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Graffiti program off to slow start Allison K. Sampite | Sat, Mar 12 2011 12:00 PM

The cities of National City and Chula Vista in February became two of more than a dozen cities to support a regional program to combat graffiti.

The program was implemented by San Diego County's Supervisor Greg Cox in an effort to catch vandals, prosecute them and gain restitution money for damages.

But there's a problem. Not all cities have the means to erase graffiti due to a lack of manpower and funding.

National City Mayor Ron Morrison said the new system is successful in catching criminals but doesn't actually clean up graffiti.

In addition, he said, grants for graffiti abatement are becoming fewer and fewer but have seen an overall decrease in the last few years.

The GPS-based system analyzes graffiti and provides information to law enforcement officials and prosecutors. Once a photo of graffiti is taken, it marks it with a date, time and location and keeps it in a database.

National City has an in-house graffiti crew that Morrison said is effective and cost efficient.

A full-time two-man crew and materials cost National City around $150,000 a year.

Morrison said National City has been looking at alternative solutions to fight graffiti such as after school art programs, which use local artistic talent to beautify utility boxes or create murals.

In Chula Vista, however, the program has not been implemented.

Senior Public Works specialist Norma Rodriguez coordinates the city's graffiti program and said they don't have the personnel to do the job.

"The program seems to work real well for other cities, but they also have a crew and officers who are assigned to do that," she said.

Chula Vista recently received $20,000 - a Community Development Block Grant allocation - for graffiti abatement but Chula Vista Mayor Cheryl Cox said it's a minimal amount to begin to attack the problem.

Cox said graffiti has worsened due to dramatic budget cuts since 2007.

"We're in a community where graffiti is rampant but the money isn't exactly rolling in," she said. "Our graffiti crew now is no where near as robust as it needs to be."

Cox said the graffiti-tracking program is an example of cities coming together to fight a common battle and that she anticipates it being a great success.

Cox said the city is entering a new phase this year where people need to start becoming part of the solution rather than pointing out problems.

Rodriguez said that prior to the Jan. 7 budget cuts, $400,000 in redevelopment funds paid for a crew of four people, materials and supplies that could eradicate graffiti in 48 hours.

The city's block grant will be used by June 30 to clean up graffiti in private areas on the west side.

"Once those funds are gone we're back to square one," Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez said the city's hot graffiti spots are mainly along Broadway and Third Avenue and that resident participation is a good solution during difficult economic times to help beautify the community.

She said Chula Vista's "buff a block" program is similar to a neighborhood watch program where the city supplies volunteers with graffiti wipes, masks, paint and buckets to clean up the community.

Cox said graffiti abatement robs residents of other services the city could provide to the community.

"We're all in this together," Cox said. "If you love your block you'll take care of it."

Mary Salas is a former Chula Vista city councilwoman and California Assembly member and said she is annoyed by the constant defacing of private property. "The problem is the budget has made it very hard to have the city take care of it (graffiti)," she said.

Salas said she would like to see citizens get more personally involved.

Salas said she is willing to do what she can. "Give me the tools to help you and I'll help," she said.

A volunteer group called graffiti busters met at Casillas elementary school Friday for a graffiti cleanup project.


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