murals allowed people like McLaren to use their building for advertisement. I think there are two situations here: the murals of the Athenaeum, and the signs that should not be there.”

PDO trustee Gail Forbes cautioned: “You can start anywhere you want, but once you start down this road, you are going to end up in the basement.”

La Jolla Planning Association next meets 6 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 1 at La Jolla Rec Center, 615 Prospect St.