Visalia city council approves mural against panel’s advice

Council votes through Downtown Visalians mural despite not meeting guidelines, according to the Mural Panel

VISALIA – Not often does the mayor of a city step down from the dais and appeal a decision on behalf of the business they run, but that’s exactly what Visalia Mayor Steve Nelsen did at the March 15 council meeting when he presented on behalf of Downtown Visalians a counterproposal to the Mural Panel’s recommendation to deny a “Welcome to Downtown Visalia” mural on the west wall of the Pacific Western Bank building at 101 E. Main Street.

The proposed mural reads “Welcome to Downtown Visalia” with pictures of local landmarks and commerce filling in the lettering for “Visalia,” which dominates the canvas. The proposed mural would replace an existing one depicting a mountain scene with cabins and redwood trees recognizing Visalia’s proximity to the Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks.

“I will never not advocate for Visalia,” Nelsen said at the March 15 meeting. “To tell me I can’t put the city of Visalia in a mural, I can’t put up with that.”

The Mural Panel—a citizen oversight committee that serves as the first line of defense for allowing mural art within the city—denied the initial application from Nelsen for the lettering of “Downtown Visalia” being too large, becoming an advertisement rather than art. Council Member Brett Taylor said to him the proposed mural didn’t cross that line.

“It’s vibrant and I don’t see it as advertising a business,” Taylor said, “it’s just advertising the city of Visalia.”

But Nelsen submitted the mural application on behalf of Downtown Visalians,, a nonprofit that makes its revenue from membership dues in exchange for promotion and fundraising. Nelsen serves as the executive director for Downtown Visalians when he’s not quarterbacking at council meetings.

Council Member Greg Collins called the proposed mural “out of character.”

“I think this is inconsistent with the oldest downtown in the Valley,” Collins said. “It seems to me as out of place and better suited on a billboard convincing folks to come to the community.”

Walter Deissler, who serves on the Mural Panel, said the guidelines are strict in the panelists’ minds, and the panel serves to uphold them.

“Maybe a mural to show the history of the Fox. Maybe a mural of vignettes of Candy Cane Lane Parade,” Deissler said. “The bottom line is the number of letters and the percent at which the letters make up a mural is strictly stated.”

City Attorney Ken Richardson stepped in to clarify a distinction of rules and guidelines.

“These are guidelines, not an ordinance,” Richardson said, “meaning it is not codified in the municipal code. They don’t require as literal interpretation as the committee has given.”

The council voted 3-1 in favor of appealing the Mural Panel’s original denial, with Collins voting “No” and Nelsen recusing himself.

Start typing and press Enter to search