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Community News: Southeast

SOUTH GATE : 'Nice, Clean Walls' Are His Reward

November 06, 1994|SIMON ROMERO

In the advance guard of South Gate's 3-year-old war on graffiti, you'll find veteran "hydroblaster" and paint expert George Alcantar.

A member of the city's orange-shirted Parks and Recreation anti-graffiti squad, Alcantar spends 10 hours a day, four days a week scrubbing tagger signatures and indecipherable scribbles off walls and sidewalks.

"It's really rewarding work, especially when you drive past a nice, clean wall," Alcantar said.

"Most people take it for granted that South Gate has some of the cleanest walls around, but we don't. We get out there and fight what taggers and gangbangers leave behind all day long."

Alcantar and about 30 other South Gate residents, business owners and city employees were honored Tuesday at the South Gate Park Banquet Room for their participation in what is affectionately known as the city's WOG, or War on Graffiti.

Sometimes the fighting is quite literal, said Alcantar, such as the time he and a partner spotted a dozen gang members spraying an MTA bus with tags--the arcane, individual signatures left by thousands of city youths almost anywhere.

After Alcantar confronted the youths, they turned on him and surrounded the city pickup truck he and his partner were in.

"They circled around us and started shaking the truck," said Alcantar, now laughing off the incident as just another facet of his job.

Alcantar called police for help and six of the taggers were arrested, leaving Alcantar with a war story and the duty of clearing the bus of the signatures left behind. He said the most common methods of ridding surfaces of graffiti are "hydroblasting"--which involves shooting a high-density spray of water and sand--and simple paint removal.

Started in 1991 at the urging of city residents shocked by an upsurge in graffiti activity, WOG emphasizes cooperation between the community and city government.

"Before we started the WOG, there wasn't a building on Tweedy Boulevard that wasn't full of tags," said Police Chief Ron George in a speech detailing the history of the anti-graffiti program.

Individual residents and business owners are urged to "adopt a block" of property and either rid it of graffiti themselves or donate money and materials to the city so employees like Alcantar can take care of the problem.

"When we were doing research for what kind of program South Gate needed, we found that in most places the total responsibility for graffiti removal was placed on the city," George said. "What was lacking and what we needed was the element of personal responsibility."

Now, with $250,000 of city money being used to combat graffiti, combined with the efforts of individuals and business owners, city residents say South Gate has some of the cleanest walls in the area.

"Graffiti used to be our biggest problem," said Ana Pena, who manages a 13-unit apartment complex. "But this program has cleaned things up a lot, made it a lot easier for us to keep our property looking attractive. Now we worry more about tenants who just don't pay their rent."

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