How murals are approved and how the city of Atascadero is involved 

ATASCADERO — As more walls around downtown Atascadero are being painted by the Equality Mural Project (EMP), we’re looking deeper into how the nonprofit works by exploring how the murals themselves are approved and where some of their funding comes from.

For the EMP to have their murals approved, they must first apply for an Administrative Use Permit (AUP) through the city after the building owner, business owner (when applicable), and artist have been chosen for a specific project.

“An applicant submits an application with an image of the proposed mural and its location. It is then scheduled for an AUP hearing where the community development director is the hearing officer,” said Deputy City Manager of Outreach, Promotions, Events Terrie Banish.


Community Development Director Phil Dunsmore is the hearing officer for all AUP hearings, and his actions during the hearings are also appealable to the Planning Commission.

Before the AUP hearing takes place, all property owners and private residents within 300 feet of the project are notified, and a lot posting goes up on the site 10 days (or more) before the hearing. The hearing itself is free of charge to the applicant. While the city does not regulate the mural’s content, the artwork, if deemed commercial, will then have to comply with Atascadero’s signage ordinance.

“The Administrative Use Permit Hearing is a public hearing,” Banish said. “At this time, we are holding these meetings virtually, and everyone is welcome to listen, attend, speak and take part in these meetings.”

Agendas for past and future AUP meetings can be found by visiting, and all residents are encouraged to join via Zoom and comment during the meetings.

“The city does not make any decision or opinion on the content of the artwork, as that is free speech, but it does have to comply with our signage ordinance if it is deemed commercial,” added Banish. “All of the murals proposed to date, have just been a question of whether the mural was commercial or noncommercial. There is no other discretionary review or permits required. We don’t regulate the content or the location.”

Though the EMP has no affiliation with The City of Atascadero, the Atascadero Tourism Business Improvement District (ATBID) has been one of the project’s biggest local supporters. They have donated to the project twice; each donation was for the sum of $5,000.

“On Sept. 16, 2020, the Equity Mural Project was brought to an ATBID board meeting for the board to consider sponsorship of the new mural project,” said Banish, who is also the Tourism Liason for the ATBID. “At that time, the ATBID considered this an opportunity to do a Mural Walking Trail Map that would highlight the murals already in place on the Artery wall, Historical Woman’s Republic near Ancient Owl, and on the back wall at Colony Market and Deli. The murals highlight the art element that the Downtown has always worked to create. Mural Walking Trails are something that tourists seek out, and people are attracted to them. At that time, the ATBID supported the Mural idea with a $5,000 sponsorship.”

The EMP addressed the ATBID at one of their meetings again on Aug. 18, 2021. EMP gave the ATBID an EMP update and addressed the district with a request for further funds to help the Project finish the 10 murals proposed in early 2020 while also building out the upcoming Mural Walking Trail Map. Once again, the ATBID donated another $5,000 sponsorship. Recently the EMP addressed the ATBID a third time, but unlike before, the board did not make a motion to sponsor a third mural.

This is a continuing series, and we will look into more facets of the Equality Mural Project and the art planned downtown.