With a crowd of about 40 people in the audience, most of whom wearing face masks and practicing social distancing, the Ripon Historical Preservation Commission Wednesday night voted unanimously to approve the application of downtown business owner Sam Luna for the Black Lives Matter mural that is on an exterior wall of his restaurant at 112-114 Watson Street.
But, Luna, who had painted the mural that is on a wall fronting Fond du Lac Street, was fined $805 by the Commission because he did not obtain the Commission’s approval before the mural appeared. Luna, who attended the meeting, said that after being informed that he needed to file an application, he did so, and that the Commission in the past had granted applications after the fact, along with fines for noncompliance. He told the Commission that he understood that a fine was possible.
About a dozen people spoke on the issue during the public comment session. Most were strongly in support of keeping the mural, saying that the mural’s message was consistent with the city’s history of being the home of the Republican party which was formed out of an abolitionist movement. They also said that the city had been part of the underground railroad that helped slaves seeking freedom. To require that the mural and its support for BLM be removed, they added, would tarnish that history.
Others suggested that the mural’s message would help communicate to the broader minority community that Ripon was a welcoming community.
One speaker questioned whether it would be appropriate for the Commission to set a precedent if it approved the mural when Luna was clearly in violation of the ordinance requiring Historical Preservation Commission approval for such a painting, while another attacked it as a political message.
The matter now heads to the Ripon City Council for its approval. Generally, the Council routinely approves the votes of the Commission, but the controversy surrounding the mural and the Commission’s initial decision to have Luna remove it, may again generate considerable public comment prior to the meeting.
Check the city’s website where the agenda for the meeting will be posted to learn when the matter will come before the Council.