In an effort to stem vandalism and discourage what officials say is rising gang activity, the Simi Valley City Council tentatively approved an ordinance banning the sale of spray paint to minors and authorizing the city to eliminate graffiti from private property.
"Graffiti is not just an eyesore, but part of the process by which gangs take claim to territory," said Simi Valley Mayor Gregory Stratton. "We'd like to suppress it as quickly as possible."
The ordinance proposed Monday is similar to measures enacted recently in Los Angeles, Beverly Hills and Thousand Oaks. It would give private property owners 10 days after notification by the city to remove the graffiti themselves or give the city written permission to do the job. It also authorizes the city to assess property owners for cleanup costs and prosecute those who do not cooperate.
Stratton said gangs are not a major problem in the bedroom community of just under 100,000 residents, but, "We'd like to stop it before it gets started." He also said there is the fear in Simi Valley, as there is elsewhere in Ventura County, of encroaching gang violence from Los Angeles County.
That fear is borne out by recent incidents, according to Kevin McGee, assistant chief deputy district attorney, who said gangs "use walls and buildings as their bulletin boards." Although he was unable to provide statistics, McGee said gang activity has been increasing in Ventura County, some of it local, some from Los Angeles.
McGee said an adult and a minor, both identified as Los Angeles gang members, were recently prosecuted in connection with a series of armed robberies in Simi Valley. Thousand Oaks this year experienced a drive-by shooting and, in a separate incident, a stabbing at The Oaks mall. Both were gang-related, McGee said.
Nancy Schreiner, assistant city attorney for Thousand Oaks, said an anti-graffiti ordinance adopted last summer was not prompted by gangs but by vandalism.
Simi Valley Police Chief Lindsey (Paul) Miller said: "We don't really have gangs per se at this point, just a lot of 'wannabes,' or kids who want to be in gangs."
As proposed, the measure would prohibit minors from buying or possessing spray paint, except under the supervision of a responsible adult. If a minor is arrested for graffiti vandalism, parents or guardians would be responsible for the cost of its removal.
The ordinance also would authorize the city to pay rewards for information leading to the arrest and conviction of graffiti vandals.
The abatement program, to be handled by the city's Public Works staff, is expected to cost $23,000 a year.
The ordinance is expected to be adopted after a second reading at the council's Jan. 8 meeting, Stratton said.