Heal the Bay Communications Director Matthew King views the 'Oceans At Risk' art house on Aug. 8 during its unvieling. (photo by Ashley Archibald)

BERKELEY STREET — Homeowner, designer and builder Adam Corlin on Aug. 8 first revealed an artwork entitled “Oceans at Risk,” a piece as big as a house executed by two renowned graffiti artists.

He’d been hiding it from onlookers under an unlikely amount of black tarp, hoping that the surprise of the brightly-colored, 2,206-square-foot display on the outside of a home in the middle of a residential neighborhood would jolt observers and bring awareness to Heal the Bay, a local environmental non-profit that advocates for the oceans.

It worked, almost too well. Within days, 1,000 visitors flocked to the Oceans at Risk Facebook page, 1,500 people followed its Twitter account and hundreds stopped by in person to view the piece, which artists RISK and RETNA painted to depict the sky, the sea and the pollution that mars them both.

“A couple went there to take their Christmas card picture,” Corlin said.

Within hours, however, he had an order from the Building and Safety Division to remove each of the 138 panels, posthaste.

As it happened, in keeping the work secret from the neighborhood, Corlin had also neglected to tell City Hall, or get the required permits to put up the art.

“It’s a non-permitted structure,” said Chris Lee of the Building and Safety Division. “It did not get clearance from the Planning Department or Building and Safety.”

City officials consider the piece a structure, although it’s composed of the 4-foot-by-4-foot panels wired into scaffolding surrounding a home that Corlin purchased with the intent to rehabilitate.

As such, it must be approved for location and height, Lee said, which requires review by several city agencies including Building and Safety, the Planning Department and the Architectural Review Board.

Corlin never intended to leave the piece up longer than Sept. 17, when Heal the Bay will host Santa Monica’s section of the California Coastal Cleanup, an event which brings hundreds of people out in this city alone to cleanse the beach of trash.

Even a temporary exhibition requires a permit, city officials said.

Corlin protested that he’d done everything right.

“I consulted with a structural engineer, I’m a builder and I believe it’s safe,” Corlin said.

There’s also an armed security guard and a padlocked chain link fence between the piece and any who would disturb it.

While Corlin provided those protections for the house, others provided more for him.

E-mails from lawyers offering to represent him and the piece pro bono flooded his mailbox.

One of those was Christine Arden, of the law firm Pfeiffer Thigpen FitzGibbon & Ziontz.

“I think it’s a wonderful cause and a beautiful piece,” Arden said. “What I liked about it is that it stimulates conversation.”

Arden contends that the secretive construction and dramatic unveiling of the piece was necessary to spur conversation about the health of the oceans, something that could never have been achieved through a lengthy public process.

So far, officials have refused invitations to come and examine the piece themselves for safety, Arden said.

Despite reports to the contrary, City Hall has not yet levied any fines against Corlin for his refusal to remove the piece, Lee said.

To ensure removal, the City Attorney’s Office would have to take Corlin to court, which Lee described as a “last resort.”

That could result in Corlin paying out of his own pocket for municipally-hired workers to remove the panels, which could be an expensive proposition.

It will probably already be down by the time any action is taken.

“I’m staying to my mission of what I wanted to do, and I’m not deviating,” Corlin said. “I’m not keeping it up longer just to prove a point.”


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