In the News

City Council votes for tougher rules on graffiti

Property owners will have to clean up mess

Thursday April 30, 2009

The Watsonville Register-Pajaronian, April 30, 2009 

City Council votes for tougher rules on graffiti 
Property owners will have to clean up mess

Published: April 30th, 2009, Register-Pajaronian, Page 1

Property owners in Watsonville will be required to bear the brunt of the responsibility for cleaning up after graffiti vandals, the City Council decided Tuesday night. 

The council voted 6-1 in favor of altering Watsonville Municipal Code Section 5-41, implementing tougher laws regarding graffiti and holding business owners and residents responsible for promptly removing graffiti. The reward for information leading to the arrest of graffiti vandals was also increased to $500, and the city is asking that the crimes be punished to the fullest extent possible under state law.

The old ordinance, adopted in 1994, required graffiti to be removed from a business within seven days, but left the city responsible for the removal. The change requires property owners to remove the graffiti within 48 hours. If not, a warning will be issued by the city and city staff will do it. But after three warnings, a fine of $100 could be issued. A second fine would cost $200 and a third $500.

The changes passed, but only on a six-month trial basis. Councilmember Nancy Bilicich said she supported tougher actions against offenders, but was concerned that property owners who were absent could possibly face fines unbeknownst to them.

"We all have to be accountable for our actions," Bilicich said. "I just want to make sure the property owner would have adequate notice before we start the fining process."

Councilmember Greg Caput was against any changes, concerned that any jail time the offenders might serve would only put them on the path to worse crimes.

"There's a failure, in my opinion, of our prison system and the way we go about things," Caput said.

But City Councilmembers Luis Alejo and Manuel Bersámin , who helped create the proposed changes, wanted offenders to be held accountable. "These strategies are already working," Alejo said. "This isn't solely about being punitive, but for (offenders) to learn from their mistakes."


"The graffiti is setting up gang territory and we need to stop that," Bersámin said. "Also, I believe that by making these corrections, we're going to be saving the city some money. It can't be (city worker) Rex Rackley going all over town trying to save it from graffiti."

Led by the nearly constant efforts of Rackley, the city spends $150,000 annually on graffiti-abatement measures. City staff estimated that the changes to the policy, making businesses responsible for cleanup after the fourth incident , would save $20,000 to $50,000 per year. Bob Geyer, assistant director of the City of Watsonville Public Works Department, told the council that two properties in the city had been tagged by vandals 14 times, 12 sites had been tagged six times and one had been targeted 23 times. Many of these locations are owned by large corporations, such as Home Depot.


"There's unlimited free cleanup by the city of Watsonville ," Geyer said. "We would like to work with the community and transfer that responsibility."


Santa Cruz County District Attorney Bob Lee, Superior Court Judge Heather Morse, Watsonville Deputy Police Chief Manny Salano and others spoke in support of the changes and updated the council on their actions regarding graffiti.


"The word is out between all the new taggers we see in court," Morse said. "First-time offenders, we are imposing actual jail time. … For an 18-yearold to realize that they are going to spend some time in jail, it's a very eye-opening experience for them."


In the end, the six-month trial period was imposed after Petersen and Martinez sided with Bilicich. "I really like the ordinance overall … but citing them on the third time goes from being 'sharing ownership' to being quite punitive," Petersen said.

"I agree with you," Martinez said. "I was an absentee owner in Santa Cruz and had a lot of problems with graffiti."