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He was ordered to hide his boat, so his neighbour painted a mural of it on the fence

As It Happens6:33The city made him hide his boat, so his neighbour painted a mural of it on a fence

When Seaside, Calif., resident Etienne Constable got a letter from the city telling him to cover up his boat, he was irate.

The letter informed Constable that keeping the boat in his driveway was a violation of the city’s municipal code, and that any non-passenger vehicle needed to be kept behind a six-foot (1.8-metre) fence. 

“It was a surprise. I’d lived here for a while, and I’ve had several boats and or trailers parked in that location,” he told As It Happens host Nil Köksal.

“My first reaction was to leave a nasty voicemail at city hall … ranting about property rights.”

But once he had taken a moment to collect himself, Constable says he called back, apologized and explained that he needed some time to “implement a corrective action.”

That corrective action came in the form of a fence that meets the city’s specifications, but also includes a photorealistic mural of his boat.

Two people, pictured from behind, painting a mural on a fence
Panni, left, at work on the mural. (Submitted by Hanif Wondir)

It’s an example of malicious compliance, a phenomenon in which someone intentionally complies to the letter of request or order — but not the spirit.

“I like looking at my boat and I made a point of that,” Constable said. “I followed the rule and did it my way.”

Mighty neighbourly 

To do this, Constable enlisted the help of his next-door neighbour, artist Hanif Panni, who paints under the name Hanif Wondir.

Panni says the whole thing started with some “Home Improvement, Wilson/Tim the Toolman Taylor”-style conversations with Constable.

“He … was like, ‘Wouldn’t it be funny and wouldn’t it be cool?'” Panni told Köksal.

“I [was] thinking about it afterwards … kind of letting it steep like a teabag in my brain, and just thinking like, wow, that actually would be pretty fun.”

The mural shows Constable’s boat — which is named Might As Well — parked in the driveway, as it usually is. The background incorporates elements of the driveway and house to make it seem as though there’s no fence there at all.

Panni, who usually paints scenes of nature and animals, says he’s never created an “optical illusion” like this before. The whole venture took him four days.

“It was pretty fun, like, having people walk their dogs or drive by and stop and just yell out their windows,” he said. “A lot of good neighbourhood interaction, for sure.”

The city did not respond to a request for comment from CBC. But in an interview with the Washington Post, acting Seaside city manager Nick Borges laughed it off and lauded Constable and Panni for their creative solution.

He told the paper that after years of receiving complaints that the city was too lax about municipal enforcement, they hired someone to enforce codes.

A boat parked in a driveway behind a fence with a mural of the same boat in the same driveway. One half of the fence is open, revealing the boat. The two sides are lined up perfectly so the boat and the mural look like one seamless image.
Panir says this was his first time painting an optical illusion. (Submitted by Hanif Wondir)

That’s why Constable got a letter for the first time in decades of keeping boats and trailers in his driveway, he said. 

“We’re not taking any action,” Borges told the paper. “The only action I’m going to take is a high five.”

Constable says Borges also called him personally.

“He was real congratulatory and thanked me for my community spirit and creativity,” he said.