They scrawl on lampposts and on doors, on drainage channels and on bus benches. They are dogged, irrepressible and armed--with aerosol paint.
To date this year, graffiti artists have covered an estimated 788,492 square feet in the city--the equivalent of a 25-mile-long wall 6 feet high.
With sandblasters and thousands of gallons of paint, Santa Ana wages a daily war against the illicit artists whose creations mark their territory, declare their romances, proclaim their superiority or simply give vent to artistic talent.
But as fast as the city crews can work, the graffiti reappears. On Wednesday morning alone, the city received 36 calls in five minutes about graffiti.
“There are more graffiti Rembrandts than there are graffiti removers,” said Gilbert Sepeda, a supervisor for the Public Works Department.
Last Wednesday, for example, the department received a call from a woman on Glenwood Place asking if they would remove graffiti near her house. City workers removed it that day, said Larry Christian, maintenance manager. Three days later, more graffiti appeared. On Monday, the city had to repaint the wall once again.
This year, the city will spend $600,000 to pay employees and a private contractor to sandblast and then spread about 5,000 gallons of paint.
Some sections of Santa Ana are hit harder than other neighborhoods, especially those with active gangs, Christian said. There, the work ranges from mere scribbles to elaborate block letters to colorful renditions of cartoon characters.
City inspector James M. Trujillo said some spray painters put considerable flair into their creations, such as the painter near Centennial Regional Park who flaunts his gang’s name by working in English script and then bordering the black insignia with red paint.
“There are some guys who do such a beautiful job that I hate to take it off,” Trujillo said. “It makes me want to find some of these guys and hire them to work for the city. They’re wasting their talents on spray paint.”
And then there are areas plagued by youngsters who want to emulate gangs by spray painting.
“You can tell they have no idea what they are doing. They spray in all the wrong colors,” Trujillo said.
So far, the city has one full-time worker who removes graffiti from walls facing main streets, Christian said, and it plans to hire three more this year. It also uses a private contractor.
Overall, city residents pay about 15 cents a month as part of their water bills for this graffiti removal, Christian said.
Although graffiti is considered a misdemeanor in the city and is punishable by a fine or a maximum one-year jail term, graffiti artists are persistent, Sepeda said.
“One time we removed some graffiti at 9:30 in the morning,” he said. “Two hours later, the graffiti was back with even more signatures.”