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Graffiti Hits Pico Neighborhood, Again

By Teresa Rochester

April 5 -- The Pico Neighborhood -- the site of several recent gang-related shootings -- has been hit with a profusion of gang-related graffiti in the last two weeks, frustrating homeowners and keeping police and the City's two-person graffiti removal team busy.

The first incident occurred on March 28 near Exposition Boulevard and Yorkshire Avenue, where residents awoke to find garages and walls covered with the spray painted scrawls of a West Los Angeles gang.

In a second incident on April 3, Santa Monica gang members, in what appears to be retaliation, left their mark on the Thelma Terry Center at Virginia Avenue Park.

"Basically it's a graffiti war between Santa Monica gang members and West L.A. gang members and West L.A. has fired the biggest shot," said Oscar de la Torre, executive director of the Pico Youth and Family Center. "The worst part about it is that many times it's a prelude to violence."

Police officials acknowledged a recent increase in tagging but noted that no violent incidents have been linked to the recent outbreak.

"This graffiti has not led to any gang-related incidents in the City," said Lt. Frank Fabrega, the SMPD's spokesman.

Police should be immediately notified when graffiti is discovered, Fabrega said, because if the suspect is caught police will seek prosecution. Graffiti is considered a legal "wobbler." Cases can be prosecuted as either felonies - if the damage is more than $400 - or misdemeanors.

Officers photograph the graffiti before the eradication team removes the offending scrawls with an arsenal of tools ranging from chemical solutions to traditional paints and brushes.

"We photograph for two purposes," Fabrega said. "The first is for court prosecution and the second reason is it will be attached to police reports so we can track the graffiti in the city."

But Pico Neighborhood Association chair Peter Tigler wondered how dedicated the court is to prosecuting "taggers" and worried that lax prosecution could hurt enforcement.

"The police are not real keen on spending time and resources if the court won't follow-up," he said. "You'd probably get police more interested if the court was more inclined to prosecute."

Kim Braun, the City's superintendent of facilities management, which oversees the two-person eradication team, estimates that since last March the amount of graffiti the team removes on a daily basis has likely increased from 31 scrawls a day to 41.

Th team -- which works six-days a week -- covers up or scrapes off graffiti that ranges from tagging to stickers to yard-sale signs lashed to poles. The team can remove graffiti from private property only if the property owner fills out a permission slip.

While first quarter numbers will be available in a couple of weeks, Braun said.

The program operates on a $103,000 annual budget.

Tigler, who said the eradication team does the best it can, has lobbied the City for years to do more.

"We've asked the (City) Council on a number of occasions with help in enforcement and eradication," Tigler said. "Besides the gang tagging there's a lot of profanity. There's also racial epitaphs. That's disturbing. We're the only neighborhood who I think puts up with it or has it put up.

"We end up looking like a patchwork of paint blots," Tigler said of the graffiti - which is found on walls, poles, curbs, trees, sidewalks and windows -- in the neighborhood.

The PNA applied last year for a $1,500 neighborhood grant from the City to help address the problem. With the grant money PNA helps residents plant bushes and plants along walls to make them graffiti-proof.

The City could also combat graffiti with video cameras that snap taggers in the act or by outlining suggestions for residents who put fences along streets and alleys that would make them less vulnerable to graffiti, Tigler suggested.

He pointed out that one new resident in the neighborhood ignored suggestions that he set back his block wall and plant vegetation instead of placing the wall right on the property line. The resident's wall quickly became a concrete canvas.
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