By C.J. Salgado
It used to be that to see graffiti in East L.A. would be a “ho-hum” moment for residents and visitors alike. I mean, it was just part of the territory, right? Whether on residential fences, business facades or public sidewalks, it seemed to be everywhere. Not so these days. In fact, graffiti has been in a steady decline for the last four years, according to the Los Angeles County Department of Public Works. Because, when it comes to battling graffiti, it really takes a dedicated alliance of proactive residents and aggressive government abatement programs to win the war.
In unincorporated East Los Angeles, residents are doing their part more to report graffiti to the county Public Works department by calling the toll-free Graffiti Hotline at (800) 675-4357 (City of Los Angeles residents need to call 311 to request graffiti clean up). Taking calls 24/7, this county program means business and aims for “a 48-hour response” to reports. Does the Graffiti Hotline program really deserve this distinction? Well, they were put to the test earlier this week in East L.A. when, overnight, an unscrupulous tagger marked up the Bienvenidos-East Los Angeles sign in the median of Beverly Boulevard by Gerhart Avenue. How long did it take to get cleaned up?
Within, mind you, 24 hours, not 48 hours, Public Works had done quick work of the tagger’s deed, removing the offensive tag and leaving the sign shinning anew. Question answered.
However, don’t think graffiti removal is an easy job. Consider that in East L.A. alone , this program removed some 28,000 tags, equating to about 1.8 million square feet of graffiti, during the most recent fiscal year. Geez, those taggers must have a lot of free time on their hands because they keep busy. Luckily, we’ve got these Public Works folks on our side. In fact, the county spent about $300,000 on just graffiti removal in East L.A. in 2012.
Countywide, figures on the incidents of graffiti are even more alarming. Between 2002 and 2006, the county Sheriff’s Department saw more than a 100% increase in reported graffiti incidents, with the county spending up to $30 million on cleaning and preventing graffiti and tagging . Thanks to caring residents who report tagging and strong graffiti abatement measures, it has made a noticeable difference in East L.A. as in other communities.
Sure, graffiti looks plain bad, and damages property, but there are other effects that are more sinister. Graffiti is considered to be an “entry-level” crime of vandalism that can put youth on the road to more serious crimes. It can be a gateway to gangs, for example. So, combating it means a lot more than just removing the graffiti.
Up front, it takes education on the dangers of graffiti to keep youth away from this activity. For example, the county Public Works department has a “Consequences of Graffiti” program, a newer prevention effort that goes out to local schools to teach the students about this issue. There are also enforcement, prosecution, and probation costs (minors can get 3 years of probation) on the back end.
With all that in mind, if a picture can be worth a thousand words, then graffiti deserves only one word-STOP! The clear message to youths is just don’t get started. But if you do, somebody’s watching you …
C.J. Salgado is an East Los Angeles resident