YV Exempts Art Studios From Home-Based Business Standards

One year after the town of Yucca Valley expended close to $1 million to revise its general plan and municipal code, it this week elected to repeal a major section of the town code relating to residence-based business operations. In doing so it categorically exempted home-based art studios from the having to obtain a permit, sparing such operations from being subject to a host of conditions imposed on other businesses based in residential zones. The town council at the direction of staff, led by deputy city manager Shane Stueckle, instituted what a staff report calls “revisions” of the city code relating to home-based businesses, creating, according to Stueckle, “a new class of home occupation permits. Artist/Artist studios shall be exempt from the home occupation permit requirement, subject to the following standards: a. A maximum of two customers or two students per week may visit the residence. b. All employees shall be members of the resident family and shall reside on the premises. c. Outdoor storage of material and/or outdoor home occupation activity shall be limited to 10 percent of the lot area and shall be completely screened from public view. d. Artist studios within this class shall be permitted to participate in art studio tours and similar programs as they occur in Yucca Valley and the Morongo Basin.”
Stueckle’s staff report goes on to define art as “An original creation of an aesthetic nature in any variety of media produced by an artist and which may include creating, constructing or assembling sculptures, crafts, mixed media, performing arts, stone, masonry, electronic arts, murals, painting, photography and original works of graphic art, glass, mosaics, or any combination or forms of media, furnishings or fixtures.”
In addition, Stueckle’s report further extends its definition of what type of “art related uses [and] arts and craft uses” are deemed acceptable in home-based art studios, listing “framing, jewelry making, metallurgy, pottery, sculpture, specialty sewing/monogramming, and weaving. Art or art work as defined herein may be permanent, fixed, temporary or portable, may be an integral part of a building, facility, or structure, and may be integrated with the work of other design professionals. Art shail further be defined as the creative application of a specific skill that does not primarily serve a functional use (including but not limited to: vehicles, helicopters, weapons, functioning firearms, cottage foods, fishing and hunting gear, knives) that prevails over the artistic, aesthetic or decorative quality of the end project.”
The new ordinance defines an artist studio as a “property combining working and living space, in which original works of art are created and the primary use of the property is residential.”
Ostensibly, the town council made the exemption based on staff’s finding that to do so would facilitate an earlier council direction “to implement measures within the town’s programs, processes, and codes that support, encourage, and implement the artist industry within the town.”
Yucca Valley for several decades has been a haven for bohemian, beatnik and traditional artisans as well as entrepreneurs working in several type of media. Many of those have their operations located in traditional commercial or industrial zones, though others are located on residential properties. Some of those operations blur the distinction between traditional residential and industrial use, particularly those which entail quantity production. The staff report essentially bypassed the subject of the potential conflict between such production intensive uses and traditional residential neighborhoods by reciting several reasons why the town and town council find it desirable to allow artists to function out of their homes. “[T]he town’s parks and recreation master plan identifies numerous issues that identify the importance of arts within the town and the Morongo Basin,” the staff report states. “Yucca Valley has a rich and diverse cultural environment. There is a significant population of artists and musicians in the Morongo Basin.” The report further referenced “The abundance of local creative talent, a population interested in arts education, a vibrant music and art scene in the region, local leaders with a desire to enhance cultural programming and a diverse number of private sector commercial art establishments” in positing a justification for the change.
Nevertheless, the blanket exemption given to any home-based operation that involves what is represented as “art” or “artistic pursuit,” was not universally supported by town residents. The change has provoked the concern of those advocating strict enforcement of the town code to prevent commercial or manufacturing operations in residential areas. They questioned the need and rationale for any change to the regulations as originally framed, which were intended to prevent the intrusion of activity, noise, chemicals, pollutants or other undesirable by-products from manufacturing processes into the living environment.
Some questioned the timing of the town’s alteration of its code, which came one week before a lawsuit, Falossi vs. Koenig, relating to the obtrusiveness of a home-based operation which happens to be an art studio, goes to trial.
David Falossi is an accomplished artist and sculptor who works in many media, including large heavy objects intended as outdoor venue decorations and art pieces. He works from his home studio located on Hoot Owl Trail. Falossi has been engaged in a lawsuit against Fritz Koenig since January 2009. Key to the litigation between Koenig and Falossi is a road which traverses Koenig’s property and over which all but one of Koenig’s neighbors transit to reach their residential properties. The road is not subject to an easement, although Koenig lets his neighbors use it as “a neighborly accommodation.”
Koenig has objected to what he characterizes as the industrial nature of Falossi’s fabricating operation that is central to his sculpturing and artwork, which involves welding, stone grinding and glass grinding. Koenig maintains that such activity is incompatible with a rural residential neighborhood and out of compliance with the town’s codes that were in effect since shortly after the town’s incorporation. Moreover, Koenig has objected to Falossi utilizing the dirt road across his property to drive forklifts and a large truck to transport both the raw material Falossi uses in his fabrication process as well as the finished artwork, which in some cases weighs several thousand pounds, to and from his home studio.
Falossi, who lives at his home studio with his wife and four children, has accused Koenig of harassing him and members of his family.
The contretemps between Koenig and Falossi spread from across their adjoining property line into the courts, entailing the granting of restraining orders. Falossi sued Koenig and their neighbor Nora Fraser in order to obtain the right to transit Hoot Owl Trail, including that portion crossing Koenig and Fraser’s property with his forklift and loaded and unloaded transport truck. Upon investigation, Koenig responded, filing his own lawsuit against Falossi for unlawful business practices, maintaining in his suit that Falossi was operating his home-based studio without a home occupation permit for the previous three-and-one-half years and at other times since 1989.
Falossi is well connected politically in Yucca Valley, having been recognized by the town for the quality and nature of his work. He also has warm relations with former Yucca Valley Mayor [and former state assemblyman and now congressman] Paul Cook as well as recently departed planning commission chairman Tim Humpreville.
Last year, the planning commission and town council moved to liberalize the town’s land use policy, with the planning commission making a recommendation that the city council alter its development code to allow greater latitude with regard to the type and nature of home-based businesses that can locate in the town’s residential zones. That change transformed Falossi’s operation from one that was technically out of compliance with the town code to one that was deemed by the town permissible under the new standards. Indeed, at that time, the town was accused of having “tweaked” its code specifically to permit Falossi’s operation. During the public hearing process prior to those changes being adopted, some residents objected that permitting such uses in residential zones had the potential of destroying the tranquility of their neighborhoods.
The case of Falossi vs. Koenig is set to begin on July 13 in Judge David Cohn’s courtroom on July 13. It is conceivable the town’s action in exempting art studios from the regulations spelled out in the town code relating to home occupancy permits will be entered into evidence before the court. What is unknown is whether the jury or the court will consider the town’s action as a vindication of Falossi with regard to the intensity of his art production operation or whether the town’s alteration of the code will be interpreted by the judge or jury to be an indication that at the time Koenig launched his countersuit against Falossi that Falossi was indeed out of compliance with the town code as it was then framed.
Regardless of the outcome of Falossi vs. Koenig, the town of Yucca Valley has delcared by this new ordinance that the town will now decide what is and what is not art, and what of that art is “aesthetic.” The town has yet to state what town agent is qualified to make such determinations and the method to do so. The town eliminated its public arts advisory council three years ago.

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