ORANGE — Caltrans has added reinforcements to its ranks in the war against graffiti.
At a press conference Tuesday, an Adopt-A-Wall program was unveiled along with a "graffiti hot line" to help the embattled California Department of Transportation graffiti crew strip clean Orange County's highways and freeways of unsightly gang markings on walls, signs and pillars.
Russell Lightcap, Caltrans Orange County district director, said authorities also hope that the program will help prevent injuries to youths, noting that some perpetrators "have been hit on the freeway after climbing signs or bridges."
The California Highway Patrol, Orange County Juvenile Court, the Probation Department and the district attorney's office have agreed to join forces against graffiti.
The graffiti hot line and the Adopt-A-Wall program, which is similar to the successful Adopt-A-Highway program that began in 1989, took more than nine months to develop, primarily because of the coordination needed from the different groups, officials said.
With $300,000 budgeted for graffiti removal, Caltrans needs more time to do "the things we're supposed to do" such as road construction and repair, Lightcap said.
The program would allow civic groups to adopt walls along mile-long portions of freeways and highways. Volunteers will only clean those walls "where there is no danger of being hit by passing motorists," Lightcap said. Each of the volunteer groups will be responsible for removing graffiti within three days of notification.
One problem for the graffiti removal plan was the apprehension and prosecution of vandals reported to law enforcement officials. In the past, police were said to be concerned with more pressing crimes than graffiti.
But not anymore. Highway Patrol Lt. Dwight McKenna said people who call the hot line to report vandals will get an immediate response. He also said that more than 26 officers have volunteered their time for the anti-graffiti program.
"Last night we just caught two 'taggers,' " or graffiti vandals, on the Santa Ana Freeway, McKenna said.
Judge Francisco P. Briseno, who presides over Juvenile Court in Orange County, said vandals who are caught will be sentenced to 20 days in a graffiti-removal program designed by Caltrans and the Probation Department. They will also be subject to 100 hours of community work, loss of their driver's license and face a $250 fine.
"The Probation Department found a creative way to put these kids to use," Briseno said. "It's a good alternative to locking them up."
Briseno also said that anyone caught intimidating or assaulting one of the Adopt-A-Wall volunteers would be prosecuted.
Michael Baugh, a spokesman for Pi Kappa Phi fraternity of Cal State Fullerton and the first civic group admitted to the Adopt-A-Wall program, said he was told by the CHP that if someone threatened them while cleaning up the walls they should "leave right away" and then call the Highway Patrol.