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ENDING URBAN SCRAWL : Varied Community Groups Declaring War on Graffiti

September 01, 1988|DAVID USHERY | Times Staff Writer

Sometimes it seems there's an army out there painting walls.

Whether it's the scrawled messages between rival gangs or the illicit designs of would-be artists, graffiti are appearing almost everywhere.

And a growing number of people in Glendale, Los Angeles and neighboring communities are being galvanized into a counterforce that is mobilizing to paint the city clean.

Each anti-graffiti artist, whether city worker, businessman, teen-ager or neighborhood activist, seems to have his own kind of style in efforts that are largely uncoordinated but nevertheless noteworthy.

Some neighborhood groups are patrolling their streets with brushes and paint cans they bought themselves. Others have accepted a duty of keeping a single wall clean. One city agency has sent out crews to look for graffiti. Another is waiting for vigilant residents to call.

Sometimes a City Council member or two will lead a large-scale community paint-out on a weekend.

The effects of even the best efforts tend to be short-lived, leaving the outcome of the war on graffiti very much up in the air.

Most people, consequently, merely watch the spread of graffiti in frustration, unaware that they can help.

Ken Lewis of Los Feliz is one of the exceptions.

Lewis, an attorney, was fed up with the spread of graffiti in his upscale neighborhood when he started buying paint and cleaning park benches and mail boxes almost two years ago.

"I saw it creeping up in the neighborhood, and I thought it was just time to nip it in the bud," Lewis said.

He said he quickly realized that the problem was too big for one person to handle effectively. He had been an inactive member of the Los Feliz Improvement Assn. for many years and decided to bring the problem to the association's attention, resulting in the formation of a graffiti-cleanup committee.

'All Due to Graffiti'

"Now, I'm first vice president, and it's all due to graffiti," Lewis said with a laugh.

Lewis carries several colors of spray paint in his car. If he sees a scrawled message on his way to work in the morning, he will pull his Jaguar to the side, don some gloves to protect the sleeves of his suit, and spray over the scribbles.

"We think people can make a difference," Lewis said. "It is a battle, but one that you can win. If people can begin to clean up their own back yards, then we can make an impact."

Nina Mohi, who co-chairs the Los Feliz Improvement Assn.'s graffiti committee, said she goes out with a group on the last Saturday of every month to remove graffiti from benches and walls.

"The most important thing is for people in the neighborhood to see others painting out the graffiti," Mohi said. "It shows the children in our homes that we care about the community and to respect other people's property."

Like Lewis, Mohi keeps her eye out for new graffiti and will either cover them with paint she carries in her car or make note of the location for the committee.

Another Approach

In a different approach, Eagle Rock High School teacher Rudy Cordero and the school's Key Club and Builder's Club have adopted two walls on Yosemite Drive to keep clean.

"It's kids taking care of their community," Cordero said. "The kids come running up to me and say, 'They got our walls!' and I say, 'OK, let's get it back.' "

Cordero said the groups began cleaning the walls in March and had to paint them every two weeks. Now they are down to once a month, which demonstrates that their efforts are working, he said.

The clubs are participating in a program started last September by Los Angeles City Councilman Richard Alatorre that encourages residents, neighborhood groups and businesses to "adopt a wall" and keep it clean. Brad Sales, the councilman's press secretary, said 31 walls have been spoken for in the Northeast area.

While Cordero's youngsters were busy maintaining their two walls, about 300 junior high and high school students were working other parts of the city this summer. They were hired for minimum wage, $4.25 an hour, as part of the Clean and Green program, financed by the city and administered by the Los Angeles Conservation Corps, a private nonprofit organization.

Martha Diepenbrock, executive director, said the youths work in teams of 10 in each council district, combining efforts with community groups to keep the streets clean of graffiti and litter. She said the project will run full-time through Sept. 2, and then continue on Saturdays.

Some programs rely on the labor of those ordered by the courts to do community service. Steve Valdivia, executive director of Community Youth Gang Services, said his program goes one step further in taking hard-core gang members and turning graffiti removal into jobs for them.

Gang members are trained in graffiti-removal methods and then offered jobs with private companies.

Murals Instead

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