La Jolla PDO board revisits mural discussion, forms panel to come up with guidelines for future displays

This artwork at was then Grater Grilled Cheese drew discussion by the La Jolla Planned District Ordinance Committee in 2019.
This artwork at was then Grater Grilled Cheese, containing references to the business, drew discussion by the La Jolla Planned District Ordinance Committee in January 2019.

The La Jolla Planned District Ordinance Committee, as part of its ongoing task of reviewing public displays for whether they are murals or marketing, formed a subcommittee to come up with guidelines for future installations.

At issue is that a “sign” would need a city permit and therefore go before the board for approval, but there is not an approval process for a “mural,” and some have taken to painting murals on their exterior walls with promotional materials in them, such as the name of a business.

The San Diego municipal code provides guidelines for what qualifies as a sign. It states graphics painted on walls — which many in La Jolla are — count as murals, but they cannot “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,” which some do.

So the PDO board is seeking to create an approval process. It formed the subcommittee during its July 13 meeting online.

PDO Chairwoman Deborah Marengo said that “every six months or so,” the board “gets a complaint regarding certain murals and how we let [the building owners] erect it on the side of the building.”

“There isn’t a mechanism [we can follow] because there is not a permit process for a mural,” she said. “When someone wants to put up a sign, they have to get a permit from the city of San Diego, and that’s what triggers them coming to PDO. So we would have to work with everyone to come up with a way to be informed before the mural goes up, not after, because that is what is happening now. We would need to have a review procedure in place.”

The board previously stayed away from drafting regulations that could make it appear to be “art critics.”

Without discussing any specific mural, La Jollan Diane Kane told the board: “My concern is not so much criteria for what is artistic but what is marketing vs. what is not. If it is marketing, it doesn’t matter what the materials are, where it is or how big it is. ... The people that are painting things on the sides of their buildings are including marketing in something that is artistically done … and some can be considered signs. So where is the boundary? Setting some guidelines would be great.”

Rather than draft such guidelines, the board formed the subcommittee and will seek the guidance of its parent organizations to form recommended regulations for public art.

PDO is composed of 11 members: three appointed by the La Jolla Community Planning Association, three by the La Jolla Town Council, three by the La Jolla Village Merchants Association and two by the Bird Rock Community Council.

In the past, the board was asked to examine a three-panel installation at 1111 Prospect St. that showed renderings of and therefore seemed to promote the Conrad Prebys Performing Arts Center (it has since been taken down and replaced with one that is part of the Murals of La Jolla public art program) and a mural at The Shoal Hotel near Windansea Beach that depicts an ocean scene with the words “The Shoal” painted on it.

In 2019, PDO members determined they will regulate a mural if it involves issues with safety, lighting, views and other issues that fall under its purview. The board also decided at the time, and affirmed at its July 13 meeting, to review upcoming murals and “grandfather in” those already in place.

Murals of La Jolla

The public art displays that would be subject to the guidelines are ones that are not part of the Murals of La Jolla public art program, which is an independent nonprofit entity.

Murals of La Jolla was created in 2010 by the La Jolla Community Foundation and subsequently relinquished to the care of the Athenaeum Music & Arts Library, which oversees the program and holds free guided walking tours in the summer. Artists are invited to participate by a jury of representatives of art organizations across La Jolla.

“I see everything that is happening outside of what we do as more of community-based murals that pop up in different locations,” said Murals of La Jolla Executive Director Lynda Forsha. “Then there is the issue of people using the idea of creating murals to help their business. There is a line at which it becomes marketing for business, and that is not what we do.

“Anytime you try to sell something, that is a very big distinction. If you have a commodity [you are promoting] … then it is signage and marketing.” ◆