'Graffiti warrior' fights to keep Laguna Beach tag-free

Laguna Beach resident Keith Kesler has spent the past year cleaning graffiti from the city's benches, sidewalks, walls and more. (Courtesy of city of Laguna Beach)

By Keith Kesler’s estimation, he’s removed 1,500 graffiti tags in a little over a year on his mission to keep Laguna Beach’s walls, benches, stairs, traffic signs and light poles a little cleaner.

The 58-year-old Laguna resident has become such a force that the city has dubbed him the “graffiti warrior.”

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“It’s kind of embarrassing,” he said of the nickname, “because my wife and my kids laugh at me and my wife will joke, ‘You’re like a superhero!’ ”

Kesler is a native of Northern California who has lived in Laguna Beach for 30 years with his wife, Shirlyn. He said he always felt disdain toward tagging but didn’t begin his removal efforts until last summer.

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“I started seeing tagging everywhere in Laguna. I thought to myself, ‘It’s a problem in our town,’” Kesler said. “I was out walking my dog and I just started doing it. And everywhere I went, there was graffiti.”

This is one of the tags "graffiti warrior" Keith Kesler found and removed recently in Laguna Beach. (Courtesy of Keith Kesler)

Kesler started his mission with a bottle of Goof Off — a “professional strength” spot and stain remover — and some paper towels that he would take with him on his walks with the family dog, Jaxson.

Kesler removed graffiti on parking meters, the steps leading to Aliso Beach and on the ground.

“They’ll get anything you can write on,” Kesler said. “They’ll write on the street, they’ll write on the windows.”

I’m not stopping. I’m obsessed now. It’s gotta come off. The war is on.


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Kesler said he can remove 99.9% of the tags he finds, whether they be spray-painted, written in permanent marker or stuck on.

In the past year, he’s been experimenting with different cleaning methods — wire brushes, scrapers and paint-removing sprays — and can request supplies he doesn’t have from the city’s Public Works Department.

His frustration with tagging on public spaces motivated him to do more than just remove the tags — he began photographing every case of vandalism he saw so he could send the pictures to Laguna Beach police for research and comparison.

Kesler hopes taggers can be caught in the act, and he believes his photos have helped police identify four possible culprits to watch for.

Kesler was honored for his work during the Aug. 28 City Council meeting, where he received a public works hat and polo shirt.

Looking ahead, the “graffiti warrior” has no intention of putting his bottle of Goof Off on the shelf.

“I’m not stopping. I’m obsessed now,” he said. “It’s gotta come off. The war is on.”

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