Graffiti On The Rise

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(Sacramento, CA)
Monday, November 2, 2009
Aaron Zeff has lived the dream of many a frustrated business owner victimized by graffiti. Zeff owns Harv’s Car Wash and several parking lots around midtown. And one night about a year ago he caught a graffiti vandal in the act.  
“A gentleman rode up on his skateboard and tagged something right in front of me. I couldn’t believe it. I had a double-take and was shocked. I hopped in my car, followed him around…”
…and when he caught up with the spray can wielding culprit, Zeff made a citizens arrest. The suspect was eventually sentenced to a 90-day jail term. But jail sentences are pretty rare, since prosecutors won’t go after taggers unless there’s a witness. City officials admit catching graffiti vandals in the act isn’t easy. Noel Eusebio is a senior code enforcement officer with the City of Sacramento.

“These guys go out in the dead of night when they can’t bee seen. So yes, it’s difficult to catch them.”
Eusebio’s been on the job for 20-years and says this is the worst he’s seen it.
“Graffiti ebbs and flows. We’re getting a spike up now. I haven’t seen an up tick like this since the ‘90s when we first started.”
Eusebio suspects graffiti is up because of an increase in gang activity and because there are more properties left empty by the foreclosure crisis – perfect targets for taggers. Whatever the reason, removing it is adding up for the city and business owners.  
“In the last 12 months we’ve removed 8,000 tags. We’ve spent about $80,000 doing that.”
Rob Kerth is Executive Director of the Midtown Business Association. One idea he has to help keep those costs down is to create a legal graffiti wall.
“That’s where we have a wall that’s available for people to spray on to their heart’s content and we’ll probably whitewash them fairly regularly just to let people start over.”
Kerth says Venice Beach and Vancouver are doing it. And he thinks it’ll work here. But as far as Noel Eusebio the city’s chief graffiti abatement code enforcement officer is concerned…
“We’ve always been a zero-tolerant city. And so in my personal and professional opinion, I wouldn’t allow it.”
Kerth says he’ll keep pitching the idea to the city and try to get midtown business owners on board. Meanwhile, he points to another partial solution to the problem – commissioning graffiti artists to create murals on public spaces. He’s standing next to one that recently went up on the side of a building at a parking lot near L and 18th Streets. 
“What we’re looking at here are images from Sacramento and its history.”
The vibrantly colored mural depicts farm crops, the sierra, trees and birds.”
“I’d love to have murals all over the place here. This is a big opportunity for us in midtown. We’re Sacramento’s creative district and part of our mission has to be to incorporate the next generation and bring them in here.”
The graffiti mural that Kerth is standing next to isn’t finished yet. In an ironic twist, crews still need to apply anti-graffiti coating…to protect the mural from being marred by taggers.