Woodland Hills residents whose neighborhood is being defaced by graffiti that extols rape charged Wednesday that they are caught in a dispute over how to clean up the lurid vandalism.
The residents complained that owners of scarred property and a city-funded cleanup agency have been unable to agree on how to remove explicit sketches and messages that were scrawled on fences near El Camino Real High School nearly a year ago.
In the meantime, the graffiti has spread. More sexually oriented messages were spray-painted this week on walls next to Burbank Boulevard and Platt Avenue.
The dispute is between the city, which wants the graffiti to be painted over, and some victimized property owners, who want it sandblasted away.
In the middle are others in the upper-middle-class neighborhood where graffiti has never before been a problem.
"It's terrible. We don't need our neighborhood trashed," said Shane Hughes, an 18-year-old Collins Street resident.
"It's revolting to drive by and see it," said Betty Lou Chase, who has lived on Le Sage Avenue for 17 years.
Dennis O'Connell, who lives three blocks from the intersection of Burbank and Platt, said he was "outraged and disgusted" when he saw the first rape scene painted on a concrete-block wall last April.
He said he ran into a stone wall of a different sort when he contacted city officials for help.
"I found it hard to believe I was dealing with professionals when I called my councilwoman's office and was told I had to find out the name of the owner of the wall myself for them," said O'Connell, 29.
O'Connell said West Valley Councilwoman Joy Picus' office failed to get the graffiti removed. He then called the city's anti-graffiti consultants, Pacoima-based Project Heavy, but it could not get permission from the wall's owner to paint over the obscene fence scrawls, O'Connell said.
Last Christmas, an unknown person finally covered over the rape drawing with a cross-shaped spray painting, he said.
City officials said Wednesday that their hands are tied when it comes to graffiti removal from private property. An aide to Picus said the councilwoman's office attempted without success to get the Woodland Hills graffiti cleaned up.
"It's a problem when the wall's owner is not interested in having us paint over graffiti," Picus aide Susan Pasternak said. She said Project Heavy handled graffiti cleanup at 196 locations in Picus' Woodland Hills and Canoga Park council district last year.
Daniel Medina, Project Heavy coordinator, said he uses supervised workers on court-ordered probation to paint over graffiti. But he said that he does not have a sandblasting machine and that his workers won't touch private property without written permission.
Bruce Coplen, a deputy city attorney, said it is illegal to paint someone's fence without permission--even if the fence faces a public sidewalk, as do those in question in Woodland Hills.
"You can no more paint a privately owned wall than you can paint someone else's house," Coplen said.
Fence owner Jo Ann Lynch said Wednesday that she and her husband have held out for sandblasting because of the way partially painted-over walls look--and the challenge they offer to graffiti artists.
Doesn't Want a Battle
"My husband doesn't want to start a battle with the kids over painting it and then having them repaint it. The kids want attention. If you pay it by painting over, they've gotten want they wanted," Lynch said.
She said they are considering buying their own sandblaster. For now, however, they have let the sun bleach out the painting.
Estimates of the cost of sandblasting the wall range from $200 to $5,000; the higher figure includes the cost of buying equipment for Project Heavy.
El Camino High School administrators--who apparently keep busy painting over graffiti on their own exterior campus walls--were unavailable for comment Wednesday. But students who walk past the neighborhood's fences every day were.
"This offends me, it really does," 16-year-old junior Kathleen Burke said as she hurried by a sexual scene of a man and a dog.