Bluff Heights residents trying to block ‘overtly sexual’ mural from being painted on cannabis dispensary

Residents in the historic Bluff Heights neighborhood are fighting the installation of a vibrant, “overtly sexual” mural on the side of The Lift cannabis dispensary that sits on the edge of the neighborhood, but city officials say that the content of the mural is protected by the First Amendment.

Two murals, a lavender-dominant floral display, and a green-dominant piece showing a woman with a flower and butterfly have been proposed to be painted on The Lift dispensary located at the corner of Fourth Street and Temple Avenue.

Michael Forrest, a representative for The Lift said the colors were chosen to represent gender equality. Purple and green have historically been used in women suffrage movements and Forrest said the company wants to stand for something and be a welcoming part of the environment for everyone.

The mural would also stand to liven up the otherwise bland, tan building and Forrest said that customers have said that “the beauty on the inside of the store is not represented on the outside of the store.”

While some have supported the idea, other residents have been critical of the project for its sexual depiction of the “Flower Girl” and for how its colors would take away from the historic nature of the residences behind it.

An appeal to block the mural’s installation will be before the Planning Commission Thursday when the commission is expected to deny the appeal given that the dispensary’s owner works with a neighboring home to settle on the color of a firewall that separates their property and makes small adjustments to the mural’s design to frame it better.

A picture of the proposed mural to be installed at The Lift dispensary at the southeast corner of Temple Avenue and Fourth Street. The green side (left) with the “Flower Girl” is the view from Fourth Street while the purple mural (right) would be the view from Temple Avenue.

 

Bob Deardurff lives in the home behind the dispensary and filed the appeal with his wife in March. Their appeal seeks to block the “Flower Girl” mural that the Deardurffs’ appeal claims is “oversexualized” and could cause economic harm to his home located directly behind the dispensary.

The appeal casts the mural as an encroachment of the Retro Row murals in into the protected Bluff Heights historic zone. Retro Row, a quirky stretch of restaurants, thrift shops and cafes, sits about three blocks west of the dispensary.

“We need to question the subject of the mural and how that fits,” Deardurff said in February. “This is far more seductive or sexual than it needs to be. I don’t think it really portrays the history or the culture so what is the appropriateness and how does that fit? Where is the cultural significance and where is the historical value?”

Donna Sievers, president of the Bluff Heights Neighborhood Association, questioned if residents would be able to paint their houses similar colors—historic districts have strict rules regarding alterations to structures—and described the mural as exploitative and “insulting to all women and men who value equality.”

“It shows a young woman, who in my opinion, is being exploited, to bring customers to the Lift,” Sievers said in February meeting of the city’s Cultural Heritage Commission. “The mural portrays a woman, Asian background, who happens to be my daughter’s background who although she is dressed she is showing her breasts while stroking her cleavage.”

City officials said that while the building exists in a historic district the level of renovations it has undergone over the years that have seen it transform from an auto repair shop to a restaurant and now a cannabis dispensary make it a noncontributing structure to the district.

The city has made requirements for the mural to be projected out to the Fourth Street commercial corridor and away from the residences along Temple Avenue but say that the content of the mural is protected by the First Amendment.

Small modifications have been made to the mural like the westernmost wall of the building that sits closest to homes being required to be painted a solid color.

The southern wall of the dispensary that separates the business from the neighborhood will be painted a color that the business and the Dearduffs agree on, according to the city’s condition for approval.

The Cultural Heritage Commission approved the appropriateness of the project in its Feb. 22 meeting and forwarded it to the Planning Commission, which is slated to deny the appeal from the Deardurffs.

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Jason Ruiz covers City Hall and politics for the Long Beach Post.
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