Murals draw council’s support

K man mural in Atascadero.
David Middlecamp
K man mural in Atascadero. David Middlecamp 2-12-2010 The Tribune

The intense public debate over Atascadero’s commercial sign policy has prompted the city to change part of its procedure.

The City Council on Tuesday voted unanimously to keep murals in the same category as signs for processing purposes but waived the $605 permit fee to apply for them.

“I think we have a golden opportunity here in Atascadero,” Councilman Bob Kelley said of the move that the council hopes will encourage more businesses to display murals.

The issue came about when K-Man Cycle & Run debuted an art mural on its Highway 101-facing building at 9530 El Camino Real in January.

Before artist Kathleen King starting painting the mural, business owners Keith and Robyn Schmidt researched how they should have it done. They were told there was no distinction between a mural and a sign in city policy, so they would be required to pay the permit fee.

When they didn’t, the city reminded them with a letter.

After some in the community spoke out against the fee, community development director Warren Frace said, the issue went to the council.

Members of the public who spoke Tuesday showed examples of signs and art while others read from the dictionary. King declared that she is an artist, not a “sign maker.”

Robyn Schmidt apologized for not following city protocol but emphasized that she and her husband did so because they didn’t want the bicycle art to be labeled a sign.

Staff advised council to lower the application fee but not to change the process to distinguish signs from murals, officials said.

“Then we get into … who gets to decide what’s art and what’s not art,” Frace said, “And that could be a problem.”

The city will now use public funds within the community development director’s budget to cover the fees as a business stimulus plan. Frace said the fee pays for staff time and processing. The move is retroactive, meaning the Schmidts’ fee is also waived.