Barbara Black cries before grabbing a roller brush and painting over part… (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times )
Failing to give city inspectors the brush-off, young artists Wednesday painted over a 75-foot mural they had created after officials issued a $360 citation to the Valley Village woman who had commissioned the artwork to brighten an alley next to her home.
Barbara Black, a retired studio costume illustrator, said she reluctantly ordered the mural's obliteration after officials threatened to fine her an additional $1,925 if it wasn't removed.
The initial citation was issued last month, shortly after the mural was completed. Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety inspectors — acting on a neighbor's complaint — determined that a single word included in the fanciful swirls and other spray-painted designs turned the piece into an illegal "sign."
Black, who lives on a fixed income, used a donation from her church to pay the $360 fine and had a half-dozen young artists repaint parts of the mural, eliminating the offensive word — "like."
Inspectors then decided that the wall was no longer an illegal sign but was now an illegal mural. They warned Black that future fines would escalate.
Black said she offered to cover the mural with tarps but officials held firm. "They said they'd cite me because they'd know what is underneath the cloth," she said.
Although city leaders are looking into a policy change that would allow officials to issue permits for new wall murals, it's uncertain when or if that will occur, Black said.
"And the permit fee might be something like $10,000, which we can't pay," she said.
Youngsters used rollers to apply white exterior paint to Black's wooden alley fence.
"I took pictures of the part I painted for my portfolio," said Ivan Salinas, 22, of North Hollywood. "This is not the first time I've had my art covered over."
Alexander Garcia's roller slipped off its handle and landed with a splat on the alley pavement. "This wall doesn't want to be painted," quipped Garcia, 24, of North Hollywood.
"Instead of this, the city ought to be fixing potholes," he said. "Let the art survive."
Black said she asked if a local Graffiti Busters group could help with the paint-out but was told the mural did not qualify as graffiti. So Home Dept donated the white paint.
Others watching the white-washing agreed that the mural looked more like art than graffiti.
Augusto Bisani, who lives two blocks away, said the alley was a perfect spot for the mural.
"This style is not my cup of tea, but that's immaterial," said another neighbor, David Hernandez. "We all don't have to agree. Everything doesn't have to be on the same page."