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Plan Will Make Owners Pay for Graffiti Cleanup

January 23, 1991|JOHN SCHWADA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Private landholders would be required to pay the full cost of removing graffiti from their property under a proposal unveiled Tuesday by a Los Angeles city councilman who billed it as a precedent-setting assault on gang-related vandalism.

Enactment of the proposal would mark a major departure from the city's existing anti-graffiti law, under which the city is authorized to remove graffiti from private properties for free 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 Tuesday afternoon, goes next to the full council, where Yaroslavsky said he expects it will easily win approval.

Under the city's present anti-graffiti law, enacted in August, 1989, city Building and Safety Department inspectors cite property owners for graffiti and give them 15 days to clean it up. If the owner does not voluntarily do the cleanup, city crews are empowered to go onto the property and do it.

But under the current law, 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 does it 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.

The budget committee's action also would authorize the Building and Safety Department to hire five more inspectors to patrol the San Fernando Valley for graffiti and cite property owners under the proposed law.

Cheering Yaroslavsky's plan at a news conference, and later at the budget panel session, were two dozen members of VOICE, an organization of San Fernando Valley-based churches and synagogues which nine months ago backed a plan--now dead--to finance a citywide graffiti cleanup campaign through a surcharge on DWP bills.

Irma Perez of Pacoima, mother of six, passionately backed the Yaroslavsky plan at the news conference and told a reporter she had no qualms about requiring property-owners--even though they are the victims of graffiti vandals--to bear the full brunt of cleanup costs.

The graffiti-painted walls in her neighborhoods constitute, in essence, "another school for my children, a school I don't like," Perez said. This school "teaches" her children the way of gangs, she said. "It's an invitation to gangs."

Yaroslavsky also defended the proposal as fair, saying that owners who do not promptly clean up the graffiti on their property "in turn victimize the entire community. It allows the criminal element in the community to establish itself."

The Yaroslavsky program offers a cheap alternative to the high cost of making the city's current law work at a time when City Hall is short of money.

It might cost as much $11.4 million a year for city crews to clean up graffiti on private property under 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.

Passage of the Yaroslavsky-backed plan would "mean more graffiti will get cleaned up," said Deputy City Atty. R. Bruce Coplen, a gang specialist.

The current law is "toothless," Coplen said. "The citations pile up in the Building and Safety Department, because the city doesn't have the money to pay for the cleanup," he said. "Now, the property owner will pay."

The proposed city law was made possible by legislation passed in 1990 authored by Assemblywoman Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Los Angeles) and sponsored by City Atty. James K. Hahn, Coplen said. To date, no other city has taken advantage of the Roybal-Allard law, Coplen said.

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