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Chris Brown cites 1st Amendment in fight over murals

Attorney Mark Geragos files an appeal after the singer was cited for 8-foot-tall figures of monsters on the walls of his Hollywood Hills home.

June 19, 2013|By Richard Winton, Los Angeles Times
  • Chris Brown accepts a Grammy Award in 2012. The singer is fighting a city order to remove brightly colored murals outside his Hollywood Hills home.
Chris Brown accepts a Grammy Award in 2012. The singer is fighting a city… (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles…)

Scary monsters adorning the outside of singer Chris Brown's Hollywood Hills home are his personal art and he isn't about to give up his 1st Amendment right to expression because of a city citation, his attorney said.

Mark Geragos, the singer's attorney, has filed an appeal with the city of Los Angeles over a citation Brown received after neighbors complained about the bright, 8-foot-tall figures with bulging eyes and fangs on the walls of his designer home.

The enforcement citation was issued last month over "unpermitted and excessive signage" on his home on leafy, narrow Rinconia Drive.

In the appeal, Geragos said that the work is art, not signage, and therefore does not require a permit, especially because it is a home, not a business.

"The murals painted on the exterior of the structure are for the sole purpose of enhancing the architectural and aesthetic features of the residential property," Geragos wrote.

Moreover, Geragos wrote, the "murals are the reflection of the homeowner's aesthetic taste and a reflection of free speech and expression protected by the 1st Amendment."

Brown's personal artwork has unwittingly thrust him into one of Los Angeles' longest-running civic debates. Although the city has a reputation for being the street mural capital of the world, much of that artwork has been done illicitly.

City ordinances make it illegal to create murals on the vast majority of private properties.

Geragos noted in the appeal that city building inspectors are not applying the law in "content neutral" ways as the courts require, but are reacting to complaints. He cited quotes from Patti Negri, president of the Hollywood Dell Civic Assn., the local neighborhood group.

"There are lots of babies, lots of children, and they're literally frightened. It's like devils on the wall — big, scary eyes and big, scary teeth, and just the whole vibe is not what we're used to," she told the Los Angeles Times.

Brown's legal team says that kind of talk shows the murals are being "targeted for their content" even as the city praises other non-permitted murals.

Geragos says the city ordinances governing murals are also unconstitutionally vague.

As is required, Geragos sent the city a check for the potential fine while awaiting the results of the appeal.

Brown has long portrayed art as part of his work with an album titled "Graffiti" and he often posts images and videos of his work on social media.

After neighbors said that children in the area were scared of the monsters, Brown replied on Twitter: "There are scarier creatures on Harry Potter. Get a ... life!"

The case will be reviewed by the Department of Building and Safety, but is likely to make its way to the courts.

In the past, other homeowners have buckled under city pressure to remove artwork and murals because of financial limitations and the prospect of growing fines.

The city is finalizing a new mural ordinance that would legalize the creation of street art in certain zones and with some types of property.

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