Cities draw the line with graffiti vandals

June 10, 2013

You know you’re doing something right when graffiti artists start tagging about you.

At least that’s Ed Moore’s take on things, as one of the small group of two or three Concord city employees who tackle the relentless problem of cleaning up more than 500,000 square feet of graffiti each year in Contra Costa’s largest city.

Graffiti is a common blight across public and private properties in Concord, whether it’s gang-related tagging, teenage hijinks or the occasional artistic statement. But even sleepy little Clayton has its share of graffiti and vandalism, especially during the summer months when school is out, says Mayor Julie Pierce.

And it’s a headache, both financially and from a quality of life perspective.

“In Clayton, we have a Graffiti Prevention and Abatement Ordinance,” Pierce says. “It’s our policy to try to clean up graffiti found on public property within 24 hours of our awareness of its existence.”

Still, if graffiti is on private property – say a fence or the side of a garage – it is up to the property to clean it up, according to Clayton Police Chief Chris Thorsen.

Thorsen says that Clayton’s vandalism and graffiti problems aren’t nearly as bad as in other communities where he’s worked, and that’s a reflection of how much the residents here care about their city.

“People will report graffiti fairly quickly,” he says. “That way we can clean it up, and the spot won’t become a canvas for other artists.”

It’s that quick response that is making Moore’s team a thorn in the side of graffiti artists who frequent Concord, especially on the Park Trail toward Port Chicago and the walls of the canal waterways that loop through the city.

“We get on graffiti fairly quickly, and that frustrates many of the so-called artists,” says Moore. “We can even use techniques that make it very difficult to re-graffiti the site, so more and more people know to not mess with us.”

It’s a small victory in a larger war, he says. Most of the graffiti is gang-related, and this time of year, it seems to be coming from out-of-towners who want to let Concord residents know they’ve been on their turf.

What they may not know is that Moore and Concord’s Department of Public Works keeps a five-year file on graffiti artists, and that can be used in prosecuting criminal vandalism cases.

“We have photos from the same artists, and they are financially responsible for the clean-up of all of those tags,” he says.

While the canals, walls and buildings along the I-680 freeway get the most graffiti, Moore says that fences and houses on private property are also ripe for tagging. Even though Concord also requires property owners to remove graffiti on private lots, Moore says that if he sees some, he will clean it up.

“It’s just easier, and it helps send the message that we have a very low tolerance for tagging,” he says.

His budget for clean-up has ranged up to $350,000, money that his boss, Concord Public Works Director Justin Ezell, thinks could be spent elsewhere.

“Graffiti makes people feel unsafe and affects property values,” he says. “I wish we could use that money for after-school programs and other positive, community efforts.”

Concord councilman Edi Birsan, who campaigned for doing away with furlough days for the anti-graffiti squad, says he would like to see the city expand the crew to two fully staffed trucks to “get it off the walls faster.” He also encourages residents who see tags to call the anti-graffiti hotline, (925) 671-3080 (24 hour a day) or report tags online on the city’s website: cityofconcord.org/forms/

reportproblem.aspx.

Thorsen also encourages his residents to call the Clayton Police at 925-673-7350 if they spy graffiti and vandalism.

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