HUNTINGTON BEACH : Council OKs Plans to Control Graffiti

The City Council has given the go-ahead to a package of recommendations that would place new controls on graffiti, but council members delayed acting against the city's controversial seawall art program, which police and some residents blame for an increase in the graffiti problem.

By a 7-0 vote, the council Monday night adopted all the suggestions of a subcommittee that has been studying the city's graffiti program. The council's action directed the city staff to prepare ordinances that would:

* Require retail stores to put all aerosol paint, etching tools and indelible marking pens behind sales counters or in locked cases.

* Require graffiti removal from private property within an as-yet unspecified period of time.

* Require some large property owners to take precautions, such as erecting fences, to prevent their buildings from becoming graffiti targets.

* Put a limit on the number of times in one year that the city would remove graffiti without charging the property owner.

* Give graffiti-removal items at no cost to volunteer groups.

* Direct city staff to work with schools and community groups to explain the city's anti-graffiti policies.

The anti-graffiti proposals "will come back to the City Council in the form of proposed ordinances," said Mayor Grace Winchell in an interview Tuesday, adding that the council would carefully examine the wording of the proposed ordinances to ensure that they "do not put too much burden on the victims of graffiti."

Winchell said that "the seawall recommendations will come later; it's a separate program." The controversy will probably be debated by the council at its next meeting May 17, she said.

Last year the city authorized painting on the seawalls at the beach. The painters have included taggers and "graffiti artists." Police have said that some of the seawall painters also indulge in illegal spraying of buildings.

Naida Osline, head of the city's art program, has said there is no proof that the seawall artists are connected to illegal graffiti. Nonetheless, many residents in the city have recently urged the council to abolish the program.

In another action on graffiti, the council directed the city staff to prepare a resolution that endorses a proposed anti-graffiti bill in the Legislature. The measure, SB 583, calls for stiffer sentences for graffiti vandals and would authorize suspension of a driver's license for those under 18 convicted of graffiti crimes.

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