Two grassroots efforts to gussy up some of Petaluma's neighborhoods have sprouted up this fall, relying on simple murals and community engagement to bring a splash of color to town.

Over on Western Avenue, the site of the former La Cotija Mexican Restaurant has a new shine thanks to the Art Angels club from St. Vincent High School. Coordinated by art instructors Marla Pedersen and Amy Waud-Reiter, the effort mixes St. Vincent's community service requirement with a unique approach to arts education in a model the whole neighborhood could get behind. With coats of paint donated by Kelly-Moore Paints, the club voted on a student-generated mural design of quails, cows and trees to adorn the walls that were previously a magnet for graffiti.

"We also turned an old mail box into a space for anonymous love letters," Pedersen says of the space, adding that she got permission from the property owners at Sequoia Mortgage Capital when the club launched the project in October.

The Art Angels club of 15 students includes all grades from the high school and meets every weekend to spend a few hours painting and sprucing up the space. Pedersen said people passing on foot or in cars regularly yell "thank you" and voice their support of the effort to revamp an eyesore.

"We can change at least the look of the space — it's a real opportunity," Pedersen beams.

Next up, the youth will paint a vintage gas station design on the back of the building, paying homage to the site's history as a service station in the 1930s. Then, with a donation from neighboring consignment store, The Find, the students will purchase solar floodlights so their artwork can be seen at night.

"Students can do their community service hours and participate in art – what a great crossover," Pedersen says. "The theme is our club motto: Be the change you want to see in the world."

Following the dedicated work the students put in on Western Avenue, the Art Angels were invited to paint a mural at the YMCA in Santa Rosa, giving the youth another opportunity to flex their creative muscles.

"Right now freshmen don't have room for art in their schedules, so this is an outlet for them," Pedersen says.

In another effort to bring homegrown art to the public, a loosely affiliated group called City Repair is looking at new ways to build beauty and a sense of community among neighbors. Modeled after similar efforts in cities such as Portland, Ore., City Repair invites neighborhoods to paint murals in the road and build plazas or other communal spaces at intersections on their street.

"It would create a more interesting space and a safer space," says community organizer John Crowley, who is helping to promote City Repair. He said other cities have seen a reduction in traffic speeds in residential neighborhoods because cars slow down to take in the colorful sights. But more than anything, he's interested in how the project can build community

"The idea is you get all the neighbors together to have a block party and create it," he says, adding that whatever "it" is, is up to the neighbors. Not only do the neighbors have to live with the design, but they also traditionally chip in to pay for it, or find sponsors to cover the costs of materials.

"You need at least 90 percent of the neighbors to buy into the project, and definitely all four neighbors at the intersection," says Dave Alden, a civil engineer who is helping to organize City Repair in Petaluma. "We have yet to find that neighborhood who says, 'Yes, let's do this.'"

On Nov. 12, Alden and fellow organizer Rachel Kaplan held a meeting at the Petaluma Arts Center to discuss the idea and seek out potential places to launch the project. Around 35 interested residents showed up, and identified D and Vallejo streets, D Street at El Rose Drive, Mountain View Avenue and Mission Drive, Second and F streets, and Western Avenue at Webster Street, as possible intersections to launch the project in Petaluma. Alden says the effort will have to grow out of the neighborhood to be successful.

"We need that one neighborhood activist who will go door-to-door and get everyone involved," Alden says.

City Manager John Brown said there are a variety of city departments City Repair would need to contact, depending on the type of project proposed. "There'd also be issues with indemnification and insurance," Brown says.

While that's still a ways from fruition, City Repair plans to keep moving forward by inviting more neighborhoods to consider community-driven face-lifts. To find out more, email Rachel Kaplan at Heirloom Skills@gmail.com.

(Contact Emily Charrier at emily.charrier@arguscourier.com.)