Mill Valley dustup over a little turquoise

Updated: Jun 2, 2018

POSTED: 02/25/18, 2:17 PM PST

Publication: Marin Independent Journal: Editorial

Kannyn January stands in front of her Branded Boutique at 118 Throckmorton Ave. in Mill Valley, Calif. Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018. (James Cacciatore/Special to the Marin Independent Journal)


The owner of a Mill Valley boutique wanted to bring more attention to her store. Her plan worked.

While repairing the front of the Throckmorton Avenue Victorian in which her store occupies the groundfloor, she had her storefront painted “Hawaiian Vacation,” a shade of turquoise that really stands out in the midst of buildings painted more muted shades.

Kannyn January, owner of Branded Boutique, says that after the paint job. business grew by 30 percent.

That’s a bright spot for downtown’s economy, she says.

The paint job also was bright enough to get City Hall’s attention. Not only is the paint not one of those “muted earth tones” required under city design guidelines, but the owner did not get the city’s OK before the storefront was painted.

Mill Valley has strict design rules for its commercial buildings, from requiring low-key paint colors to restrictions on lighted signs.

It was not surprising that January lost her first round at City Hall.

She argued that the brighter paint job helped fulfill another part of the city’s planning rules, helping promote downtown businesses.

She also presented a petition signed by supporters of the storefront.

But when it comes to whether her color matches the city’s definition of “muted earth tones,” as one commissioner put it, “It’s not even close.”

Certainly the color tugs at some of Mill Valley’s Bohemian roots in that “Hawaiian Vacation” is a lot more artistically interesting than beige, tan or white.

Mill Valley isn’t the only town where local commerce has tested cities’ regulatory color preferences.

In downtown San Rafael, Sol Food’s emerald green paint job got a lot of attention and now stands — and stands out — as sort of a local landmark.

A Fourth Street pizza parlor painted its front highlighter yellow.

Both drew a lot of attention, mainly because they stand out amid their “muted” neighbors.

Given the dustup over the Mill Valley storefront, Mill Valley officials may want to take a fresh look at their requirements. Perhaps a new generation of residents would prefer to see downtown less “muted” than those who wrote the current rules.

That raises the question over how strict Mill Valley should be in terms of dictating storefront paint jobs. Is City Hall the local arbiter of good taste? What’s wrong with a little color?

But certainly, rules as they stand, need to be followed. The boutique owner, who says she has already spent more than $1,500 on the city’s design review process, now faces having to spend more to repaint her storefront a city-endorsed color.

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