Poll: City Fines Valley Village Homeowner for Graffiti Art on Fence

Get more images, and the original story, ##http://nohoartsdistrict.com/joomla/index.php?option=com_k2&view=item&id=192%3Abarbara-black-smacked-with-a-graffiti-fine&Itemid=221##here.##

Valley Village resident Barbara Black had an idea on how to repaint her fence, give back to her community, and give some school students a project to work on.  Black, working with the principal at North Hollywood High School, found 10 high school students interested in creating a “graffiti art” mural on her 90 foot fence.  When the work was nearly complete, she received a notice from the city that her mural was violating a city ordinance on advertising, ordered to pay a $336 fine and ordered to white wash the fence.

While Black has the support of some local bloggers, the comments on both NoHo Arts District and Mayor Sam have been more negative than positive towards the homeowner.  The point of contention between the two camps seems to be whether or not Graffiti Art, even if it’s commissioned by the owner of private property, is actually art or whether it’s some form of blight.

NoHo Arts District is encouraging readers to write to Councilman Krekorian to get the fine, which goes to over $1,100 if the mural isn’t removed later this month.  We’ll make things simpler.  Vote below and we’ll send Krekorian’s office the results.  If you want to contact him directly, you can email him at councilmember.krekorian@lacity.org,

Should this form of artistic expression be allowed on private property facing the street?

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Filed Under: Art

  • The question isn’t specific enough. The question should ask if this type of “art” should be allowed on private property that is visible from public sidewalks. No one would care if she had it on the inside of her back fence.

  • David Murphy

    This, in my opinion, would destroy the character of a community. Absolutely should be banned.

  • Evelyn…I made some changes to the title…

  • We are constantly bombarded by advertisements on private property all the time, I don’t see why this art should be treated any different. We need more art and less ads for cars.

  • I’m torn. I would hate to have something like this across the street from me, and it looks like a bunch of tags to me, not like a mural.

    But, if the property owner commission artists to paint this, do I have I right to object? It’s not pornographic, or inflammatory or offensive, it just isn’t what I would want to look at. And I would worry that this “graffiti” would encourage other people to tag the wall, and it would end up as bunch of gang stuff. Certainly, someone walking around looking for a place to put a business or a house to rent might get the wrong impression, and think this was the work of gangs.

    However, the city is certainly overreaching by charging the property owner with an “illegal advertising” fine. This is clearly not a billboard.

  • The real solution is to prohibit featureless wall along streets. Walkable neighborhoods have front porches or windows or gardens next to the sidewalk, not big, blank walls.

  • Michael

    If that is art, then so is all of the tagging on the sides of building and on freeway signs. If she likes it so much, have them paint it on the inside of the wall so she can enjoy it herself and not force her neighbors to look at it.

  • Joe

    I don’t understand. What is the product allegedly being advertised here? I think the fine is inappropriate.

    I do think that the community has a legitimate interest in policing the appearance of property visible from the street. This power should not be used heavy-handedly, but in extreme cases I think it’s just fine for the city to order a property owner to clean things up.

    In this case, the “mural” looks like tagging.

  • Thanks for taking Barbara’s plight to Streetsblog LA! The nohoartsdistrict.com readers have been supportive of her situation with the City and with Graffiti Art as an art form. Our readers understand the aesthetic issue and are more concerned with the City ordinance that prohibits public art murals. This isn’t the only piece of public art that falls under this wacko ordinance that the City folks slapped together. Big billboards are ok but community murals no? We would love for someone to make some sense out of this ordinance…if that’s even possible. So on to the aesthetic issue…

    Graffiti is the plural form of the verb to scratch in Italian. It goes back as far as the Greeks/Romans/Eqyptians and was used as a quick form of art way back then. The word Graffiti has been used to describe vandalism/people writing on walls/creating art on walls without permission. The key here is without permission. Tagging, the act of scribbling your name like a dog marking his/her territory, is included in this definition. Graffiti is a general term. No one is saying that is a good thing to do, to vandalize that is. However, graffiti art is an art style and we must accept that. The style of art illegally put on walls is YES an art style. We should encourage this style of art LEGALLY and in a way for all to enjoy. Are flower and rainbow murals ok but funky, weird colorful writing not? That’s not fair. Everyone has a right to his/her aesthetic. Again, please note that tagging and a graffiti art piece are not the same thing.

    Won’t Barbara’s mural deter rummies from tagging their gang/crew name on her fence?

    Thanks for the platform.
    Artfully yours,
    Lisa Bianconi

  • The wall is rad.
    Art is in the eye of the blah blah blah.
    It’s not advertising a product. Billboards are far more ubiquitous and invasive while they benefit the rich, while this was created by local kids.
    Graffiti art is a reality; you can’t just pressure it away because it’ll keep showing up. Props to giving it a place, we need more of them.

  • As a home owner, graffiti artist, and government worker (planner) I have had some similar issues in the city where I live. I have painted the back of my house and the walls in my yard. They are sort-of visible to my neighbors who do not like it. But I do not like their ugly stucco houses and garden gnomes. Ultimately, their house is theirs and my house is mine. A line has to be drawn somewhere. I was lucky that the description of “graffiti” in my city’s code was the “unauthorized” writing or scribing on walls. Well I authorized myself to paint my fence and I was able to tell the city to pound sand. They were honestly shocked that I even bothered to look up the city’s code.

    That building facade, exterior wall, or house elevation is not just outside of your property. It is the interior of our street, a public space. I enjoy a public space with color, bold! What these kids did I find to be beautiful and quite inviting. It is her house and I do not believe she lives in an HOA, who are we to say what color she can or cannot paint her fence?

  • Grafitti done without the owner’s permission: illegal.

    Graffiti done WITH the owner’s permission: ought to be legal as long as its not offensive, pornographic or an obvious advertisement.

    Offensive is a tricky term. I don’t like a lot of country music lyrics, but it’s free speech. Bad taste is still freedom of expression. Differing tastes in art, still free.

  • Alex Marroquin

    Of course not! We don’t want to make middle class people of color and white people uncomfortable! In fact, we should tell those kids not to express themselves at all! Why cant they be more like to Johns and Tylers of the neighborhood?

  • Spokker

    “We are constantly bombarded by advertisements on private property all the time, ”

    Ban ugly billboards and ugly graffiti.

  • Spokker

    “We don’t want to make middle class people of color and white people uncomfortable!”

    Black and brown people don’t like graffiti any more than white people do. Anaheim is heavily Latino and they are working very hard to fight graffiti.

    “But, if the property owner commission artists to paint this, do I have I right to object?”

    Perhaps not as an individual, but if the general consensus in a neighborhood is that a wall is an eyesore, it should be painted over.

  • If she had been paid to place a large commercial billboard, the outcome would be different, as we all support business in Los Angeles but unaccountable artists and their sponsors will be the ruination of us all!

  • True Freedom

    I agree with Spokker.

    To many people, graffiti is associated with urban blight and gang activity.
    Most (almost all) graffiti is uncommissioned and technically is vandalism… so the association between graffiti and illegal activity is strong. Those associations are offensive to many.

    In a similar way, the Swastika is strongly associated with Nazism and their atrocities; however, some might claim the Swastika is art.. and might claim that their swastika is not associated with Nazism but rather with some ancient cultures known to have used it.

    The owner of this property obviously knows that this upsets many of her neighbors. Regardless of the legality, I think a person should strive to minimize their negative impact on those around them, no matter where they are, but especially those who live around them… so, with that I think the “art” should be removed.

  • Joe

    Let’s nip this one in the bud.

    Painting a fence with graffiti is actually not at all like painting a swastika. I appreciate that you’re trying to clarify why you object to the fence, but invoking the Nazis is a really bad way to do that.

  • True Freedom

    @Joe: well, that’s your opinion… so, if it pleases you.. read my argument without the second paragraph. I agree with you that the merit of my argument stands without the second paragraph.

  • Joe

    I have a question for Lisa, Matt, Cory, James, or anybody else who strongly supports this project.

    Do property owners have any obligation at all to their neighbors to maintain the appearance of their property? Or do you think it should be “anything goes” as far as appearance is concerned?

    While I don’t like HOA-style policies that strictly limit the type of vegetation one can have, or limit the number of outdoor chairs one is allowed and other such minutiae, I’m also having a hard time buying the “anything goes” standard. The “It’s okay as long as it’s Art” standard is rather spineless, as anything can be claimed to be art. I think it’s possible to enact a reasonableness standard, that allows the merely ugly, but bans that which the community agrees is atrociously ugly or blighted. But I’m getting the feeling that many here don’t support even going that far, and I’m interested to hear their thoughts.

  • Spokker

    “Painting a fence with graffiti is actually not at all like painting a swastika.”

    Both are intimidating and ugly. They are both symbols of oppression.

    If the art that was commission resembled a painting and not the wording you see on the local freeways, perhaps the project would have gone down much more smoothly. I’ve seen plenty of creative spray paint murals that don’t give me the impression that I shouldn’t enter an area.

    But when I see that “art,” as depicted in this blog post, I have the urge to call up my local Realtor.

  • Spokker

    “If she had been paid to place a large commercial billboard, the outcome would be different”

    An advertisement for a Big Mac is far more pleasant than this trash. Both graffiti and billboards should be wiped from the face of the Earth.

  • Let’s start with a statement that this is not vandalism, nor is it gang related. It is a sanctioned and commissioned piece of art from and by a specific artist. Further I would argue that based on the time and energy invested in this art installation it is actually done quite well. I have seen some pretty hideous graffiti and as I too am a graffiti artist I believe I have the ability and knowledge to judge this mural from a graffiti art standpoint.

    As a home owner I further believe that I am capable of providing a legitimate argument from a property owners view. When someone leaves a car parked on the street or strips a home of its architectual beauty and history in exchange for wrought iron fencing, plantation columns and fountains or statues I am absolutely appauled! How dare they destroy a thing that I find to have architectual beauty to a stucco piece of poo. But I do not own that property, it is their’s. Perhaps they hate what I like and prefer stucco and marble columns. I am forced to stare at their property every day and while I have an opinion about it, it means nothing. I promise they will not be fined for their poor taste, why should this lady?

    Finally as a government employee that is responsible for drafting policies and codes I can verify that it is a very slippery slope when the city places itself in the business of judging what is art. Committees and elected officials should not be responsible for determining taste. When you allow that to happen you end up with a souless and contrived community of greys and taupe. A place that lacks the livable character that I think we are all striving for here on streetsblog. A mural like this is not a blight when viewed by the community that put it there. These kids are making an effective use of their talents. Do you crumble up 5 year old Johnnys picture that he hangs up on the fridge also, Mr Scrooge? The kids did something awesome and it should be applauded!

  • “My neighbor has put up what looks like a bunch of radio towers on his property! These things are covered with pieces of old trash and glass bottles! Please tell him to take it down immediately!”

    “Um, okay”

    — slightly paraphrased, but it almost nearly happened to WATTS TOWERS in the 1950s, when the city ordered the property demolished. Simon Rodia was not universally liked by his neighbors.

  • We have made an art of it here in LA: destroying the things that other emulate us for. The contributions LA has made to the art world, via “street art”, are finally being capitalized and traded around the world at the same time everyone in town wants to get their sloppy beige pant buckets out and obliterate self expression.

    I have come 180 on tagging and graf. I love the stuff, since it isn’t selling me anything but whatever the artist was thinking or feeling at the time. If we gave people an opportunity to do more of it, we might get some better work than all the scribbling we force kids to do by cracking down do hard.

    I know my views are “out there” relative to mainstream thought no this issue, but that is where I find myself on these issues these days.

  • Thanks, Cory. We love your words. This is the issue folks:

    Whether or not it’s Graffiti Art or Rainbows and Flowers, the City has practically banned murals. They consider them advertising of some sorts. There is some rule no one can find that makes one mural an ad and another not. It would be nice if Building & Safety would actually come out and explain the citation given to Ms. Black. They should show the citation number, explain it in easy terms and that’s it. Is that too much to ask of our government service providers?


    When that question can be answered then we can have a meaningful discussion.

    Thanks for the platform,
    Lisa Bianconi

  • Jon Raspa

    If the fence is on the homeowner’s property, they have the right to paint it any color they want. Or any combination of colors, designs, etc…

    Unless some kind of HOA contract was signed by the homeowner stating that they would only paint their fence certain shades of beige, burgundy, or brown, neighbors can complain, but not legally do anything about it.

    The fence doesn’t look pornographic, or depict drug use or violence. Besides, she partnered with a local school, and who can argue with a “do it for the kids” motive?

  • The Los Angeles Municipal Code defines graffiti:
    “Graffiti” means any form of unauthorized inscription, word, figure or design which is marked, etched, scratched, drawn, sprayed, painted or otherwise affixed to or on any surface of public or private property, including but not limited to, buildings, walls, signs, structures or places, or other surfaces, regardless of the nature of the material of that structural component.

    As this inscription is authorized it would not fall under “graffiti”

    Perhaps they are calling it an advertisement? Here is what the code says about advertising in residential areas:

    SEC. 85.06. (a) No person shall place, establish, or maintain any sign, banner, billboard or other advertisement which is visible to the operator of any motor vehicle operated on any public street, road or highway and which sign displays any word, phrase, character or symbol calculated to direct traffic on to any residential street and which sign advertises the sale of any goods, wares or merchandise including printed matter which sale is to occur on any property not zoned for commercial use. The provisions of this section shall include but not be limited to placement of the advertisement on any motor vehicle.

    Since there is not any directing of traffic nor any goods for sale, it clearly is not an advertisement.

    Maybe they are calling it a sign? Well here is what the code says about that:

    Sign. Any whole or part of a display board, wall, screen or object, used to announce, declare, demonstrate, display or otherwise present a message and attract the attention of the public.

    As they are not announcing, declaring, demonstrating, displaying, or otherwise presenting a message, I don’t see how it can be a sign. To be honest, even as a graffiti artist myself I am not sure I could read all the names on that wall.

  • anon

    If the city wants to make graffiti-style art illegal, they should do so. But calling this an “ad” and fining her for it is akin to fining someone for an illegal telephone pole when they plant a tree. Making up a BS reason for fining someone when there’s not an actual law against what they did is spineless and amoral.

  • cph

    There’s no accounting for tastes. I’m not sure I want to live in a place run by HOA rules about color of houses, etc. On the other hand, I’m not excited about those neighborhoods where the front yards are full of weeds, cars up on blocks, washing machines on front porches, etc.

    As far as grafitti “art,” I would be concerned whether a given “piece” had any hidden meanings. To the uninitiated, grafitti may either be an annoyance or “art.” But many gang markings, tags, etc. have meanings, known only to gang members, and may indicate whether one group or another is trying to “take over” an area, or commemorate/memorialize a fallen member. Certain markings have been known to incite violence by opposing gangs. People have been shot simply for standing too close to certain grafitti.

    (It’s akin to taking a trip to Peru, for example, and buying the brightly colored clothing in the market stalls. But an outsider wouldn’t know that the colors and patterns have meaning (for example, getting married, or mourning a loved one). A tourist wearing these garments around town may provoke reactions ranging from puzzlement to offense.)

    The piece in question may be benign in this regard, but I would be careful as to what I’d let “grafitti artists” post on my wall.

    Then there is the issue: will this bring on more grafitti in the neighborhood? Grafitti tends to attract more grafitti, and some of the people writing it may not necessarily respect this piece as an art project….

  • Graffiti art and gang graffiti are two very different things. As a rule of thumb gang graffiti is generally simple single color work. It is pretty rare to see true gang graffiti have multiple colors. More often than not it is black scrawling. When you see something like this wall with full multi color fill ins and backgrounds it is obvious that time was invested. These were painted by artists and graffiti is a means to express themselves. Most graffiti artists that I know have continued this love of art into their professional lives. They are some of the best graphic designers, print makers and artists in their fields. Graffiti requires a lot of heart and devotion. These skills lend themselves to success. Nurture this art form and these kids. You will see a new generation of creative minds thrive in adulthood. Fines and the destruction of their work will only lead to disappointment. For real don’t squash their dreams!

  • Wildgentlesoul

    Graffiti is graffiti. No matter who does it or what it means. All graffiti is ugly and should not exist anymore.

  • Danafloraladd

    And that is your ugly opinion

  • Danafloraladd

    Me being an artist, I am an open lover of self expression. Grafitti is a mural, this is art. Although gangs are wrong, I believe that art is a form of expressing ones inner self, even if it represents something we find so disturbing. The ones who find spray paint ugly are the same kind of close minded people who told Van Gogh that his work was worth nothing. I would like to see any of you opposers to even try to creat something of such beauty.

  • Danafloraladd

    Adding to that, I know that when a true artist does not have the open environment to creat art, they will do anything to feel creative. I personally had a hard time growing up because I had this urge inside of me that just wasn’t getting fulfilled. Once I’d have scissors, I’d cut up my clothes. Once Iv have a pen, I’d write messages on the walls. And let’s also not forget also spray painting my poor mothers backyard

  • Danafloraladd

    An artist needs to creat, an when they don’t have the means or the space, they get depression. Maybe the reason the kid wants to be part of a gang is because he’d like to start painting illegally on walls . Maybe this kid is in a gang because he can’t find out why the only thing he knows how to do is graffiti. When in school, all of the bad kids just happened to be the ones who were the artists, they just couldn’t bring it to the surface

  • Wildgentlesoul

    Graffiti is disgusting and needs to be removed. It’s an eyesore. It’s also destroying public property, even if it’s on a residential fence. The public can still see it. It’s not private where nobody can see it. If it’s inside the house then that’s ok. Vandalizing property is never ok. It’s considered a property crime.

    If the ‘artist’ has urges well he/she can draw on paper or create it in another way. Not subjecting our eyes, minds, and hearts to trash like this.

    What if someone eggs another person’s house in the name of art? Or TP’ed? When will this nonsense end?

    Graffiti is vandalism and needs to end for good.

  • Wildgentlesoul

    Then why do this ‘art’ on property that’s not theirs? It’s wrong and not what is considered true art.

  • Kath

    Graffiti is graffiti no matter what it looks like or where it is at. Or who does it. They are all the same.


  • Kath

    With or without permission makes no difference. It’s still graffiti.

  • Kath

    Graffiti is like a smelly port a potty you cannot help but stare at. You wish it will just go away forever and never return.

  • sahra

    i think that if they had done something other than just paint their names graffiti-style, people would be a little more sympathetic to the idea that the work counted as a “mural.” 


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