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Foiling Graffiti With a Color Scheme

Santa Ana offers free paint, in approved colors, to use on common walls.

March 20, 2004|Jennifer Mena | Times Staff Writer

Santa Ana officials are simplifying the war on graffiti: If neighborhood or business associations paint common exterior walls using one of five city-approved colors, they'll be given more paint for free to cover up the inevitable vandalism.

The strategy could save the city and property owners money, as well as eliminate the nearly-as-obnoxious patchwork of mismatched paint jobs on graffiti-marred walls, City Councilman Jose Solorio said.

"Patches that don't match are almost as unsightly as the graffiti. It's messy," Solorio said.

Among the five colors that business and neighborhood associations can use are two shades from Vista Paint named after the city: Santa Ana Cape Cod Gray and Santa Ana Rustic, a red-brick tone. The associations can also choose brown or one of two shades of white.

The hook under Solorio's plan is that residents and business associations will have to apply the cover-up paint themselves, after picking it up at City Hall. The offer of free paint applies to walls shared by property owners that are maintained by neighborhood or business associations.

While giving away paint might be costly, Solorio says it could save the city hundreds of thousands of dollars in labor costs.

Last year, city crews painted 2.1 million square feet of walls covered with graffiti at a cost of $1 million, said Will Hayes, the city's maintenance services manager.

Santa Ana Police Sgt. Carlos Rojas said that since 1993, police have identified more than 350 tagging crews or gangs roaming the city's streets marking walls, and more groups are identified each week.

In the last six months of 2003, police arrested 82 alleged taggers. Among them, 30 were ordered to paint over the graffiti and 29 were ordered to pay for damages, Rojas said.

Hayes said the problem has worsened since January, with taggers more brazen in targeting higher locations, such as rooftop billboards.

Hayes said help from businesses and residents would "eliminate a patchwork-quilt look. Right now, we'll put gray over blue because that is the closest thing we have."

Savings to Santa Ana under the self-paint program won't be known until, or if, the need for city crews diminishes, Hayes said.

The notion of painting community walls a color that matches the city's cover-up paint was pioneered nearly a decade ago by a handful of neighborhood associations.

Among them is the Sandpointe Neighborhood Assn., which gets white city paint to cover graffiti on walls shielding homes from busy MacArthur Boulevard.

"You paint and if you don't have the same color, the cleanup looks as bad as the graffiti," said Jim Walker, a member of the Sandpointe association. "I think it still reflects poorly on the community when you have mismatched paint."

Walker said Solorio's citywide plan "is a good idea that should be embraced by more people."

But others question whether homeowners will adopt what is perceived as a City Hall task.

"People think this is a problem but they may not think it is their responsibility to deal with it," said Mary Bloom-Ramos of the Eastside Neighborhood Assn.

"Some see the painting as the responsibility of the city."

Solorio said he will promote the plan among the city's businesses and neighborhood associations.

"What I would like to see is something that shows how proud we are of the city and this is just one way do that," he said.

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