County looks to clean up graffiti issue

With one eye aimed at monitoring gangs and the other eye on aesthetics, the county is about to introduce an anti-graffiti ordinance.

The Board of Supervisors will introduce the proposed ordinance Tuesday, and the planning department is asking supervisors to schedule a public hearing for Jan. 25.

The ordinance would isolate graffiti and deal with it in a broad and comprehensive manner.

The recommendations in the proposed ordinance cover everything from education to prevent graffiti to cleanup and who will pay for it.

It suggests civil liability for parents, restitution and community service for the graffiti artists.

Along with rewards for turning in vandals, the ordinance proposes to fine property owners who fail to clean up vandalism after 72 hours. The proposal does not mention any dollar amount for fining property owners who fail to remove graffiti after the allotted period.

“Graffiti negatively impacts the quality of life in a community,” Code Enforcement Supervisor Art Trinidade wrote in a report to the board.

Trinidade notes that there is currently no ordinance addressing graffiti. It is treated under the general rubric of vandalism.

Trinidade writes that most graffiti in the county is the work of underage vandals. However, he adds, it “can be attributed to both criminal gang activity and gang activity.”

The Sheriff’s Department has long worried that graffiti signals the coming of gangs, who often use “tagging” to mark territory.

The department and some county leaders fear that gangs might squeeze the relatively safe, suburban, middle-class county in a pincers movement, creeping in from Santa Maria on the south, the Central Valley to the east, and Salinas, King City and other locales in the north.

“As part of neighborhood preservation and crime prevention, it is important to remove graffiti, particularly gang affiliations, as soon as possible,” Trinidade wrote, “not only to frustrate the vandals but to prevent turf wars.”

The Sheriff’s Department has a mobile van to help victims paint over graffiti. It is staffed by volunteers, and the paint is donated.

There is language in the proposed ordinance giving owners of vandalized property 72 hours to clean it up or face the county fixing it and billing the owner via property taxes.

Sheriff’s Department spokesman Rob Bryn said that language is in the ordinance to allow the county to put pressure on absentee landlords or owners of many parcels who simply don’t care that it has been marred by graffiti and leave it there.

Bryn said the ordinance is, generally, an effort to be proactive: “If you wait until you get overrun with it (graffiti), it’s too late.”

Bryn said Sheriff-elect Ian Parkinson, who will be sworn in today, has read the ordinance and agrees with it.