HUNTINGTON BEACH — The city of Huntington Beach has drawn high praise from a major Los Angeles arts agency official, as well as criticism from some perturbed city officials and residents, for approving an outdoor-art program that legalizes some forms of spray-can art.
Under a program approved Monday night by the City Council, muralists and so-called "aerosol artists" will be eligible to apply for permits to paint on a mile-long seaside retaining wall. It is the only such program in Orange County and may be the first on the West Coast.
"That's fantastic--that's great news," said Adolfo V. Nodal, general manager of Los Angeles' Department of Cultural Affairs, which has been working for months toward a similar program. "It's the first (time) on the West Coast that I know of that a city has acknowledged that something has to be done (to accommodate) the bona fide artists out there."
Proposed by the city's Community Services Department, the program will allow artists who receive permits to paint during daylight hours only. The program also requires that paintings be tasteful and non-commercial and establishes a $100 fine for anyone caught painting without a permit.
"There's a massive artistic voice" in the aerosol-art form, Councilman Jack Kelly said before joining a 4-2 majority that approved the plan.
But dissenting Councilman Don MacAllister argued that allowing mural and aerosol art painters will bring "undesirable people" to the neighborhood. Councilman Jim Silva, who had proposed an unsuccessful motion to whitewash the wall and ban all painting, said: "I think we're sending the wrong message out there. I don't think the people want" the program.
For years, traditional murals decorated the retaining wall, which stretches north from the city's pier. But increasingly within the last year, the wall has been painted with aerosol art as well as with unsightly graffiti, which have spilled onto nearby stairways, portable outhouses and other surfaces.
Residents have complained to city officials about the wall markings and possible gang connections. Huntington Beach police have estimated that less than one-fourth of the graffiti on the wall area may be gang related, but Chief Ronald E. Lowenberg said Monday that no violence has been reported in relation to those graffiti.
The new program, which will be tested during a trial period that is yet to be determined, will deter unwanted graffiti by "creating a sense of community pride" and making the wall once again an official art space, said Naida Osline, the city's cultural services supervisor and a leading force behind the program.
Unwanted graffiti decreased during the early 1980s when the state ran the program that created some 30 traditional murals, Osline said. It has only been during the past few years, when the city has had no art program or other formal policy regulating use of the wall that graffiti have proliferated, she said.
Nodal said such art programs can't be expected to eradicate all unwanted graffiti but can help steer youths away from illegal graffiti by giving them a positive--and legal--creative outlet.
"In that way, (they can) probably put a dent in some of the (graffiti) tagging going on," Nodal said.
The programs are "one component of a greater anti-graffiti effort which would include law enforcement. One thing that's been missing (from such efforts) is a kind of understanding of kids' creative energy."
Huntington Beach Community Service officials said the city has received more letters in supportive of the program than against it. But Jack Schroeder, who lives and works in Huntington Beach, had little good to say about it Monday night.
"The only question I'd have for Jack Kelly is: Would he like it on his wall?" The painting now visible, Schroeder said, "is detracting and it's not art. Some of it's clever and creative, but it's a big mess."
Spray-can artist Rad, who has painted several aerosol artworks on the wall, was elated over Monday's decision. He considers the outdoor work he does to be as artistically valid as T-shirt designs he creates as art director for the Anaheim division of O'Neill Sportswear Inc.
"That's really cool," the Costa Mesa resident said of the program's approval. "Those guys are making history down here."