Employees of a Gardena company are wishing that Caltrans would turn over a new leaf before it goes any further with the Harbor Freeway widening project.
They want road crews to plant some fast-growing trees and bushes next to their factory before another cubic yard of concrete paving is poured or another bridge piling is erected in the 19-mile construction zone between downtown Los Angeles and Wilmington.
Workers at Consolidated Lauco Systems Co. say the side of their sprawling factory building has become an ugly billboard since highway workers chopped down a thick wall of bushes and trees that screened it from the busy freeway.
The landscaping was ripped out 21 months ago to make way for construction trucks and grading equipment that carved two new lanes for the northbound freeway at 135th Street.
Construction crews have long since finished that portion of the $530-million freeway project and moved on. The vandals, meantime, have moved in.
Consolidated workers say they have spent $3,000 on razor wire and special fencing in a vain attempt to keep the spray-paint-armed intruders away from their building. They say they have spent hundreds of hours painting over graffiti scrawls.
The entire side of the 150-foot-long factory wall has been repainted 18 times--most recently on Wednesday.
By Thursday morning, spray paint once again marred the wall. This time, vandals cut a hole in the fence to get past the razor wire. As a final insult, they taunted factory workers by painting \o7 Ha Ha \f7 on the building next to 15-foot-high scrawls.
Company owner Dan Terheggen said the firm's 90 employees, who produce coin-operated laundry equipment, are at their wits' end.
"A couple of them said they're going to stake the place out overnight to try to photograph whoever's doing this," Terheggen said Thursday.
"It's war now," said Mel Lester, Consolidated's plant manager.
Plant administrator Marvin Skelton said he has made at least 20 calls to Caltrans officials asking that the landscaping be quickly restored. "But they say they're not scheduled to replant until about the year 2000," Skelton said.
Construction project engineer Chuck Flynn said he was sorry to have to move on and leave Consolidated workers behind with an eyesore on their hands.
"I hate leaving them if there's anything we can do for them," he said Thursday. "Nobody dreamed that graffiti would explode into the problem that it has in the past few years."
Flynn said landscaping plans have not been discussed with him. "It could be from 1996 to 2020," he said. "They normally don't like to start planting it until all the construction is finished."
According to Caltrans spokesman Russ Snyder, plans call for the Harbor Freeway project to be wrapped up in 1994. That means replanting would start in mid-1995.
"This was planned out before the graffiti problem exploded," Snyder said. "The engineer is looking at the possibility of dovetailing landscaping work with construction in the future."
Caltrans landscape experts are studying plants such as Boston ivy and ficus plants that are hardy and grow well on flat surfaces as a way of screening retaining walls, sound walls and buildings from graffiti vandals, Snyder said.
As for Consolidated's problems, his agency is willing to discuss giving the company access to Caltrans land if the firm wants to install sprinklers and landscaping immediately at its own expense.
But the razor wire and special fencing Consolidated workers installed on the freeway right-of-way was done without state authority. Officials are worried about a vandal getting hurt and suing the state.
"We think eventually that's going to have to come down," Snyder said of the fence and razor wire. "It's kind of a dilemma."
It is a major dilemma, company owner Terheggen said late Thursday as his workers made plans to repaint the wall for the 19th time.
He said they will remove the fencing and do their own landscaping if that is what it takes to end the graffiti attacks.