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Decision on ARTery tree mural in Atascadero is delayed

Supporters of the mural on the wall of the ARTery, painted by Reilly Baker, pose so co-owner Bobbi Nuñez can take a photo Wednesday evening.
Supporters of the mural on the wall of the ARTery, painted by Reilly Baker, pose so co-owner Bobbi Nuñez can take a photo Wednesday evening. jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

The Atascadero Design Review Committee on Tuesday delayed a decision on whether to allow a mural on the side of the ARTery building at 5890 Traffic Way to stay so city lawyers can consider the legality of enforcing regulation.

The mural — an oak tree painted on the side of the art supply building — is protected as free speech, and the design committee has no jurisdiction to regulate it, according to Ilan Funke-Bilu, an attorney representing Bill Arkfeld, who co-owns the shop with Bobbi Nunez.

The design review committee was prepared to make a decision on an amended version of the mural, reducing it by 10 percent of the rendering (including painting over some leaves of the oak tree). The committee would also have determined whether it should be granted a permit.

But Funke-Bilu said constitutional rights of property owners and free speech override any jurisdiction that the committee may have when considering the mural, citing a case in Indio from 1983 that he said protected a mural from regulation.

The Atascadero mural became the center of attention in recent weeks when the ARTery owners welcomed a Santa Cruz artist to paint the western wall of the building without first getting a permit from the city.

The 600-square-foot mixed-media piece, painted in May, features a person sitting under a large tree with blue-and-green tones highlighted by neon spray paint. The building owners said they thought they could get a permit afterward.

The committee denied the application on the grounds that the mural didn’t match downtown’s character. The owners then reapplied to the committee with several suggested changes to the mural.

Committee member Bob Kelley said he’s disappointed in how Tuesday’s hearing developed — saying he personally met with Arkfeld and thought the hearing would proceed according to changes to the painting. Kelley said it would have met his approval, but that he’s prepared to allow it as is.Committee member Chuck Ward said he wanted city attorneys to look at the issue.

Public speakers were divided over the issue, though most supported the artwork and said the committee should back off.

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