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August 13th, 2008 by Celeste Fremon


This morning Steve Lopez tells the maddening story of a mom and pop grocery store in Highland Park
gets tired of painting over the graffiti every morning. So, noting that some of the other buildings in the area weren’t getting tagged because they had bright colored murals painted on their walls. And the gang members and taggers respected the murals.

So they popped for the $3000 necessary to hire a muralist and his crew.

The mural was a little edgy—a sort of Aztec-modern abstract snake, but it also included a very lovely Our Lady of Guadalupe.

And magically there were no more tags. For three months.

Enter the city, which sent the Antonio family a letter reading:

“ORDER TO COMPLY,” said the letter from the Building and Safety Department, which required the Antonios to remove “excessive signage” under threat of a $1,000 fine “and/or six (6) months imprisonment” for each of four alleged violations.

Curious as to how the Lopez story had affected their situation, I called the Antonios this morning and spoke to Jacob Antonio, 27, who has run the store along with his father since the family bought the store six years ago. “Actually the whole family works here, my uncles, my dad, my mom, a lot of us.”

Jacob told me that, when they got the letter (pre-Lopez), they contacted their Councilman, Ed Reyes, and spoke to a deputy who was very nice…..but zero help.

“Basically they said they’d open a file. But then we never heard anything.”

To avoid a big fine or jail time, the Antonios had no choice but to do a rush job of painting over the mural.

“I mean, we’re working really long hours so there wasn’t a lot of time for painting,” says Jacob.

The tags returned instantly. Every day.

Then enter the LA Times Lopez, who also called the Councilman’s office. And then ABC news showed up.

Suddenly, there was a flurry of action on the issue. Now Councilmember Reyes intends to introduce a measure that would exempt murals from the signage regulations.

And for another thing, says Jacob, the city crews have been coming over to help paint out the graffiti.

Power of the press, I guess. (Should we be happy or sad about this?)

Mostly, the Antonios would like their mural back. (Lopez has an idea about how to make it happen.) In addition to being a graffiti prophylactic, it stirred a lot of neighborhood comment.

“To be honest,” says Jacob, “most people really liked it. Some of the older people don’t like if you do a modern Our Lady of Guadalupe because, in their minds, you shouldn’t make any changes to the image of the Virgin.”

The majoriy of the neighborhood’s passing art critics, however, think the market’s spray-painted, impressionistic Guadalupe is beautiful,

Judging by the (pre-paint-over) photo above, she is beautiful. And she deters graffiti.

At least she did.

Posted in City Government, LA City Council | 10 Comments »

10 Responses

  1. Evan Says:

    I loved the asinine and reductive poll question on the LAT site that accompanied the column: “Is it art? Or is it graffiti?”

    What if it’s both? (cue quiz widget exploding from too much complexity)

  2. Celeste Fremon Says:

    Funny Evan.

  3. richard locicero Says:

    I’m completely on the side of those who find “Graffitti Artists” to be vandals. Don’t tell me about Keith Haring or “Tagging Crews” that defaced property. One of the signs that NYC was getting better came when the subways no longer looked like bathroom walls. If people like this “art” let them volunteer their homes and business.

    Fully support the family. If the city can’t stop the taggers they have no business threatening the owners truing to preserve their property!

  4. WBC Says:

    However, Ed Reyes strongly supported Jan Perry in her push to allow 7-story LED digital billboards right next to a busy freeway in a created “sign district,” violating the city’s billboard ordinance. This is just one case where certain councilmembers turned a blind eye to the ordinance requiring companies to pay for each billboard and limit them to certain areas etc. (A complex issue where Rocky Delgadillo gave his friends at ClearChannel/CBS Outdoors, who just happened to have given him a half mil in free ads when he ran for his current job against a billboard activist, special favors, instead of demanding they do what he was instructed by the council a few years ago — so now, other companies have sued and won saying that they can’t be expected to follow the ordinance if ClearChannel has special exemptions, and now, the whole thing is up in limbo to be rewritten to hold up in court.)

    Councilmembers most strongly pushing to control unsightly and dangerous billboards are those represented the more “upscale” parts of the city where residents feel strongly about preserving their neighborhoods’ aesthetics: areas like the westside and valley, with Wendy Greuel, Jack Weiss, Bill Rosendahl supporting their communities. (Although Rosendahl’s Venice Beach area is a world of its own.) It’s basically a battle between first-world and third-world visions for the city. Reyes invariably lines up against the westside and “homeowner groups and hillside federations,” who he targets as his public enemies for opposing his “vision” of moving people from his district into government- subsidized “affordable housing” projects, arguing even that these units don’t need parking if they’re within a few blocks of a bus stop. (He’s likely getting a small victory today with the ordinance in council that will require developers of condos in Brentwood and everywhere to add units “for the poor.”) Just like with his position on this mural, his radar on what’s right for communities and the city is hopelessly wrong.

  5. Woody Says:

    That is one tacky store, or should I say, “There goes the neighborhood.” Ever wonder why some people don’t like unorthodox ethnic groups moving into their neighborhoods? Sort of a black eye for diversity.

    What gets me is that the city has been going after the victims rather than the criminals. Now, the city is spending good tax money to clean up the work of these painters of mass destruction. Use that money to get these criminals, isntead.

    If I owned that store, I would install high pressure fire hoses at the top connected to a motion detector, and I would turn it on at night. Then, those destroyers of private property would learn a new definition of wetback.

    There is a tunnel under some tracks that I go through in Atlanta that is completely covered with graffiti. At the ends of the tunnel are some very nice large portraits of left-wing heroes. I proposed, in turn-about is fair play, that someone show the graffiti painters what it’s like to have their efforts ruined, just as they do to others, by painting all over their work that took so long.

  6. Woody Says:

    Here’s a museum that had conflicts on whether street graffiti was art or not.

  7. Evan Says:

    “If I owned that store, I would install high pressure fire hoses at the top connected to a motion detector, and I would turn it on at night. Then, those destroyers of private property would learn a new definition of wetback.”

    Celeste, can we have the comments section free from racial slurs?

  8. Woody Says:

    I get so tired of liberals being “offended” (usually said in a whiny, drawn-out voice.) You should be more upset about millions of lawbreakers invading our country rather than any descriptions of them. I hope you don’t mind me calling Italian crime bosses as the mafia. Celeste, can we have the comments section free of whiners?

  9. Evan Says:

    I’m not offended as a “liberal,” I’m offended as a decent human being and as a Latino.

  10. Randy Paul Says:

    Given that mafia means courage, I don’t think they took offense in it, nitwit.

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