Beautification effort takes an ugly turn

So a small-time art shop tries to brighten its little corner of a somewhat dreary commercial center by painting a mural without a permit, and the city of Atascadero decides this is the kind of issue worthy of a downtown throwdown?

This decorated side of a building warrants a civic fight?

This case of good intentions gone a bit awry is the best platform for a bureaucratic lashing?

Wal-Mart weasels out of $2.1 million in road improvement fees by playing dumb, and the city becomes a meek pansy, kowtowing to the pleasures of a corporate behemoth.

But when a tiny private business goes astray bam! Down comes the hammer.

How dare you try to make your building pretty?

Who do you think you are?

Don’t you know we have standards to live down to?

One day, it’s the wanton, lawless misuse of a paintbrush. Next day, bands of armed motorcycle gangs are roaming the streets.

Last week, Tribune columnist Lon Allan joined the call for the mural’s removal, terming it “atrocious” and noting that the Design Review Commission deemed it “out of character” with the direction of the downtown.

He also cited the permit issue but went a big step further, adding the city should stay away from judging art and ban all murals period.

I’m not one to typically engage in columnist-on-columnist crime because it can end up feeling like a revolver duel at 20 paces, each of us armed with the same weapon, exchanging volleys of words.

That being said, come on, Lon.

Certainly you see the value in public art.

The issue of judging what’s worthy isn’t best solved by judging nothing at all. That’s a lazy and self-defeating strategy, the old baby and the bathwater, if you will.

As for the city’s so-called direction of downtown, would we be pointing to boarded-up buildings, burnt-out lots and empty storefronts, all of which surround the ARTery?

That’s the predominant direction I see in this part of town, despite sporadic efforts at improvement.

Here we have a local, tax-generating business stepping up to beautify its property, while just around the corner, other businesses abandoned their buildings, leaving them to rot.

What’s your answer for that, Atascadero? (Maybe the loss of redevelopment funds, although no visible action was happening before that money was yanked anyhow.)

Regardless, how about you spend your energy on those properties, help find some new tenants or get those old buildings razed and replaced?

In the meantime, figure out a better way to work with Bobbi Nuñez and Bill Arkfeld.

Yes, they violated the law, and the resulting mural may not be Michelangelo. But it’s better than 600 square feet of beige.

A more effective punishment would not undo their efforts and replace finished art with a blank wall.

Instead, think community service and sanction the pair by making them create a couple of additional murals, approved through the proper channels.

The $460 you’d have them waste on an appeal could be better spent on paint.

In fact, these kinds of initiatives can offer great opportunity for a community. They can even help define who you are and give you a sense of uniqueness.

Instead of fighting art, Atascadero could embrace it, encourage it, promote it and become known for it.

Atascadero could become the mural town.

Maybe it’s just me, but I think that’s a stroke of brilliance.

Joe Tarica is the presentation editor for The Tribune. Reach him at