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Tagging costing Lathrop $400 plus a month
With graffiti, such as this gang “tag” on a sycamore tree at the Mingo Way-Libby Lane neighborhood park, on the rise in Lathrop, city officials are beefing up its graffiti-abatement program. - photo by ROSE ALBANO RISSO
LATHROP – Public and private properties throughout the city of Lathrop are being “tagged” every week. The problem is costing the city about $400 a month in supplies, and 14 hours of staff time to get rid of them.

And they are tagging everything, from private fences and walls to abandoned vehicles and refrigerators left outside abandoned houses.

The problem has become so rife that in the last two years alone, the city has doubled its manpower efforts in the continuous fight against blight. Abatement costs, both in staff salaries and expenses for supplies, have significantly gone up as well.

The city is tired of these omnipresent eyesores and is about to put in place the most aggressive abatement legal teeth to date in its ordinance books to go after both the perpetrators, especially the repeat offenders, and the owners of the defaced properties whether these structures are occupied or not.

The City Council, on Tuesday night, directed staff to establish a policy that, among other things, will:

• require property owners to get rid of graffiti in less time than the seven days currently allowed to issue a warning and citation,

• allow city workers to paint over the graffiti under a proposed similar time frame with the property owners being issued “monetary citations” or fines, and,

• have property owners sign consent forms allowing city workers access onto their properties at any time to clean up the graffiti.

The above options will increase staff time – the city currently does not paint over graffiti on private properties – but the shorter mandated abatement time-frame would also mean the citation process would start quicker for unoccupied properties. For those that are occupied, owners would receive more citations from the city in the shorter time period with the amounts increasing each time there is non-compliance.

With the city ‘s current budget constraints, council members nixed the idea of spending $80,000 to $100,000 to purchase a truck and trailer utility vehicle that would be used to clean up graffiti. Such a step would also require the creation of a position to hire a staff to do the job, and outfitting the vehicle with the necessary graffiti-removal tools, which would raise the cost even higher.

Former mayor and Planning Commission chairman Bennie Gatto said he also thinks $100,000 is “too much” but that he agrees with council that city should act quickly when it comes to removing graffiti.

“As soon as it’s there, remove it. The tagger will know that we do not allow graffiti,” he said.

Quick action also will discourage “taggers” from establishing their turf, which is why they mark their territories with graffiti, Gatto explained.

He added, “I know we’ve grown since I was on the council, but at one time, (former mayor and council member) Mac Freeman and myself – we were the graffiti-removal (team). But times have changed since then.”

Resident Rosalinda Valencia went even farther saying she would like to see the graffiti perpetrators themselves and/or their parents be responsible for the clean-up and the expenses involved.

What is needed, she said, is “harsher punishment” for the repeat offenders and letting them do the clean up and in the process, hopefully teach them a lesson.

“Charge them, charge their parents,” she added, saying she would like to see that placed on a future agenda for discussion and consideration.

“I know where they (the repeat offenders) pretty much live. We know their parents. And I know they know who they are,” Valencia said.

At the suggestion of Mayor Kristy Sayles and other council members, staff will also look at how San Joaquin County and other cities are dealing with the graffiti problem and then bring those back in their report at a future council meeting.