A mural at the San Elijo Retail Center in Cardiff-by-the-Sea has gone away. Local artist Kevin Anderson completed the four-by-seven-foot painting a year ago at the request of Commercial Facilities, Inc. The company manages the property, located on San Elijo Avenue in view of the Pacific Ocean and the beach. To the west run South Coast Highway 101 and railroad tracks.
“I did the mural for $600, a lot cheaper than I normally do,” Anderson tells me, “only because I love the area, do a lot of work down there, and know everybody. It started out as a seascape with a sunset. I kept seeing people that I know, and they’d come by and talk to me as I was painting. One day, a guy was sitting around playing the guitar. So, wham, I painted him into the picture and thought, ‘What a great idea. Let’s put some people in there that are from the area, including several that are homeless.’ I even painted in one of the clerks who work at the liquor store.” The mural was painted on wood shaped like a wine cask on the front of Mar Vista Liquor, a tenant in the building.
“Nobody seemed to mind,” says Anderson, “so I finished the mural that way.” But there was a hint of trouble ahead. Mike Paeske, vice president of Commercial Facilities Inc., asked that a cigarette in one character’s mouth be taken out of the painting. No problem. “I believe he thought it was a joint, so I painted over it,” Anderson continues. “If I’m working on something for somebody, they can tell me at any time what they want me to change, and I’m happy to do it. But I did think the cigarette thing was a little strange. He might have not liked the mural from the start, but he didn’t say anything more. And at the end, he paid me in full.”
The title of the mural, painted at the top, is Puesta del Sol, which means “sunset” in Spanish. The people Anderson painted into the picture, however, are now more prominent than the sun.
Anderson, 51, owns a house in Encinitas, where he lives with his wife and daughter. He makes his living primarily as a muralist, and his work can be seen all over Cardiff. “I’ve just been hired to paint a big mural in Solana Beach,” he tells me.
Over the last eight months, Anderson spent significant time in the area doing canvas paintings of the scenery, which is “spectacular,” he says. “You can see Seaside Beach and La Jolla south and Swami’s Beach to the north. Besides the sunsets, the beach, the cliffs in the distance, I was putting trains in some of the paintings.
“Not long ago — I think it was May 4 — I saw a worker with a ladder and paint bucket heading toward the liquor store. As he got closer to the building, I ran across the street and asked what he was up to. ‘I’ve got a work order to cover the mural up,’ he told me. So, right away, I called Mr. Paeske and asked that he stop the work. We went round and round about it, and he finally told me he’d allow a little time for me to remove the wood that the mural is on and take it somewhere else.”
In Anderson’s view, the mural’s fate is due to unwarranted beliefs about homeless people. “But those ideas are so ingrained,” he tells me, “ that there’s little you can do about them.”
I reach Mike Paeske at his Sorrento Valley office. “Over the last couple of years,” he says, “we’ve had issues with transients and vandalism to our property. The sheriff’s department came to us a couple of weeks ago and finally identified a number of individuals who were responsible for it. They told me that the individuals depicted in the mural were the ones. We didn’t want to be memorializing those people on our building, so we asked that the mural be removed.”
Paeske says he has a laundry list of chores and expenses associated with the transients hanging around the San Elijo Retail Center. They include cleaning up trash and defecation and replacing locks that have been glued shut around the building. “The most recent thing was a window broken by a bottle. The alley smells like urine because people are constantly urinating back there. After dealing with all the intoxication and fighting, which is causing our tenants to lose customers, we said we’ve had enough. We let it go for a long period of time and let the sheriff handle it. Finally, removing the mural was one of the things they asked us to do to help enforce the law.”
Surprisingly, the situation has not provoked hostility between property manager and painter. “Mr. Paeske’s tone of voice has been real nice lately,” says Anderson. “But he’s firm on making the change. And it’s not an anger thing with me. I’m just sad about it. One alternative he offered me was to take the people out of the mural and keep it on the building. You may think I’m stubborn or stupid, but something in me is not letting me do that. I’d lose my integrity as an artist that way.
“And it feels like they’re profiling these people,” Anderson continues. “If you walked by the mural, you would think that it’s just a bunch of people sitting around a campfire enjoying a party. It doesn’t portray anything illicit, no drug taking or drinking, just a few people around a campfire with a nice sunset in the background. One of them is playing a guitar, another a harmonica. Even if you knew the people, you wouldn’t recognize them,” Anderson claims. “I grew up with two of them, and they’re not troublemakers. If anything, they make the town a better place.”
In the meantime, Anderson learned that a flyer with mug shots of several people in his mural has turned up in the San Elijo Retail Center’s businesses. Words at the top of the page read “Cal-Photo Image Network Mugbook.” The business owners are asked to call the sheriff’s department if they see any of the people.