A brick wall that has served as the backdrop of the Sonora Farmers Market for nearly two decades will soon display a mural saluting the event and popular flower merchant Eleazar "Ed" Rodriguez.
Rodriguez was killed in a car crash last September.
The Sonora Planning Commission held a public hearing Monday and unanimously approved the design review permit for "Mural in a Day Sonora."
The commission's approval means the mural is not required to go before the City Council.
Organized by a group of Tuolumne County citizens, the project will gather professional artists and local residents to paint an 8-by-24-foot mural on the south wall of the Land & Structures building at 105 S. Stewart St.
The goal is to create the mural in one day during the upcoming market season, which will run from May 18 to Oct. 19.
Citizens packed the Sonora City Hall Council chambers for the public hearing, pouring into the hallway. Some carried flowers in honor of Rodriguez, who was popularly known as "Ed the Flower Guy."
Permit applicants Sarah Rogers Nesper and Laurie Lehmann presented a drawing of the mural and about a dozen people spoke in favor of it. The speakers expressed the vital role of the farmers market in the community and their appreciation for the Galt man.
"He brought love in all his colors and all his arrangements," Sonora resident Norman Nickerson said. "Ed gave the farmers market a great part of its personality."
Sonora artists Louise Giersch and Judy Grossman emphasized the success of murals in other cities.
"Creating a mural for a community that represents the light of the community, the history of the community, the vision and spirit of the community is absolutely the most rewarding thing I've ever done," said Grossman, who designed the mural presented to the Planning Commission.
Among the other supporters were business owners, a farmer, a college teacher, a Tuolumne County supervisor and Rodriguez's wife, Marisol.
The only person to publicly oppose the project was Joe Sparagna, chairman of the Tuolumne County Historical Society Landmarks Committee.
He noted that Rodriguez was not a Sonora resident and that a plaque or monument would be a more appropriate way to honor him.
The comment was followed by groans from the audience and later countered by Rodriguez's wife.
"He loved this community," she said. "We didn't live here but we were part of it."
Sparagna said that while the mural would be just outside the city's historical district defined in the municipal code, it could reduce the historic appeal of the nearby Sugg House - a National Register of Historic Places property.
He also argued on behalf of the society that a farmers market is not unique to the area and the mural would not be consistent with Sonora's attraction as a Gold Rush-era town.
"We are not famous for our agriculture," he said.
B.Z. Smith, a member of the project committee, rebutted. She mentioned that the Sugg House is illustrated in the mural and juxtaposing it with the farmers market reflects on the past while celebrating the present.
"History is always happening," she said. "Every single day, we are creating history."
Commission Chairman Chris Garnin said Sonora has many historical themes which should not be pitted against each other.
The commission's concerns revolved mostly around the construction and longevity of the mural.
Project organizers explained how the mural will be created and protected from deterioration and vandalism.
The mural will be painted on six 4-by-8-foot aluminum composite panels, and Land & Structures building owner Zac Garman, an engineer, will install it on a framework on the wall. It will be sealed with an anti-graffiti coat.
Organizers have taken out liability insurance, Nesper told the commission.
The mural will be made with UV protection paint and contain as little red as possible. Red fades more quickly than other colors, Grossman said.
Commissioners asked that the mural be constructed higher than two feet from the ground to protect it from cars and pedestrians.
The project committee hopes to maintain the mural over the years with donated funds.
The first Mural in a Day Sonora fundraiser is scheduled for May 14 at Stage 3 Theatre and will feature a performance by storyteller, singer and songwriter Michael Reno Harrell.
Donations can also be made online at www.mural-in-a-day-sonora.org. "This mural is our life today and Ed Rodriguez has made a lasting contribution in the lives of people who visited the Sonora Farmers Market," Smith said.