The Los Angeles Unified School District has assigned 18 painters to full-time graffiti removal at schools on the Westside and in parts of the Central City after receiving more than 240 complaints since the end of June.
District officials said that they mounted the cleanup campaign about two weeks ago to make schools presentable for students who returned Tuesday from summer vacation.
"It's bad for parents and children to be greeted by graffiti on the first day of school," said Ron Lozer, director of the district's maintenance operations on the Westside and parts of the Central City. "People want to see a clean environment; otherwise they might think about sending their children to another school in another area. But all areas seem to have the same problem."
Each morning, Lozer said, painting crews are given priority lists and sent out to remove graffiti. Schools defaced by obscenities or gang slogans are tackled first. The district also puts a greater priority on the removal of graffiti from elementary schools than from junior high and high schools. A threat to a teacher is removed immediately.
Lozer said that "the graffiti problem has been spreading on the Westside and just about every school we have has a problem." Students found defacing school property can be expelled from school and their parents are required to pay for the cleanup costs.
Marquez Elementary School in Pacific Palisades, Castle Heights in Cheviot Hills, Wonderland Avenue Elementary off Laurel Canyon and Warner Avenue in Westwood were among the schools requesting the graffiti removal.
In Bel-Air, the district has had problems maintaining Bellagio Road Elementary School, which was closed because of declining enrollment. Lozer said that local children who like to ride their skateboards at the school painted their insignia in huge letters on one of the walls.
Richard Homet, the principal of Alta Loma, an inner-city elementary school waging an almost daily battle with graffiti, said news that the problem had spread to the Westside could help his school.
"Nobody seems to care when the problem is in an inner-city school," he said. "Now that it has spread to Pacific Palisades, maybe someone will listen."
Lozer said that the graffiti are not all gang-related, but include Ku Klux Klan symbols, Nazi swastikas and Communist slogans.
"The type of graffiti is changing," Lozer said. "The further we get from the center of town, the less gang-related it appears to be. Some of it is more picturesque. They are doing more of the New York type with big block letters."
School officials said they could not give a separate figure on the cost of graffiti removal on the Westside. The Los Angeles Unified School District spends $4.5 million--or roughly 10% of the $40-million building maintenance budget--to remove graffiti and repair vandalism.
School officials from other Westside districts said the problem was not particulary severe in their areas. A Beverly Hills school official estimated that his district spends about $20,000 to deal with graffiti and vandalism. Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District officials said that they spent about $40,000 and Culver City spends about $25,000.
In Los Angeles, officials said the cost of removing graffiti takes money and manpower away from other maintenance jobs. "It gets frustrating when you are sending guys out to do the same job over and over again," Lozer said. "You end up covering up graffiti rather than doing the other work that needs to be done."
Rubye Mills, principal of Marquez Elementary School in Pacific Palisades, said that after graffiti were found on her school, neighbors asked their private security patrol to begin observing the school grounds. There has not been another incident since then.
University High School was defaced by graffiti in about a dozen places the night before school opened Tuesday.
"They hit us pretty good," said Frank Smith Jr., the campus plant manager. "We don't leave the school until after midnight but you can't see a kid in the dark. They can paint twice as fast as we can clean it up."
At Castle Heights Elementary School in Cheviot Hills, parents have been trying to persuade neighborhood residents who send their children to private schools to enroll them at Castle Heights. Graffiti, which can create a misleading first impression, is viewed as a problem, according to parent Linda Rosen. "We want the school to look good," she said.
Last year it took 7,000 gallons of paint to repaint Louis Pasteur Junior High School, which has been a periodic target for graffiti artists. Last week the school was plastered again.