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Plan Seeks to Relieve City of Graffiti Removal Costs

January 23, 1991|JOHN SCHWADA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Private landholders would have to pay for removing graffiti from their property under a proposal unveiled Tuesday by a Los Angeles city councilman, who called it a precedent-setting assault on gang-related vandalism.

Under existing law, the city is authorized to remove at its cost graffiti from private properties if the owners choose not to--although in practice the city often takes no action because of the expense.

"Everything has been voluntary so far," said Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky, who introduced the plan. "But this is mandatory. . . . We're going to hold people responsible for keeping their property free of graffiti."

The proposal, which won the quick and unanimous endorsement of the council's Budget and Finance Committee, goes next to the full council where, Yaroslavsky said, he expects it will easily win approval.

Under current law, city Building and Safety Department inspectors can cite property owners for graffiti and give them 15 days to erase it. If the owner does not voluntarily do the cleanup, city crews are empowered to do it. But the city is not authorized to bill the owner for the city's costs.

Yaroslavsky also warned that the work will be significantly more expensive if the city cleans up the graffiti and then bills the property owner because of the government's sizable administrative overhead. The city currently cleans up about 100 graffiti-marred properties a month and the city Budget office estimates that the average cost is about $400 per site.

Low-income landowners--those who meet the qualifications for the Department of Water and Power's low-cost Lifeline service--would be exempt from cleanup charges.

Cheering Yaroslavsky's plan at a news conference were two dozen members of VOICE, an organization of San Fernando Valley-based churches and synagogues.

Irma Perez of Pacoima, mother of six children, said she had no qualms about requiring property owners--even though they are the victims of graffiti-painters--to bear the brunt of cleanup costs.

The graffitied walls in her neighborhood constitute, "another school for my children, a school I don't like," that teaches her children the ways of gangs, she said.

Yaroslavsky defended the proposal as fair, saying that if owners do not promptly clean up graffiti, "It allows the criminal element in the community to establish itself."

At a time when City Hall is short of money, it might cost as much $11.4 million a year to clean up graffiti on private property under the existing law, a recent city budget office report indicated. The City Council, which has never provided resources to make the current program fully effective, recently authorized spending up to $750,000 a year to clean up graffiti on private property.

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